Case Study on Women and Theatre
Applied theatre is the ‘practise of theatre and drama’ working with ‘marginalised communities’ by confronting social and cultural issues that can be expressed through drama. Applying theatre to an issue can help people in certain communities by communicating a solution or message to them in a more impactful way. Women and theatre are an example of an applied theatre company who also use theatre as a tool for a creative way to spread awareness, discuss and explore modern day issues in a range of different communities. Their aim is to produce theatre targeted at people living ordinary lives that are given situations that aren’t usually spoken about that people in the ‘audience’ should be educated on. This theatre company is led by women, however isn’t limited to just female situations and scenarios. Although, initially, the company’s original aim was to construct theatre that was relevant to women’s experiences and situations. Over time, Women and theatre have developed the topics of their theatre so that it is educational to a number of different people who live in diverse society’s.
Women and theatre first commenced in 1983 started by nine women who were funded by the worker’s educational association in participating in a range of drama workshops. These drama workshops led on to Women and theatres first devised piece called ‘Choices’. This then led on to Women and theatre being continued to a full-time basis in 1984 led by Janice Connoly, Polly Wright, Jo Broadwood and Sue Learwood. They decided to have Women and theatre express their aim towards the experiences that women in society have which would therefore be relatable to the audiences they perform to. By being relatable for the audience, I think that this would consequently encourage them to digest the performance and learn something from it. In 1987, they became a registered charity that has now evolved into becoming an award-winning theatre company. The company starting in the 1980’s era, this was in the middle of the first female prime minister of the united kingdom; Margaret Thatcher and was also the sex discrimination act (1986). Feminism was developing throughout this era and therefore, the theatre company Women and Theatre would have fitted in with the upcoming, developing views of feminism in that society.
Based in the west midlands, Birmingham, they are also a collaborative company who focuses on a variety of different communities on a range of different concerns. This theatre company is artistic in how they explore theatre, doing so through different artistic aspects, focusing on the solutions rather than the problematic scenario for different circumstances. Their theatre concentrates on people living in different communities and society’s, looking at what people are affected by in modern day to day life which includes topics that don’t necessarily get talked about enough. Using a theatrical convention, it raises concern on certain issues that people look over upon that aren’t getting enough attention on. It gives people who struggle with these issues a voice, as well as a solution to their dilemma. When starting a project, women and theatre produce in depth research and in consideration of the people’s situations that they are researching and aiming their theatre on, they make their theatre as realistic, useful and applicable as possible. This makes their pieces of theatre clear with a deep understanding and at a high quality. As their theatre is realistic and heavily researched off modern contemporary people, their theatre is relatable to today’s society and can therefore echo regular people’s life experiences. They make their theatre exciting to situations that don’t get talked about, creating discussions and bringing awareness to situations that need a voice, situations that people don’t think matter.
Women and theatre are an open collaborative company. Just over the last five years they have worked with a range of different collaborations and partners who have helped in providing the funding and commissions. Collaborations such as NHS organisations, the Arts council (England), Time to change, the National Probation Service, Comic relief, Children in Need, Birmingham city council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. They have also collaborated with multiple different organisations to help produce comedic theatre that brings light on various subjects to multiple communities across England. They have performed new content at theatres such like THE REP, Mac Birmingham and Birmingham hippodrome. They are creating theatre that grabs people’s attention and makes them think about what they are watching and what message that this theatre company is trying to portray to them. As well as just performing in theatres, this theatre company produces successful projects to benefit society, projects aimed on education health and the arts that are performed in various locations that suit the specific project. They use different performing spaces to help spread their messages. For example, care homes and community centres. Not only are they producing theatre but also creating a comedy course program for different age groups and society’s. They also put on workshops for younger generations to help intensify their learning experiences and develop their understanding of social, emotional and physical experiences. They have previously put workshops on at local foster home ‘Swiss foster care ltd’ for an aim to help encourage young people to safely express themselves and also develop their connections with other people. Robert Clarkson, a placement support worker at the foster home says that the ‘the effect their work has had on our young peoples self confidence and ability to work successfully within teams is profound’
Women and theatre team up with a variety of different people from different backgrounds. Their own theatre company staff is also a mixture of people from different social backgrounds. Their staff consists of Janice Connolly as the artistic director, a member of Women and Theatre for more than 20 years. There is also Jess Pearson, the general manager who has been working with Women and Theatre for over fourteen years.
