(BEING CONTINUED FROM 30/05/2015)
ETHICAL FRAMEWORKS – CONVERGENCE AND COMPLEXITY
When it comes to outlining what applied ethical frameworks might be relevant to Participatory Theatre, there is convergence and complexity.
The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies’ report ‘Ethics in Cultural policy’ expresses itself in human rights language, with an emphasis on the civic:
Cultural policy we understood in the way Jarmo Malkavaara defines it as an entity of measures by which different operators in society consciously seek to influence, and (be influenced by), cultural activities in society. Ethical choices are not black‐and‐white right‐or‐wrong setups but can, in different situations, be justified by different means and aim at different effect. In cultural policy the important thing is to make choices consciously and transparently after a keen scrutiny of ethical consequences.
IFACCA define three ethical lenses through which cultural policy can be evaluated: virtue, responsibility and benefit. Underpinning these is the notion of Fair Culture, rooted in human rights principles.
In contrast, Rustom Bharucha’s has provocatively proposed a Genet‐inspired commitment to a betrayal of the civic:
I think betrayal can seem perverse, but if one sees in it the possibilities of a certain rigor in not succumbing to bourgeois morality and feel‐good liberal, even ‘radical’ sentiments, it can serve as a robust corrective to political correctness and the illusions of good citizenship. To what extent am I prepared to endorse the ethics of illegality in order to activate the process of social and political change beyond the boundaries of theatre practice? This, indeed, is my ethical dilemma. Not so much in ‘crossing the line’ of unethical action, but in not crossing the line with the necessary combination of political rigor, cunning and audacity. Rustom Bharucha. 3
An approach which is in clear conflict with more sedate notions of ‘good practice’, and the observation of Health and Safety regulations!
Stella Barnes has developed a set of ethical principles which underpin the participatory theatre work of the Oval House, London:
• Choice: participants’ agenda not pre‐empted.
• Respect: developed via creative process, modelled by Fs.
• Equality: with groups having little experience, through creative process.
• Safety: focus on present/future, no requirement to disclose.
• Tutor competence: support and training, shared perspectives.
(Stella Barnes: Drawing a Line: a discussion of ethics in participatory arts by young refugees, 2008) She describes a process whereby ethics are embodied and developed in the creative process; where sensitivity to personal and creative risk, and mutual respect, inform the work; where the group is viewed as collaborators and not participants; and where reflexivity and critical thinking are at the heart of the process. An approach
which echoes, and expands on, the ‘certain rigour’ of Bharucha’s text.
The concept of Competence is a crucial anchoring for ethical practice: without this, the complexity of Bharucha’s position, the pitfalls and strengths of the ITACCA proposal, and the densely textured implications of the Oval House principles would be impossible to deconstruct and grasp in practice. We can see in these three positions the long‐standing partisan politics of PT in an apparent stand‐off with the civic. The third position
opens up a passage between the first two, responding to the concept of the civic, without pre‐empting the right of participants to reflect critically.
Bharucha recognizes that global power/class relations frequently override stated civic and human rights ethics.
IFACCA classifies and proposes an ethical frame based upon a projected universal liberal human rights Framework, in order to avoid unfairness. Both Bharucha and Barnes are clear that these very human rights principles are frequently overridden both in civil and other societies: though it has to be said that the civic has to exist in order to be betrayed.
Convergences on ethics are many and contradictory. While there is a widespread conviction that the reflexive creativity achievable through theatre practice is capable of generating aesthetically powerful, socially transforming art, Bharucha’s caveats are a necessary brake on assumptions about the ’efficacy’ or implicit ethical goodness of PT forms of work:
If I had to get beyond the euphoria of the moment, I would have to acknowledge how difficult it is to activate these truths in collaboration with political agencies. Perhaps, the greatest lesson that I’ve learned from my interactions with oppressed communities has to do with the ethics of illegality.
(A form of) radical performance, or anti‐performance, or non‐performance, which could highlight the beginnings of new and more complicated ways of representing and problematising ethics, where there is no clear‐cut distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Rather, we are all implicated in the very crimes that we condemn, either through complicities of silence, indifference or apathy. For performance to be truly radical, it can no longer afford to fall back on the earlier assumptions of an artist’s innate, if iconoclastic, goodness
The assembling of an ethical framework, or landscape for the teaching and learning of PT would help to produce a generation of reflexive practitioners with the confidence and vocational as well as academic skills to steer the work in an ethical direction. Reflexive practice introduced into theatre education would not only have the potential for transforming students but staff as well.
2. AIMS, METHODOLOGY AND SUMMARY OF OUTCOMES
AIM: To research and develop a set of ethical guidelines for practice in participatory theatre for use in Higher Education by teachers, researchers and students.
METHODOLOGY: The work was within an Action Research framework in which participants were invited to reflect on their approach to ethics. The research was collaborative and included two levels of exploration:
LEVEL ONE: DATA GATHERING.
Interviews and workshops with:
• HE Lecturers and students: to identify concerns and issues derived from curriculum
planning, teaching and learning and students’ practice
• Review of findings with collaborators to reflect on the material from the interviews and
workshops and to extrapolate principles underpinning the projected ethical guidelines
The Literature Review offers: an historical context to the practice of participatory theatre in that it describes its origins and its provenance; it provides a critical interrogation of the practice by raising questions and provoking discussion, (as well as in the longer term we hope it will actually give a theoretical underpinning to practice); and it adds a depth to the practice by offering the scholar/ student/ practitioner points of reference to explore further in the work of the practitioners described, which will enrich and enhance their engagement with the practice itself. The literature review can be found in Appendix 1.
The workshops aimed:
• to explore existing notions amongst participants of what ethics might mean to them
• to find out what structures might have been adopted individually and institutionally to assert ethical practice
• to explore the relationship between notions and structures in the context of relations between practitioners, between practitioners and participants and between practitioners and commissioners of work
• to explore the potential for an assertive, principled, ethical framework as opposed to a code, capable of enhancing creativity while supporting practitioners, participants and institutions
The workshop was a flow model, designed to find out how the processes of theatre practice might interact with ethical principles. The workshop structure and exercises can be found in Appendix 2.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
FRANCES RIFKIN / 2010
3 Performance Paradigm February 2007, reprinted by Vrede vanUutrecht
SOURCE HIGHER EDUCATION ACADEMY,PALATINE