Celebrating Leith and North Edinburgh January 2012
Elsewhere on Leith & North:
LGBT Lives Exhibition 2011
Leith Festival Arts 2009
Edinburgh Mela 2010
Return of the Soul
Parallel Lives 2: On Tour
Edinburgh Poetry Garden
Dialogues of Wind & Bamboo
104 pairs of shoes exhibition
ACTive INquiry: Power to the People? May 2011 Woman in white jacket and black jeans stands on chair leading group of standing people to raise their arms ^^^ Above: Audience members demonstrate a different way of doing things to the stuffy Rodney and Jo

Leith theatre company, ACTive INquiry hosted a forum theatre event asking "Is Leith ready to join the Big Society?!". The event took place on May 11th, at St. James Church Hall off Leith Links, and explored ideas of empowerment in a variety of ways.

Man in red short leaved shirt with pile of blue chairs with a water bottle on the topThe warm up for the evening invited people to arrange a humble bottle of water amongst some chairs and tables, to place the water bottle in the most powerful relationship to them.

The group was then invited to scale their response to various questions by standing on one side of the hall or the other. Questions included "Do you understand what empowerment means? and "Do you agree with the Big Society?" But the main food for thought was provided by two interactive playlets, using the forum theatre ideas of Augusto Boal, and his concept of the Theatre of the Oppressed.

ACTive Inquiry web site >>>
The End of The Tunnel directed by Gavin Chrichton Woman with arm outstretced towards two other women with their arms raised to form a tunnel ^^^ Above: Jane (Karen Toscani) talks of coming out of the tunnel, and being ready for a new life

The first playlet, The End of the Tunnel, told the story of Jane (Karen Toscani), a woman rebuilding her life after coming out of an abusive marriage, which destroyed her confidence. She goes to work as a volunteer for a women's aid charity thanks to her friend Penny (Suzanne Dance). Filled with enthusiasm, she tries to put forward her scheme for a series of social activities to add value to the womens' experiences with the agency. Her friend Penny, is too preoccupied with completing a funding application to pay any attention to her ideas, and bids her to get on with the admin tasks she has been assigned as a volunteer. Jane goes over the head of Penny, to the head of the organisation, patronising and self important Caroline (Nicola Chuhan,) with demoralising consequences.
Woman seated in powder blue cardigan, hunched over her laptop as a woman seated behind her talks to her Woman seated behind a desk, ignoring a woman seated in front of her desk with palms outstretcched Left <<<: Jane tries to put her ideas to Penny (Suzanne Dance,) at her desk
Right >>>: The supercilious Caroline (Nicola Chuhan,) gives Jane short shrift
So far, so recognisable to most people who have worked in any office. Sad, but as Jane withdraws backwards to her tunnel, represented by the arms of Penny and Caroline, predictable, and decidedly every day. But.

The brilliant thing is that the audience are then invited to watch the playlet again, and to intervene with their own ideas and suggestions, as to how Jane could handle the situation differently and more effectually, with positive and successful outcomes. This became a thought provoking dialogue, as we all asked ourselves how we would approach Jane's situation, and watched various audience members try different ways of communication with Penny and Caroline, to see how they play out. Jane handed over her "scarf of office" to each new audience member, and silently observed her new self.
Man in scarf and blue teashirt walks past Penny, sharing a smileSeated woman with palms outstretched talking to a crouching woman with an open pink folder Left <<<: A new Jane tries the chummy approach
Right >>>: Another Jane tries a sympathetic problem sharing approach Below: A final Jane (far right) brings in other women to take on Caroline (Nicola Chuhan) and challenge her authority

Angry woman stands and gesticulates at the seated Caroline as Penny tries to calm her and to other women watch on
Welcome to Hillstone directed by Alan Jeffrey Around 20 people seated on blue chairs sharing ideas^^^ Above: Audience members in pairs discussing how Rukiye might influence Jo and Rodney

The second playlet, Welcome to Hillstone, told the story of Rukiye (Sevim Inal), a Turkish woman with three ideas to develop relations between the established community and newcomers - including youth projects and family fun nights celebrating different cultures and foods.
A man and a woman pusing outstretched arms with a perplexed looking womanWoman with arms raised, as man reaches to pull her arms down, with smiling woman watching on Left <<<: Rukiye (Sevim Inal) takes her ideas to Nick and Jo who push her in their direction
Right >>>: A second Rukiye takes her ideas to Rodney (Nick Charles) and Jo (Barbara Munro).
Woman in black cardigan talks urgently to seated people around her Rukiye takes her ideas to community workers Jo (Barbara Munro), and Rodney (Nick Charles). Although they welcome her suggestions and want to include them in the community centre's programme, they make them over into tried and trusted versions of how things have always been organised. Rukiye's progress in persuasion is charted by her success in getting Jo and Rodney to visibly change what they are doing. Jo and Rodney's rowing motions show the direction they want to go in, while Rukiye's upstretched arms show the direction of her ideas. Much of the argument revolves around mainstream food from the Cash & Carry being cheaper than other newer dishes, and around all the food being turned into sandwiches.

Right >>>: A new Rukiye urges audience members to share her vision
People dancing around a man in shirt and tie who is standing with his arms extended in front of him ^^^ Above: Audience members dancing around stuffy Rodney to demonstrate different ways of doing things

The enthusiam with which the audience took on the task of trying to introduce food from cultures as diverse as Canada, Europe and Asia, was infectious, and while many people came forward to support the new "Rukiyes", and did have an impact in carrying Jo and Rodney along. Although efforts focused on persuasion, coaxing and encouragement, they also showed how overwhelming and intimidating the numbers and changing tide could be for longer established community activists.
Woman standing on chair with arms outstretched exhorts woman and man surrounded by group with raised arms ^^^ Above & below: The new Rukiye (standing on the chair) and the community try and win Jo and Rodney round, as director Alan Jeffrey watches on

Woman on chair with arms outstretched exhorts Rodney and Jo, surrounded by other people all with their arms outstretched Man and woman listening to smiling woman standing on chair
The evening ended with the audience, now a group made up of recognisable individuals who had spent the last few hours debating and exploring together invited to reflect on "three things we can do to enable Leith and its residents to feel and be truly empowered.

Three action points emerged from this, and people were urged to sign up to take part in taking at least one of these forward. These included the ideas of communal gardening and flash mob play.

ACTive Inquiry web site >>>
Wikipedia article on Augusto Boal >>>
Voluntary Arts Scotland web site >>>

Below: The group reflecting on "All the things we can do to enable Leith and its residents and visitors to feel and be truly empowered"

Around 20 people seated on chairs and on the floor, writing and reflecting