What might a "Transition Theatre" look like?

Jeremy Holloway, 1 September 2012

This session was called by Cathy and attended by Clifford, Jan, Annemarie, Paula, Gail, Bee, Paul, Phelim and Franki (some for only part of the session). I think there were a couple of others, whose names I (Cathy) did not manage to get on paper.

I began by giving a sense of why I had called the session. I explained my interest in art that responds to the challenges and transitions of climate change, but without feeling comfortable with or interested in some of the aesthetics most commonly associated with activism. I was interested in learning more about existing models and thinking about the role theatre might play within green activism - and indeed is playing, in many different places.

Initially I asked Paula Critchlow to talk about some of the theatre she has been making in ‘Make-Shift’, because it is an example of something that perhaps does offer some kind of model. Paula suggested that she had not begun by engaging with transition, but that her own, and her collaborator's politics emerged with the work, touching on issues of economics, place, space, value, community, engagement, etc. The work was split between two (domestic) spaces and also has an online presence (see make-shift.net).

Much of our discussion was about the value of a theatre that gave rise to discussion between people and changes thinking and behaviour by engaging them (including the theatre-makers) in a participatory way. Paula mentioned that people are asked to bring

food to ‘Make-Shift’, which immediately means they are thinking about what they bring to the gathering and can also provide a snapshot of consumer habits, incidentally. Much of the value is in the conversations afterwards. The work is not didactic.

I did raise the question, though, of whether the point has been reached where something much more directly political was needed. Is it any longer about persuading individuals to recycle more, for example? Aren't we facing the need for some much more fundamental changes and if so, how does theatre have a role in this?

However, I think the group as a whole worked towards the sense that theatre, at least in the current context, doesn't work as well in this way. Interestingly, Gail spoke of her experiences with Transition Exeter, where young people had talked to her about being lonely, about wanting things to join. In that context, theatre workshops might be one way of sharing skills and experiences, empowering further creativity and changing the direct experience of community as part of that process.

There was also an interest in food as a focus, as well as growing food - a social event that extends beyond the edges of theatre. We spoke a little bit about Encounters' project in Totnes and London, working with groups of people growing food and then making theatre based on their own experiences. This seemed like an interesting model. We also talked about the project ‘Incredible, Edible Todmorden’ (sp?) and its roots in projects in Brazil and Nigeria.

Clifford suggested the possibility of ‘Aisle Theatre’ which would work surreptitiously in Supermarket's to raise awareness about food and its provenance, etc. This led to the question as to what the difference was between theatre and activism. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether there is a difference but this led us to consider what theatre could particularly bring.

It was suggested by Gail that theatre enabled empathy across groups of people. I also wondered whether we should think about the utopian possibilities of theatre, referring back to Paula's quotation of Zizek who suggests that it is easier to imagine catastrophe than the end of capitalism. Theatre might be a way of imagining.

However, I think the strongest strand of the discussion was the idea that the theatre event can provide a space which is outside daily life, a space of imagination. This space might have aspects of the social structure it seeks built into it. It can also be a source of dialogue. It seems that people feel it is better to consider it as having viral, ripple effect, rather than confronting issues head on with opposition.


climate change, Make-Shift, Encounters, transition, environment