Can we make theatre about politics/social issues that changes people’s minds and behaviour (and how?) Jack Hudson, 10 January 2016 THE PEOPLE Jolie, Patrick, Vivian, Stella, Chris, Shawn, Steve, Marianne, Anna, Adam, Kirstin, Gavin, Max, Pia, Nick, Nikki, Jess, Lucy, Susie, Jack, Caroline, Ashley, Frances, Katerina. THE DISCUSSION RELATABLE CHARACTERS People engage more with real/normal human characters – feelings effected through the audience relating to the characters. Anecdotal human examples/stories are key. People’s opinions are more easily swayed by the people they love, therefore it helps to create characters that the audience feel attached to. The story is what draws people in. Danger of dehumanising/caricaturising the people who are ‘under attack’ (e.g. “Tory Scum”), which is unhelpful. People are more emotional about political/social issues at the moment which can make voices louder (and thereby harder to engage with?). We should focus on a gentle, kind, hopeful message over an angry one. DIDACTIC vs DIALECTIC Talking about the ‘converted’ and the ‘unconverted’ is unhelpful because it is not a dichotomy, it’s a continuum. It is problematic that political theatre has become synonymous with left-wing theologies. The central issue should be taken out of the Left vs Right argument because polarising the debate ostracises certain people/sides. There might be an argument for working with the other ‘side’ But this is difficult because people’s opinions about the government (for example) are so divided, if not opposed/contradictory, making it hard to find common ground. Psychological case studies show that people’s biases (e.g. confirmation bias) will influence their opinions on things (e.g. political speeches) if context is removed (i.e. you’ll feel differently about the same text if you’re told the author is Right-wing or Left-wing). It is important, therefore, not to be too one-sided, which is off-putting, but to get people onside first and then subtly introduce the challenging subject – like a Trojan horse. There is also a case, however, to be made for work that is biased. e.g. Torycore, which acts as a galvanising space for anger, providing like-minded people with a catharsis and a source of motivation but also sparks a conversation. (More often that not, however, music is apolitical and can therefore be a good Trojan horse.) There is value in preaching to the converted because it keeps people motivated and re-establishes their ideas. CHALLENGING OPINIONS The arrogance of saying you’re going to change someone’s opinion is off-putting. However, is there any point in creating political theatre if it’s not leading towards a conclusive point? Such work needs to have an agenda of some point. Furthermore, it would be disingenuous to say we don’t have an agenda and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of feeling in the right. Can we use behavioural change psychology as a resource for creating such work? (worth looking at We Are What We Do’s campaign to reduce plastic carrier bags). What’s more important, creating theatre or challenging ideas? Because, if it’s the latter, then maybe the best thing to do is step outside of theatre or engage with a new audience and then bring them back with you (e.g. The Yes Men – using multimedia/mainstream entertainment). Theatre that translates into the mainstream can have more of an impact – e.g. Backstage in Biscuit Land. This is a good example of a Trojan horse, which presented itself to an audience who hadn’t necessarily formulated their opinions of the subject and challenged them during the show. Street theatre is dying out (lack of funding?) but can also be incredibly effective. Theatre can have an incredible impact – like it did in Russia when art was heavily censored, but in our society theatre has become part of the establishment, which makes it harder to be radical and have the same effect (because of, for example, funding). QUALITY Is key (it’s no good if the work is rubbish) GOOD EXAMPLES OF WORK THAT HAS SUCCESSFULLY CHALLENGED/CHANGED PEOPLE - Tell Them That I’m Young and Beautiful at The Arcola Individual situations/stories which didn’t start out with any political intention Musical element - Confirmation by Chris Thorpe (edited - sorry, Chris!) Feelings of discomfort – made to question own bias - Early Days Audience form interim councils in fictional failed state (like a model UN) Wide mixture of audience helped to realise complexity of such situations - Children of Men (film) Inspired to join Amnesty charity AUDIENCE Important to consider who is coming to see the work(s) – is it worth considering trying to target other people? But don’t discredit who you already have and make friends (so they have to come!) The idea of an ‘issues play’ fills some people, even regular theatregoers, with dread. Touring community theatre/work to target environment (e.g. hospitals) and broadening conversation out into other mediums/forums (e.g. post-show discussions) (basis in agit-prop