Sunday, 13 March 2016

Theatre is not...


After reading the January 2016 edition (Provocative Theatre) of Scene, a monthly Journal from ISTA, I was reminded of my slightly more 'anarchic' days as a student and contemporary theatre maker, in particular by the words from Jess Thorpe in her contribution These bridges, these walls. Discussing the value of arts practice in the context of a prison, she reminds us that
"Theatre is not just about entertainment - although it is important to find enjoyment in it.
Theatre is not about showing-off - it takes a brave person to stand up in front of others.
Theatre is not a soft option - it requires a huge amount of hard work to create something authentic.
Theatre is not a treat - from the beginning of time humans have used creativity to respond to the world around them and to reflect their experiences. It is part of who we are."

When I reflect on the role of drama here at ISB, in a school community that is by most comparisons incredibly privileged, I am always asking myself 'What impact can art have on these students' lives?' and in turn 'How can these students have an impact through art on their community and the world in general?'

I feel very lucky as a teacher, to be given the freedom and respect to choose the content of my course and also have the flexibility to make plans based of the particular interests and requirements of each group. But I also feel a responsibility to these principles of theatre/art/performance/whatever, that the things we create to be shared with the world should have other values than just entertainment.

Myself, back when I was a high-schooler devising a piece called Charity with my local youth theatre; as a student learning about the Performance Art of Marina Abramovich, Ron Athey, Stelarc and others; studying Sarah Kane, Moisés Kaufman, Pina Bausch, Goat Island; and as a theatre-maker with our company Trace Theatre, I wore the mantra of 'changing the world through art' on my sleeve. I turned my back on all forms of theatre that were escapist, masturbatory, money-grabbing or any other derogatory definition I would give and became passionate only about performance that was socially and politically engaged.

A little older and little more experienced I have since broadened my terms of validity in the art world, but I still long to see and make work that has impact. Now, I have a responsibility to make work with my students that is engaging and catches the student's attention for longer than a single 40-minute block. At the same time, it is our duty as conscientious citizens of our community (/communities) to make art that is not just for entertainment
is not stagnant or stifled
is not pretentious or entitled
is empowering, determined, passionate, considerate
is aware of and designed for the wider communities than just the drama classroom

In one of my classes right now, we are working on writing and performing Slam Poetry. It's not traditionally something you might encounter in a Drama class (but is more likely to appear in a class entitled Performance Works) and at first students were hesitant to jump into the topic. Can't we do a script? Can't we play more games? Poetry, seriously? - were some of the initial reactions to the idea. Yet, after a class chatting openly about what the students are passionate about, what angers them, what they would change in the world, etc, they eventually all warmed up to the idea.

We began the project by writing down their thoughts ('the writing's on the wall' in this case). I felt that the students were not just paying lip-service for an assessment criteria or other such nonsense, with the contributions they made to the conversation. They were genuinely passionate about the topics they suggested, as well as being reasonably well-informed about the initial arguments they might have on such subjects.

The poems the students are creating are powerful, brave, passionate and thought-provoking. Our plan is to film the Slams and share them with as many people as we can, because we believe that their work is important and should be heard. 

For the rebellious, often idealistic, mind of a teenager the thought of changing the world is not inconceivable. It is only older, with more defeats under our belts, perhaps, that many of us become more weary, more cynical.

Reading this edition of Scene and working with my students has shaken me up again, filled my energy tank with some fuel and once over reminded me of the power of art and performance.

As educators, if we can help students find their voices they will show us that are not afraid to use them; for making noise, for disrupting the peace, for speaking out.

We should look more to the passion and energy of the young. We should remind ourselves that art is not disappearing, it is not insignificant and neither are we.


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