Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Legislative Theatre for the National Assembly

Small World Theatre comment paper

Theatre is at the centre of most cultural debates whether in the form of stage play, film screen, TV soap, TV advert and even within news presentation . Theatre and drama are played out every time a magistrates court is convened. Lawyers , barristers, wigs , costume, the police and the defendants make up the cast list in true life dramas, but the power of theatre to inform and advocate is rarely seen to effect the laws of the land or the governance of the people.

Exceptions to this rule do exist. There are examples as with the work of Augusto Boal in Brazil where once elected to his regional government he was instrumental in introducing 13 new laws derived from the people who were to benefit from their introduction. These people were from the marginalised in that society and their only chance to lobby was with performances generated through theatre workshops designed for a governmental and legislature audience. This theatre gave the people a voice and a lobbying point, creating a forum for discussion. The legislative process is informed and any new laws or decisions can take on board the very graphic intent of the play or performance.If theatre as a lobbying tool were to be applied to the Welsh Assembly it could engender a real public interest in the political life of Wales

Although the process of Boal's 'Theatre of the Oppressed' should not be applied wholesale to Wales's new democracy, embodied in the Assembly, a specific Welsh generated process of accessing the voice of the various communities of the Principality and their differing needs would meet any requirements for a consultative, open approach.

Here in Wales we would be drawing on people experienced in theatrical presentation from within the culture and from international expertise. Disseminating information and running practical workshops in the process of lobbying via the use of drama techniques a viable programme of action could be developed. Partners in the arts , social services , education and administration would be needed to develop the pattern of the work but it is felt that the initial catalyst should be from the theatre based community.

At this early stage sources of phased funding should be identified and commitments to furthering the process be sought. As so many sections of the electorate would be represented there could be financial and in kind, contributions from a wide range of sources. Identifiable groups, individuals and industries like tourism, farming, manufacture, the voluntary sector, the arts, civic trusts, chambers of trade and the myriad of lobbying groups with concerns from health to the environment. I have a particular interest in human rights which could be a good starting point, common ground, a discussion forum for traditionally opposing camps where ts of view could transform to consensus.

Looking inward on society in Wales and outward to Wales' place in the world. Through a series of workshops and pilot projects using Small World Theatres' skills and those of other theatre practitioners with experience and special training in this sort of approach it is felt that the complex issues that relate to the legislative nature of the new Assembly could be discussed and presented from various viewpoints, creating opportunities for a vital exchange from community to Assembly members and visa versa.

Small World Theatre / Theatr Byd Bychan have for almost 20 years explored and developed methods of creating theatre that addresses issues and that raises consciousness, tangibly effecting the quality of peoples lives. They are one of Britains' only companies whose work has been scrutinised and evaluated to try to see how theatre can directly effect peoples lives.

In Wales and UK the majority of SWT's work has been for young audiences but in Asia and Africa the projects they have worked on have been with whole communities. The dramatic process is a dynamic way of establishing rapport , information flow, and understanding. It establishes a creative and separate forum where complex or contentious issues can be examined and played out thus exploring theoretical ramifications and effects of aspects of policy and law.

For example a group of pensioners presenting a short piece about the choices they have to make between food and heating in the winter and the impact that choice has in their daily lives, would evoke an emotional response not always present in intellectual debate. This is as useful for assembly members as it is for the public and interested groups. Having the ability to test policy like this has the potential to save huge amounts of money by helping to get the public projects, policies and laws right in the first instance.

Consulting the public, interested groups , communities and sections of industry at the outset of decision making is a creative and innovative way of introducing a new democracy for a new Welsh Assembly.This approach could represent a major contribution to open and transparent governance of the people of Wales by the people of Wales . Not all of the subjects and motions would be passed into law but enhanced and truly informed decisions could be seen to be made. Who knows ?

The future of Wales could be discussed and debated from the Eisteddfod field or the school hall to the pensioner group or the youth club. This is a more equitable way for citizens to access the halls of power than via the professional lobbying company. It also may prove to be an innovative model for the millennium world wide

One of the main perceptions of the people of Wales by the non Celtic world is that Welsh people are artistic. Let us at last make this perception of creativity work for us in forging our own destiny together and individually. The vision of the future is too precious to leave to the responsibility of the few.

As this is a first draft of an idea of one route towards self government it is hoped that you will try to give this some attention and respond with any thoughts on how to evolve the concept and move it closer to a reality. Implementation Implementing this project has huge pan Wales implications, social , political ,cultural, geographical and financial .

The preparation of the participatory rural appraisals and the urban consultative forum process as well as the workshops needed to generate this individual, community and collective response is a lot of work and needs co operation from practitioners all over Wales.

Debates with the government and the Welsh office are crucial but the media must be informed in a clear and confident way so the opportunities to trivialise the project at this stage are minimalised.

Obviously as this proposal represents a big vision with many opportunities for real change in Wales there may be some opposition ,possibly even from artists, who may feel that peoples theatre is to be funded at the expense of 'High Art' but if this is to work then all the expertise and experiences of the creative performance community will be required to apply high production values to this broad community based project. It is hoped funding will be secured primarily from non arts sources.

However at some point it will need the support, if even tacit , from the arts council and other bodies like the lottery etc. but as the reason for it's existence is to lobby for funds , rights, laws, justice and statutes that effect all aspects of life, I hope, possibly naively, that this unique access to government will eventually be seen by the people of Wales as a right not a novelty.

author:Bill Hamblett

original source: Small world Theatre
29 March 1999


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