Sunday, 12 October 2008

Thoughts from Home.

Drama in the Community third years have started their evaluative blogs (a link list runs down the left hand side of this blog.) Some have started off by exploring broadly the idea of Community, what it means and, more importantly, what it might feel like.

As I'm visiting my parents for the weekend, returning to the South Oxfordshire village where I grew up, it's got me thinking too. I like going home - I feel surer there, able to think, rather than desperate to act. I suspect my sense of how it feels to be in a community comes as much from my rural childhood, stomping around the muddy fields of Appleford, as from anything I've done professionally. At heart, is it a sense of well being? And what does that actually mean?

When we started to put together plans for the Applied Theatre pathway we were keen to balance two distinct strands of Community practice. The first was looking at ways in which drama could be used as a methodology for learning, rehabilitation, conflict resolution and health care. Which meant engagement with with different institutions - schools, remand homes, prisons, day centres and hospitals. This work has led us to develop partnerships with leading companies like Clean Break, Cardboard Citizens, The Comedy School and Theatre for a Change in Malawi.

The other side of the work was the create of large scale site specific theatre work which might unite a community either through direct participation or through attending an event.

I've always believed that it's important for this work to travel - that it's one thing creating a play in-house for your fellow students and proud families, but quite another to invest time, energy and empathy in creating theatre with or for a group who you had little knowledge of at the outset. The search for new venues and groups to work with is constant.

We went for coffee at The Cornerstone, a new £7 million arts centre built in rapidly expanding Didcot. It's designed by the team who created the Baltic in Gateshead and is in its third month of operation. I couldn't quite make sense of it. Its programme is a mix of stand up comedy, mid scale touring companies and a few amateur events. There is little fanfare though and talking to the front of house staff the mood is one of cautious optimism rather than genuine celebration.

There's a slight whiff of paternalism whenever a local council gets involved. The last thing they want to do with tax payers money is free the radicals - but for a town that for so long relied on the railway and the power station as its principal employer a family centred theatre seems an important development. I hope it's successful.

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