The 'diverse economies' of applied theatre

Molly Mullen

Some of the perennial tensions in applied theatre arise from the ways in which practice is funded or financed. They include the immediate material pressures and pragmatic dilemmas faced by theatre makers on the ground and the struggle to secure the resources needed to produce and sustain work or to negotiate the dynamics and demands of particular funding relationships. In the applied theatre literature, there are many examples of groups and organizations that have compromised their political, pedagogic, artistic or ethical principles to make their work economically viable. There are also ongoing debates about the nature of the relationship between applied theatre and the local, national and global economic conditions in which it is produced. These debates examine the extent to which economic conditions shape the forms and intentions of socially committed theatre movements over time. This article takes a practice-based approach, drawing on fieldwork conducted in 2012 with three applied theatre companies: Applied Theatre Consultants Ltd in New Zealand; C&T in the UK; and FM Theatre Power in Hong Kong. This multi-sited organizational ethnography generates critical insights into the ways in which these companies bring social and artistic values to bear on business models and financial relationships. Analysis of the companies’ practice takes seriously the aim of J.K. Gibson-Graham’s (2006) diverse economies project: to imagine and create spaces of economic possibility. Organizational, management and economic processes can be insidious technologies by which capitalist/neo-liberal ideologies infiltrate socially committed theatre and performance. But they can also be critically informed practices, involving considerable ethical consideration, creativity and care.

Suggested citation

Mullen, Molly. 2017. The 'diverse economies' of applied theatre. Applied Theatre Research, 5 (1), 7-22. doi:10.1386/atr.5.1.7_1