Participatory Theatre

Participation in the 1980s meant more than ‘audience participation’. It was about developing people’s skills in order that they could make theatre. It required the company to engage with the community on a longer term basis and to develop ‘project’ work. The Golden Sole (1985) is an exampleof such work. Putting the tent into storage in the winter, the company took themselves into community venues for over a year on Thamesmead with a programme of workshops for pensioners, women, schools and single mothers. Bubble ran a circus project, body popping, music, radio and drama workshops. The touring company performed twice in the tent and at community venues. The aim of The Golden Sole was to create a spectacular outdoor event to celebrate Thamesmead’s eighteenth birthday. A large ship was created and launched in a local lake containing cargo of  people’s hopes, dreams, thoughts and questions. The ship was hijacked by two skeletal figures who threw off the cargo. The ship was ignited and burned and a Golden Sole appeared, picked up the cargo and delivered it to two Golden Sole ‘Queens’ who handed it over to a local representative. Local people were involved in the building of the ship, making music, cargo and decorations. The process was as important as the product. Bubble returned to Thamesmead the following year with Thamesmead Transformer as part of Greenwich Festival. This show was set in the future when visitors from another planet visited Thamesmead and found a time capsule of the day’s event. participating groups included a Vietnamese band, school groups, a drama group, a pop band and art groups.

The same summer Bubble took part in Bermondsey Festival with The Golden Plot which looked at people’s reactions to redevelopment in the area. Different groups performed different pieces and then processed to the ‘Golden Plot’, a magical piece of land owned by a giant puppet. Huge tower blocks emerged and attempted to take over the land but great clouds of smoke defeated the evil tower blocks and the giant puppet landowner. Deborah Bestwick, Associate Director (projects) directed a play about the closure of hospitals by one of the participating school groups: ‘It contained a gruesome comedy operation scene’ (Deborah’s comments on the back of publicity material written at a Bubble event 9th March 2013)That autumn Bubble continued their work in Bermondsey and ran workshops on acrobatics, visual theatre and music. They also ran Play in a Day and Play in a Week projects in various parts of London with various age groups, at various times of the year.

Participatory work is at the heart of London Bubble’s work today. When Bubble celebrated its fortieth birthday in 2012, it staged an event in which practitioners who were working for the company in the 1980s talked about their experiences. A fact which was highlighted at this discussion was that the funders had shaped the direction of the company by stipulating the need for ‘participation’. (see video of Bubble Theatre talking about participation) Bubble then hosted another event specifically on participation in March 2013.

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