Theatre has more impact than journalism

The difference between theatre and journalism featured three times in my readings in the last couple of weeks. Two Dutch journalists wrote in de Volkskrant that theatre has more impact than journalism. And I dug up a story from my first Source Bulletin I wrote in 1998 on the use of theatre for water conservation in Palestine. I wrote this blog from neighboring Egypt where I helped facilitate a workshop on water and land with 21 journalists from seven Arab countries.

A Staged Reading of the Iraqi Refugee Project

Michael Zeeman in his column in De Volkskrant on 15 January 2009 described the work of two young American theatre makers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen A Staged Reading of the Iraqi Refugee Project. In a Jordan refugee camp they interviewed 30 Iraqi refugees about their experiences of Iraq’s liberation by the USA. They edited these into journalistic interviews. They had nine Iraqi actors reading out their roles on stage in a New York theatre. “The effect was shocking and occasionally unbearable”, Zeeman wrote.

“This kind of confrontational theatre has more impact than a television documentary or a written series of interviews. You have to be a damn good writer to achieve the same level of painfulness. And in the filmed documentary nobody believes anymore: it is all staged,  omissions, demagogue montage.”

Medea play has more impact than children dying on television news 

Noraly Beyer retired recently after more than 25 years being one of the anchors in the  main public television news programme in the Netherlands, the NOS Journaal. Taking a role in the Medea play she started an acting career. In an interview on 20 January 2009 she describes that journalism creates distance, whereas Medea is close to the skin. News images of mothers losing children in a war a disaster hurt, but Medea forces you to reflect deeper and more personally.  

In the very first Source Bulletin in May 1998 I published a field story from Palestine on Zamzam, about a theatre programme supported by UNDP. I saw a local theatre maker  sharing water conservation messages in a “road show” with young people. Theater for development at its best.

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