Identity and democracy in pro-democracy protest theatre in Zimbabwe: 1999-2012
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This study investigates a brand of theatre that is oppositional to oppression. This theatre, which this study calls protest theatre, predicates its practice upon democratic intentions and values. In Zimbabwe, some scholars valorise protest theatre’s oppositional and adversarial stance to the state as an indicator of how it imbues democratic values. Some scholars also celebrate the manner in which it provides counter hegemonic space to enhance citizenship as a reinforcement of pro-democracy’s protest theatre’s democratic affinity. This, in my view, creates a problem in the sense that, these scholars pay scant attention to subtle processes of exclusion, paternalism and domination that are, unfortunately, inherent in protest theatre. Whilst there can be little doubt to the fact that protest theatre provides democratic space that enhances citizenship through theatre, there is also a need to interrogate the manner in which it accords subaltern voices agency or authority over their intellectual and physical actions in designing, implementing and modifying the discourse of social and political reform that prodemocracy protest theatre espouse during and after the Zimbabwean crisis. To this effect, this study investigates the harmony, dissonance and tension between democratic intentions and practice in prodemocracy protest theatre. It interrogates how selected performances of protest theatre represent the agency and interests of marginalised sections of society. It examines relations of power that obtain in protest theatre with the intention of exploring how protest theatre accords subaltern citizens the ability to design, modify, implement and lead, at an intellectual level, the struggle for democratic reform in Zimbabwe. This study, therefore, investigates practices that undermine the democratic intentions of protest theatre such as exclusion, paternalism and construction of derogatory identities through biased representation of the agency of various social groups in various performances. Consequently, the study analyses how various performances mediate on the identities of various social groups in order to legitimise the moral and intellectual control of the struggle for democratic change by certain social groups at the expense of others. The study also explores how selected productions liberated or undermined the semiotic autonomy of the spectators. It looks at the relationship between style and democracy with the intention of analysing how selected performances enabled or undermined the audience’s right to create their own meanings from various performances. Hence, this study also extends its democratic thrust by way of analysing directorial endeavours to create open performances as opposed to enclosed performance that lock meaning and interpretation to directorial intention. Thus the efficacy of style to democratic commitment is a key aspect of inquiry in this study. This study employs post-linear performance theory to examine issues of power between the performance and their spectator in as far as the generation of meaning is concerned. It also deploys theories of democracy, particularly those of the public sphere and counter public sphere in order to ascertain the extent to which selected productions created citizen forums that were in keeping with democratic expectations. Theories of power have been useful as they help to track issues of domination and strategies of domination that normally undermine democratic intentions. The study uses techniques of performance reconstruction in addition to those of analysing live performances. It also makes use of semiotic theory. The data gathered through these methods is interrogated through the theoretical framework thereby linking theory to methodology.