Introducing... Michael and Giacomo
Posted on: 12 July 2013
Written by: Petia
Michael Chandler has recently joined as the new Programme Director and Giacomo Brunelli will be volunteering for the company until March. Read on to find out about their past experience and what brought them to Cardboard Citizens.
I first came into contact with Cardboard Citizens a few years ago. I was managing a youth project in Newham, for the homeless charity ‘Shelter’. We brought our group to see one of the performances and they loved it. Following that, my team and I tried the Forum Theatre model on one of our projects and it was enormously successful - I was inspired by those young people’s level of engagement. They were really thinking about the situations they were in and how to move out of them, in this amazingly creative way.
Forum Theatre has this great potential, as the audience have an opportunity to really engage with and think about and influence the direction of the characters in the play. The play was about bullying and crime and getting involved in gangs so it really got the message across and the mostly young audience kept asking questions and was successfully identifying the issues and coming up with realistic alternatives that led them to reflect on their own situations. I immediately saw the potential for it, saw the opportunity for reflection, and the effect on people’s outcomes and confidence.
I personally have a bit of a dual focus in terms of interest and experience: homelessness, housing and charity work on one hand, which I have been doing for some time, with a strong artistic, creative interest on the other. I have always tried to find ways to bring them together, so when this opportunity at CC came out, I thought that was absolutely the right thing to do.
I had worked with homeless people for a long time in different ways. The last role I was in was working on estates – dealing with a real range of issues faced by socially housed people including housing issues, evictions and some recently homeless. Before that I managed several projects for different organisations - other than Shelter, I managed an organisation called ‘The Upper Room’, which was a homeless food kitchen, employment and volunteering service. I managed the Homeless Employability and Learning Project (HELP) in Westminster.
In a different direction, in 2007 I set up a charity in Sierra Leone that was working with street homeless children and engaging them with arts, music and film projects. It’s amongst the poorest countries in the world, I saw some incredibly difficult lives but at the same time, the positivity and aspirations of everyone were truly inspirational – and the impact and success we’ve seen over there via the arts, music and film projects has similarly been inspirational, and really solidified my belief in the power of the arts for social change.
My interest in homelessness started when I first came to England during the summer of 2009 for an acting course in Cambridge. I met loads of homeless people, most of them rough sleepers. I found the immense difficulties that they had to face every day fascinating. Most of them were homeless by choice and I found that wonderfully bold. In a way strange way, I was sort of looking up to the homeless way of life. Then one of the homeless people I had met in Cambridge committed suicide – that changed a lot of things. Back in Italy I attempted to start a charity for homeless children but that dream was crushed by my cynical father.
I first touched upon Forum Theatre in high school when we devised a piece about drugs. Having come to university, I started looking into Boal’s model more in depth and ended up writing an essay on it. Now I am passionate about using theatre for social change not just for its massive potential but also because it takes the art form beyond itself.
In Italy, the interest for theatre is deteriorating and that is really a shame. It shocks me to think that people are not going to the theatre anymore but I think it all comes under the same issue - a lack of development. I see Italians as being stuck in their traditions, and obviously theatre in itself is a tradition but as Peter Brook says, it is phoenix that needs to be constantly revived. With Forum Theatre, you cannot deny the value of it, the way it pulls the audience right in is something you feel, whether you like it or not.
This is why I believe it is the perfect innovation to re-trigger the lost theatrical interest in those parts of the world where it is vanishing. That is what I ultimately want achieve - the renaissance of theatre through commitment for social change in Italy, or at least my hometown. When I first looked into Cardboard Citizens I realized that it was exactly where I wanted to be. I did not think that I would have managed to get a placement here but I did and now am as happy as can be. Who knows, maybe one day, when I will have the means, I will start my own Forum Theatre Company in Italy!