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Community Theatre Research Task

Sophie Hobbs

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In this essay, I will be discussing what community theatre is and what can
be involved in it. I will also be talking about the work of two practitioners
Joan Littlewood and Augusto Boal and how their work changed the course of
community theatre.

 

Community theatre is made by the
community, and for the community. Some of the key purposes of community theatre
are to educate, to discuss and to raise awareness to specific topics such as
poverty, rape and politics. These themes cover a wide range of topics but must
always be client specific, because it is run by the community it can be solely
focused on key areas that affect them most rather than more worldly topics.
Community theatre is largely based on the audience and what is most relevant to
them, community pieces often take on stories from their heritage or the lives
of the people who have lived there and their own experiences. The theme or
issue of the play can also determine the audience, for example, a community
theatre production about bullying is more likely to be performed to children or
teenagers in a school setting rather than adults in a work environment. Community
theatre is an experience for all who experience it, whether they are a
spectator or an actor, being involved can take you on an incredible journey
through unknown developments. There are so many different influences that can
affect a piece of community theatres such
as abuse, imprisonment and neglect, meaning it is never the same no matter how
many times you go and view it.

 

The purpose for anything is the
reason behind doing it, so in community theatre, it’s the reason why you have
chosen to do that piece to perform. Community theatre can vary in purpose as it
has so many options. The variations can be exceptionally drastic as one
performance could jump from being silly, funny and maybe even childish to the
next which could be serious and cold-hearted.
The different purposes of community theatre are as wide as the universe,
anything you can think of and more, here are just some examples:

To
raise awareness – this discusses real-life
issues that affect people every day that
others may not be as aware of. It is often used as a way of explaining some
groups viewpoint on a certain issue. This
includes things such as racism, homophobia and feminism. To
be educating and informative – this teaches lessons whether it be too little children about not talking to
strangers or to the elderly about how to use technology. It is used as a more
fun and entertaining method of teaching.To
entertain – this is to bring joy and laughter to a person’s day, give them a
small pick me up and something to smile about when they look back on this
memory.

 

The purpose of a piece of community
theatre can be altered and fixed to fit the exact needs of the client ad the
brief they have provided. This can vary from place to place, for example, schools are more likely to require an
educational piece of community theatre, whereas a prison might want something
more entertaining.

 

Similar to the purpose, the theme of
a community theatre performance can also vary, it is the basis to any play. It
could be specific to your target audience, your client brief or the local area.
The theme can determine the flow of the play, the mood and how it may come
across to the audience. For example, if the theme of your play is connected to
an issue that affects people on a day – to – day basis and on a large scale,
then you may perform that piece to many a different audience. However, any
performance you put on must fit in with your clients brief. This can be for
many reasons, such as the unintentional offending or misunderstanding of the
audience. Here are some examples of themes that community Theatre companies may
explore:

DrugsStigmaCyberbullyingPolitics
PovertyDepressionFeminism

 

The client is effectively the boss.
They are in charge and they give you a brief which they expect you to follow
the letter. Who they, what they do and what they want to achieve will affect
the whole performance. This is because the purpose the theme and The Venue will
all depend on who they are and what they want. For example, if you are
performing to the elderly or a more mature generation, they will not appreciate
a performance based on children’s needs quite as much as a school would. This
also works in reverse as a school would be quite shocked and unappreciative if
you performed a piece for them based on mature themes. The client can vary from
any one individual to a whole organisation.

 

The venue is where the performance
will take place. As long as you have permission, whether it be from the school,
the council or the governing body for where you want to perform, a piece of Community
theatre can be performed. Some examples of venues for community theatre
include:

SchoolsParksVillage
hall/community centre

 

In the 50’s and 60’s a practitioner
called Joan Littlewood pioneered British entertainment. As she started to
emerge, the drama style ‘Kitchen – Sink’ was at the height of its appeal. The
Kitchen – Sink drama is a platform showing the realism of what happens in a
domestic life. Joan Littlewood became an acquaintance of a woman named Shelagh
Delany who wrote ‘A Taste of Honey’, Joan Littlewood liked it so much she
produced it and made Shelagh’s name. Shelagh had originally written it as a
Kitchen – Sink drama, however, because of the style that Joan Littlewood was
developing, she rewrote it. The style she was developing was community theatre.
The reason behind why she pioneered community theatre is because she wanted to
bring the community together using her art. She took the American style of
acting ‘The Living Newspaper’ and brought it to England. In this activity, a
group would take any random headline from the newspaper, and then acted it out
themselves. However, with Joan Littlewood’s
input, they then also discussed an alternate ending for the scene showing how
the negative could have become a positive given the right circumstances.

