Theatre With You in Mind

Willem Boodts meets Fintan Brady, the driving force behind Partisan Productions

When you think of politics in Northern Ireland you tend to imagine grey haired, pointless debates lit up by occasional street conflicts. It is easy to see politics as a pantomime, or maybe an inward-looking kabuki, a set of ritual performances.

At the same time, theatre can offer what Peter Stein, the German theatre visionary, describes as ‘an invaluable opportunity to examine the underlying themes and causes that make a society’. An example of this can be seen in the work of Fintan Brady and Partisan Productions, based in Belfast.

It begins with the idea of putting the street on the stage, finding ways to involve the audience in the creation of the show, and offering an open platform for strongly held fears and aspirations.

Partisan Productions is a professional theatre and film production company that has been in existence for 3 years. Based in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast, Fintan Brady steers this socially engaged vehicle.

Having studied theatre in Trinity College in Dublin for 15 years, he has put his knowledge of European popular theatre into practice on the streets of Belfast.

His main aim was to encourage the public to research and engage with their communities and to develop theatre based on their own experiences. In this way he tried to help them reflect upon their personal situation within this art form.

‘The theatre process offers one of the few opportunities that people in this world get to have a sort of extended exploration of their own existence,’ Brady explains. 'Occasionally inner-truths and hidden thoughts reveal themselves for the first time on stage.'

To develop this idea further, Brady founded Partisan Productions in 2002, challenging people to open their eyes to the rest of the world. Theatre remains the main drive, but now there are more fully professional shows, in an attempt to develop the audience beyond just the regular crowd.

Stevie's Big Game - A Partisan ProductionLetters from Algeria, for example, is based on letters published in Le Monde, that were written by ordinary people describing their experience of the civil war in that country. Through this production Brady hoped to give the audience a sense of the value of the kind of documents that might exist within their own worlds. Challenging the audience is as important as entertaining them. It is all about telling your own story.

This and other productions are performed in community centres, leisure centres and even bars to make it easy for new faces to visit. The reaction is almost always positive.

Brady has also produced a number of short films with the same philosophy, most recently Pretty Face, inspired by his experience of working in a young offenders centre.

The movie deals with the rules and regulations that dehumanise the prisoners. This is shown as a short opera in order to convey the drama even more intensely. This movie won the Stella Artois Best Irish Short Film at The 18th Seagate Foyle Film Festival in Londonderry, and is currently touring numerous film festivals around the globe.

The core funding of the production house is provided by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Community Relations Council, as the key target is still to make a contribution to the development of a genuinely civil society. Funding for projects comes from a variety of other sources.

The future holds a series of exciting new projects and new collaborations with, among them, Rogue Rocket – a vehicle for the artwork of renowned graphic artist Will Simpson. Brady still wants to make a powerful and valid impact with strong works of art.

Currently the company is developing a major theatre production based upon a 19th century novel by James Hogg, The Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It will be presented in Ulster Scots, and will explore the topic of religious intolerance. I think this controversial theme will continue to be talked about in the near future.

Beyond this, there are plans to broaden their innovative partnership with Ballynafeigh Community Development Association in South Belfast, and create an International Social Theatre Laboratory. This will test new theatre techniques on fresh audiences in an international context.

Contacts have been made within Europe, Israel and the US, and the intention is to bring theatre and social activists together, to learn from each other through performances, workshops and publications. A yearly prestigious festival of Political and Social Theatre will become the icing on the cake. Brady is hopeful that the inaugural event will take place in the summer of 2007.

Still a lot of work to do before that for the always-busy Brady, but you won’t hear a complaint… the world has enough of them already.