Back to the Grassroots: the institutional frameworks of Theatre for Development


This paper investigates how the emergence of TfD was determined by broader transnational movements and pressures and how it came to be institutionalized in its current forms and practices. I propose the thesis that the globalization and institutionalization of TfD coincided with a seismic shift in development policies and strategies that saw a movement away from top-down centralized strategies and towards a recognition of local needs as the drivers of development aid. Put another way: TfD participated in the move away from constructing hydroelectric dams and towards building latrines, from funding universities to creating grassroots HIV-prevention programs. The shift to a grassroots approach led, however, paradoxically to a proliferation of international involvement: the more local the context, the greater the involvement of NGOs, parastatal and state organisations in theatrical activity. The paper is structured around four main points: 1) TfD as a response to Structural Adjustment programmes; 2) TfD and the rise of tertiary education and research; 3) a redefinition of ‘grassroots’ as a concept and legitimizing development strategy for the new form; 4) I will discuss the notion of institutionalization itself and the formation of TfD into an autonomous organizational field.

Christopher Balme is professor of theatre studies at LMU Munich and principal investigator of the ERC project ‘Developing Theatre’.