Leith Theatre Group – Not for Profit

In many ways 2011 has been the year of protest with people taking to the streets in countries as far flung as Greece, Tunisia, Egypt and the USA. Closer to home, we have observed Unison campaigning against privatisation, disabled groups rallying and Occupy Edinburgh camping in the city.  Among all this, one Leith-based theatre group has devised a unique way of getting their message across.

ACTive INquiry are undertaking a short tour of the Leith and Edinburgh area with their forum theatre project,  Not For Profit. The Reporter caught up with the group at their latest performance at the Occupy Edinburgh camp in St Andrew Square to find out more about the concept.

The theme for the play is about the cuts currently taking place, and Gavin Crichton, the artistic director of the group, explained how they decided on this theme. Crichton said:- “Every year we do a piece of theatre around a particular issue that we feel is relevant – especially to the people of Leith. This year, the big thing that came up was the cuts and what was going to happen with them.

“People were scared and nervous, so we thought we had to create a piece of theatre around this so people can engage, think of alternatives and how to challenge them.”

The play itself centres on a young working class mother called Mary who works for a call centre but dreams of being a creative writer. The play follows her story and looks at the various obstacles in her path due to the current economic climate. At the end of the performance audience members are invited onto the stage to take the part of Mary and show ways which she could have acted differently to overcome problems.

This type of audience engagement is vital to the play’s success. Crichton says:- “We use theatre to engage people with dialogue on issues that are important to them, and to think about how we can learn through theatre, and turn it into action out in the real world.

“It engages the audience, asks them to come on stage, try things out and asks questions of the audience rather than tell the audience how to think.”

Certainly a number of the audience at St Andrew Square became involved with the performance. ‘Duck’  from Fife has been camping at the Occupy site for a month and he was very impressed with the piece. ‘Duck’ said:- “It was fantastic, brilliant, amazing. It brought out a big crowd and got people talking about important  issues, everyone was joining in and getting involved.”

According to Crichton, the project is a work in progress. The group collected contact details from audience members and plan to hold a public meeting at Leith Circle on 6 December 2011 at 7 pm to discuss the play and the possible next steps. Then, in the New Year, they plan to hold a number of workshops with the goal of putting on a new show involving members of the public next spring.

With the sheer number of marches, rallies and protests happening it takes something a bit different to stand out and ACTive INquiry may just have managed that.

Original piublished here

Occupy Edinburgh Protesters call for Robin Hood tax

Approximately 80 members of Occupy Edinburgh and their supporters marched through Edinburgh calling for the introduction of a ‘Robin Hood ‘ tax.

The protesters, many of who have been camping in St Andrew Square for the last fortnight, marched along George Street, Princes Street and the Mound. The marchers stopped for a brief rally at the foot of The Mound before finishing with a protest outside the RBS headquarters.

Among those donning outlaw gear for the protest was 22 year-old Edinburgh Napier student, Eric Nelson. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Nelson found inspiration from events in his home country. Indeed his mother has been heavily involved with the Occupy Boston movement.

On today’s march, which was one of hundreds around the globe to raise awareness, Nelson is convinced that some form of Robin Hood tax is vital. Nelson said :- “The Robin Hood tax is a very good first step in the redistribution of wealth and taking that complete power the 1% has over the 99% has to offset it a bit.

“It’s a first step in thinking about a new system. We have to accept that the current system does not work and have a complete overhaul.  We need to take the monetary system down and, through consensus, find a system that works for us. ”

During today’s march it was hard not to notice many calls from members of the public to ‘get a job’. Nelson is acutely aware of the image problem the group has. Nelson said:- “Right now the public perception seems to be that we are hippies with no jobs. ”

However Nelson and his fellow campaigners are determined to stick it out and turn opinions around. He said:- “Complacency is a huge problem, ignorance is our biggest enemy. The combination of complacency and ignorance, how people are more than happy to be ignorant, how people refuse to address the issues; we are here to make them see that these are problems they can’t ignore.”

Nelson feels that part of the problem with public perception lies in negative media coverage. He is at pains to point out that the movement covers a broad spectrum of views and is not merely an ant-capitalist group.

Nelson said:- “One thing  I really don’t like about the media coverage of occupation  movements is that it is being branded as anti-capitalist. I cannot stress this enough; we are not anti-capitalist – we are clearly not pro capitalist but we are not necessarily anti. There are many forms of capitalism – we live in a society of consumer capitalism, and yes we are against that because it doesn’t work for us. We want to change the system and that could come in the form of another type of capitalism. ”

Originally published here – http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2011/10/occupy-edinburgh-protesters-call-for-robin-hood-tax

Edinburgh still Occupied

One week on from last Saturday’s day of protest  around 40 protesters are still camping in St Andrew Square.

Organisers from Occupy Edinburgh say that the protest has been peaceful, and that good relations have been maintained with the police as well as with local residents and businesses. The group currently aim to maintain a presence in the square until Christmas.

Those braving the elements for the anti-capitalist cause come from all over the globe. Mattia Lunia is a 19 year-old student at Edinburgh University and has been camping all week. Lunia comes from New York and it was the Occupy Wall Street campaign in his home city that inspired him. Lunia said:- “I heard what was going on in New York so I was very envious of all my friends there, and now I can bring it to Edinburgh.”

On public reaction to the campaigners, Lunia feels that despite some negativity the general feedback has been positive. He commented:- “You sometimes get the feeling that what you are doing is pointless and that you are dirty hippies doing nothing, but the feedback has been mainly positive.”

Lunia is particularly grateful for what he describes as “amazing” donations of food and warm clothes from members of the public. Edinburgh restaurants the Himalayas and the Mosque Kitchen have also donated hot food. Looking to the future the main aim is to get more people actively involved. Lunia says :- “We just need to get more people into the Square, because while people have been very supportive we need them to get down here and get mobilised – that’s our new goal.”

In addition to those pitching their tents, a number of activists have been coming down daily to help. One such person is 65 year-old Edinburgh woman, Pat Smith. After attending last Saturday’s rally Smith felt motivated to come down every day to lend a hand. She said:- “It’s been inspirational – personally, I certainly have been inspired. I have been out of politics for decades, but it is very instructive when you come down and see how these people are. They are very respectful of everyone and really welcoming.”

Smith echoes others comments that the public have been very supportive of the protesters. She puts this down in part to the atmosphere generated in the square. She said:- “The camp is a small example of how you can live in a very different way – setting up camp in the heart of a big capitalist city.”

With over 20 tents currently pitched there, the camp looks set to be a feature of Edinburgh for some time if the campaigners have their way.

Originally published here – http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2011/10/edinburgh-still-occupied/