Devising social change

by Megan Campisi | 1 September 2017

Through my teaching… I’ve discovered the most powerful ways I can make change in the world through theatre.

Like most young theatre-makers, when I dreamed about changing the world, I assumed it would happen through a play’s content. My theatre company’s work (Lecoq-based, devised physical theatre company Gold No Trade is a testament to that. Our plays primarily bring forgotten historical voices to life, particularly women’s.

The Pinks (2013) for example examines the value of tolerance in American society, telling the story of female American Civil War spy Rose Greenhow. Greenhow was a smart, loyal, politically active mother but she fought for the Confederacy (in support of slavery). For our politically-left company and audiences, the play offered a thorny investigation into the value of finding humanity across political differences. Where does tolerance serve us and where should it be denied? The play reflected the profoundly problematic situation many of us find ourselves in today: how do we bridge seemingly impossible political divides to move forward together?

As my company has grown, we’ve begun to engage more with the power of theatre’s form – including where and for whom a play performs – to affect change. Another of our original plays, a comedy called The Subtle Body (2013 Shanghai, 2015 New York City), is an experiment in this regard. Set in China in the 1700s the play investigates cultural divides through the story of a real-life British doctor and his fictional wife’s research into different conceptions of the human heart – literal and figurative – in China and Britain. The play attempts to go beyond platitudes about universal human experience and acknowledge that how we view ourselves and form values are distinctly cultural.

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