In June 2014 we took part in a fantastic series of events organised by LIFT festival. The series was called Change… for a tenner. LIFT is an international theatre festival and the people at LIFT were very concerned about the interface between performance and politics, representation, social change. This was a really stimulating series with loads of good ideas generated and questions asked. At the end we put on a version of our game show “Who Wants to Be…?” where we ask the audience to decide how to spend the entire box office takings. This version was a bit different because we had already built up a good head of ideas and themes, some suggested by our expert speakers, some suggested by our expert audience.
We attempted to visualise the ideas using two methods that we have developed. It is important to visualise the ideas to get everybody talking about the same thing. Even if they don’t agree, at least they have a benchmark to discern their opinion against others, understand points in common and where they differ. You can review the images we made for the series on our Flickr page. Some of the themes that emerged: we need to invest in participation in democracy, is it more effective to create change from within the institution or outside of it? we need to take risks and put our bodies on the line if we want change. There are lot of seemlingly eccentric campaigns out there, and some of them will influence the norms of the future, but which ones?
Many but not all of these discussions gave context to the finale of the talks programme- our Who Wants to Be…? show performed by The People Speak at Shoreditch Town Hall. Who Wants to Be…? is a theatrical event that feels like a game show where everyone pays £10 to get in. The entire show is about how to spend the box office takings. What we try to do with Who Wants to Be…? is to get people to listen to each other and build on each other’s ideas. The real point is to get people to feel a sense of their collective imaginative power. It isn’t really about the money. We just need people to have a stake, an investment in the process so they invest in it emotionally during the event.
On entry each participant is given a voting card which they can use to decide what happens. The card has a pink, yellow and green panel which is displayed to a DSLR camera to indicate personal choice.
Nearly all of the rules to Who Wants to Be…? have been suggested by participants through previous iterations of the game. As it stands right now we try to generate as many ideas as possible in the first half and try to boil down the ideas to a single proposal in the second half. This presents a problem in terms of a narrative arc of the show in that the maximum excitement and collaboration is in the middle of the show, and there is more and more disappointment as you get to the end. This narrowing down of ideas to what is most possible or desired has been described as the “groan zone” and it is a challenge to make this element fun. We try to do this with exciting visuals and sound effects to increase drama.
In the first half we briefly recapped on some of the ideas that had been raised in the previous five talks, then we tried to get as many ideas going in a general discussion.What we call preference voting was used to rank the ideas in terms of how much they are liked. The first ten ideas (it was supposed to be nine, but we got carried away)made it through to the second half. Some of the ideas; giving away free ice creams to people in parks and having a conversation at the same time, a luxury bench for homeless people, getting everybody in the audience to take a child to the theatre, a campaign to train five year old to deface adverts and a campaign to make it compulsory for pension recipients to have a living will.
This time, many of the ideas where about increasing democratic participation or social engagement. In the end the winning idea was to revive the tradition of Speakers’ Corner in Victoria Park, East London.