World Theatre Day - Reflect

27th March 2015

Beyond Pan

Work in Danger!
Many of us were wrong. We thought the world was slowly becoming more rational, more developed, more unified, more peaceful. Of course there were serious setbacks and exceptions but the route seemed to be headed in a positive direction. Yes, we thought, we will overcome the problems and the differences and yes, theatre was one of the tools we would use to empower people to grasp a better future.

Many of us were wrong and the world seems chaotic, inexplicable, fragile and seems to have floated free from the basic rules of common humanity which we assumed restrained us from excesses of cruelty and depravity.

Where can theatre now play its role in all of this?  While it continues to entertain and stimulate in its old haunts, are there new areas where it can be part of a move back towards a sanity in life?

Recently a single week took me from working with a theatre group in South Sudan who were preparing to establish 20 groups across their country to discuss, debate and forge a new future, to using theatre techniques with a multi-national group of teachers in Zurich who seemed unable to reach out across their (rather minor) cultural differences. In between I and my colleagues had worked with drama to reflect on youth gun and knife crime; role play and creativity to rehabilitate women traumatised by being trafficked into the UK, and scene and video writing to help asylum seekers and young refugees re-orientate themselves in their new society.

Theatre skills are potent and can bring great powers of confidence, self expression and reflection. One of the strongest tools in using theatre across the world is the interactive style often known as Forum Theatre in which audiences participate and intervene to enact how things can be different. They reflect on and try-out alternative behaviours and, with their communities, judge whether these could work. They are preparing themselves to meet the same issues in real life.

Without reflection constructive alternatives seldom appear and theatre can make reflection more accessible because we see on stage the situations we recognise, the moments when decisions are made which lead to certain outcomes and the people like us faced with choices like ours. What, these plays ask, would you do?

Pan’s work in areas of oppression and conflict and the traumas of natural disasters, human trafficking or torture affirm that many people have either been brought up in systems where reflective and creative thinking are discouraged, or the mental effects of their experiences (PTSD) have blocked the capacity to stand outside a situation, question it, analyse it and seeks new paths out of social or political problems.

This involves work in dangerous places. We have collaborated with groups in Peshawar, Pakistan, in conflict-riven parts of Sri Lanka, in areas where gunmen surround the performance, or where guns are still heard in the night, where criminal gangs operate trafficking rings, drugs business, where participants are afraid of being spied on by secret services, or where they are afraid of being deported back to a country of terror.

This is not comfortable and comforting theatre, it is potent theatre which can work for considered change free of the brutality of oppression. It can be fun, it can be engaging but it has a massive purpose.

As we hear of tribal and sectarian conflicts which are rocking nations, growing nationalism and separatism in politics and postcode rivalries between gangs in major cities, remember that as artists we can bring our skills to find alternatives.

Let’s remember and respect all who create drama in dangerous places, near or far.

World Theatre Day 2015

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