On Saturday we took part in a day of performance and discussion at the Senedd as part of National Theatre Wales’ The Big Democracy project. Their aim is to explore how art and creativity can help communities across Wales re-engage with the democratic process.
The project began with four regional assemblies exploring different themes through performance. In Bangor the assembly for North Wales explored voter apathy through poetry. The next assembly was held in Cardiff for south Wales looking at the importance of Identity at the Oasis Asylum and Refugee Centre. The third assembly held in Llandrindod Wells, led by Celf o Gwmpas, explored the impact of government cuts on people with disabilities and the final assembly was run by Mess Up The Mess in Ammanford exploring education..
On Saturday the second phase of the project brought together these themes under the roof of the Senedd building and asked the question: What is the most pressing issue facing Wales? This was achieved through workshops, a panel discussion about how theatre can encourage activism and a performance in the evening which ended with a vote to decide the most pressing issues in Wales.
Throughout the day many issues and considerations were highlighted about engaging the wider public in political theatre. During the panel discussion on theatre and activism speakers discussed how theatre should be engaging more with social activism and supporting campaigns.. Rhiannon White from Common Wealth Theatre explained how her company had brought productions out of the theatre and into people’s homes, describing their original production Our Glass House which explores themes of domestic violence within the home setting. She also explained the importance of theatre companies establishing trust with the communities they work with and urged them to commit to that relationship beyond the funding window.
Geraldine Maddison discussed how the Forsythia Youth Project had managed to create change by helping young people in Merthyr Tydfil use creative actions to get a zebra crossing outside a hospital and lights on a dark path. Turkish actor Memet Ali Alabora asked the challenging question: What do British artists have to loose through political action? To which he answered only funding. The panel also discussed the democratic changes the digital era has brought and how original definitions of community have been challenged by digital internationalism.
The evening performance explored the main themes through spoken word and dance performances and then invited the audience to break out into groups to answer questions on the topics and vote via their phones and tablets. The event resulted in a final vote to identify the most pressing issue in Wales and provide a topic for the third phase of the project, a devised National Theatre Wales performance. The issue of austerity won the final vote and next year the company will produce a performance around this theme. National Theatre Wales have also established a People’s Think Tank to continue public involvement in the project.