Community Activism, Feminism, Theatre and Equality.

I was going trough my archives today (alright boxes) when I found the program for Switched On Accessing Theater for Women. Organized by Smashing Times Theatre Company in Dublin.

I’d done some work previously with Women’s groups in Derry/Londonderry and it had been very difficult to gain their trust many had been abused and developed a mistrust of men. It took around a month to gain their trust I worked with Sharon Harrison using trust games and sharing our own experiences to get to know them we listened and gave them the tools needed to help themselves. These classes were about self empowerment about developing a shared program of cooperation between protestants and catholics. I firmly believed that peace could be found here, that families, women and children in particular where the key to a shared future.

Smashing Times came up with a similar concept except they approached it through the medium of Theatre, drama and workshops. The Switched On initiative was a cross border, cross community project aimed at generating grass roots community arts and enabling more women to become involved with the arts. The concept seemed simple “make theatre accessible to people and communities where it might not exist”. You see the arts have a sort of magic to them it might sound twee but they do. I’ve seen performances put on on the Falls, Ardoyne and the Shankill were audiences made up of people who were generally not theatre goers came out in tears or filled the halls with laughter. Many of these performances were designed around community workshops we told their tales and shared their pains. People could emphasis with the characters on the stage. Cast and crew numbers grew and shows would be filled up one of the most tragic events I remember was the Shankill bomb there are personal reasons my aunt was caught in the explosion she had been out shopping she was one of the lucky ones. The entire community was left in shock and a bunch of people got together and came up with an idea a year long festival for the Greater Shankill. This included a radio, theater company, Gamesmaster tv series Nintendo competition and so much more. I was personally involved with both the radio and the theatre company I got to know some of the people involved including Jeoff Harding, Tom Magill and Adam Turkington. The theatre company became The Shankill Community theatre company and was made up of men and women from the area. Legend has it that on the first night of meeting no men turned up only women and they descended on all of the local pubs and dragged back all the men they needed :). 

What does this have to do with the project? Everything the Shankill bomb had been in 1993 it led to the festival the creation of the theatre company which took part in the Queen’s festival in Belfast and saw a Smashing Times representative in the audience they approached the company about taking part in their initiative. Every group involved took part in workshops here in the North and in the South the final meeting was a performance in Dublin in 1997 at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, Foster Place Dublin. The groups involved where;

St Andrews Resource Centre,

Derry Playhouse Women’s Drama Group,

The Drop In Well, Ballymun,

Fall,s Women’s Centre,

Geraldstown House Family Resource Centre, Ballymun,

 K.L.E.A.R. and Voyagers, Kilbarrack,

Parlickstown House, Mulhuddart,

Shankill Community Drama Group,

Ringsend Community Drama group,

The Shanty Education Project, brittas, Co. Dublin,

Strabane Arts Committee Community Group.

Smashing Times are professionals who seek to promote and develop community groups and community theatre. I’m not sure if this particular project is still going on but I was glad to be a part of it, to meet and help so many who had experienced some truly horrific experiences and those who just wanted to act.  

With the Theatre company I got to see and perform in Ballinasloe, The Playhouse Theatre, Derry, The Brighton Arts Festival and the Dingle May Day Festival. Three of our plays were part of the Queen’s Festival and we received critical acclaim. As with all things though times change. The company is no more but many of the cast still act or still provide community help, newer theatre companies have started up and many of the women’s groups still meet and work on projects and relevant issues. Smashing Times still works out of Dublin, still providing community projects with relevance to modern issues. Their current project was Women: Peacemakers or Agitators? for more information on the company and their work go here; http://www.smashingtimes.ie/

 

Enjoy your Sunday and remember community theatre, art isn’t shite as one individual at the recent Platform for Intercultural Europe tried to claim he went on to say that community work pollutes the good work done by professional elites such as himself. (I wont name names).

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