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Summary of the impact

Research undertaken at the University of East London has contributed to international practices of conflict prevention through theatre practice-as-research. Although initially based on the use of culture in post-genocide Rwanda, the underpinning research has been extended since 2008 to applied theatre practices in Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan. The research has had a range of key impacts, including to: create, inspire and support new forms of artistic and social expression particularly in terms of performance art; influence the design and delivery of school curricula and support new extra-curricula opportunities for young people, especially in Kyrgyzstan; integrate participatory practices as a method of teaching and learning both in the UK and abroad; and contribute to widening public access to and participation in political processes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The research has also delivered localised economic benefits and improvements in the welfare and quality of life of individuals involved in projects in Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Underpinning research

The impacts described here arise from research conducted within the University of East London’s Institute for Performing Arts Development (IPAD) by Dr Ananda Breed (Senior Lecturer at UEL since 2007). Since joining UEL, Breed has worked both nationally and internationally as an applied theatre practitioner and researcher, contributing to several important projects exploring the relationships between theatre/performance and conflict resolution. These have included her role as an artist facilitator in the 2007-2008 intercultural theatre project Contacting the World, for which she developed exchange activities and intercultural practices with youth theatre companies in Palestine, India, Nepal, Turkey and Germany.

However, her principal research focus is the relationship of underlying collective or ‘public transcripts’ and personal (sometimes deemed ‘hidden’) transcripts to the socio-political contexts of conflict. In exploring this, she routinely works with local communities to identify how cultural forms can be adapted to negotiate and to stage possible solutions to conflict issues. Breed’s development and application of these participatory methodologies concerned with conflict, trauma and reconciliation have been particularly informed by research undertaken in post-genocide Rwanda. Here and elsewhere, she has adapted and contextualised participatory practices including playback theatre, image and forum theatre, conflict resolution practices, and cultural forms to engage stakeholders from the bottom-up through theatre workshops with grassroots associations, symposia with government officials and workshops with theatre artists. In line with the ethos and pedagogy of the IPAD, these approaches respond particularly to the national and international socio-political contexts surrounding performances and performatives.

Breed’s published research exists in a symbiotic relationship with her practical work such that, whilst the latter often forms the basis for the former, those publications likewise inform practice. Research conducted between 2008 and 2010 exploring the use of the arts in post-genocide Rwanda yielded several notable publications [1,2,3,4,5,6]. Founded on interviews, workshops and participatory projects involving theatre companies and grassroots associations, this work particularly influenced Breed’s subsequent methodological application of participatory techniques in Kyrgyzstan, which in 2010 experienced violence stemming from ethnic, religious and geographic tensions. As in Rwanda, ethnicity in Kyrgyzstan has historically been traced to social status and access and these issues are salient for conflict prevention strategies.

The impacts described here arise from intercultural theatre work and conflict resolution practices developed through and applied in two related projects. The first of these was Promoting Tolerance and Dialogue through Interactive Theatre (Indonesia), which began in 2008 as a pilot project funded by the British Embassy and IREX Europe; it eventually developed into the second, a 2009-2014 USAID-fundedproject in Kyrgyzstan titled Youth Theatre for Peace. Breed designed and facilitated both projects, including writing training manuals and curricula; training sixty trainers from Chui and Batken oblasts in participatory practices and workshop curriculum; and overseeing the facilitation, translation, and development of training materials for four twelve-week intensive youth workshops involving more than six hundred young people. Both projects were contracted through IREX in collaboration with local partners including the Centre for Civic Education Indonesia (CCEI) and Kyrgyzstan’s Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI). For the Youth Theatre for Peace (YTP) project, which particularly contributed to Breed’s development of the distinctive and innovative participatory methodologies outlined above, Breed worked in consultation with local trainers and artists to adapt various local games and performance traditions into applied practices for warm-ups and main and closing activities. The traditional cultural forms adapted as part of this novel methodology included Kyrgyz folktales, manas (oral history epics), music, games, and theatre traditions. Her partners included a professional theatre troupe, Sakhna, from Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), twelve of whose actors supported Breed’s delivery of the project’s ‘training of trainers’ initiative before going on themselves to lead youth workshops.

The research has contributed new knowledge about how embodied local discourses may inform or counter hegemonic or national constructions of post-conflict identity formation, and responds to wider international debates concerning participatory practices and the use of ‘speech acts’ for conflict prevention or interventions. This approach, previously developed through work considering the use of ‘speech acts’ in Rwanda for incrimination in the participatory gacaca courts [2,3,5,6] is specific to Breed’s work.

