Applied theatre as a way to provoke connection

by Jillian Campana | 1 January 2016

Provocative theatre produces a strong reaction in the participants.

The word theatre comes to us from the Greek word Theasthai meaning “to view as spectators” or “to watch” (Montiglio, 132). This definition leads us to appreciate audience as one of two key components in the art form (the other being performer). Without audience there is essentially no theatre. If we can understand this conceit – that audience is a necessary component of theatre – then we can understand that there is a necessity for theatre to elicit a response from the audience. What would it be like e.g. if an audience shuffled out of a theatre performance feeling, thinking and doing nothing different than when they walked in? If they were completely unchanged we would wonder what the purpose of theatre was. As theatre practitioners our goal is to get a reaction from our viewers.

Some theatre draws out an audience response gently by means of humour, cajoling or romanticism. Some theatre does this through manipulation or alienation and some performances cause response through provocation. I’ve always been drawn to plays that reveal and stir strong emotions deliberately. I like to be provoked and to provoke others to feel, think or do and so I would call most of the theatre work that I engage in provocative.

Recently the University of Montana, where I teach, produced a new American play called Welcome Home Jenny Sutter which tells the story of a female veteran who is returning to the United States from active duty in Iraq. Jenny has PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and a prosthetic leg and though she has been away from her family, including her two young daughters, she cannot seem to make her way home to be with them.

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