Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response, by Jan Cohen-Cruz (London and New York: Routledge, 2010)

Rebecca Caines


As an emerging Australian community-engaged artist, scholar and teacher in the 1990s, I used to struggle to find resources to help me critically contextualise community performance. I found theory in this area dominated by texts like Ann Jellicoe’s’ The Community Play (source of the overtly celebratory “Colway method” of community theatre making); or by the psycho-political writings of Augusto Boal, and/or related theatre-in-development models, tied to Marxist political models and forum theatre methods (Boal, 1985; Jellicoe, 1987). In Australia, writing in this area seemed focused closely on local issues, sociological frameworks, and governmental funding rhetoric, rather than on analysis of this particular form of art-making (Hawkins, 1993). None of these texts helped me to frame the socially engaged, interdisciplinary, polyphonic and increasingly site-specific performance events I was observing, and taking part in creating. Of course, the field of Performance Studies has always been fascinated with theorising localised performance practices and it is here I eventually found my (inter)disciplinary home. This was despite the evident wariness of PS scholars for terms like ‘community’ with all of its connotations of communal organisation and reception, famously critiqued by Blau as ‘the merest facsimile of remembered community paying its respects not so much to the still echoing signals of a common set of values but to the better forgotten remains of the most exhausted illusions’ (Blau, 1990: 2).

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