Facefront are an inclusive theatre company who pioneer social change through the expression of theatre. Their heart warming shows include 'Sandwich Man' performed by the adult drama group called 'Broken Silence', who meet at Park Avenue Resource Centre in Enfield where they unlock their creativity to devise, rehearse and socialise. 'Sandwich Man' brings an exciting twist to super powers and tackles social injustices such as homelessness. We're lucky enough to have them perform a sold out show here this afternoon and tonight, but there are still tickets available for Friday 15 July.
Facefront take pride in their universal acceptance of everybody involved, and the audiences are truly warmed by their shows.
Since their two latest shows, 'Sandwich Man' and 'The Orginators' are coming to the Dugdale soon, we decided to find out more about them by having a chat with the artistic director, Annie Smol and Tracy Viechweg who was kind enough to give us some answers about what they stand for as an inclusive theatre company.
1) What's your initial approach to tackling social issues through the expression of theatre, considering some themes may be sensitive to audience members?
Face Front uses the transformational power of theatre in order to improve emotional well-being and redress social injustice. We are led by professional disabled and non-disabled artists. We do address social issues directly in our professional Theatre work in schools, but our approach with our local community groups is not about tackling a particular issue. Instead, we work with our group members and facilitate them to come up with and share their own ideas. Most of our participants do experience challenges in life, so often their plays do involve social issues, but the main aim is to create an excellent piece of theatre that they can feel proud of. So anything goes!
The musical 'Sandwich man' came out of improvisations with the disabled members of the group who call themselves 'Broken Silence'. They wanted to do a play that featured super heroes because super heroes are fun and everyone can understand the secret longing to have a super power. For the audience, the 'power' is surely to see a group of disabled people as super heroes, not a traditional role for our actors.
The other story that the group wanted to explore came from one of the group members who had been homeless. Hunger was a huge part of his experience and when asked what super hero he would like to be, he said 'Sandwich man' he wanted to 'save' homeless and hungry people by giving them food. This inspired the main storyline for the show.
2) In what way are your classes designed to improve the general wellbeing of the attendees?
At all of Face Front's groups, a warm, supportive and creative environment is created. Our community based actors need to feel confident to be able to explore their artistic potential and make friends. So before we can think about a new play we run games and exercises that relax people, unlock their creativity and develop their teamwork, confidence, and performance skills. We have a group of about 7 core members who are our 'senior volunteers' and they are always there to help and be role-models for new members of the group. We also provide experienced professional disabled and non-disabled artist facilitators and artistic support workers who can help people to access the sessions, whether its guiding or describing to a blind member, supporting a member to move who has a mobility impairment, or reassuring a member with a mental health issue. As the sessions evolve the members form a support network themselves, helping each other, being genuinely interested in each other and of course having fun! Using their imaginations and developing their artistic expression is a wonderful release as well as creating amazing theatre.
3) Why do you believe that it is important to cover social injustice through drama?
As mentioned above, it is not the main aim for Face Front's community groups to cover social injustice. That being said, the themes our groups want to cover often do explore different issues that effect their lives. Drama and music are very powerful tools to engage audiences. The shows produced draw audiences in, they are entertaining but they also challenge preconceptions purely by the diverse nature of the group. An audience member said of a previous show '‘Excellent acting and singing, incredibly high quality production, not what I was expecting at all, and the joy expressed by the inclusive performers on stagewas an absolute delight to experience’.Drama and music are such powerful tools because they engage the mind and the emotions, the audience feel both sorrow and joy with the characters and this makes them think about the issues whether they are underlying or 'in your face'. We also believe at Face Front that 'it's all about belonging' and this is one way that we aim to redress social injustice by supporting people to perform and be seen on stage who would not normally be given that opportunity.
4) How do you decide and prioritise which social injustices to cover and how much inspiration is taken from current affairs?
It is each group that we work with who decide what they want to cover and this can often come from an idea or a fantasy, rather than a social injustice. This is the way that 'Sandwich man' was developed by its disabled cast, through their imaginations and real life stories. Another Face Front inter-generational group that is presenting their piece 'the Originators' at the Dugdale Theatre in a couple of weeks, decided that they wanted to address growing racism and exclusion as many of the members had experienced this in the past and were worried about growing racist abuse. However both shows have entertainment and enlightenment at their heart and the audiences will hear the diverse cast's voices both directly and indirectly.
5) Why was it decided to endeavour song&dance into 'Sandwich Man'?
The Broken Silence Theatre group who have produced and perform in 'Sandwich man' love to sing and dance so of course the story became a musical! They are also lucky enough to have a very talented musical director and composer Greg Williams, who wrote all the music to the groups ideas for lyrics. Angie Wallis and Jon French are Broken Silence's highly skilled professional directors who shaped the show and developed the performance skills of the cast, some of whom had never performed before to make a true memorable experience for the audience and as Angie Wallis says...
“It is a heart-warming show that is both moving and uplifting and hopefully will empower and inspire the audience to do something themselves.”
These responses show just how passionate Facefront are about the quality of the performances they put on but more importantly the care they take for their practitioners and actors who attend. It is evident that Facefront hold a genuine ethos of belonging and welcoming with regards to who attends. Not only do they succesfully create outstanding productions, but they also unlock creativity within their cast and improve the social and general wellbeing; thus boosting confidence and inspiring audiences. Seeing their productions without a doubt has the power to display the sense of community amongst them as bridges are built across the different walks of life of the cast members.