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September 29, 2008 / Amy Bradney-George

Acting Out – legitimising young peoples use of public space

We’d had a tough time with this applied theatre project. In our first three weeks we went to the actual space once and even then we’d had to relocate due to rain. It’s a downfall of trying to use public space for a project, because you’re at the mercy of the weather, and in Brisbane that means taking it one day at a time due to the unpredictable nature of our weather.

Last Friday it was a sunny day, we’d had a good workshop the week before (despite low numbers of participants) and I had met up with the two other theatre facilitators and planned out the whole workshop comprehensively. We’d even taken into account what people may or may not want to do. Our hopes were up and we were happy to be working.

An accident on our way to the park changed that momentarily. We had to stop, check that everyone was OK and make sure insurance information was exchanged. Back in the car one of the youth workers made a passing comment about how perhaps the drama stuff would not be engaging the first few times. I was even more motivated to make it work.

There were cyclists at the park. In our space, which we’d booked and got confirmation about more than a week before. People started to half-joke that the project was cursed. Now, I must admit I do hold a few superstitions when it comes to theatre, like not saying “good luck” or using the eponymous M-word from a Shakespeare play while in a theatre. However, I was not having any of these “cursed” jokes and argued we were being challenged and had to step up to the task.

There were about fourteen young people who came along. Most, it seems, live in shelters and sometimes sleep outside. The majority of them were male, which actually balanced out quite well because most of the youth workers and facilitators are women.

Another set-back, the wonderful police officers doing drumming as part of the project couldn’t make it. But we had our drama plan and once the cyclists had moved on we jumped straight in with high energy games. Almost every thing we did got a good response from them, and the dull, proper park was suddenly transformed into an atmosphere of fun and activity. People walking past sometimes stopped to see what was going on and the interest seemed to be mostly positive.

Young people, particularly those at risk of homelessness, have few options in a city like Brisbane. The constant city shift towards commodities means that public space itself is becoming a bit like a commodity in the central business districts. Business people who see young people hanging around often seem to feel uncomfortable, or look down on the situation even if nothing is going on. To be able to counter these negative assumptions is a great challenge. To be able to engage these young people is an even better reward.

Cities need to wake up to their communities. Marginalising people is not, and never will be, a solution. Engaging them and working towards solving the problems they face is a step in the right direction. I believe it’s a step we need to take.


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