Apologies for the length of time since the last blog.  It’s been busy!  Apart from the well earned Christmas break and the traditional bouts of new-year illnesses, I’ve been out and about seeking out interesting models of theatre for social change to inform developments in our research lab.

I was in Holland meeting with three very different, but very interesting arts organisations in January.  Rotterdamwijkstheater, Stut Theatre and Formaat all work closely with marginalised communities through theatre.  With each of the organisations I found very interesting parallels to our work, and was fortunate to see workshops, performances and to get to spend time both the the artistic staff and participants.  The trip really generated food for thought, both in terms of the practice of theatre for social change – and the very different approaches the organisations take, and in terms of the company operations, approaches to audience development and working with, in or against the system.  We’re delighted to have submitted an application for European funding to enable us to work with Formaat over two years exploring models of theatre for social change with third age participants, and ways in which theatre might enable participants to have a stronger, louder voice in decision making processes.

The third partner in the bid is Ireland’s Age and Opportunity: in particular we’ll be working with their Bealtaine Festival, the only international festival of arts for and with older people; and Get Vocal a very exciting, radical programme they deliver focussed on developing lobbying skills and finding effective ways of older people engaging with democracy and change.

In Dublin in February I attended a symposium and workshop on Immersive Theatre led by the UK’s Punchdrunk Enrichment and Ireland’s Anu Productions.  Again the work was inspiring and exciting and made me think a lot about the traditional approach to theatre for social change of distancing the audience from the action as opposed to this approach of completely immersing the audience in the action.  Lots of ethical questions raised for me though which I hope to pursue later with Louise Rowe, the very interesting artistic director of Anu.  More on that another time!

Another thought to drop in here and discuss more later…..had a great meeting with Patrick Fox who heads up Create – Ireland’s national development agency for collaborative arts in social and community contexts.  He introduced me to a term in common usage here, but not yet (I don’t think) current in the UK: Collaborative Practice.  I’ve been struggling for some time with the term Participatory Practice/Arts/Theatre etc. etc. and the way in which that term has been part of the de-politicisation of what used to be Community Arts (a term in common usage in the Netherlands by the way, but denigrated as indicating poor quality, 70s radicalism in the UK by now).  (Francois Matarrasso has written an insightful article recently about this process of depoliticisation which is well worth a read.)  I also despise the term Applied Theatre, and all the implications of the ‘application’ (more on that in a series of position papers soon to be posted).  Theatre for Social Change properly explains what we do, but then we have to get into professional theatre, participatory theatre etc. etc.  Strange and complex divisions.  But collaborative practice – I like it a lot, it’s meaningful, clear and affords a sliding scale of engagement between diverse groups and individuals.  I’ll ponder it some more.  Would love to hear from you if you have come across the term outside of Ireland?  Maybe I’ve just had my head in the sand?