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Blog: Changing the Story in Kent

Folkestone-based actor Zoe Aldrich on working on Cardboard Citizens’ Citz National Residency in Kent and why she feels emboldened by her experiences working with us and Forum Theatre.

I am writing this in the corner of the Westgate Hall in Canterbury, four days into a Cardboard Citizens project with residents and staff of Porchlight. Porchlight is an organization which works across Kent and the South-East, helping vulnerable and isolated people get support with their mental health, housing, education and employment needs. We have two weeks to create a piece of Forum Theatre which will performed in just eight days’ time at the Quarterhouse.

I am a Folkestone-based actor, and I am both shadowing and participating in the process. My first experience of Forum Theatre was in a piece created with Cardboard Citizens for the Normal Festival of the Brain at the Quarterhouse in May this year. At the start of that process, much like our current company, I found myself wondering how we could create a play from "nothing" in such a short space of time, and I questioned whether audience members would indeed get up at the performance and participate in the Forum. On both counts, my fears proved unfounded – we are all full of stories, stories which need to be told and – equally importantly – need to be heard. It’s a primitive, basic need. The challenge was not one of having too little material, but rather of choosing which story (of the many that tumbled out) we wanted to tell in that place, at that time.

For that project we ended up making a piece of Forum Theatre about housing and zero-hours contracts, issues which affect many in Folkestone, and which provoked plenty of strong feeling, ideas and participation on the night of the performance. It was an eye-opening and emboldening experience, and I loved the fluidity and engagement of the Forum process. I trust it.

Back to our Porchlight Project… Our first few days here have been spent playing games and doing exercises, to bond the company and build up qualities which the group themselves have named as essential to our task; these include trust, confidence, respect, supportiveness and focus.

Over the last four days, I have seen these qualities grow in the room. Many of the participants have not made theatre before, and I have huge respect for their openness to an unfamiliar process, and their engagement with the task at hand. That engagement is motivated by a sense – fiercely articulated on the first day of rehearsal – that when homeless they have felt misunderstood, judged, and stigmatised. There is a shared ambition to use this opportunity to change perceptions, and to educate.

We have made a long list of issues of concern to the group, including housing provision, persecution, stereotyping, social services, technological barriers to accessing services, mental health and the hardship being caused right now by the switch over to Universal Credit in the benefit system. Tomorrow we will begin sharing our own stories of being affected by these issues, and choosing which one the group will tell next Friday. Don’t miss it.

You have the chance to see first-hand how these stories and qualities create a brand new piece of Forum Theatre by joining us at the sharing on 27 October. Reserve your free ticket now.

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