Real life stories in theatre for social change

David Diamond, co-founder, artistic and managing director of Theatre for Living

A Canadian pioneer of interactive theatre, where actors and audience members work together to explore and find solutions to difficult issues such as racism, violence and bullying, is coming to New Zealand for a series of workshops with actors and community workers.

Vancouver-based David Diamond is the Artistic Director and co-founder of Theatre for Living – a professional community-based theatre that has been going for 35 years. Theatre for Living evolved from Brazilian director Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, says Massey University theatre specialist Dr Rand Hazou, who is coordinating the workshops later this month.

As well as giving a keynote speech at the Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies conference in Auckland on June 27, Diamond will run a two-day Master Class for actors, drama students and community workers seeking new tools for opening up communication in their work, at Massey University’s Theatre Lab on the Auckland campus.

Dr Hazou, from the School of English and Media Studies, says the weekend Master Class at Massey (June 24 and 25) is a unique opportunity to work with a world leader in a style of community theatre that tackles often controversial and sensitive issues. Theatre for Living’s recent work includes a performance about reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations peoples.

In the two-day workshop, participants will explore Image Theatre techniques, where participants are asked to create frozen images (tableaux) using their own and other participant’s bodies. The images are generally of a personal problem – a dysfunctional relationship, a crisis – and allow the person to share their experience in a symbolic way that can provide insight and a focus for dialogue for the audience or community.

Dr Hazou says the training “will be invaluable for anyone who seeks skills and techniques to use theatrical language to explore community dialogue.”

A production on Canadian indigenous rights and reconciliation, created by Theatre for Living this year

Theatre - a space to rehearse real life change

In a recent YouTube interview about his work, Diamond says Theatre for Living plays build to a crisis then stop – at which point, actors and audience (live and on the web) get to take part in enacting possible solutions.

He says the theatre is “a great place to rehearse behavioural change” due to the symbolic nature of its power. “We think in pictures – so the theatre can give us an aesthetic space in which we can experiment on a symbolic level with behavioural change.”

Shaping our own stories

Theatre for Living is, he says, about people being the experts in their own lives and being able to use theatre to make change. In workshops, participants get the chance “to experience theatre in a different way – not as something mysterious and inaccessible that is outside their lives, but as a natural language.

“Culture, after all, used to be ordinary people singing, dancing, painting, carving, and telling stories. If we can reclaim cultural expression as part of our everyday vocabulary – a common language that we use to tell our own collective stories – we are one step closer to being balanced as individuals and as communities.”

He emphasises that it is not theatre as therapy though. Since 1985, Theatre for Living (also the title of his book) has facilitated approximately 60 projects with groups around the world including First Nations, refugees, women's groups, environmentalists, street youth, health practitioners, and people who are homeless.

“Communities have invited us to work on subjects such as racism, violence in the home, school and workplace, the legacy of Residential Schools, language reclamation, harassment, suicide, gangs, sustainability issues, and many others,” Diamond says.

To register, or for more information on the two-day workshop (cost $200), click here.

Check out YouTube video interview with David Diamond on Theatre for Living here.

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