Kirk Robson Award – Alyson Evans

Alyson headshot high res

Alyson Evans

Theatre Practitioner Alyson Evans shared the 2015 Kirk Robson award with Alysha Herrmann.

Alyson became involved in Community Arts shortly after graduating in her home country of Wales with a BA (Hons) in theatre studies in 2006. Since then she has worked worldwide delivering theatre projects in schools, prisons, community hubs and remote Indigenous communities. In 2011 Alyson arrived in Australia and spent three years in the NT facilitating theatre programs for youth in remote communities as well as a year-long intergenerational project in the Tiwi Islands.

This month we asked Alyson about the role of mentors, the future of CACD and how CACD artists and the majors can collaborate successfully.

Q1. How important are artistic mentors? Can you tell me about any artistic mentors you have had – particularly in your work as an artist working in communities.

For me, having artistic mentors throughout my practice has guided and shaped my practice as well as me as an artist. I think it is incredibly important to have an artistic mentor at all points of your career to ask advice, to observe their work and to access a pool of knowledge from those with more or similar experiences. Working in CACD is hard going, and it’s important to have someone to help guide and inspire you along the way.

My first mentor, Anna Gifford was a Theatre of the Oppressed facilitator and co-founder of Theatr Fforwm Cymru (Forum Theatre Wales). I began volunteering with Anna whilst I was studying, at a time where I dreamed of being an actress and was slightly ignorant to art outside of the main stage. But, under Anna’s supportive wing, I was given the opportunity to witness grassroots community arts with vulnerable people and communities. I was exposed to the importance of arts within the community, and suddenly my priorities changed.

During my 2 years of volunteering with Anna and Theatr Fforwm Cymru, I was lucky enough to meet other inspiring community artists, take part in facilitator training, assist with a variety of workshops, and do all of this in a range of settings; from youth halls in Wales, to forum theatre exchanges in Romania. Sadly Anna passed away a few years ago, and I will always be grateful to her for the way she challenged me, and provided me with invaluable experience and insight. Never one to back down, Anna pushed me out of my comfort zones and into learning experiences that have stuck with me to this day.

Q2. Where do you see CACD practice going over the next 25 years?

The practice of artists working with a community is gaining more and more popularity, with it becoming an increasingly popular trend with major companies.  I think this will only grow over time which I hope means we will see more and more CACD practitioners collaborating with the Major companies to produce work. Also, I think as global travel becomes more accessible, and digital technology creates more possibilities for connection, more global exchanges and international collaboration will take place, as people are less and less bound by their location.

Q3. How can the CACD artists and organisations better collaborate with the Major Performing Arts Organisations?

Firstly, I think conversations need to take place between both on mutual ground. I find preconceptions and baggage exist from both sides that creates an ‘us and them’ mentality which I think is passed down through generations of artists.

There is often lack of understanding of the CACD sector from the wider arts scene, and the assumption that Community Arts = low quality. Just last year I had a major arts company tell me ‘Sorry, but we only work with professionals’. This means we, as CACD practitioners, need the confidence to approach MPA orgs, and showcase our work to increase the value placed on art that holds community engagement at its core.

Forum Theatre Workshops Cambodia

Forum Theatre Workshops Cambodia

Junk Theatre Darwin

Junk Theatre Darwin

That said, I was pleased to find that there some great community and education programs happening from major companies when I moved from the NT to Sydney last year. One of my first jobs I got (and still have) after relocating was with Sydney Theatre Company as Teaching Artist for their School Drama program and was refreshing to see the value of community arts STC’s Education team hold. I think there’s definitely a place where we can collaborate and work alongside each other, complimenting each others practice, and Community Artists can learn a lot from working with the major organisations. Equally though, the Major Performing Arts Group could do a lot more in learning from Community Artists – in responding to the needs and issues of the greater contemporary Australian community. Find out more about Alyson here.

Darwin Community Arts  Youth Theatre

Darwin Community Arts Youth Theatre

Forum theatre training in Cambodia (Photo:Emily Martin)

Forum theatre training in Cambodia (Photo:Emily Martin)