Friday, 20 January 2012

Unthinking acts

"...Borough Council should encourage work ethic, not poison young people 
with flawed, left-wing dogma"

I was planning on having a well-deserved rest last night but my peace was disturbed by the extraordinary tweets along the lines of the above from a conservative councillor at Corby Borough Council.

How to deal with such ill-considered soundbites about a performance and project which has actually entailed so much hard work and has otherwise received widespread congratulations? The commitment by everyone involved (and that includes the council) has been amazing, so to have someone take a swipe at what went on was puzzling to say the least - but then I thought maybe this is a timely demonstration of how, if we feel our buttons are being pressed, we need to stop and check that it's not because our own prejudices and dogma are being challenged.

This councillor also seems to have forgotten that he was not alone in the theatre and that twitter is subject to libel laws, so such rash tweeting may well prove to be expensive.

Anyway, I abandoned my plans to set twitter ablaze partly because I think twitter is part of the problem. I doubt the councillor really felt the virulence behind his remarks. It's just too easy, particularly if you are scratching around trying to keep up your profile, to take a crack at something. And I'm not going to join in an twitter version of ping poing because this project deserves more serious consideration.

I think if you want to take a pop at something which involves a highly vulnerable group living in your community (and in this case the people working overtime with them) you have a responsibility to make sure you are accurate in what you say and you understand what is going on.

If you read through this blog, I hope it shows how much thought and sweat went into this project - particularly from Cardboard Citizens, and the participants who used their experiences of homelessness to put together the problem or play which forms the first part of any forum theatre production.

The whole point of the problem is that it is a problem. In this case it was about a family who through an illegal eviction, and not understanding how the system works, become homeless and then fall apart. It's not a happy problem because the aim is to leave an opening for alternative endings - for solutions which could change the situation. And that's where the audience comes in.

We (the actors) hand the problem over to them and they take to the stage with their own endings. The audience member replaces the protagonists (the mother or the daughter in this story) and the chosen scene is replayed with the new solution. Debate and discussion is provoked. And so it was in all the performances.

In the schools performances, the kids were mostly interested in replacing the daughter who in the initial story was pretty stroppy and possibly sliding into heavy drugs.  The youngsters enjoyed setting her right. In the evening, the debates were pretty fierce and the stressed Mum was replayed to be stronger and stand up for her rights. The snotty estate agent and evicted landlord got their comeuppance.

There was considerable, strong but well-natured debate in the audience between those with experience of homelessness and people in various housing/council organisations. At the conclusion of the evening a number of suggestions were made by the audience and gathered together to be presented to the council for consideration.

In the end perhaps, this project was/is all about courage (shown incredibly by the participants/actors who put aside their difficult life experiences to risk themselves on stage) and the need to be informed, to think, and to look for alternatives. It was also about engagement of groups and people who are rarely, if ever, heard.

The Housing Option team at the council, who supported the staging of No Fixed Abode, had no idea how they might come out of the process. But they took the risk in order to raise the profile and issues around homelessness. And they succeeded - cheap tweets aside.

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