Post written by: Erin Walcon
I just spent a fantastic afternoon at acta in Bristol on Friday 16 June, talking about the topic of class and theatre. The discussion topic was:
Is theatre really an artform for everyone, or does it remain the domain of the middle-class? Why do people without privilege feel that it is not for them? Do people need to actually make theatre in order for it to become part of their world? Community theatre serves and responds to the whole community. Theatre created on people’s doorsteps, telling original stories, bringing new voices to the stage. But can it be strong enough to challenge the status quo? The seminar will examine the role of community theatre in making theatre relevant to the working class majority.
These Friday provocations are being run as part of acta’s Paul Hamlyn-funded seminar series. It was a wonderful discussion – warmly and well held by Neil Beddow and the acta team, and the room was full of participatory arts specialists who are all trying to examine their practice to see how it can be as inclusive, ethical and action-based as possible.
In talking about Doorstep’s work, and in sharing best practice with the other outstanding organisations in the room, it was clear that there are some commonalities amongst us in how we work…
- working where people are already at is key – both in terms of access and in terms of aesthetic.
- clear pathways of progression are essential… in other words, we all agreed that it would be unethical to run outreach unless it was leading on to a more meaningful sustained involvement opportunity.
- the work must be linked to big questions or rich theatrical content – it must be of substance.
- participation is absolutely the way in.
During the seminar, I spoke a lot about the value of the curtain-raiser event in the Doorstep Theatre model.
Curtain-raisers, for us, have been essential as a way of getting young people’s work seen by a larger audience, and by creating a shared platform between a national touring artist and local Torbay young people, we raise aspiration and develop new audiences too.
Driving home on the crawling M-5 southbound from Bristol in rush-hour traffic, I found myself with extra time to think.
And while I edged down the sun-blazoned motorway, a particular phrase kept running through my head: ‘the wrap-around’. This is a phrase that gets used at Collaborative Touring Network meetings a lot. We use it to describe the diverse plethora of activity that surrounds touring spine shows in a festival.
The wrap-around could be (and usually is) engagement-focused – so workshops, CPD offerings, participation, curtain-raisers, trainings, seminars, and community platforms.
The wrap-around also is often about food… every Doorstep Theatre Festival we’ve run so far has involved free food for participants, often home-cooked by Mara at The Edge or potluck meals brought by the young people we work with.
Food is an equaliser. Food makes people stay.
We’ve wrapped-around all sorts of other things too… music events, street busking workshops, cardboard box re-purposing art events at libraries, and fish and chips suppers in the sunshine after a breakdance workshop.
The wrap-around activity is where the real conversations happen, where we can lure someone to stay and see a show that they would never see otherwise, where a grandmother stops to tell us that her 11-year old granddaughter wants to do theatre but is too nervous to try it.
The wrap-around is how we build trust, how we know that we are deeply embedded in our communities where we work.
It’s where we feed each other, where we nurture, where we build connection.
The wrap-around is the lifeblood of the festival.
The wrap-around is bigger than just the festival too. The wrap-around is year-round, it is Doorstep’s ongoing participatory work, which we run, week-in, and week-out. Consistent, reliable, sticky.
The more I thought about, as I inched down the motorway, the more I realised…
the wrap-around? It’s the whole point.
I love the brilliant touring work that comes to us in the festival – it is innovative, exciting, inspiring stuff.
It lights a fire and makes us all want to see and make more and better theatre. It is often gobsmackingly good. We will work tirelessly to ensure that it keeps coming to Torbay after CTN finishes. But that touring work, it’s not the real point.
For Doorstep Arts, our heart is always going to be in the wrap-around.
That’s where the magic happens.