In October I am pencilled in to give a talk and workshop in Brno, Czech Republic, about the benefits of community theatre practice. I strongly believe in community theatre, it is where I grew up, found my true love of the arts be it from plays that came into school, amateur dramatics and youth theatre. I have worked in all areas of the above often with mixed ability groups, creating some truly moving explorations of society with some of the least celebrated or valued. What an honour for me. But what for the receivers?
I truly believe that community theatre projects DO enrich the lives of participants. It is well-known that theatre / creative work can help to build confidence, can give an outlet for expression (that might otherwise be closed) and build strong, lifelong friendships. I have seen support workers discover new depths to the people they are supporting (mentally or physically challenged people, or vulnerable youths) giving them the opportunity to share something really rather special with them. Participating in theatre is really scary. I’m not just talking about getting up on stage in front of 150 strangers, I’m talking about taking risks continually in rehearsal, putting yourself on the line, volunteering for something and then realising that it’s a bit close to the bone. If you have been through this with others you often feel a comeradary that is difficult to emulate in any other way.
There is no doubt in my mind that, still today, theatre is an elitist activity. It cost an enormous amount of an average wage to go. Sometime it makes the news:
I’m not here today to rant about the prices of tickets though, I’m merely inserting the issue as another reason why community theatre is so important. It helps to bring theatre to the masses – or the opportunity to connect with theatre at least.
Let us consider the joy of theatre. Why is it so engaging? It’s live ! Nothing beats seeing the magic happen in real-time. This is unescapable. Watching a performance is like peeping through the net curtains, watching life unveil before you. It takes you away from your day-to-day life, much as a book does but you are sharing the experience with many others. You can do this at the cinema admittedly, but theatre is live (I told you it was unescapable). Of course I’m not only talking about theatre that happens in theatres. I have an image burnt on my brain (whilst at primary school) of a boy reaching for the moon..in my old school hall. It cost my parent’s next to, or nothing for me to see that piece of theatre in school. Theatre that goes into schools is there for all to see and enjoy.
Drama is a way of engaging with language – educationally it develops an understanding of language that may not transfer to all, via reading. It can help emotional intelligence and I think my main love of community theatre is that it can transport someone out of their real world. Immediately my mind is filled with moments that, as a facilitator, I have seen people with special needs, or emotionally disturbed backgrounds finding a moment of peace, of confidence, of glamour, of importance, of high status (not all simultaneously!). If you spend all day in a day centre with the same people how great could it be to play someone else, if only for 10 minutes? Escapism is important!
So to summarise the first of my community theatre ramblings:
Theatre (watching or creating) is a shared LIVE experience. Going through a fear barrier with others helps to create social bridges
Theatre can develop academic and emotional understandings
Community theatre can give people the opportunity to escape their daily routines