"Strategies for Playbuilding: Helping Groups Translate Issues Into Theatre" is both inspiring and practical. Author Will Weigler brings more than twenty years of experience with urban and rural theatre companies to the development of this award-winning text, winner of the 2002 Distinguished Book Award of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. The introduction's opening sentence neatly summarizes the book's intent: To offer "...the reader a practical, step-by-step approach to helping a group of young people collaboratively investigate the issues that concern them and turn their perceptions into a script, song lyrics, or choreography" (p. xiii).
The 122-page book is divided into five chapters that explain the playbuilding process from the first meeting with participants through to the actual performance. Chapter headings include Developing an Ensemble and Building Skills; Identifying and Investigating the Topic; Building Dialogue, Lyrics and Choreography; Weaving Individual Performance Pieces into a Show; and Rehearsing and Performing.
The key word in the title is "strategies." Every chapter suggests what to do and then explains why this approach is helpful or a necessary step. Useful checklists and worksheets are included within the chapters and appendices; for example, a skills inventory, process checklist, and participant contract, among others. Generous text margins leave ample room for notes.
The step-by-step approach emphasizes collaborative learning at every stage. "The methodology is not designed just for kids. Adults looking for ways to examine and animate the dialogues about issues facing their community will find in these exercises an exciting alternative to more conventional discussion formats" (p. xiii). The book's techniques provide non-threatening ways to discuss and analyze sensitive themes such as prejudice, sexual orientation, ageism, etc. The exercises can also help rote-taught participants expand their ability to think in the abstract, critically analyze and independently create.
Although the text was not specifically written for an international audience, multicultural examples abound throughout. Chapter three includes nine diverse "pieces" that the author has helped to facilitate from the process stage to the final production. Expensive props or special effects are not relied upon to reach the audience. Most of the "tools" suggested can be easily obtained or adapted for a low-budget context. An extensive list of possible tools is detailed in Appendix A.
"Strategies for Playbuilding" is a book infused with passion and caring for both the art of theatre and the engagement and respect of the participants and audience. It is appropriate for community theatre, schools, and religious groups, and can be easily adapted for the international health and development context.