by Kai Peacock
“Theatre is not for me, I don’t wear tights!”
This is what a 12 year old girl said when she was invited to come to see a piece of theatre, and it made everyone laugh, including her. She went on:
“Alright, alright, all theatre is, right, is men in tights standing with one leg in front of the other, speaking nonsense that no one can understand, its crap!”
I wrote this down at the time as it interested me and still does: the young girl (whose name I won’t say but you will hear more about her later) meant what she said because it was up till that point her experience of theatre – either the local pantomimes, dodgy school productions of historic plays or what she had seen on T.V. She had never seen or known that theatre could be about real life and offer the audience and the performers a chance to see something differently.
Now, before I go on, I think I should say a little about what I think theatre is and what potential it has to offer to everyone but especially to young people today.
Basically, theatre has three key elements: a Story, Characters and Truth.
At the heart of good theatre there is always a great story, and a story needs well defined characters that the audience can relate to. Like all of us, the characters will be complex and interesting. Throughout the journey of the story the characters will experience some sort of conflict that promotes a change: this could be an unexpected event, receiving a gift, the hatred of someone, a war, a birth, a death, falling in love… This change in the characters will engage the audience in the story. Both of these elements – Story and Characters – require a sense of truth, which is not to say the story itself needs to be true, rather it needs to be honest to what it’s saying. Honesty is relatable and becomes the glue that binds the elements together. And throughout it you can also find humour: life is full of humour and laughter even in what seem the most difficult situations, and this is a common thread we all experience and therefore we all can relate to.
Potentially, theatre can work as a mirror of how society is or how a certain part of society views society itself to be. This is more evident especially in devised theatre that is made with, from and by people that have something to say or an observation to share. Increasingly theatre is being seen again as a powerful tool for promoting change, posing of questions, highlighting attitudes and beliefs and challenging behaviours. Theatre can strengthen a message and provide a believable, interesting and contemporary way of exploring sensitive issues. It also has the opportunity to make subjects more, if not instantly, relatable to the audience. Moreover, a piece of drama does not require a theatre to be performed in. It does not require lights, make-up or plush red velvet seats: any space can be used to transport the audience from an everyday space to the setting of the play.
So for me theatre is an ideal tool to empower young people with, as it can be done anywhere with very few resources needed. It gives young people an opportunity to have their voices heard and tell the world what they think of it, by writing, directing, acting, producing, devising pieces of theatre. It is also an avenue of expression and an opportunity to ask questions: what do love and hate feel like, why are we here doing this, what do I like and what do I not, what’s is right and wrong, what do I want to change and what do I agree with, how do I take risks and what is risky… This list could go on and on.
To see, hear or be part of this is really exciting. And it has the potential to produce very interesting results, inform people and make a difference.
When someone looks at their opinions, views and environment with the intention of shaping them into something expressive like a piece of theatre, interesting things happens. Suddenly, it becomes an invitation to the audience to witness the something from the creators’ viewpoint, and this is an opportunity to be informed or educated. Theatre has the potential to deliver messages in a way that people can relate to, understand and act on.
This impact can be even more powerful when a piece is created and performed Peer to Peer, as the audience can feel an affinity to the actors, characters and/or the story. If a performance is designed for a specific audience by peers of such specific audience group, then I believe the piece becomes even more accessible and relatable. Even if the audience does not have much experience of theatre, some obstacles can be overcome by seeing people of their same age and social standing being the creative minds and performers behind a piece of theatre. Therefore, Peer Theatre has the ability to empower, question and promote a response, having more of an impact on the audience.
“People learn how to behave and change their behaviour by watching other people and theatre is just that, it’s just about watching people”
Augusto Boal, founder of Theatre of the Oppressed.
So, back to the 12 year old who had clear thoughts on theatre. Well, she came to see the piece of theatre set in a school which was a production of “Us and them” by David Campton, and she loved it. It changed her view of theatre and what it can do. She is now striving for a career as an actor after studying Community Theatre.
At Fast Forward his role is to identify, design, produce and deliver a range of theatre and drama opportunities for young people looking at risk taking behaviours. These range from training and upskilling young people to deliver drama sessions, to producing and coordinating tours and performances across Scotland
Kai has worked in Theatre as Director, Producer, Actor, Technician and Drama practitioner. Some of the companies he has worked for are: Royal Shakespeare Company, Scottish Youth Theatre, The Roudhouse, Chalk Farm and Forbidden Theatre Company. He has also trained and worked as a youth worker for Youth Scotland, Youth Borders, Escape Youth Services and Education Scotland. Kai also is developing and delivering a number of projects with his own Theatre company.