Roles & contributions

Below are descriptions of some key collaborator roles and their associated contributions based on our experience with TSDC. Some of these roles are essential to creating a public performance that facilitates attention to marginalized peoples’ voices and visions. For example, there would be no play without the community members who share their stories, their knowledge, their courage, and their time to create and perform it, and there would be no play without a theatre practitioner to facilitate the process. We believe it’s equally crucial to involve staff or volunteers from at least one community partner or advocacy organization — staff or volunteers who are knowledgeable about the structural and social contexts of the lived experience of workshop participants.

Because TSDC emerged in the context of a community performance and research initiative based at a University, the role of arts and social science researchers and educators has been central to our experience. We understand, however, that while projects like this one may be initiated through a University, they are very rarely sustained in that setting. They are more likely to flourish over time in the context of community-based networks. In fact, one of the goals of our research has been to share what we’ve learned with the broader community in Hamilton, and other settings, in the hopes of supporting similar projects. In the final chapter of this workbook — Prompting Ongoing Conversations — we share some of our visions (and invite yours) of what we imagine it might look like (and require) for TSDC (or projects similar to it), to function as an ongoing and sustainable community arts project.

Partnerships with scholars and educators may not be necessary to create the kinds of performances we discuss in the pages of this workbook. However, because of the knowledge and potential access to resources that scholars in these fields have, as well as the immense educational value of the performances, we consider these kinds of collaborations to be invaluable.

One final note: The roles and contributions outlined below are guidelines! They are based on our experience with TSDC and offered with the understanding that every project will have a life of its own, and that roles will always need to be worked out by the project’s partners.

Community and self-advocates

The community members (community and self-advocates who have lived experience of social marginalization) are the performer-advocates whose creative work is at the heart of this workbook. As we noted previously, throughout the workbook we use a number of terms when referring to the community members who take part in TSDC workshops and who create and then perform TSDC plays for public audiences. Our intention is to try to capture some of the multiple roles, capacities, and contributions of TSDC’s community participant-performers.

In the following sections of the workbook you will learn a lot more about their creative risk-taking, their courage, and the amazing plays they created. For now, we offer a glimpse into some of the many contributions these performer-advocates make throughout the performance creation process.

Community and self-advocates roles and contributions:

  • Share stories that shape TSDC scripts and performances and reflect knowledge gained through their lived experience and their understanding of the social context of that experience.
  • Share in the work of creating a caring collective environment for the creative process to flourish in.
  • Take creative risks by participating in a range of new forms of exploration.
  • Offer analysis about the current conditions and realities in particular communities (like filling out the bigger picture).
  • Share reflections about the meanings connected to stories, images, and scenes that emerge during workshop activities.
  • Help to shape the post-performance facilitation design.

Theatre practitioners & artists

A performance creation project like TSDC needs a theatre practitioner who has experience working with marginalized communities and non-professional performers using collaborative theatre creation methods. The theatre practitioner may be the one who initiates the project, or a community service agency with pre-existing connections with community members who have lived experience of marginalization, may seek out a theatre practitioner. Below is an overview of some of the roles and contributions of the theatre practitioner. See The Art (and Craft) of Facilitation, Workshop Activities & Exercises, TSDC Performance Scripts, and Set & Prop Design for more detailed descriptions of what’s involved in facilitating the workshop series, devising the script, and preparing for the performance.

Theatre practitioner roles and contributions:

  • Meet with representative(s) from community service partner agency to discuss the project and identify potential participants.
  • Work with partner agency to identify a community worker who is available to participate for the duration of the workshop series.
  • Introduce the project to potential participants at a recruitment session organized by the community service partner.
  • Facilitate performance creation workshops (activities include story circles, theatre games and warm-ups, Image Theatre exercises, etc.).
  • Communicate to participants the goals of the workshops and what the process of collectively creating a script will look like.
  • Have a conversation with participating community worker after every workshop session.
  • Use theatre-based skills to devise focused activities to assist participants in identifying collective themes and developing story narrative.
  • Based on workshop improvisations and discussions, develop and present proposed scene configurations to participants.
  • Work with participants to develop scenes and create the play’s scene map and skeleton script.
  • Direct rehearsals with performer-advocates.
  • Work with community partners to develop and facilitate Post-Performance Activities designed to engage audiences as active participants in the ongoing conversation that the play initiates about the future of the City.

As the play’s themes and narrative arc begin to develop, an additional artist will be brought in to design and create a simple Set & Props. If at all possible (resources permitting), the artist will be part of the creative team from the beginning and will assist with facilitating the workshop activities.

Arts and social science researchers and educators

As we’ve said, since TSDC has been shaped as a community-based performance and research initiative, the arts and social science scholars and educators who made up the research team played a central role in the project’s initiation, development, and implementation. For the purpose of this workbook, here are some ways we think scholars and educators might contribute to community-based performance creation projects with goals similar to those of TSDC.

Roles and contributions of arts and social science researchers and educators:

  • Help find theatre workshop facilitators (or assistants) through faculty and students in theatre program.
  • Identify people in their own networks (students, colleagues) who might assist with the project.
  • Facilitate access to University community-engagement initiatives and small project grants that might enable particular phases or aspects of the work.
  • Invite performer-advocates to present their play to classroom audiences of students who, upon graduation, will be employed in relevant sectors as community service workers, community arts projects, and related sector area positions.
  • Investigate and support performance opportunities at relevant conferences or symposiums hosted by the University.

Community agency partner

TSDC performance projects would not have been possible without the contributions of our community service agency partners. The role(s) of a partner agency are bound to vary depending on its size, area of focus, and access to resources. Below are some of the many ways our community partners contributed to TSDC projects.

Community service partner roles and contributions:

  • Meet with theatre practitioner to discuss the project and identify potential participants.
  • Facilitate recruitment.
  • Work with theatre workshop facilitator to ensure that participants have enough information to make an informed choice about participating in the performance creation process.
  • Share appropriate knowledge about structural and social contexts of potential participants’ lived experiences with theatre workshop facilitator.
  • Designate a staff member from the agency who has knowledge of the context of participants’ lived experience to attend all the workshops and consult with the creative team. (See The Importance of Community Partners for more on this!)
  • Provide in-kind donations in the form of workshop, rehearsal, and performance space; lunches for workshops; transportation support; photocopying, and other kinds of office and communications support.
  • Draw on community networks to identify and outreach to appropriate audiences for performance.
  • Promote performances and participate in hosting performance event and post-performance activities and conversations.
  • Participate in conversations about the process and possible remounts of the performance or future projects.

A note on recruitment

TSDC creates plays designed to interrupt patterns of exclusion in public discussion. To do this we use a facilitator model. This means that ‘we’ — as ‘facilitators’ of the performance creation process — don’t decide in advance what the play’s story will be about. While TSDC theatre facilitators guide participants through the creative process and apply their artistic knowledge of how to focus audience attention when developing a script and staging the play, the content of the play always comes from the participants.

Because the content comes from participants, the nature of the collective story that can be told depends on who is in the room, and the experiences and knowledge each person brings. This is why our community partners’ help with recruiting is such a critical contribution. Drawing on their established relationships with community and self-advocates and the knowledge they have of the context of their lived experience, our community partners help to ensure that people from a range of social standpoints, who bring a diversity of perspectives, participate in the workshops and co-create the story.


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Transforming Stories, Driving Change Copyright © by Helene Vosters, Catherine Graham, Chris Sinding is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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