'Living and Learning' An Evaluation of the Playhouse Theatre & Peacebuilding Academy

David Grant, Victoria Durrer

Research output: Other contribution

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The Playhouse Theatre & Peacebuilding Academy was originally conceived by Pauline Ross, the Founding Director of the Playhouse, as a way of building on the legacy of the Theatre of Witness that was also supported through European Peace funding and allowed individuals whose lives had been deeply affected by the Troubles to share on stage their stories with an audience. The Theatre of Witness director, Teya Sepinuck, was keen to train others in her approach to using the arts for peacebuilding and had previously mentored two emerging artists as they directed their own Theatre of Witness productions. At a late stage in the application process for PEACE 4 funding, it became clear that Teya Sepinuck felt unable to make a commitment to an extended training programme. This was partly because the terms of the funding restricted the training to applicants from Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland and Teya believed that its specialist nature called for international recruitment. At short notice, the Playhouse therefore reshaped the programme as a series of four residencies with different “National/International artists” who in addition to leading a major project of their own would also support a number of subsidiary projects with “Local Artists” who would benefit from access to their international expertise. It was expected that the major projects would reflect the Theatre of Witness model to the extent that they use a theatre/multi-media approach to giving a platform to seven participants with direct experience of the Troubles. The local artists, while also being expected to work with a similar range of participants, could come from a wider range of creative disciplines. As lead partner, the Northwest Play Resource Centre (hereinafter referred to as The Playhouse) has had a strong record of developing arts initiatives in partnership with a variety of statutory and community/voluntary sector agencies in order to promote a wide range of personal/social benefits including peacebuilding, community relations development, social inclusion and personal development. To complement that expertise, the application proposed partnerships with the Holywell Trust which was well connected with networks of victims and survivors, and the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Foundation who had strong cross-border connections. Queen’s University was engaged to provide independent evaluation. The project’s aims were to use theatre as a tool to explore truth recovery, peace building and community relations issues in a safe, accessible environment. It also sought to facilitate significant cross-community interaction amongst participants from diverse backgrounds working collaboratively towards common goals and resulting in meaningful, purposeful and sustained contact between persons from different communities with the aim of promoting positive community relations attitudinal and behavioural change. It sought to target those people and communities most affected by the conflict, including representatives from interface and segregated areas, historical atrocities, victims and survivors and public sector workers who were significantly involved/impacted upon. Over a two-and-a-half-year period the project proposed to work throughout Northern Ireland/Border Counties to deliver: • Four Scoping/Research & Development Studies, where national/international artists would meet a wide range of victims & survivors, statutory and community groups throughout N. Ireland/Border Counties and devise projects that would address their needs. • Four National/International Residencies throughout N. Ireland/Border Counties. Residencies would last for approx. 6 months to reach 28 cross community participants in total from one or more communities. Each residency would create a multi-media theatre production that would be performed within its originating community/area and at The Playhouse. • Eight Local Projects throughout N. Ireland/Border Counties facilitated by the Local Artists mentored in the National/International Residencies. Each local project would last c. 8-10 weeks and reach 48 community participants in total from one or more communities. Each Local Project would create a mini multi-media theatre production that will be performed within its originating community/area. • A concluding Arts & Peace Building Conference In addition to the selected artists the Theatre & Peacebuilding Academy has also employed a Project Coordinator for the National/International Residencies (Elaine Forde), a Project Coordinator for the Local Projects (Liam Campbell) and part-time Project Administrator (0.5) (Cindy Le Clère). Other Playhouse staff have contributed to the project including the Artistic Director, the Theatre Producer, the Marketing Officer, CEO and Financial Manager. Two principal artists were appointed in the first phase of the programme: Jo Egan who developed and directed The Crack in Everything which was performed at the Playhouse in Derry and the Brian Friel Theatre at Queen’s University, Belfast in November and December 2018 and Robert Rae who developed and directed Blood Red Lines which was performed in Newry Town Hall, the Brian Friel Theatre and An Tain in Dundalk in February and March 2019. The principal artists for the second phase of the programme were Ailin Conant who developed and directed First Response which was performed at The Playhouse and the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine in February and March 2020 and Damian Gorman who developed and wrote Anything Can Happen, directed by Kieran Griffiths. Because of the pandemic shutdown, performances of this final production were postponed until September 2020 and were live broadcast through the Playhouse social media channels. Local artists were appointed in each phase of the project representing a wide range of art-forms. In December 2018, Eileen McClory’s community dance performance, Turf, was performed in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin with poetry by Maria McManus and Conan McIvor’s short film, Forgive Me Not was premiered at the Playhouse. Laurence McKeown’s multi-media production, In the Shadow of Gullion, which incorporated Irish traditional music and dance and film inserts by Declan Keeney was performed at Tí Chulainn, South Armagh & The Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast in April 2019. Emer Kenny’s album, Ghosts, which comprised music inspired by first-hand accounts of specific events and tragedies connected to the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties, was launched at The Spirit Store, Dundalk in November 2019. Questions of Legacy, Podcast Conversations from Survivors of the Troubles, featuring the WAVE Injured Group and collated and edited by Pamela Mary Brown were first presented in the form of an installation at the Playhouse in February 2020, and are now available online. Declan Keeney’s virtual reality film, Frictionless, which explores stories from the borderlands of Ireland and Joe Campbell’s graphic novel, Peacemakers, were launched during the project’s closing online conference in September 2020. Finally, Anne Crilly directed Beyond the Barricades by Micheal Kerrigan, which was adapted as a live online performance on 30th September 2020. The following report will address each of these projects in turn and present each artist’s own response to their involvement in the Theatre & Peacebuilding Academy (as compiled for the closing conference by Gerard Deane of the Holywell Trust). This will be followed by our own evaluation notes. We will then highlight specific themes emerging from the programme as a whole and put forward recommendations which we hope may inform future practice in this field, before providing a point-by-point evaluation of the project against its stated objectives.
Original languageEnglish
TypeEvaluation Report
Media of outputpdf
Number of pages70
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020


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