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Global conversations about theatre, performance and poverty


Post by Naomi Paxton

As part of my job as Research Associate for the Poor Theatres project, I have had the privilege of undertaking a number of Skype interviews with artists and practitioners working around the world. The trailers for these interviews are available as a playlist on the Poor Theatres youtube channel.

I’ve been speaking with people with significant experience of participatory theatre in and with an enormous range of communities – theatre and performance groups and events that have challenged as well as highlighted systemic inequalities, specific issues around social justice, class, gender and economic hardship whilst continuing to wrestle with questions of representation, authenticity, fairness, participation and, of course, the making of theatre and performance events themselves. I’ve so enjoyed researching these companies and interviews – it’s been fascinating to hear about inspirations, methodologies and theatre practices. Many practitioners have become involved in participatory theatre and applied theatre projects without feeling ‘ready’ to do so – throwing themselves into new communities, situations and opportunities and finding ways to use their often extensive performance training to feel their way through. Others work within their own communities to challenge preconceptions at local and national levels – I’m thinking particularly here of Budhan Theatre in India and Grodski Theatre in Poland. What has seemed to be mentioned again and again is a willingness to try new things, develop new work, engage with people and experiment with form. The importance of visibility and the use of public space have frequently come up in conversations – both John Malpede from Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) and Annie Roy from ATSA in Canada have spoken to me about the reclaiming of public space as an integral part of their work whilst Howlround, also in the USA, use online space too to talk about a theatre commons – an idea which Jenny Hughes has blogged about here.

Another interesting theme has been funding and issues around impact – how companies describe work to funders, what pressures come with different types of funding and how relationships with large government funders can sometimes be precarious if the work created criticises or comments upon civic issues or social justice concerns within the community.

There’s lots of advice worth listening to – to recognise privilege and challenge one’s own preconceptions; to meet people where they are and listen to their stories; to resist imposing forms or themes; to find time and space – both physical and emotional – for others; to know when being a good ally means not speaking and to keep pushing for engagement and accessibility. There’s so much that practitioners have in common all over the world – and I hope that the interviews will be a useful resource for students and emerging artists and practitioners as well as existing companies.

Click here to see all the international interviews trailers

Click here to see our list of art, performance and cultural projects engaging with issues of economic justice and poverty across the world.

(blog post by Naomi Paxton)


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