You Should See the Other Guy Theatre aims to raise awareness of and change the specific ways in which female and non-binary persons are affected by housing injustice. They want to offer paid employment and support networks to mothers and women in marginalised housing situations and create tools for housing injustice resistance and radical housing solutions.
You Should See the Other Guy Theatre have developed a tool to make seldom featured voices and social demographics heard and seen, in fighting for housing justice and associated social issues especially related to women and non-binary persons. As the organisation has very much learnt by doing themselves, this is the key take away. Don’t worry about what you don’t know, you will learn it. The process is aimed at helping housing activist and any other activist groups which may find it useful, to utilise theatre as a political tool in direct action, occupations and in bringing issues into the wider world. This tool will help an organisation make high quality, socially activist theatre, made by and with the people whose story it tells. While at the same time offering employment opportunities and social support for marginalised groups. In addition there is knowledge, skills and experience sharing built into the process, equipping the protagonists and the audience alike to take action themselves.
Here are some of the steps and considerations in using DIY theatre as a tool for activism, as suggested by You Should See The Other Guy Theatre: Who are you doing it for? When doing any sort of work with communities or activism, don't parachute in with your own agenda. There's a lot of ethics around ownership, and if you're making it you have to always ask yourself; Who is this for? And if this is for you, then don't do it. -If this is genuinely with the community, then that takes time; energy; commitment. Everything has to always be done in conjunction with the community. I think that's the biggest piece of advice that I can give around political theatre. Respond to need:…What You Should See the Other Guy does, it exists when it needs to exist. So it responds directly to what's going on in the world. And we're really aware that if it's the other way round, it doesn't work as well. And you can't force these things. But there are all kinds of models of theatre and the oppressed and collaborative theatre making isn't always the way to respond to it, you know? Balance ambition with emotional labour and self care It's the combination of aesthetics. We want to create something genuinely beautiful, because I think it's a political point: We don't want community theatre to be synonymous with bad theatre, we don't believe that to be the case. But then there's also working with people with varying needs, varying experiences.. Obviously people with housing troubles; people with children, these people have different stressors in their lives. And working within community venues. So every project that we do is hugely exhausting. How can that be sustained? Focus on the goal, forget pre requisites: ..quite a lot of theatre training is elitist in the sense that to be a successful artist in any way, you have to kind of have support. ….So just give it a goal. And don't be too worried about what training you have or haven't had. The political is personal… a core a core, part of our methodology is that …the work always comes from the I. In the first couple of plays it was taken straight from the verbatim. In the third play, it was all autobiographical.. Using Theatre of the Oppressed and different kind of verbatim exercises to explore personal experiences around housing injustice, and .. create scenes out of that. Experiment with dramatic tools such as Theatre of the Oppressed: It’s a very feminist practice in itself. Because you're making theatre from your own experiences, but there's also exercises which continually help you understand your place within society. How are you oppressed? And how are you an oppressor? It's a beautiful way of reimagining the world, because as soon as you tell a story, someone else picks up the story and evolves that based on their own experiences, and then someone else . So all the stories are completely co created, but they're always between fiction and reality. You're using your imagination, but all of your imagination is based on your real experiences. So whatever play you create, it can be very aspirational. Forum Theatre: You act out a situation in your life where you've felt oppressed in some way. And then the audience intervenes, and try to find solutions through acting it out. So it's like having a meeting; like having a conversation. It's planning and thinking on its feet. People can use it to plan direct actions, I think it's quite useful for that. Develop creative and conceptual Toolkits The Land of Towers, Volume Two, for example, was called ‘How can we resist social cleansing?’ And it was actually a toolkit: Emer had been helping with a resource partly with the Radical Housing Network… So what we did in that instance, was we used those resources as a starting point, and then found theatrical ways to convey them to the audience in an entertaining way that stuck in their head: There was a theme tune; ‘What's in the bag?’ ,that was the key for the audience to take their toolkits out.Instead of a programme, they had a toolkit [for resistance], a guide so they could follow it as well. And they could take that home. Take the Play to the relevant Audience .. Performing that play on different London estates who were actually resisting condemnation,meant that it was all directly applicable to the audience. That’s where the toolkit is actually handy, it's very important to us that it's directly applicable to the audience, and it's not just kind of trite or not, or novelty. Get people talking and creating: ..we had corresponding workshops as well alongside it. So we had a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop, which now it actually quite a cool part of our methodology. And we had, ‘Know your rights’ workshop and a banner making workshop. So we had ways to get people together, to get people talking, to get creative. Assess leadership structures and hierarchies: We’re very aware that we are two white women who are running this organisation, and we don't really want this top down approach: We want to practice intersectional feminism. That's why the structure needs to be rethought.. potentially we need a board; we need to employ more people. We might need to shift our power as well, because currently we've bottom lined all of the decisions. We have to really understand and analyse what that means, and how it can be an active part of what we're doing. A manifesto is contantly evolving: The manifesto will inevitably develop with time. You can start off with quite an idealistic manifesto, and then realise: Oh, wait a minute, is this realistic? So keep tweaking the manifesto; allow your company to evolve in that way.
You Should See The other Guy Theatre came into existence in 2014 when the two founders met each other when joining the Focus E15 housing occupation campaign in Newham, east London, in the aftermath of the London olympics. The campaign was run by working class women, many single mothers, housed in a nearby hostel and highlighting the purposeful decommissioning of viable social housing in the Carpenter's estate, to further gentrification. The occupation happened at a seminal time in housing activism in the UK and especially London, where the repercussions and the experiences from Focus E15 made an impact on many other estates. Both parties had a background in theatre, and they quickly saw DIY theatre as a tool to raise awareness about how to fight housing injustice, based on their experiences in the occupation. Using documentary footage shot by documentary filmmaker Fran Robinson throughout the Focus E15 campaign, the first play ‘Land of Three Towers’ was created and performed with the campaigning women, and performed at Carpenter’s estate. This play became the starting point for the small theatre company and its work with several estates at risk of decommissioning, which so far has inspired three ‘Land of Towers’ plays, and in the process of doing so has developed a methodology for DIY theatre as a tool of resistance, with all the femme actors and activists they encounter in their projects. Learning by doing is the modus operandi: Whether occupying property and going to court; learning to run and finance a theatre company; organise associated child care and social support; or training and directing actors of various experience everything is done In the development of the plays themselves, all the players and crew are involved with verbatim workshops and turning their individual voices into tools of activism. Everyone taking part in the projects gets a fee, expenses paid and child included. There is an emphasis on employing mothers, and fostering the continued ability to explore creative pursuits as these are often abandoned in the face of financial hardships and childcare logistics. As the company responds to need and current realities, this isn’t a company in constant development of new plays, but rather a constant development of the methodology, associated activist and educational toolkits. Which are then incorporated into plays arising from need for resistance to housing injustice.
Nina Scott and Emer Mary Morris