 

One of her most notable pieces of
work is one called ‘Oh What a Lovely War’
which was made in 1963. It is based in the midst’s of the first world war and
it made a mockery out of the violence. Joan Littlewood’s
style was to make a mockery out of serious issues such as the war, the violence
and the bloodshed so she aimed to show the world their stupidity. She also created
a technique which allowed the audience to participate in the performance, she
called this the ‘Remote Control’ technique. This new creation allowed someone
in the audience to shout out an instruction, similar to that of a remote
control. They could shout play, pause, fast forward or rewind. With this new
creative element, actors were forced to think on their feet and be prepared for
whatever was shouted next. A modern – day example of Joan Littlewood’s work would be the television show
‘Mock the Week’. In this show comedians literally,
mock the week in terms of news stories that have been reported. They use comedy
to inform their audience of the issues currently impacting our news, however,
making a joke out of it at the same time in order to entertain. Like Joan
Littlewoods alternate ending scenario, the comedians on this show will be given
an image or a video, they then have to guess what is happening in the picture
or the ending of the video, before the host reveals the truth.

 

Augusto Boal developed an idea
similar to that of Joan Littlewood’s
process of allowing the audience to have an input as to the ending of the
performance. In the late 1960’s, Augusto Boal’s developments meant that a
member of the audience could stop the
performance and suggest different things and new ideas change the situation
they were in. the actors were then to improvise the what the audience member
had suggested. Due to the annoyance of one spectator who felt she had to get up
on stage to perform her own idea as the actors could not understand her
suggestion, Augusto Boal came up with a new idea. The ‘spect-actor’. This is where an audience member would get up on
stage to replace an actor to show their suggestion for change.

 

One of Augusto Boal’s better – known
techniques, is the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. Augusto Boal’s idea was that
people could use the tools he provided to explore different issues and
struggles that they may have been having difficulty with at that time and then
give them the chance to experiment and plan a new ending, a more positive
outcome for themselves. One of his core beliefs is that everyone has the
ability to act but maybe only in the theatre of their own lives. Which is why
the large majority of the issues they present are domestic or closely related
to the community. Cardboard Citizens is a modern – day example of what Augusto
Boal was trying to portray. It is an England based theatre company that is made
up entirely of homeless people, men and women who have experienced it or those
who are at risk of becoming so. They educate others on the real-life hardships of being homeless.

 

When comparing the works of both
Augusto Boal and Joan Littlewood, we see that whilst having their differences,
they also share a lot in common. They both base their work off of real-life examples and issues. They both
approach them in different ways, Joan Littlewood’s
approach is more comical and mocking whereas Augusto Boal is more serious and
educational. Regardless of their techniques, they both aimed to portray the
issues, to inform the public of the real – life and that is what they did.

 

I have researched three local groups
that have done work similar to that that we have tried to manage. This research
I have looked into, I did to help further develop my understanding of community
theatre, the wider community and how other people have used it to make an
impact. I explored three varying groups that use community theatre to share
their work, Open the Book, Essential Energy and The Winding Wheel.

 

The purpose of Open the Book is to educate and inform young people
and children about stories from the bible. The themes they cover are biblical
stories from the Christian faith. They present these stories with children in
mind. The venue they use most is the hall of the school that they are
performing at. They are an educational bible production company which means
that the types of projects they put on are all based on the Bible, the people in
it and the stories it tells. The performance types they use are mainly singing,
acting and audience participation. This is because with their audience being
young children, music makes things more fun and enjoyable to the children and
makes the performance more memorable.

 

Essential Energy is a Matlock based theatre company, their purpose
is to entertain and raise awareness of key issues affecting their target
audience’s generation. The themes covered by Essential Energy span across a
wide range of serious topics. They make their performances specific to the age
of their audience, their location and to the current affairs that are troubling
them. Essential Energy mostly uses venues
that are theatre – based, such as the
Pomegranate Theatre. The types of projects that they take on are in order to
educate and inform their audiences about very real issues that either they as
an individual may be facing or will face. The
types of performance they put on are usually music theatre based, however, dance is a highly used performance
type for them as well.

 

The purpose of performances put on by The Winding Wheel is to
entertain the audience, however, when they perform an older audience, they are more factual and real. Theatres are the
most common places for groups like this to perform at. Schools are then invited
to visit and watch the performance. This can be an excellent experience for the
children as they get to watch a professional performance and experience the
theatre first hand. Project Workshops allow children to get involved and
experience acting for themselves. It allows them to explore their creative side
and learn new things about the performing arts. The Winding Wheel also puts on
annual performances. Musical theatre is the key performance type used by the
Winding Wheel. It is a combination of all three performing arts skills, acting,
singing and dance.

 

In conclusion, Community Theatre can
be manipulated and used in many different ways to explore and inform the public
and hopefully make a real impact in the community. Open the eyes, minds and
hearts of the unsuspecting public and allow them to think about real – life for
other people and not just for themselves. Community theatre is a great stage to
bring everyone together and to get them to care collectively for one another
and the area in which they all live in.

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