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Empathy and redemption in theatre for young people: Towards an epistemic theory of empathetic imagination

De Reuck, J. (2012) Empathy and redemption in theatre for young people: Towards an epistemic theory of empathetic imagination. International Journal of Arts, Culture and Heritage, 1 . pp. 125-139.

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This paper comprises two inter-related parts. In the first section I discuss the development of the empathetic imagination in young people through the medium of drama. Referring to a selection of plays I have written, directed and published as e-books for theatre in education projects, I will examine how the narrative situation of such theatre-work, both facilitates and invokes the meaning structures through which a young person’s empathetic imagination can be epistemically and ethically schooled. Pre-given identity formations and socially endorsed ‘ways of seeing’ dictate the untutored imaginations of young people. This paper will argue for the value of generating an epistemically informed, empathetic imagination, as an ideal towards which theatre for young people should strive especially when its form is shaped into contemporary adaptations of the Shakespearean text or popular entertainment, which attract significant numbers of young viewers. The second section of the paper interrogates the design and representation decisions taken for an adaptation of Macbeth which imported Asian performance and visual arts traditions in an attempt to offer both student performers and audiences a thought-provoking perspective on traditional western interpretations of the play. Central to such an undertaking, I contend, is the ethical reconstruction through dramatic presentations of regimes of value reception. Cognitive respect for the young mind, together with a commitment to supporting the emerging autonomous judgement of the young viewer or performer requires the framing of the dramatic treatment in such a way as to present stage characters whose vulnerabilities resist marginalization through uninformed manoeuvres of exclusion. By questioning unreflexive, encultured identity formations, theatre for young people, I suggest, can enlarge the empathetic reach of the ‘youthful imagination’ and provide a justifiable ‘way of knowing’. Ideologically undistorted dramatized encounters - joyous and sad by turns – invite young actors and audiences to embrace differences with enlightened generosity.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan
Copyright: © 2012 Malaysian Citation Centre & Ministry of Education
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