Social Theatre in Urban Youth Culture Contexts

"Something is rotten in the State of Mexico…" This is the opening phrase of a staging of Shakespeare's play in the outskirts of Mexico City, where marginalized youth present their version of Hamlet to neighbours and friends in the barrio.

Janina Möbius's case study "Social Theatre in Urban Youth Culture Context" will investigate governmental and private cultural initiatives that try to provide new perspectives to youth in the periphery of Mexico City. By means of the theatre, these initiatives attempt to counter the violence, segregation, lack of possibilities, and criminality these youth face on a daily basis.

Theatre for social development has a long tradition in Mexico, but has always been closely entwined with governmental politics. For a long time, these programs were determined by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – the sole governing power in Mexico from 1929 until the early 1990s. After an intermezzo by the Conservative Party, the PRI is now back to power – facing times of accelerated violence as well as economic and social problems, which increasingly affect a new generation of Mexico’s youth. The new term 'NINI' is used to describe this generation: ni trabaja, ni estudia - neither working nor studying.

This is where governmental and other private and ecclesiastic initiatives intervene: they enter the 'problem neighbourhoods' and, by the means of theatre projects, they try to empower youth to represent and change their living conditions.

The study will analyse the aims of the teatro social programs in question: Which values should be transmitted, and what concepts of identity, youth, and community are assumed by these projects? What kinds of outcomes and impacts do they hope to achieve, both socially and aesthetically? Which aesthetic means and theatrical techniques are applied? Do they adopt specific aesthetic styles from the respective youth cultures? From where do the artistic models originate? Is, for example, a Hamlet-adaptation in the outskirts of Mexico City appropriate to express the perspectives and lack of prospects of 'NINI' teenagers? What possibilities for authentic expression does theatre provide in view of the major theatrics of public violence and political performance?