Robert Marsden on one theatre company’s work to combat extremism and foster community
In the academic year 2010/11, Reveal Theatre Company has worked with 10,000 young people across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, using drama to combat extremism and promote community cohesion. Initially working in two schools in 2007, Reveal has now worked with 95% of secondary schools in Stok-on-Trent, six primary schools and one special school.
‘Game On’ is a project delivering a programme of work, using theatre in particular, coupled with the shared experience of sport and football, to young people at key transitional points in their lives. Julia Barton, Game On Project Director, says: “We challenge views and beliefs connected to extremism, which is both political and religious, and can distort a young person’s perception of living in a multi-cultural city that is committed to cohesion.”
The project is set against the following backdrop:
• The developments in the local political structure in local government – until recently, the City Council had seven BNP councillors. The rise of the BNP and the English Defence League’s marches in Stoke-on-Trent in 2010 are having a direct influence on young people’s perception and understanding of themselves and their communities. Additionally, the BNP recently won two seats in the European Election, one being in the neighbouring North Western Region.
• An increase in groups supporting extremist views both in the political and faith arenas.
• Stoke-on-Trent is a host city to new communities and arrivals from all over the world, who look to the city as a place of safety. There are now some 60 different languages spoken in Stoke-on-Trent.
Using drama techniques and exercises over a year in a school, we explore how communities can work together despite differences in race, religion, disability and gender. The work is currently funded by Department of Communities and Local Government (Faith and Cohesion Unit) (DCLG) working with the Hate Crime Advisor to the Government. The work also has been, and continues to be, funded by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Newcastle Borough Council, Staffordshire Police and the DCLG. Game On also works with the local football teams Port Vale F.C. and Stoke City F.C. The two local clubs’ support has been invaluable. Two supposed ‘rival’ teams working together with a shared vision to support cohesion and kick racism out of football has been an invaluable partnership. The support sends out a message of tolerance and compassion.
Dominic Meir, Associate Artist of Reveal and Lead Practitioner of the Game On Project, explains how Game On is supported through a professional touring play called ‘Silent Anger’: “Through ‘Game On’, Reveal Theatre has produced and created a piece of original documentary theatre entitled “Silent Anger” which looked at how racism and extremism pertinent to Stoke-on-Trent affected that city’s communities. The play toured into schools during 2010 throughout Staffordshire together with supporting workshops. I undertook interviews with local politicians, councillors, community groups, community members, religious leaders, political organisations (such as Quilliam Foundation and Islam4UK) and young people, and then Silent Anger was performed for pupils from year nine onwards.”
Game On is now in its fourth year of delivery in schools in Stoke-on-Trent, and we have started new work in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The programme of work is delivered in three phases year seven pupils. We work with one form group at a time (no more than 30 children) and usually spend five-nine days in each of the 17 partner schools. In the final phase, we work with a small group from year seven to create a piece of theatre, radio play, film etc., on the issues explored throughout the year. The football clubs are invaluable with their input from players, and being available on the end of the phone with regard to quotes about zero tolerance of racism and violence on the terraces.
Reveal believes it important that the work was a constant presence in the schools and not a ‘hit and run’ style of work. The work uses our partners to support not only our work but also the work of the schools concerning racism and extremism, and the impact that this has on their immediate communities.
Robert Marsden is Creative Director of Reveal Theatre, a professional theatre company based in Staffordshire.