References of the research

[1] Breed, A. (2013) Performing the Nation: Genocide, Justice and Reconciliation. Calcutta: Seagull Press.

[2] Breed, A. (2012) ‘Discordant Narratives in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts’ in Rwanda Fast Forward. (ed) Patrick Noack, Hampshire: Palgrave.

[3] Breed, A. (2012) ‘Juridical Performatives: Public versus Hidden Transcripts’ in Performative Trans-Actions: Innovation, Creativity & Enterprise in African Theatre. (ed) Kene Igweonu, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar Publishers.

[4] Breed, A. (2011) ‘Memorialization and the Rwandan Genocide: The Use of Theater’ in Cultures and Globalization Series (eds) Yudishthir Isar and Helmut Anheier, LA: Sage Publications.

[5] Breed, A. (2009) ‘Participation for Liberation or Incrimination’ in The Applied Theatre Reader (eds) Tim Prentki & Sheila Preston, London: Routledge.

[6] Breed, A. (2008) ‘Performing the Nation: Theatre in Post-Genocide Rwanda’. The Drama Review, 52, pp. 33-50.

Details of the impact (indicative maximum 750 words)

The research outlined above has contributed to international practices of conflict prevention through theatre practice-as-research, and delivered cultural and artistic benefits through its creation, inspiration and support for these new forms of artistic and social expression. It has enhanced and improved public awareness and understanding of conflict issues, and contributed to widening public access to and participation in political processes, especially in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Furthermore, it has influenced the design and delivery of curriculum and the integration of participatory practices as a method of teaching and learning, both in the UK and abroad, and delivered localised economic benefits and improvements in the welfare and quality of life of individuals involved in the projects.

Cultural, artistic and associated benefits in Kygyzstan: Through both her integration of local Kyrgyz cultural forms into her theatre practice-as-research and her training of Kyrgyz theatre artists, Breed has introduced applied theatre as a new form of artistic expression in Kygyzstan, allowing local communities to connect with their cultural and artistic heritage through participatory practices that also negotiate contemporary conflict issues. Following her training of trainers and subsequent youth workshops for YTP in 2009, Breed facilitated a follow-up sustainability workshop in 2010 for adult trainers and young people who had been promoted to the role of youth facilitators during the course of their training. This project evolved into locally-based drama clubs and theatre tours administered by the Kyrgyz trainers and youth: as a direct result of Breed’s training and the YTP programme, Suhrob Ergashev established one of only twenty-two school drama clubs in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 [1]. To date, YTP projects have reached nearly 13,000 people through plays on local conflict issues involving participatory techniques that allow audiences to express their thoughts and feelings on conflict and to suggest potential solutions to the problems being staged. Funding obtained in 2012 through USAID Kyrgyzstan has been used in 2012-2013 to extend the project from the Chui and Batken oblasts to the Northern mountain oblasts of Naryn and Talas. Activities here include Breed’s training of ten former trainers as ‘master’ trainers for the new participants, which will extend the reach of Breed’s distinctive methodology – and of the cultural and artistic benefits arising from it - throughout Kyrgyzstan. The Ministry of Education’s provision of salaried posts for teachers to continue theatre outreach work begun as part of the Youth Theatre for Peace project has not only ensured the sustainability of the benefits to programme participants in Kyrgyzstan, but also delivered a small but significant economic benefit via the creation of these new jobs.

Raising public awareness of and changing attitudes to conflict: The Youth Theatre for Peace project designed and facilitated by Breed has had demonstrable impacts on the 500 people involved including both adults and youth in Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan. An independent evaluation analysis undertaken in 2011 for the project in Kyrgyzstan compared the attitudes and behaviours of YTP programme participants towards people of other ethnicities, religions and nationalities against those of a control group. The programme’s impact upon its participants’ understanding of and attitudes towards these commonly conflict-related issues is evidenced by the results of that evaluation, which showed marked attitudinal and behavioural changes among both youth and adult program participants. The survey was administered to 60 programme participants in Kyrgyzstan and the same number of control comparison group respondents. There were also 12 focus group discussions with target community members (that is, members of performance audiences who were not involved in the program training events). The evaluation sample for the survey consisted of 6 target districts comprising 20 towns and settlements. The evaluation included: 144 project participants (44 adults and 100 youth), 93 target communities with more than 15,000 members. Its results included the following observations:

