1 Introduction – Changes in society
This thesis originally started life as a series of lectures to second-year students in the School of Design, Management and Technical Arts at Rose Bruford College; and grew from a frustration that only particular types of theatre practice were perceived by the students as valid activity. Yet, in informal conversation, many of them were excited by prospects in a range of other practices, including ‘industrial theatre’ – trade shows and exhibitions; concerts and music; festivals and street art; and more. There seemed a discontinuity between academically authorised practice and the culture they were living, and the careers they aspired to.
At the same time there were a range of activities which, if they were aware of them at all, were deemed as inferior in some way: community and youth theatre primary among them. I was aware that practitioners in this area were highly skilled; often people who had left more glittering careers elsewhere in more conventional, playhouse situations.
The audience for the lectures contributed greatly to the form. By and large, theatre technicians tend to be visual or kinaesthetic learners; many are dyslexic; and the formal lecture is not the most effective way of presenting information. I therefore set about finding visual, and if possible video, material to present to them. Over the three years of doing so, I have therefore collected a wide range of videos by downloading from online sources; which in itself shaped the content of the lectures.
With regard to content, the lecture themes (chapters) were based on interests I had developed during the Many Voices symposium series at the College; backed up by conferences I had attended. I became aware there were a number of themes, directly connected to a prevailing ideology coming from a progressive government agenda (originally described as ‘Cool Britannia’ by the press, but going deeper than that), which gradually influenced the Arts Council.
I became aware that a number of issues were emerging, which were significant to me as a widening participation practitioner. One was a developing practice that ignored the conventional playhouse, or set about re-engineering the terms of engagement; the second was about engagement more generally, both of working class students and of minorities. Youth theatre in various guises seemed to be connected to these themes too, sharing the concerns of engagement. All the while the changing nature of information technology had allowed the style of lecture in the first place, and seemed itself to be re-engineering the notion of community, seemed to demand attention. At stake is the idea of community itself, and the responsibility of the theatre practitioner as both artist and member of society.
The instrumental purpose of this thesis, therefore, was to try to interrogate the mass of material that had emerged through the lecture series, and to clarify what was increasingly becoming more complex. As the chapters were being written, the lectures were being represented; there was therefore a reciprocating process emerging, complicated by the students themselves commenting about their discoveries through an online forum. The problem of this approach is that there is a tendency to cover all aspects very thinly; however, certain themes keep re-emerging, such as the use of technology, and widening participation. I therefore make no excuse for the breadth.
We live in a time of great change; of contested authority; of revised authorship; of new voices being raised in a post-colonial, global, postmodern, and less deferential society; a society of engagement and interaction; of doers rather than spectators. The studies that follow represent a series of communities of practice. The relationship diagrams which head four of the chapters are an attempt to indicate the complexity of the networks, an d the fact that practitioners in each of the areas have links (often close) with workers and concepts in many if not all of the there fields. These linkages are by their nature provisional, changing and probably already out of date. However, they represent an attempt at using new media to try to get at what is going on.
There are five chapters:
There are further areas I hope to explore in the future, including pantomime and the variety tradition; and amateur theatre traditions. I’d welcome suggestions and contributions; also comments on the material I’ve already posted.