The Importance of Community Theatre: Process over Product

In May I celebrated May Day at Sandford Station retirement village, at a busy, vibrant and exciting community festival called MayFest!

I worked as a volunteer and artist assistant at Wyldwood Arts’ May Day festival in association with St. Monica Trust, a retirement organization. The festival was the culmination of numerous ongoing projects run through Wyldwood Arts. There was samba, theatre, choirs, story-telling, poetry, and friends and family of all ages all coming together under one roof to partake in this day of creative activities.

Wyldwood Arts’ intergenerational ethos was epitomized in the final performance of ’17’. The performance was a result of Wyldwood’s collaborative scheme with Made in Bristol, called ChatBack. This performance was a definite highlight of the festival day.

Throughout the process of ChatBack, residents of Monica Wills House spent many afternoons talking about their life experiences with the young artists of Made in Bristol. Over the course of a few months, they collated these memories into a performance of guided reminiscence and storytelling about what it was like when the residents were 17 years old. The project builds relationships between generations, breaking down stigmas and unifying communities. Older people’s voices and stories are heard and young people’s creativity is encouraged in a safe and secure space.

This is especially important and relevant in a nation of generational divides exposed by Brexit, general election statistics and the disparity of technological capability. In a globalised world, this branch of community theatre, embodied by Wyldwood Arts, is so beneficial as it manages to transcend the online communicative barriers associated with the younger generations, who are riding a technological wave which often isolates the elderly.

The gaps of shared time, experience and knowledge between generations is bridged so the younger and older generations can learn off each other by transforming experience into art, breaking down social stigma for a fulfilled and empowered idea of a shared community.


  
The thing I found most interesting about this form of performance was the upheaval of conventional theatrical roles. In these projects, there is no clear director and no clear writer, except for the practitioners who facilitate the creation process. The majority of the performance is made from pre-existing memories in a collaborative format.

The performance of ’17’ was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in a long time. A star rating can’t really be put on the value of being a part of a process such as this.

Written by Phoebe Graham- A Wyldwood Arts Volunteer

Phoebe Graham is a Liberal Arts undergraduate student at the University of Bristol. She has volunteered with Wyldwood Arts over the past few months and is passionate about community theatre.

Photo credits 1: to Barbara Evripidou.

Photo credits 2, 3, 4: to Camilla Adams.

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