Manchester Creative Residency - Week 1

Posted on: 31 March 2016

Written by: Molly

Our two year programme of national creative residency projects has launched! From March-April 2016, we are running our first creative residency in Manchester in partnership with local housing association St. Vincent's Blackburn with Darwen Foyer and Manchester Foyer. Our creative residencies will engage local artists, homeless and vulnerable residents, and social sector staff to spread the art of Forum Theatre throughout the UK, expanding access to the arts and strengthening vulnerable communities. The Manchester residency will culminate in a small sharing to the local community at Z-Arts on 8th April. If you are interested in attending this sharing, please contact Michael.

Our first day's blog post comes from Tess Farley, Artistic Director of Manchester-based theatre company Out From Under who is shadowing Citz’ Manchester residency.

Week 1, Day 1:

“Actors and non-actors - we are all human, we are all artists, we are all actors!” - Augusto Boal

This week I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to support Cardboard Citizen’s residency at Manchester Foyer. The workshops, facilitated by Cardboard Citizens Associate Artist Terry O’Leary, will culminate in a forum theatre performance devised by young people living at Blackburn and Manchester Foyers and Depaul, about issues which are important to them. As this first week plays out, we’ll explore what those issues might be using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. Then, we’ll make a Forum Theatre show!

Today, we learned that we really are much more accomplished actors than we might give ourselves credit for....and that we’ve all got a thing or two to say about politics!

The concept of Theatre of the Oppressed is quite simple. It is a tool, it is a whole range of games, styles of performance and theatrical exploration which utilise the language of theatre as means of exploring our barriers and ways we might overcome our oppressions. Playing is a fundamental part of the process of making a show. Through play we learn about all kinds of things: ourselves, one another, society and whether or not an idea works artistically. That’s exactly what we did today. We had a lot of fun! But, we also learned a lot about each other and gelled as a group.

Some of these games are not only fun, they help us to create an ‘ensemble’ dynamic by building our trust and allowing us to work in partnership. Other games helped us to get to know each other better, to realise that acting is something we do in our daily lives and routines and that we’re better at it than we know!

In the afternoon we split into groups and each told a story: something that had really happened to us. In our groups we chose one story and presented that story, one by one, and it was the audience’s job to decide who the story truly ‘belonged to’. Without exception every person in the room contributed some seriously convincing acting, and many an impressive bluff technique: this bodes well for some Oscar worthy performances later on!

Over the course of the day we also learned more about Theatre of the Oppressed and it’s origins in Brazil: in short about how Theatre of the Oppressed was developed to support Brazilian people to explore how they might overcome very real, violent and physical oppressions (such as the government, or the Police). Terry and the group discussed the political nature of art, and some heated discussions followed about issues the young people felt passionately about; from ‘Brexit’, to human rights.

We discussed the crisis with street homelessness in Manchester, and discussed opinions on the council banning people experiencing street homelessness from putting up tents in the city centre.

We also talked about challenges young people in the group faced with living in supported accommodation and how that might affect other aspects of their lives, like their experiences at college . It was wonderful to hear so many passionate voices. Theatre of the Oppressed not only provides a platform for those voices, but allows us to rehearse strategies for overcoming our oppressions.

What a brilliant first day. From beatboxing, to stuntmen, to acting and lots of passion: There’s some serious skills in the room: I can’t wait to see what the group come up with!

For Days 2 and 3 we have updates from Malaika Cunningham, Cardboard Citizens trainee facilitator and Artistic Director of Sheffield's The Bare Project.

Week 1, Day 2:

The group is moving forwards in leaps and bounds. We began the day with a bit of image work, but then explored a bit of improv, which everyone really got in to! The staff have been fantastic, really getting into the exercises and we’ve had a couple local drama practitioners from the Royal Exchange’s Open Exchange network who have also been a great support. The result of all these experienced practitioners in the room is that the environment is really professional and the standard of engagement and focus is really fantastic.

Week 1, Day 3:

A few people couldn't make today but will be back tomorrow, and we had two new people in, which is great. One of whom is really keen on musical theatre. We’ve a lot of dancers, beatboxers and singers in the group! Might have a musical forum on our hands. 

Today we did some fantastic improvs, which showed all of them have the ability to do some forum-ing. Today they’ve also begun to identify some themes and tell some stories. Tomorrow we’ll have all of the group back and can really dig out teeth into this!

For our final day of the week, we have updates from Bobby, an international applied drama facilitator currently researching a PhD at Manchester University.

Week 1, Day 4:

It’s Friday.  We’re half-way through a 2 week introduction to forum theatre and we know that today we will start devising for our performance next week.  One by one we filter in to the workshop space.  Any of the awkwardness at the start of the week of trying to strike up conversations with people you don’t know has long gone by now.  We are guided through a physical and vocal warm-up and then the ‘drama’ starts.  We’re given 20 seconds to make a picture of Tower Bridge using our bodies, in groups of 4.  Then in groups of 6 a moving vehicle – we’re getting in to the flow of things now, and ideas for what to do come quickly.  People start taking risks with their bodies, and a simple image showing a food processor becomes something magical and beautiful.  Now we’re loosened up suddenly Terry throws at us ‘Now you’ve a few minutes to make the opening scene of a play’. 

There are hesitant glances around the room.  I’ve been doing community drama projects for a few years now, and sometimes it’s easy to forget how challenging it can be to get creating.  But it’s also easy to forget how radical and empowering it can feel to draw on your own experiences to devise theatre.  I haven’t experienced having to access a foyer, but the most of the other people in my group have.  They are the experts in this subject, and know exactly how difficult it is to be in this situation.  We build on our opening scene after lunch to show what happens next for our main character – a 16 year old who has left home because of violence.  The group sensitively discuss the awkwardness of staying with friends, the technicalities you have to jump through to even be taken seriously when you’re looking for accommodation, and some of the experiences they’ve had along the way.  It has been a day packed of creativity, brilliant and moving performances, but also a day of learning.  I can’t wait to get started again on Monday, and to see what we come up with for Friday’s performance!


With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded