Shakespeare gives Hamlet a monologue in which he advises the strolling players, in their forthcoming drama, to 'hold the mirror up to nature'. And that, in the simplest and most direct of ways is exactly what Model Theatre sets out to do. The drama remains an engagement or interaction between the 'theatricals' and the audience - but in this theatrical form both groups become equally active as performers.
Each Model Theatre production addresses a social issue or theme. The 'theatricals' or actors become the professionals appointed to administer and manage a social provision. The audience become the recipients of this social provision (or lack of it). The performance is the engagement and interaction (often lively) between these two groups.
The model for these engagements and interactions is based very literally on holding the mirror up to nature. For example, in a Living Model Theatre production addressing housing, the initial research focused on the range of housing stock in the UK, and the demographics of the inhabitants of this stock. Based on this research, and on publicly available statistics, a model was devised which was broadly representative of the state of the nation in housing terms.
Members of the audience were invited to apply on arrival, at a Housing Department, for housing for the duration of the evening. Accommodation was approved for each member of the audience, and agreements signed for this accommodation, on the basis of information provided (declared income, etc). The accommodation itself and the allocation of accommodation held a demonstrably and statistically accurate mirror up to the nature of housing provision in the UK. Members of the audience found themselves in luxury accommodation, middle class comfort, council accommodation, or in the equivalent of slums - and with activities available to them which suited their accommodation (sherry in the middle-class accommodation, tea in the council accommodation, etc).
The actors (who had played a variety of parts in the Housing Department) withdrew as members of the audience began to take stock of their situation. Then, as the audience began to react to their circumstances, the actors became the professionals of a liberal establishment, taking the parts which they had researched and rehearsed of government inspectors, planning officers, social workers, police officers, and magistrates, etc. In these roles they then responded firmly but fairly to the protest marches, applications for improvements to accommodation, thefts, etc, which took place in the course of the performance.
Such a Living Model Theatre performance would usually last for about an hour and a half, and would be followed by a discussion of in which everyone took part. Generally, such performances had a professional 'cast' of around twenty and a participating 'audience' of around sixty.
A book documenting our work in Living Model Theatre is in preparation - including documentation of productions addressing Housing, Education, and Human Rights issues - and funding is being sought to meet production and launch costs.
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