More often than not, practitioners of theatre for development have tended to adopt a utilitarian view of theatre as a medium in development communication. Theatre is regarded as a tool or instrument for the sake of development. Once it is thought to have served its instrumental purpose, it is often discarded or placed on the periphery until there is another popular theatre project. In this paper, I attempt to explore the discursive role of theatre in communicating sensitive issues associated with HIV/AIDS such as gender and sexuality. Rather than continue to privilege the end product (e.g. development), my focus will be more on the process by which people author meaning and how they come to believe in the happening.
Drawing illustrations from my field research on an integrated regional development program on HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation carried by Amakhosi Theatre of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, I will argue that the aesthetic features of theatre such as freedom, paradox, make-believe, improvisation, space and flow are central to development communication. For instance, in popular theatre participants engage in spontaneous action which gives them the freedom to articulate their own point of view. By selecting events and characters from real life, a make-believe world is created that helps to give form to imagination. The resulting performer-audience encounter is experienced as a paradox, being real and not real simultaneously. It is the freedom afforded by this metaxic world that releases participants from the world of familiarity as they become absorbed (i.e. flow) in the improvised activity. The consequences of their actions are minimized as they are protected by the sanctity of the theatrical space. The ‘sacredness’ of the theatrical space therefore seems to allow participants to experiment with even the most sensitive issues in safety.