“Community is not a dirty word”
I wrote those words in my notebook whilst en route to the Acta Community Theatre Festival in Bristol last week.
There can be connotations of the words “Community Theatre” that are less than helpful. As a working professional in Theatre I've frequently come across assumptions that Community work is somehow lesser than the “High Art” of Professionals putting plays on stages. Indeed, there's even talk of some organisations using “Community Engagement” just as a cynical ticking of a box in order to attract more funding.I'm very pleased to report that National Theatre Wales is not one of them. As a TEAM Panel Member I see first hand how central to NTW the Communities of Wales are.
It was both refreshing & encouraging to see the Community celebrated in style at the Acta festival. With workshops running throughout the day giving us a chance to connect with other practitioners, share ideas & expand our horizons.
One person in a discussion I participated in defined Community work as “Locally Sourced”. I quite like that. Theatre that gives the people of a specific community the opportunity to use their authentic voice authored by & performed by the people excites me. This is activism, empowering people to validate themselves, affirm their beliefs by speaking out, This in turn, if the beliefs are sound can help empower others. This can lead to change, away from a problem to a solution.
For this change to really happen requires more than patting each other on the back for a good show done. Change requires a commitment to the work, spreading the word, watching the ripples turn to waves.
Encouragingly enough, Acta's Festival was more than a local thing. Practitioners & performers had come from across Europe. The connections we made were the same: The desire to empower ourselves & others to make work affecting social change. The themes are universal, the practice excitingly different.
Attending “The People's Platform” in North Merthyr the next day reminded me that Community in action really is an empowering thing.
As we sat around our table at the Penydarren Social Club, debating the questions put to us by the cast I realised something… “People want places to gather, a chance to discuss, define & resolve issues concerning the Community. Everyone these days sits at home with their computer & TV on, front door locked, people don't talk to each other anymore”… As we sat in this packed out Social Club, strangers & neighbours chatting, debating, sharing ideas.
Events like “The People's Platform” are very inspiring & provide a vital spark of debate. It doesn't even have to be a large scale event like these that starts the fire, I'm sure there are smaller scale TEAM initiatives that could get people talking. I, for one, would love to hear about them. The trick is to keep going.
TEAM is National Theatre Wales' Community – Let's keep using it to make a difference.
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