Dzifa's mid-term report to the Arts Council on her Fellowship begins in a characteristic Ghanaian way, with a proverb: ‘It is a child who has never travelled who boasts that his mother is the world’s best cook’. So, she's obviously finding her exposure to the UK theatre a valuable experience!
On Tuesday, I took her down to Winchester, to visit the University's MA in Theatre for Development, run by Tim Prentki. A fascinating day for both of us. Dzifa and the National Drama Company are often asked to help out with development projects in Ghana - she talks with justifiable pride about some work they did to help women in remote areas understand issues around pregnancy, childbirth and modern medicine, overcoming a taboo about knives being in contact with the body. One of her requests was to find out "how it's done here". I had expected the answer might be "not at all" - my image of TfD had been of NGOs heading out into Africa and Asia - but it turns out that most of Tim's students are about to begin major projects in the UK, and he confirms that this is the trend. Matters close to home, like disability, climate change, and child rights, are coming to be more and more significant in the TfD agenda. Tim points out that this is not unrelated to DCMS and Arts Council policy trends - there's quite a bit of money available for work with a clear social agenda.
In spite of our involvement with Third World countries and cultural diversity within the UK, and the importance of education /community work in all we do, I've tended to shy away from specific TfD work with Border Crossings. I suppose I tend to adhere to Sam Shepard's idea that "Ideas arise from plays, and not the other way round". Theatre which merely illustrates a social point tends to be bad theatre.
But, as Tim points out - this is also bad development. Much of the TfD work done around HIV in Africa was so preachy that it didn't have any effect at all. The more valuable forms of TfD, and the ones towards which these students are clearly being encouraged, are those which draw off the ideas, needs and creativity of the people involved. Like Natya Chetana does in Orissa. And actually, like we do when we have community workshops to explore the background to a new piece. Maybe we're closer to TfD than I thought.