Friday 21 October 2016

The Common Air Project Programmes:

Touch Tag Interactive Theatre

Celebratory Community Theatre Performances

1 Touch Tag Theatre [based on Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre].  CAP  facilitates interactive theatre workshops as a means to examine current behaviour and practice around a variety of topics including conflict resolution, human rights and gender equality.  Touch Tag Theatre aims to try out different approaches/ behaviour changes in these areas (some practitioners refer to it as ‘rehearsing for life’).  Interactive theatre workshops enables participants to bring about changes in their behaviour not only through words and their content, but also through changes in their body, voice or use of space which may allow positive change to occur.  This results in a positive and fun way of transforming behaviour.  

Institutional understanding of power relationships has led to an extension of Interactive Theatre - ‘Legislative Theatre’ - where collective and systemic behaviour is explored. This allows for change to be catalysed and a platform for the advocacy of rights created. This is particularly pertinent in contexts where the absence of law is continuing to ensure injustice or where laws are created to suppress action. Working beyond issue awareness and community building, Legislative Theatre allows the community participants to create bills to address the oppression they face. Policy-makers can be invited to attend, participate and then advise on the next steps of law-making.

Celebratory Community Theatre Performances Participants and audience celebrate the variety of cultures that exist within a country and the similarities & differences of those cultures through theatre performances.  The Celebratory Community Theatre Performance utilizes poets and writers to dramatize age-old morality tales, stories and myths as a bridge for positive cross cultural exchanges as well as to teach the younger generation of children their oral history.  As an example of the work, in 2014, this project culminated in a schools touring performance of a play based on a South African book, The Story Magic, by Dr Gcina Mhlophe. South African students presented a bare-bones version of the play.  Once that performance was finished, they incorporated the school’s students to create a whole new piece of theatre utilizing Mhlphoe’s beautifully created animal characters and scenarios.  This sort of work relies more on physical expression than vocal expression as is of use when dealing with a variety of verbal languages.  This programme can also lead to creative writing workshops where participants create new tales, stories and myths.

CAP’s Methodology:

Based on Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre and, more recently, Theatre for a Change’s Touch Tag Theatre, our interactive and participatory approach examines current behaviour and attempts to make positive changes to that behaviour.  Participatory  / Interactive Theatre shows the main character  trying to deal with an obstacle, difficulty or breakdown in communication and failing because of the resistance of one or more of the other characters.  The initial play ends ‘badly’ and the audience, which has been targeted because they face similar issues that are faced by the protagonist, is asked to come into the world of the play to see if they can change the ending for the better.  In this way, as a community, the actors and audiences ‘rehearse behaviour change.’ 
Hahn has worked with a variety of communities [school children, the disabled, recovering drug addicts, young girls in danger of becoming sex workers, sex workers attempting to better their circumstances and others] using interactive theatre to examine behaviour as well as how to rebalance power within relationships.    This has led to successful behaviour change on a personal level as well as legislative change from those who hold power over the powerless.

Recent organisations CAP has facilitated interactive Forum theatre to develop and advocate for the following organisations:  Amnesty International; Disabled People Against Cuts [DPAC] – directed & facilitated forum theatre in the Houses of Parliament as part of a presentation advocating for the rights of the disabled in the United Kingdom; LLC Social Enterprise – facilitated a number of interactive Forum theatre workshops for volunteer counsellors working in drug & alcohol rehabilitation; University of West London – facilitated a number of workshops for students in the Substance Use and Misuse Studies, School of Psychology.

The Common Air Project’s Offer:

The Methodology:

These participatory approaches to social change offer a structure in which to examine behaviour whilst the community, student group or young people provide the realistic content that is to be examined, with a wide range of possibilities to discover positive changes in individual and institutional behaviour in a variety of settings.  

We will offer partner organisations a flexible range of services from short one-off interactive theatre workshops to longer training courses.  The courses would be tailored to the needs of the organisation and start with a ‘needs assessment’ of that organisation to assure the aims of the workshop are of use to the organisation.

 The methodology, based on Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre, includes games and performances that engage the participants’ use of voice, body and space.   The outcome of the workshops is to make a difference within a specific community through positively changed behaviour when participants, in their day to day lives, encounter conflict and poor communication.  Drawing on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the drama workshops examine and enhance the participants’ esteem needs – achievement, self-respect, respect from others as well as possibilities for self-actualization – thus realising personal potential, self-fulfilment and personal growth.

Key skills developed:

  • Improved verbal and non-verbal Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy
  • Team Work
  • Time Management
  • Independent Thinking
  • Self Confidence

Outcomes for Young People:

        Reduce violence
        Enhance self-esteem
        Build confidence
        Encourage peer collaboration
        Work as individuals within a team
        Enhance Effective Communication Skills & Problem Solving abilities
        Changing Behaviour & Attitudes of Young People
        Delink young people from gang culture
        Introduce Theatre Skills including confidence using voice, body and space
  • Inspire Discipline and Drive
  • Raise self-awareness
·         Improve Critical Thinking skills
·         Develop interviewing and listening skills
·         Improve writing skills (via transcription, journal writing and script-writing)

For more information about the Common Air Project, please visit our website: or contact Matthew Hahn at HAHN@HOTMAILCO.UK or 07816 334 897.

