Rise Up – Exploring Forum Theatre

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities.

It has been an exciting two years for the Community Development team, who have been working across Bristol alongside local people, partners and workers to grow community-led social action and local democracy.

Finding new ways to tap into local knowledge is vital, which is why we have been working to create new spaces where residents can explore the issues in their neighbourhoods and talk about the things that matter to them.

The Forum Theatre was funded by Bristol City Council as part of our commitment to community cohesion and nurturing resilient communities. It is about creating a safe space where communities can talk about the things that are most important to them, respecting different points of view.

Forum Theatre is run by Bristol-based mental health and performance charity Many Minds and black women’s playback theatre company, Breathing Fire. The project uses interactive performances, which allow the audience to be part of the conversation and engage with the issue being performed.

Violent crime, family breakdown, anti-social behaviour, racism and stigma were just some of the themes explored in RISE UP, two Forum Theatre performances created by residents of St Pauls and Hartcliffe about their personal stories and experiences.

The reaction from the communities has been overwhelmingly positive. More than 40 people participated by contributing stories in dedicated workshops or by performing, while over 70 people came to watch as part of a participatory audience. Alex, who lives in St Pauls and took part in the performance and had this to say:

I’m a musician and have played in bands and performed all over throughout my adult life. I have lived in St Pauls for around 17 years in and around the party and drug scene there. That’s when I became heavily involved in hard drugs and the lifestyle that comes with it. The getting, the selling and using and all the crime that came with it. My life spiralled out of control to a point where I had two choices either end my life or get a life.

Since making the choice to turn things around I have been involved with music and drama projects around the city. It has been an opportunity to be heard by people who can create system change and look at blockages in our communities.

We’ve been really pleased by the response to the project so far. You can see a short film about the two performances and find out more by visiting: https://many-minds.org/whatson/rise-up/ 

Building on this success, two more performances will be taking place in Knowle West and Lawrence Weston. If you live in Lawrence Weston or Knowle West and want to have your voice heard in your neighbourhood then please do consider taking part. You can contact Olivia at Many Minds (olivia@many-minds.org / 07843 210272) to find out more.

This is just one example of how the council is taking an Asset Based Community Development approach to empowering neighbourhoods. Beyond Forum Theatre, the team have been working with local people to improve community green spaces, as well as supporting a thriving voluntary sector and engaging communities in helping us to improve local libraries.

We want make sure that your stories and experiences, in all their diversity, are reflected in the work we do. After all, it’s the people of Bristol that make it such a special place to live, work and study.

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