Skip to Main Content

Theatre and Social Justice (January 2020): Social Justice Theatre in the Twenty-First Century

by Martha Schmoyer LoMonaco

Social Justice Theatre in the Twenty-First Century

In the twenty-first century, social justice theatre is noteworthy for its diversity, as works from scripted plays to devised work, ensemble theatre, political theatre, activist theatre, and protest theatre demonstrate. Vicky Angelaki focuses on scripted dramas in Social and Political Theatre in 21st-Century Britain: Staging Crisis, offering examinations of selected works by Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Mike Bartlett, debbie tucker green, Dennis Kelly, Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne, Lucy Prebble, and Simon Stephens. In her epilogue Angelaki concludes “that playwrighting is not only alive as a genre of urgent socially and politically motivated theatre, but also in fighting form.” Norma Bowles and Daniel-Raymond Nadon devote their edited collection Staging Social Justice: Collaborating to Create Activist Theatre to a single company, Fringe Benefits, which collaborates with schools and communities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada to create plays that promote constructive dialogue about issues of diversity and discrimination. In Performing Communities: Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities, Robert Leonard and Ann Kilkelly profile Cornerstone Theatre and Los Angeles Poverty Department (both based in Los Angeles), Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN), Dell’Arte Theatre (Blue Lake, CA), Jump-Start Theatre (San Antonio, TX), WagonBurner Theater Troup (Native American communities), Roadside Theater (central Appalachia), and Teatro Pregones (Puerto Rican community in the Bronx).

Edited by Peter Lichtenfels and John Rouse, Performance, Politics and Activism is collection of international essays that examine “making political performance and making performance politically” via political resistance, public practice, and performance media. In Acts of Activism: Human Rights as Radical Performance, D. Soyini Madison relates stories of how local activists in South Saharan Africa employ performances in their struggle for human rights. Madison includes three case studies: women claiming ownership of their bodies; the fight for safe, accessible water; and street performance as a tactic for resistance and intervention for gender activists. Lara Shalson’s Theatre & Protest is part of Palgrave’s “Theatre &” series. Shalson provides an overview of social justice theatre and includes some recent topics, for example the 2016 curtain speeches, after a Broadway performance of Hamilton, directed at Vice-President Mike Pence, who was in the audience; the work of Pussy Riot; and the controversies over Exhibit B by South African performance group Third World Bunfight. Political and Protest Theatre after 9/11: Patriotic Dissent, edited by Jenny Spencer, a collection of essays documenting theatre produced between the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and Obama’s election in 2008, responds to the actions and policies of the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Works Cited