Acting out the issues that matter

Arts Development Merton has joined forces with the London-based theatre company, Cardboard Citizens, to deliver a youth theatre project with a difference, Occupation: Excluded.

A group of local young people are in the midst of an intensive, full-time rehearsal program. With comprehensive training from Cardboard Citizens professionals, including a director, music director, stage manager and designer, they are working to deliver a tour of original performances in Merton between 6 and 9 September.

Cardboard Citizens generally produces theatre with, for and by homeless people, but are extending their skills to benefit this group of around 15 vulnerable youngsters from Merton. As well as starring in the performances, the young people will gain experience of all other aspects of the theatre production, including scriptwriting.

Occupation: Excluded uses a distinct form of theatre, known as ‘forum theatre’. It involves a storyline usually based around one central character who comes up against several obstacles, many of which are issues relevant to the young people acting in the play; crime and social exclusion for example.

The unique feature of forum theatre is that the show is performed a second time. During the second performance the audience are invited to interrupt at their chosen point of the play, with suggestions as to how the character could do something differently. They are then invited onto stage to see if they can change the course of the action towards a more favourable outcome. This results in the play becoming a kind of theatrical debate, in which experiences and ideas are shared, creating solidarity and a sense of empowerment. A contemporary and up-beat soundtrack will also accompany performances.

Shows will be performed in a number of schools between 6 and 9 September, and a special gala night will take place at the Wimbledon Odeon on 9 September, to which members of the press are invited – entry is free.

Stephen Alambritis, Merton’s Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Economic Development, said:

“This is an innovative way of empowering young people, and showing them that they have the ability to find solutions to problems. By teaching young people to make the right choices in life, forum theatre could even help to reduce crime, as well as boost the confidence and self-esteem of those involved.”

Arts Council England will fund the project for the next two years, and links are currently being developed with The Polka and New Wimbledon Theatres. It is envisaged that in