RightAct10 Day Two: Theatre and Social Change

by Jane

Starting off with forum theatre piece Expect Respect, night two of RightAct10 followed up a panel focusing on Theatre and Social Change, with Christie Antony of AC Arts, PJ Rose of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, Geordie Brookman of the State Theatre Company, and Georgie Davil of Carclew Youth Arts. This night had a very different feel across it than Friday night: more collaborative, certainly, and I think more hopeful for what theatre is and can be.

Expect Respect is a forum theatre piece on rape and sexual assault, designed for high school students by ActNow Theatre for Social Change in association with the Legal Services Commission. In two halves, it discusses where “the line” is, legally and morally, and how people can actively change their behavior to enact change in others, as audience members are asked to call in and change the behavior of characters.

Despite my best intentions, I found myself involved in the second half. I have no problem with audience interaction, but I normally won’t invite it upon myself, but when the situation on stage got too dire and I didn’t hear anyone else in the audience yell “stop”, I had to say something. I think that in itself is a sign of the power of “social change” of the theatre: I couldn’t even bring myself to let these characters go along that path. Of course, I chose to invoke the “Magic” of forum theatre, as Edwin Kemp Atrill described it, changing a “nanny into a ninja”, but coming off the first half of the performance I felt that was what needed to be said.

From what the actors and their lawyer said, the piece has been very well received in schools, and I hope that it is something which helps to change the behavior of some students.

My favourite part of the panel was getting to learn more about these people and their lives and their love for theatre and the arts. A friend described it as being like an interview, and it was a lovely experience. In some ways, what you want is the fiery balls of passion that ignited on night one, which brought with it a palpable energy which extended the discussion well onto the floor after the event, but in other ways nice when things are just nice.

The biggest contested issue was what exactly is “social change”? It is such a broad concept, from Rose being deeply personally affected by Sunday In The Park With George to Davill working with Makhampom Theatre Group in Thailand and seeing theatre help a village: there, she told us, they don’t have the luxury of titling it “social theatre”, of making those distinctions.

Also discussed was what makes someone working in the arts a “professional”? Is it employment, funding? The definition for that was decided to be intent. Intent to work on your craft and pursue it as a life long goal: I find that to be a beautiful definition.

So, with theatre bringing fire one night and community the next, I am curious to see what tonight’s panel, steering away from theatre and into the realm of politics and campaigning will bring.