|Education for Global Citizenship (North South Centre)|
|Section one: Examples of global education materials|
|Theme VI: Theatre|
A Music-Theatre Play
An interesting combination of European and African music was at the core of two theatre plays performed in 1994 and 1995. Although they were produced by two very different theatre groups, the plays both focus on a modern day version of the Commedia dell'Arte's "Harlequin". Both Internationale Nieuwe Scene (Belgium), described here, and Ravenna Teatro (Italy), following, chose to set their Harlequin in Africa.
The idea for "Harlekijn in Afrika" (Harlequin in Africa) was conceived in 1994 by Wereldsolidariteit, the development co-operation department of the Christian Workers Movement in Flanders. The aim was to raise awareness of North-South issues through the medium of theatre and through humour to contrast with the very serious manner in which these issues are often treated. With this in mind, the organisation approached Internationale Nieuwe Scene - a professional Belgian theatre company working towards conveying positive images of other cultures - to work on the message it wanted to convey and to produce a play.
The humour of the Commedia dell'Arte was chosen as the basis for "Harlekijn in Afrika" and was considered to be an effective approach to challenging European stereotypes regarding North-South relations. Written by Belgian playwright Jean Collette, the play deals with the relations between Africa and Europe, tackling issues such as development aid, the reaction of the North to problems in the South and, last but not least, racism. As with the Commedia dell'Arte, the play is based on improvisation and spontaneity, making it, and the issues it conveys, more accessible to the audience. The characters, who are timeless and place-less, also help the audience relate easily to the issues concerned. The cast of the play is composed of Africans and Europeans in order to convey the value of intercultural experiences and to denounce racism.
The play was performed on over 30 Belgian stages in 1995 with over 10, 000 viewers including school pupils. The play is also being produced on 30 stages throughout 1996.
1. The scene is a small cultural centre in Africa which symbolises an African country. The director of the centre represents the prime minister, and the problems that the centre experiences are the economic problems of the country. The technical assistance they receive stands for development aid.
2. A troupe of Europeans comes to perform its Commedia dell'Arte in this cultural centre (representing colonisation), but Harlequin, the theatre's odd-job man, stirs up trouble causing them to withdraw and to interrupt the play (representing decolonisation). The Africans continue with the play on their own and a representative from the centre is sent to Belgium to the development co-operation department of the government with a projet proposal for the play. This is misinterpreted as an agricultural proposal and they are sent a machine to milk cows! The development co-operation department then sends its theatre expert to Africa to draw Up his own proposals but these bear no relation to the local culture. The locals attempt to teach him to dance along with the white actors. Then he tells them that they would only be in a position to receive aid if they went to war. The locals refuse to do this for money and forget the idea of receiving funds. In the meantime, Harlequin suggests that they co-operate, and co-operation becomes the main focus of the play. The European actors reappear and together all perform the play but with the white actors in the black roles and vice versa. The play ends with a song against racism, calling for intercultural co-operation.
Wereldsolidariteit chose theatre to convey its message in the belief that it is the medium that best 'touches' people and helps build images emotionally. In conceiving the idea for the play, Wereldsolidariteit aimed to: awaken the public's social-political commitment; to provide an educational channel for North-South issues; to stimulate co-operation between black and white societies; to create a positive image of Africa; and to reinforce the feeling of world solidarity among its member organisations.
The development education impact of the play provided the subject of an evaluation process carried out by the South-North Network Culture and Development (Belgium).