Importance of community partners
One of the first considerations for community-based theatre workshop facilitators is understanding who is in the room:
- Who are the participants and why they have decided to take part in the workshop?
- What do they need in order to take part in the workshop process?
- How can workshop activities be adapted to minimize potential barriers?
- What are the personal, social, and political concerns that participants bring to the process?
These are not questions that a theatre facilitator can answer on their own. As we discussed previously (See Collaborating with Uncommon Partners) facilitating TSDC performance creation workshops requires more than theatre practitioner skills. It’s important to bring together a team whose areas of experience and knowledge complement one another in order to mitigate against the kinds of oversights that can occur when theatre practitioners work in isolation and to provide sufficient support for the workshop participants.
In most instances, the facilitator identifies one community agency to partner with on the project. Typically, one or two staff at the agency are intrigued by the possibilities of theatre workshops both as opportunities for service users, and as a chance for the agency to draw attention in a new way to the social problems that create the need for its services. It can also work the other way around; Community agencies that are intrigued by the idea of creating a play may seek out a theatre practitioner to work with or community members who experience marginalization and want to explore theatre as a creative resource for their community and self-advocacy work might start the ball rolling by approaching either a community agency or a theatre practitioner.
Ideally, a community worker with knowledge of the lived experience of the participants and their social and political contexts attends all the workshop sessions. They take part by facilitating check-ins and the workshop’s closing reflections. They also participate fully in some workshop activities including the opening circle where we gather together to eat and visit, story circles, warm-ups, and response rounds. In this way the community worker helps to close the potential gap between the theatre facilitation team and the workshop participants both in terms of relationships and in terms of understanding the context of participants’ lives. (More on the value of this kind of involvement in a moment!)
The community worker also meets with the theatre facilitator between workshops. Some of the questions we ask during these conversations include:
- How did the workshop go? What did participants take from it? How do we think it affected them?
- How did we do as facilitators? What was useful, what might we have done/said differently?
- What themes emerged from the stories, theatre images, and reflections that the participants shared?
- With attention to participants’ privacy, are there things that can be shared to help the team understand the dynamics in the workshop?
- Any worries or hopes about the process and the play that are coming forward?
We also intentionally design the workshops to include informal as well as more structured opportunities to check-in directly with participants. For example, each workshop includes time to share a meal and chat in addition to more formal check-in activities (See Gathering, Checking-in & Wrapping-up). As we previously noted, however, we’re aware that people who are socially marginalized often face excessive demands to explain the circumstances of their lived experience. This is one of the reasons we ask some of the above questions of the project’s community worker rather than of the participants. We recognize how tiring it can be to have to explain over and over again what it’s like, for example, to be on OW (Ontario Works, the Ontario social assistance program), or to experience institutional racism or transphobia.
Participants are always welcome to share any information they wish, especially in relationships to things they want to see represented in the play. But we never want to put them in a situation where they feel that they are responsible for educating us.
Community workers who takes part in TSDC workshops contribute in many ways:
- Share relevant knowledge about the social context of participants’ lived experiences with the theatre facilitator.
- Support individual participants who may feel a need or desire to step back from an activity for a moment during workshops.
- Check-in with participants between workshops if something arose that may have been triggering for them.
- Assist participants in accessing structural or practical support they might need in order to continue to participate in a workshop series.
- Support the theatre facilitator between workshops by reflecting on what’s taking place during the workshops.