Harder than it seems, members of the audience get involved in Change earlier this year (picture by Kasia Raszewska)
At the dress rehearsal I find myself on the edge of my seat. Why is Alice not gathering information and support from her local councillors, MSP, housing associations, neighbourhood groups? Who the hell is funding this supposed empowerment project? I want to shout out, “For goodness sake, find out how the system works!” and in the end I do, though I try to put it a little more politely than that.
It’s only a play but it’s pretty true to life. Alice sees that rising house prices are killing community spirit in her neighbourhood. Ordinary people, including her best friend, can no longer afford to live there. She wants to start a campaign for social housing on a derelict site but the shiny new local community ’empowerment project’ plans to build a hotel there. What can Alice do?
Power to the People? the latest ACTive Inquiry Forum Theatre production – starting on Sunday in Out of the Blue – draws its storyline from real people in Leith where a shortage of housing pushes prices beyond the reach of too many buyers (too true and not just in Leith: Ray and I could not afford our own home at today’s prices).
So what can Alice do? The point of Forum Theatre is to inspire people to become “actively involved in society”. The audience is invited to intervene when they spot an opportunity to change course – so you can find yourself on stage which is much less scary and more fun than you might imagine. But also frustratingly difficult to do any better than poor disillusioned Alice.
Who could refuse? Gavin Crichton invites members of the audience to get involved in Change during the election campaign
At the dress rehearsal I am probably the only member of the audience who is not a student of community theatre. I have delivered too many election leaflets not to know that Alice should not start her campaign by knocking on doors – you are as welcome as a Jehovah’s Witness when you cold-call on people just home from work, interrupting their evening meal or the football match on telly.
A recurring line – “it’s the council’s job but you know how the council is” – reminds me how many highly intelligent people simply do not know how the system works, the name of their MSP or councillor, or how to contact them.
Learning the system: Ola and Maka shadow their local MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, through Opening Doors shadow scheme.
Power to the People aims to provoke questions about the meaning of power. I leave the performance feeling more than ever that knowledge is the main route to power. A successful campaign depends on knowing where power lies and how to lobby decision makers; gathering popular support means knowing how to talk and listen to people. It takes endless dedication and even more time.
Anyone for the Big Society? Such questions, and more, are the stuff of Forum Theatre. It will be interesting to see what interventions the real audience makes when Power to the People opens to the public on Sunday. Then maybe I could invite them to join the Opening Doors shadow scheme to find out how the system works.
PERFORMANCES (all free):
Sun 21st Nov 2010, 3pm, The Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Street, Leith
Mon 22nd Nov, 3.30pm, McDonald Road Library, McDonald Road
Weds 24th Nov, 7pm, The Lighthouse, 20-22 West Harbour Road, Granton
Fri 26th Nov, 6pm, Pilmeny Youth Centre, 44 Buchanan Street, Leith