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Art beat

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 6 November, 1998 | By: Heather Neill

Remember Rachel Whiteread's inside-out concrete house in east London? It was commissioned by a group called Artangel who specialise in matching artworks to particular locations. They are just embarking on a productive period during which they will commission nine new works under the title "Inner City" in two years. One of the first involves the Brazilian theatre director and social reformer Augusto Boal. He introduced his project at a meeting in Conway Hall in central London last week.

Mr Boal speaks fluent, passionate English, with just a hint of an accent and, with his chin-length wavy grey bob, looks as if he might be related to Einstein. He is well-known to theatrical innovators around the world. And, in Brazil, through the work of his Theatre of the Oppressed and his election to the Rio de Janeiro council, he has helped to improve social conditions.

London is not Rio, but we may well be ready for reform in some areas. Boal is to work in London for a month with artists and activists employed in housing, transport and education towards an ambitious event on November 27 in County Hall. Artworks will be on display, but there will also be debate - the result of workshops held during the previous week - aimed at making new laws. Lawyers and politicians will be available.

While it is unlikely to prove more than "symbolic", says Boal, some pleasure may be gained from trying to influence events in the old GLC headquarters. "I have to seduce you", said Mr Boal to his audience, so, if you would like to redesign the curriculum, re-introduce nursery vouchers or abolish schools altogether, phone Artangel: 0171 336 6803.

Schools can be bleak places in holiday time and St Paul's Way community school in Tower Hamlets was no exception during half-term with its echoing corridors and silent staircases. Life was to be found, though, tucked away in the drama studio upstairs.

East-Side Productions wasbusy playing games with a dozen children with hearing impairment, aged 11 to 14. Some were pupils at St Paul's Way, others, although local residents, attended a special school in Clapham. All had been recommended for some extra help by their teachers.

East-Side uses drama to improve literacy, usually in after-school or holiday workshops. Its "From Page to Stage" scheme involved children in the London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Camden and Hackney and had the backing of various bodies, including Reading is Fundamental, which provided free books for participants.

The children at St Paul's Way were beginning to construct a story in performance, but, this time, although books were again on offer, the emphasis was more on confidence-building and communication skills. Some of the children were signers, some happier lip-reading - which caused minor problems for workshop leaders Charlotte Moulton-Thomas and Marc Smith. Both are hearing impaired and were recommended by the respected theatre company, Graeae, which includes disabled actors. Just about everyone could hear the piercing pips of the (unnecessary) electronic school bell, but getting attention otherwise could sometimes send Charlotte rushing to flick the lights on and off. Drama games led to mimicking animal movement: Charlotte leaped on a chair, a convincing ape, and soon everyone was having a go.

Next, showing considerable imagination, the children began miming people with animal characteristics. All this was by way of preparation for the last part of the morning, when they resumed their dramatisation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The scene was "The Golden Ticket" and volunteers took the parts of Augustus Gloop, Verruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, Mike TV and Charlie at the moment when they each discover their ticket to Willie Wonker's factory. There were few words but plenty of humour - and Tara came suitably equipped with chewing gum for her part as Violet.

East-Side is to take part in a literacy and art project, Constructing Identities, run by the Tate Gallery to coincide with the Sargent exhibition. More than 500 pupils in Tower Hamlets will study Sargent's portraits and explore their own identities in words and images with the help of poets, artists and puppeteers. The Tate also plans an open evening for teachers: John Singer Sargent and the Turner Prize on November 13 at 6.30pm. East-Side: 0171 583 2652; the Tate: 0171 887 8765/8767.

Newcastle upon Tyne children not yet at school can enjoy a day of music-making with Folkworks on Saturday November 28 at Hotspur primary in Heaton. Music and dance workshops will include tin whistle for beginners and traditional northern dances for juniors. Tel: 0191 222 1717.


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