Street Theatre Actor
Street theatre, Dam Square, Amsterdam. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
You can act for animal rights as an animal thespian. Street theatre actors take their performance to street corners, market places, town squares and busy shopping centres. Serious street theatre performers use their acting skills as a political weapon by circulating current ideas and exploring controversial social themes to influence social reform. Street theatre is an opportunity for you to probe the social, moral and political questions arising from animal rights.
What is Street Theatre?
Street theatre is a tradition that people watch around the world. Audiences are as diverse and different as cosmopolitan London and remote rural India. Street theatre reaches even people who have never been to a regular theatre. The actors perform for anyone passing by with time to stop and watch them, and there is no entrance free. The genre is not 'outdoor theatre', whereby an indoor performance is entirely transferred to an outdoor arena, with props and lighting, for an audience to pay an admission fee, such as at an amphitheatre. Nor do mere acrobats, jugglers and fire-eaters dominate a street theatre.
This is what one street theatre group was doing in the streets of Belfast: "…the red-coated, whipcracking hunter pursued a fox in an age-old chase that usually ends with the animal torn apart by hounds. But yesterday, the tables were turned as the cornered fox fought back, bringing the hunter to the ground..." (Belfast Telegraph). Performances were watched by crowds across the city centre. The performance was associated with the League Against Cruel Sports as part of a campaign to ban fox-hunting.
Your Street Theatre
Street theatre in Holzminden, Germany. Photo: Patrik Scholz; Wikimedia Commons.
As street theatre performers your audiences are largely composed of passers-by. They have not come prepared to watch a play and are preoccupied with other things, which imposes a limitation on keeping your plays short. Furthermore, your performing group is peripatetic, so you use minimal costumes and simple portable stage props. At a performance you could start off by singing or playing a loud instrument to attract people. When a sufficient number of onlookers have gathered around, you can begin. In the bustle and hubbub of a busy street you will have to be loud and larger than life and may employ humour, slapstick, song and lively dance to keep the attention of your crowd of onlookers.
Decide to perform independently or in association with the activism of other animal rights groups. Hand out literature about yourselves, your aims and your plays. At the end of your performance hold a public discussion questioning your play’s purpose. With many street plays under your belt you could organise workshops to teach the art of street performance to aspiring street theatre actors.
Where to stage your performances? Not just in the streets. Go on tour to schools, factories and civic centres. Book a place at festivals and fairs. Act outside the headquarters of animal abusing companies, supermarkets, animal laboratories and zoos, especially if they constitute the theme of your act. Find out whether you require a licence from your local authority to stage acts and discussions in the street. If you need a licence and do not have one, be prepared to make a bolt for it if a policeman turns up to stare watch!
A good example of a street theatre company was the 'Y Touring Theatre Company'. It aimed to shake up people's attitudes by creating quality theatre to highlight serious and perplexing contemporary issues. The theatre company was founded in London in 1989 as part of the Central Young Man's Christian Association (known as the Y) and toured throughout Britain and abroad. One of their principal aims was to create an impartial arena for learning through debate. So before a performance the company distributed 'preparatory lessons' for the audience to be ready with background information and following a performance there was a discussion on the issues raised by their play.
The playwright Judith Johnson wrote Every Breath
for the Y. The play raises moral, social and scientific questions inherent in using animals in medical research and poses fundamental questions like whether you are right to put your kin above the lives of animals. The play was intended for students aged 14 plus as part of their education curricula and the Y staged the play for thousands of school children nationally. Interestingly, Every Breath
received funding by a number of organisations and backing from all sides of the animal experiment debate.
What You Need
The necessary minimum that you need to be a street actor is:
- A burning desire to act and the recognition that you can satisfy it in the street.
- The skill of projecting your body movements and voice so that scores of people standing around you can comprehend what you are trying to convey. In short, you must be able to act with many distractions in a noisy crowd.
- Dedication and sufficient time, not just for acting but to devote to the planning, organising and rehearsing that go into each performance.
- Your audience will definitely walk away if they get bored or are busy. So you do not want to be over-sensitive to people coming and going and when playing to a diminishing crowd.
Although onlookers do not pay an entrance fee some of them might throw you a few coins; so financial remuneration is nil or minor and you will have to support yourself some other way. But you never know if an impresario is in the crowd and about to discover you. Add to that the satisfaction of combining show biz with animal rights.
For more see:
National Association of Street Artists
. Artists and companies creating street and outdoor arts work.
›› To Entries & Home