(Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/23.)
How can the arts effect social change? That was the question raised in a conversation about theatre, grassroots and activism that took place at the Senedd in Cardiff last Saturday. This latest debate in the Guardian and BAC’s A Nation’s Theatre series was also part of National Theatre Wales’s Big Democracy Project.
There is a long history of performance as activism, from the street interventions of Bread and Puppet Theater to the secret shows of Belarus Free Theatre, or the recent Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s protest against the links between the RSC and BP. The artist Judy Chicago once argued that “performance can be fuelled by rage in a way a painting or sculpture cannot”. Any kind of street-level protest, from an anti-Trident demonstration to the pro-democracy umbrella protests in Hong Kong, is effectively a form of theatre (although in the UK a flash mob is more likely to be a sign of someone trying to flog you something).