Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Theatre for Social Purpose

If you’re looking for a global perspective, look no further than Dr. Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta. An Applied Theatre practitioner new to the Department of Theatre, she has lived and worked in not only England and the Netherlands, but also in Brazil, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But for those who don’t know, what is Applied Theatre?

“It’s just theatre for social purpose,” she says. “Applied Theatre outside mainstream theatre is mostly used for community building, education, social change or social justice.”

Sadeghi-Yekta was one of the speakers at the 2015 TEDx conference. Her topic—”Utopia of Unwanted Spaces: Art in Conflict”—was ideally suited for the 2015 theme: “Impact.”

Her initial interest came from a year spent in South America when she was 18. While in Nicaragua, she met a woman who was concerned about the future of the people in her neighbourhood, and asked if Sadeghi-Yektato would help her start a theatre company. It’s still running 15 years later, and she still visits every year or two.

Was it a challenge working in such varied conflict zones? “The majority of times I was not welcome at all,” she admits. “I felt very scared, very fearful, in Rwanda and the DRC—the people in DRC were really happy when I left—but in other places, people were more open and more happy that I was there. When you work globally, it’s essential to be mindful of cultural beliefs and awarenesses, of having a mutual exchange. You should avoid any sort of imposition or short-term projects; you’re there to help, not to impose any artistic skills or anything like that.”

When asked how her practice can make change in the world, Sadeghi-Yektato pauses philosophically. “I don’t believe Applied Theatre can necessarily change anything, but it can help to communicate certain issues in societies—and that, along with other political and cultural changes, may change something,” she says. “Theatre already exists in all countries around the world; if you go to a country you can offer something, but you can’t say it’s the ‘right’ method, as there are already so many traditions and rituals in place for thousands of years, and who are we to say this is how you should do it?”