Theatre and activism: the agit prop theatre way
Music and Arts in Action
University of Exeter
Agit prop or agitational propaganda, as the very term implies, seeks to deliberately change people’s beliefs through well-planned strategies of persuasion, transformations of spectators into (spect)actors, and their subsequent mobilisation into agitating communities. Theatre is one of the channels of the agit prop. The emphasis on the deliberateness of the communication involved distinguishes this form of theatre from other forms of political theatre and from mere conversation. Many accusations have been levelled at agit prop theatre. Of these, the three primary ones are, first, that such theatre lacks artistic viability; second, that it is short-lived and works only in a certain historical context; and third, that it is only propaganda, not theatre. This paper challenges these accusations by investigating how agit prop theatre can evolve and undergo considerable artistic development to survive as good theatre and not just as good propaganda. Although agit prop does generally emerge in moments of crisis and in periods of revolutionary change, this does not imply that its value is erased once the moment passes. A good agit prop theatre company cannot, in fact, sustain itself on mere propaganda. As a case study, the paper will examine the work of the British forty-two year old Red Ladder Theatre Company. By examining in depth the specific aesthetic and dramaturgic ingredients that Red Ladder uses to achieve its aims, this article will demonstrate that artistic intent and application cannot be made subordinate to the revolutionary message, at least not for long.
Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.48-64