Theatre, a strategy to raise awareness about public policy challenges
Updated: Apr 15
[Editor’s note: This post was written by Dr. Prasoon Agarwal, Senior Advisor at Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), and Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head of Communication & Policy Engagement at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP).]
In the run up to COP 21 in Paris, India announced an ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) that aims at reducing emission intensity of India’s GDP by 33-35% by 2030, as against a baseline of 2005. This task can be achieved only by concerted action by all key stakeholders, including government, academia, private sector, and most importantly the citizens. Given the participatory nature of such actions, it becomes extremely crucial to engage citizens in order to have an informed discussion and debate. Several organisations/Think Tanks have already been working toward creating awareness and sharing information in this endeavour.
For this purpose, one effective mode of communication could be theatre, to simplistically communicate complex issues, which involves the country and citizens. As a result, several organisations and initiatives have used theatre as a development tool to propagate, educate and communicate.
Theatre as a developmental tool
As a powerful communication tool, theatre cuts across literacy skills, reaches to a wide audience (both young and old), includes dance, songs, mime and also appeals to the emotions of people. Some of the major usages of theatre are:
Encourage participation of people, who may have not had the opportunity to share their opinions otherwise
Challenge people to respond
Provide several alternatives rather than recommending one definite solution.
Simplistically communicate complex social and scientific messages
In India, theatre is relevant due to the variety of forms which include songs, folk lore, music, dance and drama. It not only touches the emotional aspect of a human being but also is a form of entertainment where the masses respond emotionally and are also open to receiving serious messages in an experiential manner.
One such example where the medium of theatre was used widely to inform rural masses in the country was during the Kargil conflict, where the masses in several states were informed about the war. Despite other powerful channels of communication using technology, theatre became an important medium for disseminating information. According to a study conducted by Kapil Kumar Bhattacharyya and Debastuti Das Gupta (2006), in India the need to reach and communicate to people was emphasised several times in successive five year plans.
An example theatre production about global warming
Our experience shows that theatre can become an interesting tool to raise awareness on complex issues such as climate change research, where given the technical nature of the subject and the wide set of stakeholder involved, the message has to be easily communicable, both in terms of language and the mode of communication.
The play in progress, staged by Kriyative Theatre
For instance, “Carbon Cake” is a production which revolves round the crucial subject of ‘Global Warming’. This production is an initiative of Kriyative Theatre, in partnership with Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and Center for Study of Science, technology and Policy (CSTEP). The play has been written after conducting extensive research on the phenomenon and also interfacing and dialoguing with several experts. It attempts to communicate the causes and devastating impacts of global warming, and the responsibility and ownership of masses towards mitigating it. This is done through the story of a man who tries to fight the menace of carbon emissions through an invention of his own, called ‘carbon cake’ – after which the play is also named.
Theatre as a tool, over the years, helps masses understand problems faced by a society. It helps people understand problems affecting their lives and find effective solutions. It acts as a forum to communicate as a process and also educate people.
The play “Carbon cake” is available in two parts below:
[Editor’s note: For more blog posts on CSTEP’s experience dealing with think tanks’ decisions read Acknowledging a prominent think tank: the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) in India.]