Edwin Kemp Attrill is Creating Australia

image courtesy Reconciliation SA
Zero Feet Away, image by Phil Brown

Zombie Survival Plans, HIV education and racism – the art of interactive theatre

I’m the Artistic Director of ActNow Theatre – a small theatre company in South Australia that creates interactive theatre projects with communities. We’ve been around for long enough and have had enough positive exposure that partners have started to hunt us down, we don’t have to chase work. For a company that relies on commissions from non-arts partners, that puts us in a pretty good position.

We’re also not restricted to producing one type of theatre, or any particular art-form for that matter. Our work is commissioned to achieve social objectives for a community. While that has some artistic constraints, it’s also incredibly liberating. It means projects can use whatever form is necessary to achieve their objectives. In the past, we’ve used a lot of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques.

Last year we were commissioned to create a Forum Theatre production about racism, but as part of that partnership we also commissioned to delivered 8 conferences on reconciliation across South Australia. That’s been an amazing project, to blur the lines between our performance, activism and education, and effectively shape a 6-hour experience for an audience. Other projects like Zero Feet Away have used technology to engage the audience. That project was commissioned by Gay Men’s Health SA to increase awareness of HIV. After a series of CCD workshops with young men, we created a mobile phone app that enabled audiences to send anonymous stories during the performance which would be read back-live. Other projects like Undead Adelaide have moved away from theatre all together, engaging young people to create a Zombie Survival Plan for Adelaide, exploring democracy and citizenship.

It’s a pretty despairing time to be managing an independent theatre company in a shrinking arts industry, but in many ways we’re doing surprisingly well. It’s meant we’re moving away from a reliance on arts funding, and that’s significantly changing the type of work that we’re creating. If we’re able to survive, the future is very exciting.

Edwin Kemp Attrill is the Artistic Director of ActNow Theatre and current student of the Graduate Certificate in Arts and Community Engagement at the Victorian College of the Arts.