Convener(s):  Bev Adams 

Participants: Matt Burman, Paschale Stratton, Naomi O Kelly, Sophie Larsman, Laura Hayes, Adeel Akbar, Sharon Matthews, Dominze Campbell, Susanna Roland, Mark Morreau, Tom Brockelhurst, Agatha Pitarch, Tom Jackson, Joe Hallgarth, Robert Cook, Neil Heating, Natalie Querc, Roxanne Peak-Payne, Roisin Simpson

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Street Arts has its roots in the lampooning of power (Commedia), satire (Punch and Judy), and the protest happenings of 1960’s.  In 21st century Britain, buskers have to be licensed and paid street performers have local authorities as their paymasters, either directly or indirectly through a festival producer.  What  opportunities are there for street artists to create contentious, inciteful and through provoking work?

Local Authorities are by nature political organisations striving to meet a host of political agendas– NI111 –participation in the arts targets, community cohesion agendas, street artists are used as pacifiers for disenfranchised communities and with their work used to provide the pretty picture in the promotion of UK towns as destinations.  Street Arts delivers well against these agendas.  Is it time for us to upset the status quo? Should we try and change the agenda from that of street artists meeting the targets to street artists creating work because of what we want to say or change. 

Matt Burman from the Without Walls (a consortium of producers and promoters of outdoor arts) said that, whilst Without Walls was particularly attuned to the need to provide spectacle shows reaching audiences of 5,000 in the run up to the Olympics, not many street artists/companies were proposing work of “intellectual riguer” and there is a desire to see more work of this nature.  How does spectacle engage the audience emotionally and intellectually?  Group F (French Pyrotechnics company) mentioned that sometimes they strive to engage through colour – getting 10,000 people to look at the colour blue for 2 minutes. Sometimes it is about making the audience look at their surroundings afresh with imprints left by ephemeral street arts works in the audiences minds’ eye often permanently changes their perceptions of that place. 

Paschale talked about her up and coming project based on Punch and Judy with an outcome of facilitating the audience/general public to write letters which are posted to the government.  When asked if the company censored/vetted these letters she replied that the public where often polite as they were mindful of who they were writing to. 

Another member of the group talked about theatre work on sustainability with small communities in India - street theatre as a form of local activism.  How do the measure the ripple effect of something quite small and localized? 

The work of the street theatre company, Desperate Men, on the River Severn was cited as being a particularly good example of small local meaningful projects extended to specific communities on the river.  This project became about the saving of the sturgeon, a once native fish to those waters, and culminated in a large scale finale as a stand off between Caviar Magnates wanting to create a factory (jobs) and the River “Wardens” wanting the Sturgeon to repopulate the river.  This type of political project is an extension of the local activism project.  It is based in reality, takes into consideration the locale and the interests of the local people but is removed from the realms of agit prop by being presented as metaphor. The plight of 1 sturgeon and its battle to survive. 

Public space is increasingly privatized, controlled and licensed and working in the public realms brings with it a number of restrictions and limitations.  In order to make impact and draw focus away from the general hubbub of the public space, practitioners tend to work in broad brush strokes, using archetypes. Complex   narrative and dialogue is not always effective.  Narrative does not necessarily need to be the driver of the message. The emotive visual image can speak a thousand works and have great impact.

Who is out there and do they really want to hear your views? 

With theatre (indoors or out) we should be creating a space where change is possible and where people are able to listen, but more importantly, they are able to engage.

What is the language of engagement? Tapping into to universals helps – food, shelter, the human element. 

What do we have to protest about?  There is currently no political focus but a need for new social, economic and political structures.  Where is the vision.  Should we start a political party of street performers?

Is it the role of the performer to present of an argument or a political standpoint? Being political does not mean being polemical. Telling people what you want to say (especially if they don’t want to hear it) is the politics of oppression. Politics as content in performance is problematic. Often such shows preach to the converted. Those shows that are successful in helping us to change the way we perceive the world are not successful because they present an argument.  Often shows succeed in changing our perceptions through their expression of human interaction.  The development of empathy for the plight of an individual is a deeply political act and opening an honest and generous line of communcaiton with the audience on a particular subject creates the possibility for dialogue and development of ideas beyond the life span of the performance - allowing the dialogue with the audience the opportunity to bear the fruit.