Monday, 19 December 2011

What's the point?

Cardboard Citizens' Project manager Tony McBride finishes an energetic drama game and calls together the first gathering (see last post) of all the potential actors-in-training. He begins to explain more about the mechanics of Forum Theatre which was developed by Augusto Boal the Brazilian theatre director, writer and politician and is the foundation for No Fixed Abode.

He asks everyone what the point of the games are. There is a moment's pause. It is obvious what some of these participants (all of whom are living on the edges of society) think but are too polite to say - at least out loud. Then some replies come: “Break the ice”, “encourage communication”, “relax us all”, “have a laugh”. Tony agrees. He says the games may be weird, silly and sometimes uncomfortable to do but they are part of the process of giving actors (with no previous experience) the tools, skills and strength necessary to face an audience.

“What other qualities would help us develop a performance and be useful in life? he enquires. I write down the replies: “Patience, confidence (in other people and yourself), teamwork, listening, dedication (commitment to the task) and respect (for each other and yourself).”

The games and other Forum Theatre work these new actors from the uncomfortable fringes are undertaking should be fun, enjoyable and thought provoking but perhaps more importantly have a practical place in real life, Tony explains. Not everyone looks convinced - their lives are hard and a long way from the plush interiors of The Core. It is too early for them to know and feel Boal's raw, revolutionary approach to theatre.

Tony starts with what are called ‘images’. He asks for some issues to do with homelessness and gets some swift replies: “being cold”, “getting enough to eat”, “loneliness” “family issues”. One man maybe sums it up when he shouts out: "Surviving". Tony splits the participants into groups - each with a different issue. They are given a few minutes to capture it with a single image (like a freeze frame). 

The first group’s theme is domestic/emotional abuse. An older woman in the group stands on a chair and spreads out her arms threateningly over the huddled threesome beneath her. Tony asks the rest of us what we think the image signifies and how it could be changed. The people with suggestions then physically remodel the image to represent the solution. A powerful flicker of understanding fires the interest of the whole group. We can begin to see what this about. The other group frame equally striking images which get recast.

Lisa from The Core winds things up. The participants fill in the inevitable paperwork. They are set for the second stage of the project in the second week of January. I wonder about their ‘Happy Christmas’.

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