This thesis explores the effects of a large-scale, site-specific, community modelled arts production called The Journey, staged within a New South Wales public High School in July, 2012. The purpose of this research is to answer the question: Does site-specific, community theatre create change in an educational framework and how is this change demonstrated? The experience of staging this production and its’ immediate legacy has provided evidence of the potential of the arts as a tool to improve student engagement, teacher satisfaction and the community perception of schools and their inhabitants. The findings chapters in this thesis consider the perspectives of the staff, student and community participants; examining their views on self-development and the development of their school and community, pre and post The Journey production.
The theatre model which informed The Journey is based on Freire’s model of education or "conscientization" proposed in his 1970 text Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This model rejects what Freire calls "banking education" (which presumes participants are empty vessels like "piggy banks" that need filling); and instead draws on the existing knowledge and skill base of the participants to encourage authentic learning and critical thinking. The predominant themes that emerge in this thesis are derived from the central finding that The Journey had a positive effect on its’ host school and that it is the model of community theatre which was responsible for the constructive transformation of many established relationships amongst the study participants. The community theatre model removes status as a management tool and instead relies on reciprocated learning, shared responsibility and an authentic unity of all participants to work successfully towards a common goal.
Another key theme that emerged through this research project is the potential of site-specific theatre to challenge and re-define the school’s spaces and thus the role and politic assigned to these spaces by the individuals involved in the production. The study shows that site-specific theatre influenced the school’s learning culture and re-framed the wider community’s attitude towards the school, its inhabitants and function.
The interview research for this dissertation was completed one year after The Journey had concluded when the legacy of the community arts event was still contemporary to the school context; therefore, providing evidence as to the immediate effectiveness of this kind of arts project in a High School. However, it also highlights the need for a longitudinal case study to consider how long these positive effects last and the long-term ramifications for the school’s immediate and wider communities combined.