This dissertation addresses efficacy in activist, community-based theater (CBT). It relies primarily on my ethnographic research with zAmya Theater Project, a community-based theater in Minneapolis, MN that makes plays with and about people who have experienced homelessness. My time with zAmya has led me to develop a theory of and language for efficacy in community-based theater based not on the desire for large-scale or systemic social change, but upon the possibility of intensely local instances of transformation in interpersonal encounters, or what I call an intimacy of social change. I draw my definition of intimacy from Buddhist philosophy, where it denotes a radical presencing, or a closeness to the present moment of lived experience without grasping or becoming averse to that experience. This theory of efficacy is not intended to replace the call for systemic change other CBT practitioner-scholars (such as Augusto Boal) articulate, but rather to enrich that mode of praxis.
I look at three sites within zAmya's rehearsal and performance process where this kind of efficacy exists (or has the possibility to exist in other CBTs). These sites are: 1) the movement of bodies through theatrical space and the way that movement produces freedom or oppression, 2) the way affect and emotion are produced in rehearsals and performances, and the way they move in circuits through the room or are prevented from doing so, and 3) the narrative act, which includes an analysis of the narrators and the way they negotiate the power contained within the act of storytelling. I contend that when intimacy, or radical presencing, occurs in any of these three sites, a moment of efficacy has occurred, and I propose that this model of efficacy be included in discussions about the impact of activist theater.