Creating extraordinary acts of theatre and community
Public Acts builds sustained partnerships with theatres and community organisations across the UK who share our vision of theatre as a force for change.
Since 2017, we have been working in partnership with organisations delivering visionary work in their communities, in Greater London, Hornchurch and Doncaster. Our community members take part in regular workshops, theatre trips and creative social opportunities. Through our partnerships, and in collaboration with theatre artists and professional performers, the community comes together to make ambitious large-scale productions.
To mark the fifth anniversary of Public Acts in 2023, a new journeying production of The Odyssey was told in five episodes by community companies across the country: at Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent, Cast in Doncaster, Trowbridge Town Hall in Trowbridge, Sunderland Culture in partnership with Sunderland Empire Theatre in Sunderland and at the National Theatre in London.
- Theatre making is a powerful form of community building
- Everyone is an artist and has the right to artistic expression
- We do our best work when we learn from one another, as people and organisations
- Our core values: Open, Generous and Brave
- To give people the space to come together and see ourselves and the world differently
- To connect people, ideas and places
- To create space for discovery, difference and joy
- To build community and make great theatre
The Odyssey: Episode 1 - The Lotus Eaters
The Odyssey: Episode 2 - The Cyclops
The Odyssey: Episode 3 - The Four Winds
The Odyssey: Episode 4 - The Island of the Sun
The Odyssey: Episode 5 - The Underworld
The Odyssey was the five-episode story of Odysseus’ epic journey, created by and performed at our partner organisations across the UK. The journey of Odysseus, the most resilient of heroes, told a universal story of endurance, loss, healing and of finding a way forwards together. We are so proud of our collaboration with communities from across the country who told this story of hope as one united national company.
Each part of The Odyssey was written by a local writer: Gabriella Gay for Stoke-Upon-Trent, Tajinder Singh Hayer for Doncaster, Florence Espeut-Nickless for Trowbridge, Lindsay Rodden for Sunderland, and returning writer Chris Bush for Episode 5 in London, who was also dramaturg for the whole story.
Journeying alongside the productions, The Galley appeared in public places including markets, local beaches and parks to collect messages of remembrance from the local community.
A 10-metre-long ship crafted from sustainable materials including bamboo and rope, The Galley represented Odysseus’ epic voyage and the nationwide connection between the communities who told the story. After each of the episodes, The Galley transformed into the stage of a closing ceremony to pass the baton of the storytelling forward.
Photo © Joseph Lynn
Our Odyssey partners
We work in partnership with organisations delivering visionary work in their communities across the country.
What we’ve made together
An amazing experience – life changing, and in some ways life affirming, seeing so many people from so many backgrounds working together.– Hornchurch Community Member
The Magic of Wild Heather
A community cabaret with food, music and storytelling, created at Cast by the people of Doncaster.
The impact of Public Acts
We worked with the Public Acts community members and Professor Helen Nicholson on research into the benefits of the programme.
At the heart of the project is the simple idea of connection, between people, community organisations, and theatres. Public Acts creates conditions for individuals to overcome isolation and builds community and cohesion among participants from a wide range of backgrounds.
I’ve never had conversations with so many different people and have them share parts of themselves, their stories and their experiences. That completely transformed me as I’d never been around such diverse people. Seeing how brave other people were made me brave.– Layla, Participant, (August 2019)
Almost all participants in Public Acts reported significantly increased confidence and a sense of achievement as a result of taking part in the programme, with many taking up new creative interests. For many participants this change translated positively into their wider lives, including areas which are directly subject to social spending, from improved physical and mental health to resuming training or finding employment.
– Rowanne, Participant (August 2019)
Delivering for community partners
Public Acts delivered workshops tailored to meet the social aims of community partners. All community partners increased their high-quality arts and cultural activities as a result of Public Acts, reconsidering the role of creative activity in delivering their core aims and values. The programme developed staff confidence in approaching arts and cultural organisations for future collaboration and increased understanding of the skills and resources needed to undertake successful partnership work.
Catalysing change for theatres
For the two theatres, the opportunity to build a sustained relationship over two years with participants and community organisations led to deep and often lasting partnerships that are shaping new agendas. The involvement required from staff across all departments to support the programme facilitates wider changemaking, from audience diversity to strengthening inclusive theatrical practices.
Enthusiasm for Public Acts was infectious and spread across the theatres to include many staff in different parts of the organisation. Theatre professionals learned about inclusive working practices in workshops and rehearsal, and discovered the limits and potential of their theatre buildings to accommodate such large and inclusive
Public Acts has informed conversations about inclusivity in theatre and its role in social justice and the health of communities across the nation.
Welcoming new audiences
Although audience research was not the primary focus of the first two years of Public Acts’ research, our findings showed that both productions attracted significant numbers who were new to theatre and new to the National Theatre and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.
Their positive experience of both Public Acts productions inspired people to attend more regularly and take part in theatre themselves. Public Acts connected theatres to wider audiences, placing theatre at the heart of local and national communities, paving the way for new forms of audience development that are inclusive, co-creative and socially responsible.
Theatre Nation Partnerships is generously supported by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund and Garfield Weston Foundation.
Public Acts is supported by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The CareTech Charitable Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Mosawi Foundation, The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust and Susan Miller and Byron Grote.
The Public Acts team
Senior Associate Director
As You Like It photos © Camilla Greenwell
The Doncastrian Chalk Circle photos © Robling Photography
The Magic of Wild Heather photo © Sam Taylor
Pericles photos © James Bellorini