Interactive Theatre: Participatory Approaches to Peace Building and Examining Power Balance:

The Common Air Project [CAP] equips participants with the communication skills, knowledge and awareness to transform their lives and the lives of others personally, socially and professionally.  They provide training to participants as a unique tool for positive behaviour change in their own lives and those with whom they work / interact.  CAP uses a highly experiential form of learning which can be described as a participatory approach to social change. It is through participation that individuals generate the awareness and ability to implement practical and positive changes in their own lives and gain a voice in society as a whole. As well as exploring current behaviour, this methodology also enables a group to find its own solutions to the issues raised within a community.  It is only through genuine physical & emotional commitment that the theatre can provide can behaviours be examined and, if need be, positively changed.

CAP has facilitated workshops in South Africa, Ethiopia and throughout the United Kingdom as a means to examine current behaviour and practice around a variety of topics with the common thread generally being a breakdown in communication in personal or professional practice.  Interactive Theatre looks to try out positive behaviour changes in these areas [some have called this ‘rehearsing for life’].  It has also been utilized to examine how to make positive behaviour changes within the power dynamic that is present in professional practice as well as dealing with patients, clients, family members, colleagues and management.    
The interactive theatre workshop consists of enabling participants to bring about physical changes in their behaviour through changes in their body, voice or use of space to enable positive change to occur.  This results in a positive and fun way of transforming behaviour. 

Identifying interpersonal dynamics and power inequalities within personal or professional environment: in our private or professional experiences, we may not truly understand why someone is behaving in a certain way. We may in turn behave inappropriately ourselves and end up in undesirable situations. This interactive theatre methodology is a valuable tool in exposing these behaviours in any context, aiding us to identify certain communicative tendencies and power inequalities more swiftly. 

Exploring collective responsibility and systemic change, that is, how behaviour change in surrounding people and environments can also change the behaviour of those directly involved in a dispute/ conflict. In shedding some light on how space, colleagues/ others and expectations can play a silent role in people's behaviour, participants can become more aware of collusion and how easily it can form. This group and institutional understanding of power relationships has led us to utilize the technique of interactive ‘Legislative Theatre’ where collective and systemic behaviour is explored. This allows for change to be catalysed, and a strong platform for the advocacy of rights to be created.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Meeting Douglas Turner Ward

 Today I met a hero of mine.

That is a nice sentence to write.

I had the great pleasure of meeting playwright Douglas Turner Ward in New York City today.  He wrote one of my favourite and life-shaping plays. His play, Day of Absence, has had a great influence on me as a theatre maker and social activist.

I first read this play at University and I discovered with this play theatre can channel anger into artistic practice.  I found this play unnerving, shocking and upending.  I didn't know what was going on as it was a world that I didn't recognize and it began with the 'Notes on Production:  'Play is conceived for performance by a Negro cast, a reverse minstrel show done in white-face....'

' A reverse minstrel show..... done in whiteface.'

Outstanding. Outrageous.  Wonderful.

After university, I directed this play in Chicago at the Bailwick Theatre.  I can safely say that it did not live up to his standards, but, artistically, I greatly enjoyed working on it.  And I always returned to it over the next 20 years whenever the fire in my belly was waning.

Last year with the Brexit debate heating up, I heard an interview on the BBC with a man who was all for closing the UK down for anyone who is not 'British.'  He uttered the phrase, 'Send them all back..... Just send them all back.'

My first thought upon hearing this interview was, 'Ah, that is a great title for a play, Send Them All Back.    And my second thought was what would happen if, indeed, anyone who didn't have a UK passport [myself included] was indeed 'sent back'.  

And once again, my mind returned to Ward's Day of Absence.  In Ward's play, set in a small southern town in the United States in the 1960's, all of the African American characters 'disappear' for a day. At first, the other characters in the play [performed as we know by 'Negro cast ... in white-face.'] celebrate this fact that they have disappeared.  But then the town falters and tears itself apart because there is no one in the town who knows how to take care of their babies or the factories have to shut down because there are no workers and with the 'absence of handymen, porters, sweepers, stock-movers, deliverers and
miscellaneous dirty-work doers is disrupting the smooth harmony of marketing!' and '
Food poisoning, severe indigestitis, chronic diarrhea, advanced diaper chafings and a
plethora of unsanitary household disasters dangerous to life, limb and property ... unless the trend is reversed, a complete breakdown in family unity is imminent'!

As many Europeans tend to fill the jobs that the British tend not to want to do, I envisioned  an equally disastrous 'complete breakdown' of the British society without the Poles, Czechs, Romanians, and others filling in as fruit pickers and other seasonal workers:  what would happen to this country?

So, I set out [along with a proper playwright, Peter Norgate] to adapt Ward's brilliant play into one that examines a similarity to the UK's situation in 2016.  

Which leads me to my meeting today.  I wanted to speak with him and ask permission to adapt his play with his full credit in the script.  And it really is just a great reason to ask to meet your hero.

 So, read Day of Absence. Know this playwright.


I can only hope that my & Peter's play,  Send Them All Back, can come somewhere close to channelling its anger and wonder of Day of Absence in the future. And let's all hope, it never comes to this.