Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jean Graham-Jones

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

Marvin Carlson

Laura Edmondson

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Performance Studies | Theatre and Performance Studies


Transnational, East Africa, Afghanistan, Intercultural, Development


This dissertation examines two case studies of twenty-first-century transnational theatre development programs in which arts organizations from wealthy countries in the Global North extend resources and support for the professional development of theatre artists in regions in the Global South. The first case study takes up the French theatre company Théâtre du Soleil’s work in Afghanistan, starting in 2005, leading to the formation of the Afghan theatre company Aftaab and the next ten years of Soleil’s support of and collaboration with Aftaab, transpiring both in Kabul and Paris. The second case study examines the Sundance Institute East Africa Theatre Lab program, a branch of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, which since the early 2000s has explored opportunities for supporting the development of new theatre work in East Africa, eventually facilitating a series of development labs for East African artists held between 2010 and 2014. Methodologically, this dissertation draws on political, historiographic, sociological, and ethnographic theatre scholarship as well as performance analysis of key theatrical works.

For both case studies, I probe the ethics and cultural politics of the programs carried out in regards to their negotiations of unequal positions of geopolitical and economic privilege in the postcolonial and neoliberal context. Additionally, I study the aesthetics and concerns of the performance work that they yield, examining how the work is influenced by transnational support, what the artistic choices reveal about the programs’ values, what audiences the performances target, and within what local, regional, and/or global circuits they circulate. Finally, I consider the implications of participating in these programs for the supported artists in terms of their ongoing career development and the sustainability of new movements in local or diasporic performance activity to which the programs contribute. In addition to examining these processes, I analyze closely a core product of each respective initiative. In the case of Théâtre du Soleil/Aftaab, I reflect on two collectively created plays that were the most widely performed and documented of the company’s theatrical output, arguing that these productions constitute artifacts of the asymmetrical transnational working relationships that produced them. In the case of SIEA, I reflect on the Kampala International Theatre Festival as the most direct institutional offspring of Sundance’s program. I argue that through this festival, East African artists intervene in dominant trends in local performance and assert a globally-connected, twenty-first-century East African theatre culture.

This research suggests that the transnational programs examined here have been both productive and restrictive, contributing to the production of transnational artist subjectivities and performance work while also, in some ways, reifying preexisting systems of inequality and perpetuating dynamics of neocolonialism. Such initiatives, taking myriad forms, are likely to continue as we move deeper into the twenty-first century, and will continue to transpire through uneven power relationships. I argue therefore that a nuanced understanding of the potential outcomes, pitfalls, and implications of structural choices on the part of all artists and administrators involved is critical to approaching transnational development work ethically.