Cardboard Citizens – Terry O’Leary

Terry O'Leary in action

18 years ago, Terry O’Leary, one of Cardboard Citizen’s principal facilitators and a much sought after international trainer, had been living at a hostel – a residential facility in London for people experiencing homelessness -when Cardboard Citizens came to perform a play about ‘the homeless’.

It was a play that changed her life.

‘To be honest,’ says O’Leary cheekily, ‘I went to the show to cause trouble.’ At the time, the idea of actors performing a play about being homeless at a homeless shelter seemed quite outrageous to her, she explains. But O’Leary didn’t cause trouble. Instead, impressed and moved by the performance, the attention to detail and ‘the nuanced story’ presented, she began to participate in some of their programs.

Today O’Leary helps to change people’s lives

Terry O'Leary

On the brink of its 25th anniversary, Cardboard Citizens is one of the UK’s best-known social theatre organisations.
With a focus on homelessness, the company has produced participatory social theatre created and performed by those who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, displacement, exclusion and inequality. And O’Leary has been at the heart of it, facilitating, directing or ‘jokering’ Forum Theatre performances in the UK and internationally.

Forum Theatre is one of the principal tools in Theatre of The Oppressed, a social theatre methodology developed by the Brazilian activist and social theatre practitioner Augusto Boal, and one of the powerful approaches we employ at Act Out.

When we spoke a few weeks ago O’Leary was looking forward to the upcoming production of Cathy Come Home – a stage production of Ken Loach’s controversial 1966 drama about the alarming housing situation in Britain that lifted the UK housing issue out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

‘What’s shocking, is that it’s still totally relevant today 50 years later,’ says O’Leary about the housing situation in the UK.

As rehearsals begin for a one-off performance at The Barbican in London on July 5, O’Leary, was also excited about the Forum Theatre version of Cathy which will be touring day centres, crisis centres, hostels and theatres in London and around the UK from October 2016 until Spring 2017.

‘ Theatre matters because it’s immediate and raw … there is something magical about a live audience, how it affects you…a community of people witnessing on a stage a reality they’ve been living,’ says O’Leary passionately.

A few days after we spoke O’Leary and Adrian Jackson, Cardboard Citizen’s founder and one of the first European theatre practitioners to train with Augusto Boal, were leaving for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to collaborate with local practitioners at the Centro De Teatro do Oprimido, Boal’s original company.

This year, O’Leary will also be running trainings in Forum Theatre and other TO techniques as part of the various courses offered at Cardboard Citizens.

When asked about a memorable moment in recent years O’Leary recalls affectionately a project from three years ago at a health centre in East London that was struggling to engage Bangladeshi women about their personal and reproductive health.

‘At its most basic level, anybody can engage in theatre,’ says O’Leary as she remembers the transformation that took place in the women who went from being ‘…quiet and reserved to performing about the challenges they faced at home and in a new country in front of hundreds of people from their communities,’ she recalls.

‘They learnt about trade unions and started mentoring newly arrived migrants…they even choreographed a pap-smear dance! It was a total transformation,’ adds O’Leary.

If you are in London CATHY COME HOME will be performed at the Barbican on July 5. Booking info here.

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