Right Act 2008-2010

Right Act 2008-2010

Right Act 2008-2010

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From 2008-2010, ActNow Theatre presented an annual theatre for social change conference, RightAct, consisting of forums, workshops and performances.

RightAct 2010 blurb:
Following its success in 2008 and 2009, ActNow Theatre for Social Change’s annual theatre and social change conference returns in 2010. RightAct ‘10 will feature an exciting range of panels, performances and workshops concerning theatre, politics, activism, performance and social change.

RightAct ‘10 will be held at the Format Collective, 15 Peel St, Adelaide—just off Hindley St.  All performances and panels will be open to general public. Workshop series—Registrations now open—Limited to 25 places. $25 for the three days.An intensive three-day workshop series, on theatre and social change, running from October 2 to 4. Workshops include: Writing Political Theatre, Directing Political Theatre, Performing Political Theatre, Forum Theatre, Theories of Change and Pitching Projects. The workshops will culminate in a performance on October 4. Register now to secure a place. Workshop artists will include Renato Musilono, Paulo Castro Alan Grace, Edwin Kemp Attrill and more to be announced.Discussion/Q & A Panels – Free event.
Speakers include national arts industry leaders, politicians, media and young people.

 

Summary of 2010 conference by Gemma Beale, published in Adelaide University Magazine On Dit:
Overwhelming, unexpected, inspired and inspiring: these are the words that come to mind as I sit and try to condense ActNow Theatre for Social Change’s four day conference RightAct into approximately one thousand words, but seeing as they err more toward vague wankery than informative article I best give it another shot.

In 2007 Edwin Kemp-Attrill “and a couple of mates” got together and decided to start ActNow, their own Youth led Theatre Company. It began as you’d expect something run by talented and enthusiastic 17 year olds to begin – in bursts of enthusiasm that mostly took the form of politically motivated street performances. Some of you might remember a whole bunch of people dressed in orange jumpsuits protesting David Hick’s unlawful imprisonment outside Womadelaide a couple of years back? That was them.

However I hope I’m not out of line in saying that after a (near) sold-out run of Ibsen’s An Enemy of The People over August of this year, ActNow, like its creators, has matured. This maturity was clearly evident at their annual conference, RightAct. As in previous years RightAct ’10 featured a 3 day theatre workshop for those interested in the hands-on experience. The workshop included classes on writing, directing and performing Political Theatre and culminated in a performance on the final night of the conference. For those of us who can’t act or couldn’t attend the workshop classes RightAct ’10 also featured three wonderful nights of free performances and panel discussions, each night with a different theatre related focus.

The panels included Adelaide theatre heavy weights like Anne Thompson of Flinders Drama Centre, PJ Rose of No Strings Attached as well as left-leaning politicians like Tammy Frank (formerly Jennings) and Kelly Vincent and a whole bunch of other interesting articulate people who you’ve probably never heard of, or you would have been there. And therein lies the problem not with RightAct as such but with Adelaide’s theatre scene: there is a strong sense of preaching to the converted, and as such it often seems that only those who are already involved attend. This is such an amazing shame because the panel discussions breached topics outside the traditional realms of theatre and were the most interesting and thought provoking I’ve witnessed for quite some time (sorry University).

A combination of heated arguments and personal bias made the first nights panel on women and theatre my favourite not only because I’m a gender studies kinda girl but also because you saw the theatre community become a microcosm of wider social ills. An argument about Vitalstatistix’s recent move from a female only company to one that also incorporates men, was so very closely aligned with the old ‘can men really be feminists’?’ debate it was unnerving. The somewhat outspoken Catherine Fitzgerald argued that since there was still such a clear and inequitable gendered divide within theatre industry, men should “get their own company” while Jennifer Greer-Holmes (Vitalstatistix’s new director) seemed to argue that the inclusion of like-minded men was a necessary step toward equity. These arguments are made all the more interesting not only because everyone is so personally and emotionally involved but because, in the case of Vitalstatistix’s

at least, the desire to hold true to the original goal is counterbalanced by a desire to change with the community, to reform and of course, to continue to be an economically viable organisation.

You couldn’t get through the weekend without someone mentioning arts funding or the lack there of. And here we see the old ‘Poetry vs push pin’ debate rear its ugly head: how should the limited arts funding be allocated? Should large ‘professional’ Theatre companies be preferred to smaller companies with a clearer community focus? Is one inherently better than the other? Unsurprisingly it’d be better if there was just more money for everyone but there’s not so ‘marketability’ (ridiculous word that it is) tends to outweigh more idealistic concepts of what art should aspire to be.

Not to mention that there’s a pretty prominent idea floating around at the moment that theatre is a little redundant, that anything done on stage could be done on screen. Nothing negated that idea down more for me than seeing a performance of Expect Respect. Expect Respect was designed as an educational piece for high schools by ActNow in conjunction with the South Australian Legal Services Commission, as a response to the changes to sexual assault and rape law in 2008. The first half of the performance is essentially a scene between two teen characters, one male and one female that is repeated a few times. Each time, the male becomes incrementally more aggressive in his pursuit of the female. After each scene the audience is asked a series of questions designed to make them articulate what’s going wrong, then a lawyer that is present at every performance explains the legal implications. It does a brilliant job of demonstrating where this line that you’re not supposed to cross is by dissecting the verbal and body language of those involved. However the second half of the performance was the more effective piece, for me anyway. Set over the course of a house party a couple (Mark and Annie) both release, in snippets, to friends, enough information for them to work out Mark has/is sexually assaulting Annie. Every time the friends awkwardly shrug it off and as a result Annie goes home with Mark and is raped again. The scene is then repeated, this time however audience members have to say ‘stop’ when a friend shrugs it off, they then have to replace that character and “do it better, or…less worse” before returning to their seats. Knowing its wrong, knowing you haveto say something, knowing you needto stop it, is shamefully counterbalanced by a desire to stay in your seat because everyone’s going to watch you and it’s going to be embarrassing, it was surprising. But that’s the beauty of it; it was such an accurate reflection of how you feel when you have to tell a friend they’re fucking up.

The final panel of the weekend took on what is for most of the people involved, the big questions facing groups like ActNow, groups that want to initiate social change. What do you do when people think joining a cause on facebook or buying the Mount Franklin water bottle with the pink lid is actually useful? You have to create something no one’s seen before something that really makes the political personal. It’s not going to be easy but it shouldn’t be, and if ActNow’s anything to go by there is still hope. Three years in and they’re hosting events that get the old industry leaders talking to the barely-graduates, crossing mediums and specialties. How do you get attendance up? Keep trying; keep telling your friends, your family, boys you like at parties what’s going on. Get them to come along to a performance. As far as activism goes it’s a pretty gentle first step. It’s not as though you’re asking them to join the monkey wrench gang or anything.

Having said that the core question of the weekend was undoubtedly can theatre companies like ActNow really influence social change? I think the answer is yes. It used to be that theatre was society’s mirror, but as Geordie Brookman the Associate Director of the SA State theatre Company pointed out “TV is societies mirror now, so theatre has to be a cracked mirror”. It has the ability to take reality and distort it by ignoring or subverting power structures, it can be more confronting than television or film not only because you can touch it but because you’re not used to it. Theatre can be, as with “An Enemy of The People”, an old play that’s still unerringly relevant. It can be confrontational like people on the street with tied hands and bags over their heads or it can be a subtle, like making a classic male character female. Maybe theatre can’t reach one thousand people in an instant but when it’s done right it is can be more poignant than a viral video and more effective than a pre-written letter. It has the potential to make you actively change what you are doing.

– Gemma Beale

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