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Theatre in the Community

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Introduction

Theatre in the Community Marc Goldstein Britain in 1979 was a place of great change and division. Although the country had united in the election of Margaret Thatcher as the first Conservative woman Prime minister by the early 1980's one could say that the country was spiralling into a state of decline. This was largely due to the disarray of the previous Labour government and the implementation of the Conservative government's robust style of economic management. All spheres of social and cultural life were to be judged on their economic terms and values. This is particularly true within the Arts. In 'Politics of Performance' Baz Kershaw describes how, "Private enterprise was to replace public dependency, so cuts in government, expenditure, including that on the arts, were inevitable." This stems back largely to the ideological principals of conservatism. Conservatism believes in the self reliant role of the individual. It strongly allows for the expansion of public enterprise and thus frowns upon state intervention and avoids assistance towards public dependency. Therefore, where it was seen that some areas of public life, such as the arts, were "financially draining", cuts were made where necessary to ensure that funds were spent more wisely, largely towards benefiting enterprise. A culmination of activities throughout the 1980's meant that the arts were one of the key areas of public life that were disregarded in favour of prioritised events. ...read more.

Middle

It was during these early days of the Heath government that one of the few 'fringe' figures who had already made a name for himself in the established media, John McGrath, by now disillusioned with the radical potential of the television, formed the 'different kind of touring theatre' which was called 7:84- its name was taken from the statistic, central to the companies oppositional stance, that 'seven per cent of the population owns 84 per cent of the wealth'. But while McGrath claimed to recognise in England, too, the residue of an urban working-class culture which he aimed once again to tap, here rural communities tended to be not only conservative but also more insulated and tightly-knit. Such groups thus needed the careful nursing of a locally- based company with an intimate knowledge of their special history and problems; and from the recognition of such a need the "community theatre" movement grew. 'Community of course, was as much a widely used word in the seventies, used to justify all manors of worthy and unworthy aims and achievements, as excellence has become in the nineties. But when it worked, usually by means of highly portable and often loosely-knit plays, with locally-driven themes which drew upon life experiences of their audiences, community theatre managed to evoke a kind of creative nostalgia while retaining an abrasive edge of social criticism. ...read more.

Conclusion

These original works often involve local writers who have a strong sense of community in which they work, and whose work touches on themes relevant to the community based audiences. This is noticeably evident with a recent project I participated in for community theatre where the issue of the theatre piece was heavily influenced by the needs of a local disability group. Community theatres range in size from small groups led by single individuals performing in borrowed spaces, to large year round companies with elaborate well equipped theatres of their own. Many community theatres are successful non-profit businesses with a large active membership and, in some cases, a full time professional staff. As the performers and other artists are also involved in other aspects of their community, non-professional theatre can develop a broad base of support and attendance among those who might not normally support the professional arts. Community theatre is in fact well documented as being the most widely attended venue for theatre in America and Australia. Community theatre is often seen as adding to the social capital of a community, in that it develops skills and community spirit for those involved. Furthermore, it can also create a place for debate, self-expression and interactivity that is important for the health of a community. When this can involve people with learning disabilities, for example, it can disarm prejudices that people encounter on a daily basis. ...read more.

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