Audience Agency in ‘Political’ Theatre in Rehearsal and Performance

Convener(s): Tom Ross-Williams: [email protected] (Populace theatre), Becki Hillman: [email protected] (In Good Company)

Participants: Tom Brocklehurst, John Ward, Susana Davis Cook, Rod Dixon, Christina Caralina, Nicola Sianhope, Fran Hyde, Eve Leigh, Lauren Cooney, Emma Callander…

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Questions/provocations/models of practice/thoughts relating to the group discussion: 

  • come to me with a solution, not a problem
  • how do giving answers/asking questions lead to political agency in performance?
  • positivity/negativity for politicisation in performance
  • the efficacy of ownership/belonging for a theatre of action
  • Theatre Uncut and David Greig: his short play last year needing audience to participate – and empowering model? (Engendered emotional responses from audience members who empathised with what was going on and had to perform role-play)… …(but is an audience reading from a script in unison always empowering?)
  • Third Ring Out (performance) – educative, gaming model of performance, which began anonymously but became more involved/actively engaged
  • An invitation to become active/the active engagement of the audience must not lead to nowhere! (Where can it lead? – into other actions/networks/practices/social movements or groups? Into further productions? – how can we facilitate further engagement, what obstacles might we encounter as practitioners and how might we overcome them??)
  • Collective identity feels safer for an audience to practice agency (builds confidence). How can we engender this in rehearsal/performance? By splitting people into groups? Inviting them to socialise? Involving them in process……..
  • Is the word ‘political’ a turn off to theatre audiences (and what audiences do we want to politicize?) Is it unsexy/not escapist enough?...Automatically unpopular? Or is this relative to historical/political/economic contexts? Where is it sexy/popular? (Scotland? Other…?)
  • OR reclaim the word ‘political’???
  • Is being told something or being preached at always something we shy away from or do we accept it in contexts that aren’t ‘political’?
  • Is theatre encountering its biggest period of ‘formal explosion’?!

There’s much more but I am running out of time!....... thanks to tom and participants for great discussion! Becki


  • Donation only political theatre
  • Don’t turn the lights out on the audience
  • Giving people a shared experience
  • But give audience a role in political theatre is important
  • Leave a show feeling galvanised rather than pacified
  • The power of obstruction – audience unified by having to solve a problem of sharing a tight space
  • Encouraging audiences to be disobedient
  • Audience - Soho Theatre  (manipulated  but disempowered?)
  • Nature of the offer given to the audience
    • If we are told what to think do we turn off?
    • Demanding to share viewpoints to incite reactionary thinking/action
  • Connect audience to tangible  stories rather than abstract ideas
    • Like the demolition of local building
    • Localised is political theatre
  • We can learn from other forms – circus/stand-up/dance
  • 7:84 Black Black Oil
  • What is your language
    • Political issue explored through a ceilidh
  • Shalom Baby – political moment a gay kiss in Stratford East
  • “Be the change you want to see in the world”

Leave the theatre with the world “yes!”