Rose Bruford College partners with British Council Switzerland

In September 2010 the British Council Switzerland organised a programme of events under the heading “Act2: Cultural Relations and Conflict”.  The project combined performance practice, skills-based learning and informed debate to address cases in which cultural relations are used in conflict prevention and reconciliation. Underpinning the project were questions of definition and form: what do we mean by cultural relations? What methodological lessons can be gleaned from established projects? What can cultural relations contribute to the development field that existing agencies cannot?

The programme began with a week-long forum theatre workshop led by John Martin and Adwoa Dickson of PAN Intercultural Arts, London. It was attended by a group of twenty-four young artists and activists from conflict-affected territories around the globe. Thirteen members were part of the Shakthi Forum Theatre Company from the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Shakthi is in its second year of operation and was initially trained by PAN in collaboration with the British Council Sri Lanka and the Centre for Performing Arts, Batticaloa. The remaining eleven participants travelled from countries as far afield as Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Palestine and Peru.

Participants were taught the basic modalities of forum theatre, from constructing a short forum play through image, voice and movement work, to understanding the role of the ‘joker’ in facilitating audience intervention. Alternative spaces were set up for group discussion on selected themes, and evenings were reserved for presentations on individual projects. Throughout the workshop, participants were invited to explore a range of creative tools and to reflect on ways in which these could be applied in local contexts.

The workshop led up to a one-day conference at the Museum of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva. The conference was chaired by BBC Arts Correspondent, Razia Iqbal, with an international panel of NGO leaders, charitable trust representatives, policy makers, academics and artists working in the development field. Each panellist delivered a five-minute presentation on a particular project or set of problems related to their work. The overall remit was to unpack the notion of cultural relations and its myriad forms; to discuss practical methodologies, with particular emphasis placed on theatre for social change through a lecture-performance by John Martin and the Shakthi group; and to locate and address pressing ethical, political and cultural issues concerning practice in the field.

The programme culminated with an evening of public performance at the Grütli Arts Centre in Geneva. The evening began with a forum theatre performance by the Shakthi group, then moved on to a hip-hop and spoken word session performed by Act2 patron, international recording artist and former child soldier from Sudan, Emmanuel Jal. Jal played a prominent role throughout Act2, offering participants insight into ways of using art and music to address social injustice and human rights violations. The young participants returned to their respective countries bubbling with new ideas, new relationships and a renewed sense of hope and responsibility in their work. A good example of this energy was captured by a participant from Yemen in her coverage for the Yemen Observer.

  Act2 was initiated and led by British Council Switzerland Director, Caroline Morrissey, and Project Manager, Aisha Gilani. It was run in partnership with PAN Intercultural Arts and the British Council Sri Lanka, the Centre for Performing Arts, Prospero World and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. Rose Bruford College has a long-standing relationship with John Martin, recently awarding him the position of Visiting Professor at the College, and is delighted to have been involved in the documentation of Act2 as part of an ongoing research project entitled “Theatre for Development: Testing Methodologies”.  The project comes under the aegis of the College’s newly established Clive Barker Research Centre for Theatrical Innovation.