Settling into the academic work and a statement about community-engaged work by Declan Gorman

Very busy today with the applied theatre course. Morning session focused on continuing our discussion of community with Declan Gorman and Jenny Macdonald. Each facilitator provided a short session on how s/he might begin work with a new group of community participants. Declan also shared a statement that he wrote about reflecting on what applied and community-engaged theatre might be, and I’ve included his words below as part of this blog post.

The afternoon session with Joanna Parkes introduced the Educational Resource Packet model, which is a way of preparing a community to experience a play for the first time. The model comes out of work that Joanna helped to develop at the Abbey Theatre, and she uses this methodology as the template for our students to create packets for two plays by Enda Walsh, Chatroom and New Electric Ballroom. Students will work in groups over the next few days to develop these packets, and they will present on Saturday afternoon. Joanna delivered a four-hour session, which included the Abbey’s Archives Resource Box, an educational tool that helps communities throughout Ireland to explore and understand the history of the national theatre of Ireland.

The evening featured a performance of A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde at the Gate Theatre. We were lucky enough to score tickets to the opening, and even sat a couple rows in front of Gabriel Byrne, who was in attendance that evening. The production featured a gorgeous costume design and some very fine acting. The play itself raises some questions about Wilde was actually going for with this story, particularly in the second half. Seems like he didn’t quite know how to wrap it up, so he kept heading down a new road, then backtracking, then heading down another road. He finally found his way, and the play finishes up. But suffice it to say, it takes awhile to get there.

What follows is the short text that Declan Gorman shared with us in his facilitation. I appreciated his statements immensely, and his transparency with us about needing to move through this writing process to relocate himself in his own practice. His words helped all of us to reflect on what it is we’re doing here and what we aim to do in the future.

From Declan:

"A group of people gathered in a room is not a community – not yet – even if common cause has brought them to the room and common social bonds unite them outside the room (such as race, shared geographical home, gender, disability or commitment to a given social justice principle)."

The term ‘Community’, when it is truly applied, when it is intended to describe an active, conscious social organism – and not used simply as a flaccid label to describe outwardly homogenous groupings in society (the Irish Community; the Gay Community etc.) – must be earned by cohesive, collaborative action.

That can be achieved in a room or a city square or an athletic club by shared commitment to arts practices, cohesive protest, sport, collective response to tragic events or other action. It reaches its highest plane however where conscious strategies are employed and embraced actively to celebrate commonality, recognise and respect difference and above all to MAKE something.

As artists, we automatically, instinctively and systematically make, and that is why our natural work if applied consciously (and not patronisingly) is proven to add value to community building.

Our responsibility as artists is seldom to create community. It is not for any individual to create a community, however charismatic or well-intentioned. That can only ever be a collective action. But we are sometimes called upon and can offer to enhance community by enabling the most beautiful and rigorous making that the forming community can achieve.

There are many ways and methods that artists can bring to this task – there is no single correct or best one. Different artists have different ‘tools’ that they share within good collective arts practice. But the endgame is always the same – whether we are working with disaffected youth in a border town somewhere or with a group of keen students on a study abroad program – to apply our artistic skills, intuitions and methods towards creating quality art in communal settings and thus enable the growth and consolidation of that community.