  • In Kyrgyzstan, nearly 98% of program participants reported confidence in their ability to positively influence conflict situations in their community, compared with only 31% of comparison group respondents.
  • In every one of 12 focus group discussions with community members who had seen a performance, respondents expressed their belief that the programme methodology could positively affect community cohesion in relation to conflict.
  • Among youth participants, 94% reported a perceived increase in personal agency in conflict situations.
  • 90% of youth participants reported a perception that they could speak more openly and in a more balanced way about conflict issues; 91% of those were assessed by their local adult mentors as being actually able to do so.
  • 85% of youth participants reported increased empathy for ‘other’ groups (‘empathy’ was conceptualised here as understanding the situation, feelings, motives, and ideas of people of other ethnicities, religions, or national origin.)
  • 88% of youth participants reported more positive interactions with those from other ethnic or religious backgrounds [2]. 
The benefits to programme participants of this enhanced awareness and understanding of conflict issues - and of the ensuing changes in attitude - are suggested by some of the successes they have enjoyed since the programme’s conclusion. Young participants have gone on to become leaders among their peers and in their schools, and to hold positions of responsibility among and garner the respect of adult community members. Thus, for example, in 2011 one youth participant became the first female in her school’s history to hold the title of school President [3, 4].

Improving understanding of and increasing participation in political processes: Breed’s work has contributed to widening public access to and participation in political processes in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where drama clubs and theatre tours have engaged more than 47,000 community members between 2009 and 2013 through the staging of conflict issues in partnership with local government officials. Several of these performances were devised during youth workshops facilitated by Breed, who designed the methodology they taught in collaboration with local artists and partner organisations. Applied theatre is new to the region, and individuals claimed that its techniques provided the additional benefit of extending the ethos and practice of participatory approaches to the classroom environment. Performance topics included human rights issues concerning domestic violence, bride kidnapping, water and land disputes, and girls’ education. Audiences actively engaged with the dialogic performances, voicing suggested solutions to the staged conflict scenarios; those myriad proposed solutions did, in fact, inform policy-makers’ discussion and debate both informally, through theatre performances, and formally, through meetings conducted with government officials before and after performances [6].

Impacts on education and training: The projects cited above have had self-evident impacts in terms of their introduction of whole new programmes of participatory theatre teaching and learning in the countries and regions where the projects happened, places where these subjects were not previously on any curricula. However, Breed’s participatory theatre workshops are also studied in theatre and performance studies programmes elsewhere, appearing in course syllabi at the School of Theatre & Dance UC Santa Barbara (USA) and Dartmouth College of Arts (UK). Since 2010, Breed has also provided consultancy to the British Museum to facilitate its The Tree of Life Talking Objects project (March-April 2009) and to train staff, partners, and museum personnel in the use of participatory techniques to enrich user-based approaches to objects (June 2011). The Museum’s dissemination of participatory approaches via its Talking Objects project and peripheral public engagement activities has enhanced public awareness of the utility of such approaches. These public engagement activities have included the Museums and Participation: Unlocking the Potential of Things conference (20 March 2012), at which Breed facilitated an experiential workshop with British Museum youth panel members to demonstrate the Talking Objects methodology for over 300 conference participants [5].

Sources to corroborate the impact (indicative maximum of 10 references)

[1] For the establishment by Suhrob Ergashev of a new school drama club Kyrgyzstan as a result of the YTP programme see:

[2] The full 2011 evaluation report by Vadim Nigmatov is available on request. 

[3] An individual example of the YTP programme’s contributions to raising awareness of community issues and creating a space for dialogue around conflict in a multi-ethnic setting in Tajikistan is described in:

[4] For an example of the YTP programme’s role in inspiring and supporting youth participants’ future success see:

[5] The impacts of Breed’s work with the British Museum on its on education and training provision are described on the Museum’s Talking Objects Project webpage:
Testimonial letter from former Talking Objects project director, Emma Poulter.

[6] Testimonials from Director of Foundation Tolerance International (FTI), Anara Eginalieva, and YTP trainers Halima Madalinova, Irina Voronina, and Mavluda Dadajanova.

[7] Testimonial letter from former IREX senior programme officer, Susan Armitage.

[8] ArtTengri documentary based on the impact of Breed’s methodology in Kyrgyzstan.