How do you make theatre in communities that don't go to the theatre?

Brian Logan, 19 September 2012

What might you do as a theatre person when you're situated in the middle of a community that doesn't want to or isn't able to engage with theatre? How bridge that gap? Why bridge that gap?
I also wanted to discuss the above in relation to experimental, innovative theatre. It's already difficult to attract non-theatre-goers to theatre. So (how) can we attract them to ‘experimental’ theatre? Is that more difficult - or might it be easier?

In this discussion, it was suggested that

- if the people we want to reach don't want theatre, pretend it's not theatre. Or actually make stuff that isn't theatre. Make what the community wants, not what I want

- don't devise a project and invite the community to it. Engage with the community first, no matter how slow the process, develop relationships with individuals within that community, & find out what they want. Present your theatre as a tool to help them achieve that. And when undertaking a ‘community theatre project’, make sure that the community retains ownership of the project, and even management of it.

- if the community won't come to the theatre, take the theatre into the community. We all have pathways that we're comfortable treading. And some people really aren't comfortable coming into a theatre

- it's fine to start small. In this discussion, i heard about a theatre whose community engagement began with a small and sporadic youth theatre group. But even those few people coming regularly into the building helped familiarise and de-mystify the place. And they served as ambassadors to the community more widely

People discussed community projects they'd been involved in, some of which made a persuasive case for the social utility of theatre - i.e., that such projects can actually make things happen locally, that they can have tangible positive effects that can't always be achieved by other means.

We also asked: is a theatre obliged to engage with its geographical community? or can it define its ‘community’ in other terms? Can't we simply look beyond our local community and find an audience elsewhere? (I think it'd be weird to ignore the people living on one's own doorstep.)

But what's wrong with not wanting to go to the theatre? maybe it's fine and we should just leave these people alone.

We also discussed: are the people in these communities (insofar as we can generalise) carrying negative baggage about theatre (eg it's posh, pretentious, not for them), or are they simply oblivious to theatre? In other words, do we have a negative connotation to combat, or are we starting from a blank slate?

In this discussion, we also heard from a local theatre-maker who feels she's been manoeuvred into making community work in order to get her work funded, because small-scale touring work of the type her company makes won't get funded on its own merits.

We also talked about loads of other stuff, including standup comedy, opera and history lectures.