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Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DevelopingTheatre (Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945)


The ERC AdG ‘Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945’ is devoted to examining the institutional factors behind the emergence of professional theatre in the post-war period in selected areas of the decolonizing world. The...


The ERC AdG ‘Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945’ is devoted to examining the institutional factors behind the emergence of professional theatre in the post-war period in selected areas of the decolonizing world. The broader geopolitical movements include the massive involvement of internationally coordinated ‘development’ and ‘modernization’ programs, philanthropy, the Cultural Cold War and the shift towards much more restrictive Structural Adjustment Programmes in the 1970s and 1980s which resulted in the new theatre form known as Theatre for Development (TfD). This research project seeks to redefine our historical understanding of theatre in emerging countries in terms of its political and institutional imbrications and dependencies. It proposes to investigate largely unknown institutional factors that contributed to the spread of particular concepts and practices of theatre, which intersected with highly politicized concepts of ‘development’, ‘modernization’ and cultural nation-building. As a theoretical framework DevelopingTheatre will introduce the concepts epistemic community, expert networks and techno-politics to theatre historical research as a means to analyse theatre within transnational and transcultural paradigms. The project will investigate these transnational processes around five topic areas that highlight different aspects of institution-building: 1) the impact of transnationally operating, mainly US, philanthropy; 2) the formation of international theatre organizations such as the International Theatre Institute; 3) the diffusion of theatre-pedagogical knowledge from both sides of Iron Curtain; 4) the impact of international arts festivals on postcolonial performance practices; and 5) the heterotopian implications of theatre-buildings. All these activities were driven by expert networks which enabled new types of knowledge flows. This institutional and transnational focus will provide a corrective to enable theatre studies to overcome its still strong national and local biases and connect the discipline to current cutting-edge historiographical discourses. By focusing on expertise, a key aim of the project is to redefine theatrical practice in terms of ‘knowledge flows’ rather than as solipsistic individual inspiration. Looking at theatre in terms of knowledge will enable research to follow both actual and metaphorical transfers of competencies, ideas of professionalism, and technological know-how, as professional or semi-professional theatrical institutions were constructed under different ideological agendas. Theatre will therefore be understood less in terms of a being politically detached autonomous sphere of artistic creativity than as an object of knowledge formation subject to a plethora of agendas.
The societal importance is predicated on the shifting relationships between the global North and South. Although these relationships are usually discussed in economic (neoliberalism) and political (neocolonialism) terms, the cultural component has received very little scientific attention. By investigating the history of these relationships in terms of its cultural and artistic imbrications, the project hopes to make clear how North and South have a history of collaboration which is not just determined by exploitation and dependency.
The overall objectives include a fundamental readjustment of theatrical historiography of the global South requiring a significant shift in focus away from individual playwrights or directors, who have stood in the centre of most research into postcolonial theatre. If theatre is understood as a form of cultural infrastructure, then it is logical that it was included in the social engineering projects of international development and modernization. A second objective is to demonstrate the need for qualitative and quantitative historiographical research supported by extensive data collection and visua

Work performed

The work performed can be divided into the research conducted in the individual topic areas (A-F) and the common, transversal work on network analysis.
Topic Area A ‘Theatrical Epistemic Communities’ (PI): The PI has published a programmatic article on the project ( , presented six papers and has submitted an essay (currently in peer review) analyzing the establishment of the Drama Department in Ibadan in the 1960s. Chronologically this Topic Area extends into the 1980s which sees the modernist model of theatre in crisis in most postcolonial countries and being replaced by Theatre for Development. The latter will be the focus of a doctoral project to be carried out in the second half of the project.
Topic Area B (postdoc researcher Nic Leonhardt) focuses specifically on philanthropic involvement (mainly Rockefeller and Ford Foundations) in supporting theatre in the period 1950-1970. A research trip to the Rockefeller/Ford archives demonstrated a significant amount of material relating not just to this work package but others as well (A, C and D, F). A first output was an international conference entitled “Philanthropy, Development, and the Arts. Histories and Theories” held at the Carl-Friedrich von Siemens-Stiftung 23-25 July, 2018 (
Topic Area C: Theatre Experts for the Third World. In her doctoral project Rebecca Sturm is examining the work of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) with a focus on the two German branches (GDR and BRD) and the so-called Third World Committee which was designed to coordinate ITI’s activities in the postcolonial world. Preliminary archival research results show that the East German ITI was particularly successful in placing theatre artists and experts in positions of influence within the organization. A key figure here is the East German director Fritz Bennewitz (see also Topic Area D).
Topic Area D, “Mixed pedagogies: training postcolonial theatre artists in the Cold War” (DoA, p.15-16), was designed as two postdoc projects to run successively. The first project now completed (Dr. Gautam Chakrabarti) had a specific focus on Theatre Artists from Postcolonial India and the Eastern Bloc, 1950-80. Dr. Chakrabarti organised a two-day (29-30 September, 2017) workshop, “Between East and West: Indian Theatre Artists and the Cold War,” at the India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi, India ( This workshop focused especially on the East German director Fritz Bennewitz who was a regular visitor to India in the 1970s and 1980s under the auspices of the GDR branch of ITI (see Topic Area C).
Topic Area E: “Festival Networks and Pan-African Performance Culture” (DoA, p.16) examines the series of inter-linked pan-African arts festivals that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. A postdoc Judith Rottenburg has been focusing on the francophone festivals because of her familiarity with the archives in Dakar and Paris and has since undertaken a fieldtrip to Algiers. The research to date has revealed the two inter-linked Pan-African arts festivals as nodes in an emerging Pan-African and diasporic network of an expanding theatrical community, and more broadly of a rising global art world. In the course of the research, it has turned out that the emerging form of artistic synthesis is at the heart of debates related to the Cultural Cold War. The material collected demonstrates the American and Soviet ideological discussions of this topic at the two festivals, as well as the funding mechanisms at work - public funds, philanthropy and private donors – to shape the work of African artists accordingly.
Topic Area F: “Theatrical Heterotopias in Conflict Zones” defines chronologically the most recent theatrical development project, namely the massive support for theatre provided by international donors in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) after the Oslo

Final results

From a disciplinary perspective the Global South appears to be the preserve of development studies, global heath, human rights, gender and ecology to name only some of the prominent disciplines. Our project has already established that the artistic sphere is an important area of research and will explore how the latter intersects and interacts with issues that historians, economists, and anthropologists have identified for the Global South. In other words, new for theatre studies is the fact that this treatment will be more about Structural Adjustment Programmes, the informal sector, and the Cold War than about specific dramatists or directors, less about prominent theatrical artists than about philanthropic gatekeepers and epistemic communities. The project has already begun to establish the new term theatrical epistemic community which can be defined as an international alliance of artists, scholars, bureaucrats and philanthropists who shared an understanding of theatre as a discrete artistic and cultural form as opposed to its commercial variant. They saw in it potential for nation-building and its rise can be dated to the late 1940s. The origins of the post-war theatrical epistemic community lie, however, in theatrical modernism: the international, multi-sited movement whose foundational belief is the idea that theatre can be an art form and hence of high cultural value and not just a commercial enterprise. The international conference on philanthropy and the arts also demonstrated for theatre historians in particular the importance of philanthropy for the establishment of artistic and theatrical infrastructure in the global South.

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