The art of reflection as an arts practitioner

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As a reflective practitioner, I am continually looking back at my performances in the theatre, in the boardroom, the classroom, the community, the secure unit, and the open-air space. I always want to get something, some benefit from delivering the work that I do. Usually, the benefit is of me learning something. If I go to teach, I want to learn something in return. Paying me is not enough. If I’m going to help out in the community, I want to learn something in return. If I’m volunteering for you then I’m going to benefit from learning something I’m interested in. 

Some people might call me selfish. I’d agree. My selfishness is pretty sustainable. It won’t cost anybody else anything. It’s a renewable resource. I apply this principle pretty much my whole life. From having kids and learning how to play again to assisting displaced indigenous people and learning how to peacefully protest for my rights.

I have been a social theatre practitioner for over 30-years, performing and running programmes all over the world. I have worked in academia as a professor and Faculty Dean. In addition, I have a background in social anthropology, a writer and photographer. My arts-based work has generally been about the Theatre of the Oppressed, transforming conflict, promoting collaboration, understanding and empathy, and peace-building. I am also an entrepreneur. 

I have lived several very different lives. I am now planning a theatre of change in my life. Using my background in theatre and my academic experience, I plan to start my own university. Well, that sounds a bit grand. I’m going to start by calling it a college and I’m going to start with one course; a two-year L3 Diploma in Social Theatre. This Diploma will be accredited, and graduates will be able to enter university to take a bachelor (degree) or be industry-ready.

Social Theatre skills are essential skills for life. It’s about communication, helping others, solving problems, dealing with conflict, building bridges, finding peace, learning empathy, empowerment, collaboration, dialogue, and action. All the things you should have learned at school, but like theatre in the UK, it’s not part of the curriculum.

Social Theatre is a lot about reflection too. As Social Theatre practitioners we need to look back on our practice, it’s not only about looking back into our personal lives. Reflection is important, to me, because it helps me learn about change and how I can change things for the better. Reflection helps me to formulate questions on practice and delivery, that I can ask of myself, in addition to others. Reflection can be seen as a cycle, gone through once or carried out again when goals or actions are planned as a result of the first cycle.

The vision for the graduates of my new college is for them to learn to live their lives ethically and according to DEEP principles. These are: Promoting understanding, transforming conflict, dialogue, empathy, engagement, and peace-building. I want my graduates to lead the way in ethical Social Theatre practice. So, as part of the two-year Diploma, I have called one of the modules ‘DEEP Arts’. DEEP Arts is the final module before the internship and comprises of 14-weeks study.

As part of the 14-weeks, we will cover An introduction to the DEEP Network and DEEP values. Creative Peace Workshop. The meaning of peace. Self. Other. Communities.

Conflict resolution. Conflict transformation. What would love do? Non-violent communication. Reflection. Peace Education. Peace Ecology. Race and Decolonising Peace. Empathy. Love. Compassion. Peace. Devise a Theatre of DEEP show. Concept. Examples of activities and performance. Present Programme. Social Media, Media, performances, and peace building. Engagement. Dialogue. Collaboration. Change Makers. Building bridges. Empowering marginalised voices and communities. DEEP Ecology and sustainability. Design, rehearse and perform a Theatre of DEEP performance.

This short blog post is reaching out to those interested in Social Theatre and Theatre for Change to comment on the content and concept of the module. Any suggestions for additions/deletions would be greatly appreciated.

About the Author

Dr. Andy Hickson was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Communication at HELP University and Artistic Director of Actionwork. He is a Social Theatre practitioner and peace campaigner.