Pathways’ Staff, Residents and Participants Influence Local Policy for Homelessness

As recently reported in Inside Housing, Pathways’ staff, residents, and participants were part of a powerful initiative to share issues around homelessness with those responsible for creating fair and effective policies in this area. Using interactive theatre, Pathways worked with council policy leaders and Arts and Homelessness International to perform a play. More than expressive art, this served as a platform to enable those with lived experience to share their knowledge and create a dialogue with policymakers so that important issues can be highlighted and understood through discussion. 

Informed by a style of theatre called Theatre of the Oppressed, Legislative Theatre helps to shape policy so that as people bring their knowledge and ideas together, they are learning from each other and developing their understanding so that each person can contribute helpful and person-centred ideas for solutions to move forward with. 

This is important because no one has all the answers to creating equitable and sustainable solutions. Still, collaborating means we can collate our experience, knowledge, and skills to develop healthy systems. In the format of a play, legislative theatre leads everyone involved, including the audience, through the steps defined in our Theory of Change. 

Bringing our lived experience as the primary material for a piece of theatre affirms our identity. Because we are all actors, we have equal status as contributors, whether we are residents, staff or participants from any organisation or group, enabling relationships. Lastly and most exciting, we create and become a community through our collective understanding and wisdom. 

Practical applications of our Theory of Change help us to embed its three pillars into our way of being and relating with others. Theatre of the Oppressed can help us to create ‘living room theatre’ so that even a very small group of people can look for ways to express their experiences to each other in a way that can be less pressurised than relying on a verbal account or explanation. This is significant because having to explain themselves can put people back into the frame of demand from an authority, which many people have experienced as traumatic or unjust in an institutional setting or pathway. 

As well as being used for political expression and community building, Theatre of the Oppressed is also recognised as therapeutic. Recent developments in neuroscience affirm the dynamic between artistic expression, language and movement, and trauma healing. Bessel van der Kolk, in his bestselling book ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, explains research that shows that the instinctive experience of drama and theatre helps to bring trauma out in a manner that allows it to be processed, re-imagined and overcome. In interactive theatre, re-imaging ourselves, our traumas and what they have caused us to believe about ourselves happens with the support of those participating as a community in our play.  

The potential of arts and drama to support mental health is acknowledged and applied in many ways. Queen Mary’s University runs courses such as Creative Arts and Mental Health, while the National Lottery Community Fund offers Creativity for Mental Wellbeing grants. Through SIG’s therapeutic services and Activity Coordinators, we are proud to be at the forefront of applying science and arts to mental health, healthy identity formation, and social influence. We will continue to press forward in creative health for empowerment and enablement. 

Inside Housing: Council commits to new homelessness policies during interactive theatre event