The theater is an art form that cultures all across the world partake in. In addition to being enjoyable for many people, exposure to the theater is beneficial. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania on impoverished residents of New York City found that residents had better long-term outcomes in areas such as “education, security and health” with greater accessibility to cultural resources. Additionally, theater helps people develop emotionally by cultivating empathy, a humanitarian characteristic essential for molding a generation willing to help others living in poverty. A common aspect of poverty is the lack of opportunities available to people. Improving theater accessibility for impoverished people is one way to provide people in poverty with more opportunities.
3 Organizations Improving Theater Accessibility
- The Freedom Theatre. This organization is based in the Jenin refugee camp, a camp in the West Bank with a high poverty rate. The Freedom Theater provides Jenin residents with opportunities to engage in theater and workshops through programs in schools. The theater works with children of varying ages. For example, the daycare program allows children younger than 5 to learn and develop creatively. Modeled off Care and Learning, a project that helped children in the Jenin camp work through trauma by participating in the arts, The Freedom Theatre continues this mission by working with young people to help them develop coping skills. The Freedom Theatre’s work greatly improved theater accessibility in an area that previously had few theatrical opportunities for its residents. Thanks to the European Union funding the project, The Freedom Theatre can continue its work.
- Khmer Community Development (KCD). The KCD organization is in the Prek Chrey Commune, a community in Cambodia near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. KCD commits itself to improving peace and understanding in Prek Chrey. Ethnic tension between different groups in the community is an issue that Prek Chrey continues to struggle with, but KCD is addressing it with theater. Using Forum Theater, an art form developed by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, KCD encourages discussion and exploration of social issues by having actors perform a short play that addresses a social issue. Thereafter, the performance is restarted to allow the audience to intervene with ideas to shape the play and develop “a peaceful solution to the issue.” Since it started, KCD’s Forum Theater is particularly popular among youth in the Prek Chrey Commune.
- New Africa Theater Association (NATA). Based in Cape Town, South Africa, NATA works to provide opportunities to underserved young people in the Cape Town area. In South Africa, many people between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. These young people are also often not receiving an education. With this age group having access to theater, the youth develop valuable skills to secure employment. More than 87% of NATA alumni are employed, in school or are continuing to work with NATA. After acquiring its own building, NATA moved to a location where it is more easily accessible to people in Cape Town and surrounding rural areas.
Thanks to the efforts of these three organizations, theater accessibility is improving for disadvantaged people. Importantly, the arts contribute to social well-being while providing valuable opportunities to help vulnerable people rise out of poverty.
– Caroline Kuntzman