Public Acts is the National Theatre's nationwide initiative to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community.
Well what on earth does that mean when it's at home?!
Well in a nutshell, it means that this September Cast began one of its most ambitious projects to date, the journey towards August 2020’s performance of Brecht's ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ which will (hopefully) have a community ensemble of over 80 local people alongside professional actors and musicians.
During late spring and summer 2019 Sarah Clough (Cast's Head of Participation) and I were tasked with searching out and speaking to community groups who could potentially join us on this journey. We were looking for groups who had limited engagement in the arts, were considered people who may have less access to arts opportunities and who had the staff support to commit to weekly workshops delivered by an arts professional within their setting. The groups would be offered 21 workshops between September and April with the intention of recruiting for the show following this period. This was quite a challenge, but by September we had our five amazing groups spanning all ages and based across the Town.
ECO (Edlington Community Organisation) is a local social enterprise based in the heart of ‘Edlo’ with a small staff team boosted by volunteers. ECO is an amazing local organisation serving its community (it’s probably easier to say what they don’t do) – they have breakfast clubs, after school clubs, a food bank, older people's groups, a creative directions group, playgroups, a choir – basically what the community ask for they try to accommodate. The team there have made us feel super welcome and for the last 11 weeks alongside Director Gitika Buttoo we have been getting to know the children and families who have been taking part in drama-based workshops. Last week the children, aged between 3-11 shared their version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ which they adapted to ‘Little Red Donny Hood’ – our 6 year old wolf was super scary. We have lots of fun at ECO with a lively cohort of children.
The Conversation Club is a local charity who support people seeking asylum and refugees through friendship. Conversation Club was chosen as a partner to build on relationships developed through Cast’s Social Seats Project and continuing Cast’s commitment to our Theatre of Sanctuary status. This term the group have been working with Associate Artist Rosie MacPherson from SBC Theatre company (who are also a Theatre Company of Sanctuary). We have worked with over 62 individuals within these sessions (we rarely have the same group twice – which is a challenge moving forward!) using drama and music as the basis for the workshops. There are some AMAZING drummers in this group from all over the world – Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia (to name a few) all sharing styles of music unique to their countries. Music truly is a universal language and we are working with composer Ruth Chan who will be working to capture a sense of the music scene and talents of those within our town.
B:Friend are a local charity working to combat social isolation for older people in the Borough. They have a network of B Frienders who volunteer their time to spend with socially isolated older people, and they also run social groups. B:Friend are keen to give older people a voice and their show ‘B Heard’ was performed as part of Cast’s Roundabout festival in September. We are working with Wheatley Social Group which consists of 20 older people. Sessions at B:Friend are led by Rosie and have included creating poetry, learning about the acting method, performing, acting and directing scenes, singing…but always ending with a quiz (the group love a quiz – as do I). Last week the group shared some performed extracts from a play, and one octogenarian recited a poem by heart that she learnt at school when she was 11!
Creative Directions at darts (Doncaster Community Arts) is a drop in session for adults that may have experienced mental ill health or who would benefit from being part of a group. As part of Public Acts, in partnership with darts we have set up a progression group for Creative Directions for those interested in drama. Gitika Buttoo leads these sessions which are attended by a diverse range of individuals from 18 to 80. This term Gitika has incorporated a lot of improvisation and devising workshops which led to a 15 minute performance which the group shared to friends last week. This group love to be challenged and will happily jump into mass improvisations and performances and are always good fun.
Cast Young Company is made up of older young people from our youth theatre and Doncaster LGBTQ young people’s support group. The group have been working with Cast Associate Artist Ryan Harston – the young people love that Ryan has shared a stage with Beyonce earning him a kudos and respect that me and Nikki (Youth Worker) are unlikely to ever achieve. Ryan has focused a lot on movement work creating some super cool torch-lit performance which some of the group performed as part of the DN Festival of Light. The performance at DN Festival of Light was some of the groups first ever experience of performing. This group certainly has a lot of personality and characters and is great fun to support.
It has been a great first term, certainly there have been challenges – people turning up on time, some resistance initially ('why are we playing children’s games?' 'Can you stop climbing under the table please?', 'young peeps can you just listen please?'), but it has been a good learning journey so far. Director James Blakey and Public Acts Director Emily Lim have visited sessions and led activities which have been great fun and they are both super keen to learn about all things Donny.
After Christmas we have another term of 10 sessions where the themes and issues of The Caucasian Chalk Circle are embedded into the workshops and the participants will get the chance to meet, speak to and influence the creatives working on the show.
Will let you know how it is all going with my next blog (or if you want to know more – get in touch!) and in the meantime…Happy Christmas and New Year
Nicola Doyle, Public Acts Community Producer