How do we make theatre a force for social change?

Sian Tomos, 7 July 2012

Present at the discussion were Anne Plenderleith from Clwyd Theatr Cymru's Theatre for Young People, Romy Shovelton, Davinda and Mike from National Theatre Wales, John from China and Sian Tomos from the Arts Council of Wales.

Sian began by outlining her recent research in the field of public art where artist and the art is increasingly becoming a force for mobilizing communities and effecting social changes - often of some scale and significance. How can we harness the power of theatre and performance in this respect and make it important and relevant to people in their own communities.

We actually came up with many examples where theatre has already done this - it is not a new phenomenon in theatre. We have some excellent new examples in Wales such as NTW's Mountain Sand and Sea and The Passion which had an incredible impact on Barmouth and Port Talbot respectively.

We felt that the intergenerational conversations are incredibly important. We need to keep our stories and histories alive and theatre can facilitate this.

Theatre can create ‘shared spaces’ and you need these to facilitate other things.

The art of storytelling is deep in the national psyche in Wales and we need to capture this.

Theatre can build resilience within communities making them better equipped to cope with - and indeed to deal with - adversity

It can create a sense of belonging and place that underlies any sense of community well being. This is incredibly important for young people at the moment we felt.

A sense of empowerment can come from working with artists. This can then be used for other things.

We must recognise that this kind of work requires a time premium. It is not something that can be done quickly. Parachuting in and out is wrong. Can't build people up and give them opportunities and then leave them bereft.

When theatre works with communities, it must demonstrate that there's a point to contributing - that change can happen and that people will listen. Dialogue must be genuine and meaningful - don't ask me what I think unless you want to listen.

This kind of theatre can create sensory experiences that include everyone and celebrate everyone's contribution or story regardless of disability.

In a digital age, the shared live experience will remain special and we must ensure that it is through creativity. Theatre experiences must exceed the online one.

We came up with an idea to revive the old Welsh language form of early theatre performance - the Anterliwt. A band of performers would roam from place to place and perform on the back of a wagon that they would transform into a community

performance space using local farm hands to sing and such like in minor roles. We loved the idea of the theatre rolling into town - sense of circus, the excitement, the engagement, the participation, the reflecting back of a community to itself.

Let's do it!


The Passion, Anterliwt, Theatre and Social Change, young people, Theatre, National Theatre Wales, society, activism, Young People, theatre, social change