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March 02, 2009

Theatre and Citizenship

"the idea of the ensemble as a community reconciles the artistic and social purposes of Theatre making"- Jonothan Neelands (Course Director)

Early on in our course we were introduced to the concept of the ENSEMBLE, and it's importance as an artistic, social and educational construct. The idea of meaning existing between was something I was familiar with from my time as a drama undergraduate, and I now began to expand it - meaning between not only performers and audience, but between teacher and student, student and student, citizen and citizen. For me, theatre naturally inhabits the edges - the grey, dangerous, exciting and taboo borders between supposed opposite or singular entities. I began to understand that this idea encompasses not only what we show in theatre, but the participants themselves - by taking the leap of inhabiting this shared space we achieve what Geoffrey Streatfield describes as "a secure environment without ever being a comfort zone. All of us are continually challenging ourselves and being inspired by those around us."

Our class experienced this during a session with visiting practitioner Brian Lighthill. Brian is currently researching how using Shakespeare can help teach citizenship and PHSE. In a swift-paced workshop, little changed from the ones he delivers in secondary schools, we combined whole space drama games and story 'wooshes' with carefully scaffolded discussion exercises to explore ideas such as 'community', 'blame', 'truth', and 'responsibility' through Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

The feeling of ensemble was engendered from the beginning through the agreement on a set of group rules (or guidelines as my inner liberal would prefer to call them) and a simple walking the space exercise that emphasised group responsibility for ensuring the space was evenly filled.

The result was a powerful atmosphere in the room, different from other sessions and more reminiscent of debates in my undergraduate philosophy modules than any drama class I could recall. Students spoke rapidly - international students breaking industriously off into Greek and Mandarin to discover the right English words to explain themselves - agreement, disagreement, questioning, clarification and extension of each other's ideas: never before had we worked so efficiently together in an effort to create meaning between ourselves.

Brian's role in this had been a facilitator in the truest sence - providing stimulus and helping to create a framework within which this sharing and learning could occur. This, I felt, was the sort of practitioner I wanted to be. Able to create that environment that was at once secure, but challeging and inspirational; blur the boundries between theatre and citizentry, art and life - recognising one could not exist without the other and they can never be mutally exclusive concepts.

And yet I struggled with some aspects of the workshop - did I agree that we had used Shakespeare without once directly encounting his dialogue, written or spoken? Did I accept that the language could represent enough of a boundry to some students to justify it's exclusion? Where does the value of working with Shakespeare truely lie - in understanding his stories or his words, if indeed we can make that clear distinction?

Also Brian used the term 'impartial facilitator' - can one ever be truely impartial? What if, in attempting to be impartial, all we do is fail to recognise and therefore naturalise our own partiality? Surely the advantage of the ensemble is not in striving to be objective individuals, but in sharing and learning from each others subjectivities - the facilitator included?


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