history) Going in with an idea to convince people of might never work, partly because you can’t control what the audience’s reaction will be (e.g. Laura Wade’s Posh – enjoyed by a vocal Right-wing audience). Work with target audience to understand and bring them what they want and then use that format/medium/genre to convey message. London might not be the best/most important place to produce such work because it is already saturated with Left-wing movements/art, whereas other parts of the country are more Right-wing/have access to less theatre. There are issues with class contained in artistic discussions of politics/social issues – the best political initiatives enable people to have a voice and focus on relatable experiences rather than attempts at persuasion. Where does the responsibility of engaging the audience lie? Venue? Company? Writer? All things combined together (more than just the work) is most effective. FUNDING Banner Theatre Company – community theatre Tour work to unions in order to make money to fund work but this makes it harder to get ACE funding because it’s preaching to the converted. Can funding come from the venue, combined with ways to target the community? HOW CAN WE USE THEATRICAL TECHNIQUES/EXPERIENCE IN PROTEST ACTIVITIES? Important to try and broaden activists/audience because it’s often a small group of the same people involved (the internet is possibly at fault for making people feel like they’re doing something when they’re not?) There is a perception that protests are dangerous, boring and/or ineffectual. The 21st century provides us with more mediums for protest/expression than were available in the 20th century (e.g. flash mobs). MAKE IT FUN Political theatre of the 1970s faded out, partly because it took itself too seriously? (Good work empowered people’s voices but didn’t tell audience that the makers knew best) Humour and enjoyable entertainment is a good tool/Trojan horse, partly because it appeals to a wide range of ages/backgrounds/interests etc. (e.g. Italian carnival float – ‘Fuck The Austerity Jazz Band’) Work about political/social issues can be too miserable, and therefore unengaging. A typical failing of the Left is to get bogged down in dry/pernickety debate which is incredibly off-putting and un-motivating (e.g. Momentum meetings spending weeks trying to nail definition of movement and all the while losing members). GOOD EXAMPLES OF FUN/THEATRICAL PROTESTS the Pink Dot protest in Singapore, where it is illegal to be gay: Everyone wears pink and goes to a carnival/festival and at sundown everyone puts a pink filter over their phone and shines the light into the airs creating a giant pick dot. This movement has grown from hundreds to hundreds of thousands in a very short time and began with stories of people’s experiences/people they knew. Rebel Clown Army: came out of workshop with Angela de Castro and John Jordan. Used clowning techniques on marches and protests (e.g. throwing giant pink pretzels at George Bush after he choked on a pretzel, filling bags with vibrators and other things that would be embarrassing when searched by police. Caveat: The police studied clowning techniques to effectively combat this… ONLINE NETWORK Is it worth creating a website where theatre-makers can come up with new/better ideas for protest? e.g. Shift Mobs – a library of ideas for innovative/theatrical protest methods with an element of fun. Might need an element of feedback/criticism so that people can learn from mistakes. Worth looking at protest groups that use elements of theatre, such as Anonymous and Occupy. However, these groups also have a central message. You need vehicle for communication AND content to be communicated. But, there is a danger that if you link such a resource/movement/website to one group then you alienate others. SOME CONCLUSIONS (TL:DR) It is important to connect with your audience through shared experiences/emotions, which is most readily done through engaging/loveable characters. Setting out to opening challenge people’s opinions might be self-defeating because heavily biased work can be off-putting (thought there is room for it as a way to galvanise). Finding some kind of Trojan horse – a way to put your message inside a more palatable medium (e.g. comedy) is key. There are questions to be asked about the audience who are coming to these shows, who the target audience are, and what they want in terms of theatre/entertainment/arts. There are ways theatre can be used to improve protest movements (for example, by making them more enjoyable). It may be worth setting up a network of people/ideas to bring activism/theatre together. Tags: Community Theatre, politics, opinions, Opinions, Politics, community theatre, THEATRE, Theatre, Social Issues, theatre Comments: 2 Steve Lawson, 12 January 2016 this was a really useful and insightful session. Thanks. Confirmation is by Chris Thorpe, not Chris Goode ;) x Jack Hudson, 12 January 2016 Whoops, thanks for spotting that! Sorry Chrisses.