Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mara J. Goldman

Second Advisor

Joe Bryan

Third Advisor

Beth Osnes


Participatory development was introduced as an alternative to the top-down development programs that dominated international development processes since World War II. The goal of participatory development was to ensure that the people participating in development programs could have some voice in how the programs were designed and implemented. However, critics of participatory development point out that participatory projects have largely failed to achieve their goal of incorporating participants’ voices. Critics maintain that most participatory development projects are simply another form of top-down development placed in a new package. This thesis explores Theatre for Development (TFD) as a field which might offer some techniques to make participatory projects more truly participatory. I selected TFD because it is a field influenced by the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Since Freire’s work was one of the early influences on participatory research techniques in the early 1980s, it stands to reason that TFD might offer some techniques to make projects more closely reflect the initial goals of participatory development. Therefore, this thesis explores the question: “Can TFD techniques address the critiques of participatory development methods?” To answer this question, I conducted fieldwork in Kenya during the summer of 2009 to analyze two TFD workshops I facilitated in a low-income settlement near Nairobi and a village in western Kenya. I argue here that theatre is already used by Kenyan community-based organizations to engage in the international development process, and that the act of performance engages participants in a visceral, creative activity which encourages an environment ripe for participation.