How Theatre Can Change The World

We live in a world that is ever changing and not always for the best, there seems to be an aura of discontent lingering in the air recently. I meet a lot of people that say they want to create change and have all the passion, but just don’t know how. I speak to a lot of people who dislike the way the world is run yet have a pessimistic outlook of “we can’t change anything any way”.

It’s a dangerous game just to accept the status quo when you are unhappy with it but how do we change the status quo? Is it possible? If so how? Well I believe we can through theatre.

 

When we look through history at times of oppression it is often theatres that get censored and shut down. I’m an avid believer that theatre is the perfect medium to advocate change, I use the word change loosely to mean personal, social or political change. To understand how powerful theatre can be.

Augusto Boal was a prominent theatre director in Brazil throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s. Boal pioneered a method of working where members of the audience could stop a performance and propose various actions for the character experiencing some form of oppression, and then the actor playing that character would perform the audience's’ suggestions. But in a remarkable development, a woman in the audience was once so outraged because the actor could not understand her suggestion she came onto the stage and demonstrated what she meant. For Boal, this was the birth of the spect-actor (not spectator) and his theatre practice evolved. He started to invite audience members with suggestions for change - onto the stage to demonstrate their ideas. In doing so, he discovered that through this participation, the audience members became empowered not only to imagine change, but to actually practice that change & reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action. This was the birth of forum theatre and how theatre became a practical vehicle for grass-roots activism.

The military government at the time feared this level of grass-roots activism so much Boal was kidnapped off the street, imprisoned, tortured then exiled to Argentina. Stop and think about that for a second. A man was tortured for making theatre.

 

It sounds so preposterous it’s on the verge of ridiculous! But it goes to show the real power theatre can have on a mass political scale.

I believe we can change the status quo by highlighting societies counter-narratives, the stories that go un-told in the mainstream. Theatre is the perfect vehicle to bring these stories to life. Barrie Keefes’s playwright "SUS" (Suspect Under Suspicion) set in 1979 in the evening of Margaret Thatcher's election - at a time when people could be arrested based on “suspicion” and it was deemed suspicious to not be white... The play highlights the story of a young man with Caribbean heritage - who is arrested and abused emotionally & physically by the police. The play was written from Keefe's experience as a reporter and speaking to people at the time, people who would not normally have their stories represented in the status quo. The play - along with many protests and race riots in Liverpool, London and Birmingham led to the SUS laws being changed.

Whilst working and travelling, I took a lot of time to think and listen to the world around me which enabled me to grow. After 18 months - I decided that, where I wanted to be, was in Birmingham making theatre and being an advocate for the counter narrative stories of society. I’ve started to think that we live in a society where theatre, in my opinion, is not easily accessible to all, or people feel theatre is “not for them”, when it should be the complete opposite. Theatre should be the voice of the people and a platform to advocate change for societies unrepresented groups, I want to make this a reality in Birmingham.

A famous revolutionary once said: “Let the world change you, then you can change the world.”

 

So we need to respond to the world around us, understand it, and listen. Then when we apply this way of thinking to theatre or any arts we can challenge the status quo, ask questions of it, provoke discussion, and eventually we can create change. 

Written by Jay Crutchley

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