Arc news: March 2007

Arc with business
Arc with business

'Theatre doesn’t have to be passive', says Johanna Thomas-Corr

Arc reviewed in City A.M. - London's new business daily

DO ART and business mix? Carole Pluckrose, the artistic director of Arc Theatre certainly believes so. She is on a mission to use actors to bring social issues to the fore.

It’s a brave move - after all most people within big business may be reluctant to have their opinions challenged by a bunch of actors.

At Islington Council, Arc is tackling the subject of climate change.

Clifford Oliver, Arc’s narrator, is standing between an audience of business people, councillors and school children, and four actors on stage, each representing a different opinion on environmental matters.

“We’re going to ask you to work through the situation and try and find a solution,” he said, before the actors ran off to ask the crowd for their input.

This is not the theatre you’ll see at the RSC or the National, neither is this the audience participation that is expected at pantomimes. This is forum theatre, and with spectators expected to get involved.

Arc is not interested in entertainment for entertainment’s sake - it is here to ignite change.

But can drama really change the way we think and the way we behave?

“It’s too simplistic to say ‘will it or won’t it change things?’,” says Pluckrose. “But I do think that the theatre can provide seminal experiences in our lives which can trigger the imagination and give rise to new thought.”

Pluckrose may not believe a piece of drama can heal society’s woes, but she is no doubt a theatre evangelical.

In 1984, she co-founded Arc Theatre with fellow actor Clifford Oliver (Olly), with the aim of “dramatising taboo issues”. The group has travelled the world performing pieces on issues such as domestic violence, gun crime and climate change, to the public and private sector, and for schools.

Arc takes a brief from each client and works out general scenarios for the actors to explore.

The action is managed by a “facilitator” who may stop the scenes at any point to elicit suggestions from the audience as to how to reach a successful conclusion.

A theatre workshop may sound cringeworthy to some, but Arc have had a lot of take-up, devising pieces for clients like, McDonald's and Unilever. Many firms see this medium as a nonthreatening tool for examining difficult issues.

Arc Theatre was instrumental in bringing the issue of racism in football to the forefront of public awareness through a trilogy of plays (Kicking Out, Ooh Ah Showab Khan and My England) which were commissioned by HSBC.

Pluckrose insists forum theatre is not about ramming political messages down the audience’s throats.

“Our work is about social justice, inequality, prejudice, and we have also devised pieces of team issues within business. But we don’t go in presenting an opinion. We go in as storytellers.”

Johanna Thomas-Corr - City A.M., Thursday 15 March 2007

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