Richard Stourac appraisal of his time at Broadside

‘I think that the extraordinary response of the audiences to the new plays of Broadside justified Kathleen McCreery’s and my decision to leave Red Ladder and to continue our work with those sections of the labour movement which were still, or for the first time, engaged in a struggle for a better and more dignified life. Strangely enough, although the overall activity of the British working class had begun to recede, we also widened the spectrum of our audiences, some of which had only been recently or partially organised into trade unions.

The plays made for, and often with, building workers, migrant and immigrant workers and women’s organisations were performed in contexts which had only recently opened up as the result of new initiatives by the organisation of their members. So for example, building workers had been organised but had only then begun a drive to confront lump labour; various unions had only recently begun to defend the rights of migrant or immigrant workers; aerospace workers had been well organised but had only recently made the epochal demand to design and make socially useful instead of destructive products. Thus we participated in many new struggles which were probably more bitter and ferocious whilst the rest of the movement became more passive. At the same time we deepened our relationship with the these workers as they, as the result of our strategy to involve them in our play making, increasingly informed, influenced and even part-wrote the plays, which in turn were performed for them and their colleagues. In this way our theatre became more and more part of rather than for the working class, and formed an increasingly integral cultural part of its struggles. Often it was referred to as their theatre. This was extremely exciting and satisfying and at the same time demanded an extraordinary energy and commitment, as it implied an enormous political and artistic responsibility. I think we managed to face this challenge during the first four or five years of the company and consider this a fantastic achievement. However, the ebbing away of even those struggles, and the lack of activity in the rest of the labour movement during the last eighteen months of my participation in the company, began to question the viability to maintain this strategy. And it was exactly during this weakening of class consciousness that our vigorous internal company structure of full and candidate members became problematic.

The less experienced candidates found it difficult to verify the company policy, formulated and sometimes defended by the full members, in a meaningful context. This made it virtually impossible to develop new company members or find new ones who had both artistic and political experience. This created a stalemate within the company and led to an internal crisis. The situation both in the wider labour movement, as well as in the company, required an entirely new conception for socially relevant cultural/theatrical work. I had considered to start anew, and had made the necessary recruitment for a new member to replace a leaving candidate a test case for the viability to begin again. However, our impossibility to find both artistically and politically qualified actors/activists made it impossible to justify the use of public grants for a company policy that could no longer be realised. We had to admit defeat and resigned. During this difficult period our daughter Rosa was born and we had new responsibilities. I was also exhausted after six years with the Komödianten in Vienna, six years with Red Ladder and more than six years with Broadside – and certainly for the last twelve years always carrying the responsibility of a founding member. So I decided to join my brother’s company Theatermanufaktur in Berlin and act again in my first language.

After two years in Berlin I returned to London in 1983 and directed the Portuguese migrant workers’ theatre Alem Fronteiras in a play co-written by one of their members, Isabel Bartolomeu and Kathleen McCreery, as well as the Chilean Popular Theatre in Exile. The British labour movement had taught me a lot and gave me the opportunity to develop profound understandings and skills for an engaged political theatre. This experience provided the basis for me to start Mayday Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1989, eight years after leaving Broadside. As if by magic I received Arts Council funding to make plays with NUPE members to defend the NHS and with with GMB shop stewards who were radicalised by Mayday’s combination of political theatre forms along with Boal’s forum theatre techniques. It was my last attempt at political theatre in Britain; it lasted three to four years.In 1996 I moved to Trevi in Umbria (Italy), where I still live, and performed a number of one man shows and a series of Brecht programmes – something I probably could/should have done when considering the re-start of Broadside’.
Richard Stourac, 2013

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