Women and theatre have recently performed ‘Stuff’ a play in collaboration with the REP theatre, focusing on a comedic however eye opening subject of being a hoarder. This play was created through a lot of research, interviews and professionals who helped guide them on the subject of hoardism. The play involves puppetry which is a unique, artistic way of capturing someone’s emotional attachment to ‘stuff’. The puppetry is used in a simple way of the object being the puppet instead of an ordinary hand reared puppet. This helped the audience understand a hoarder’s attachment to the object, considering the objects to be as valuable as a human life. This play was funded by the Arts council and Birmingham REP theatre, where the play was performed. Another performance that Women and theatre have staged is a play called ‘Touchwood’. A play funded by the NHS (public health sector) and Birmingham city council. A play to help encourage people in Walsall to sign up for free breast screenings for a prevention method to breast cancer. ‘Touchwood’ was commissioned by the public health department of the Walsall Health authority in the aim of opening up the subject of why people don’t go to breast screenings and giving them encouragement and inspiration from the play to go to them. The play started with a lot of research and interviews to help capture what people’s views were in Walsall about the free breast screening. For example, a lot of people were nervous to go to one in the case that they received bad news from the screening. This play captures what people in that society felt and gives them a solution to how they feel, raising an awareness of it and encouraging people to take the prevention measure and go to a breast screening. They interviewed people to also help portray their accents and phrases that they used so that when they presented the performance, people in Walsall could relate to it and feel more emotionally connected to the play. It also helped to express an accurate representation of what women in Walsall felt like. Although a lot of the play is heavily based off research of the women who were interviewed, Women and theatre don’t expose individuals who were researched on, keeping their confidentiality. This is an important process throughout the development of this performance. For example, the main character ‘Sheila’ who goes through the thought process of going to a breast screening in the play, she is based off of several different people who were researched instead of just one individual. This also helps give an accurate representation of what the majority of women felt instead of focusing on just one person. This play was performed in a variety of different areas such as community centres around the west midlands, as well as Walsall. Targeted towards a Walsall audience, the performance can also relate to women all over England. However, as they were directly contacted by Walsall health authority, the performance was mainly performed in Walsall to help make a difference to the women in this area. As well as this, women and theatre performed this play directly in factory’s around Walsall where women who worked there had been originally interviewed to help the process of development for the play. The audience was targeted for older women who were invited to get a free breast screening, however the play has also been performed at an all-girls school in Birmingham to year nine and ten pupils to help spread the word and have the topic talked about. In addition, as well as being targeted towards older women, touchwood was also performed to NHS conferences to a variety of different age groups and genders to also help inform breast surgeons and specialists to help give them an idea of what women felt towards the breast screenings.
This theatre company is project funded which means they are only funded per project. Each project women and theatre do require a separate funding for it. This is different to how other bigger theatre companies get their funding from. For example, other companies from a national portfolio organisation get given an amount of money directly from the England arts council to last several years such as ‘Big Brum’ located in Birmingham. In these several years that they have funding for, they can use the time to develop and produce multiple projects using that funding to help with just one project. This gives the theatre company security and less dilemmas with lack of funding. However, it also means that these theatre companies have a lot of pressure and responsibility in what they produce for that specific community that they are working with. However, there is also a lot of pressure for a smaller company such as women and theatre as there is a lot of uncertainty to where they are next going to get their funding for their next project. This also means that the team in this theatre company are small and part time. Only having a limited number of actors, props and set due to the lack of funding. For example, in the play ‘Touchwood’ the set is limited to a bench and two mannequins with a cast of just two people. This is due to the lack of funding so they are therefore unable to have a bigger set with a bigger cast. As this theatre company is a charity, passionate about working with communities who don’t offer artistic engagements, their performances are delivered free at the point of access. This means that people in communities who wouldn’t usually be involved in various artistic programs such as women and theatre, now have the chance to get involved with it.
Overall, I feel that Women and theatre are a developing, artistic corporation who have evolved into an expressive applied theatre company who have broadened their once targeted women audience into a multi communitive educational company. Their performances are logical, informative and also educational, raising awareness to issues that don’t yet have a voice in certain society’s.
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