April 30th, 2010
Not many people saw it, but last night was a good night for community action. While would-be leaders dominated the television screen, a political drama was quietly unfolding in a Leith community centre which confounds all those fears of immigrants.
Members of Swietlica at the first performance of Change, a play timed to coincide with the election campaign. Picture by Kasia Raszewska
This is where campaigning politicians ought to be. Here’s community spirit in action in the Fort Community Wing where the Polish drop-in club, Swietlica, works tirelessly to bring people together – celebrating Christmas and St Andrews Night, fundraising for good causes, and sometimes throwing parties just for the fun of it.
So it wasn’t surprising that Swietlica hosted the first production of a brave new drama by the Leith community activist theatre group, ACTive Inquiry. Change is a political play (that’s political with a small p) exploring what change means and how we can make it happen. This is deliberately timed to coincide with the election campaign.
And it wasn’t surprising that the small audience representing Scottish, Polish, Indian and English communities wholeheartedly entered into the spirit of a form of theatre which demands audience participation. Elsewhere, across the UK, the media was doing its best to stir up ill-informed fear and resentment of strangers, feeding on Gordon Brown’s unscripted reactions to Gillian Duffy’s East European question. Inside a small Edinburgh primary school, some of those strangers were showing just why Leith is possibly the most vibrant and interesting part of Scotland’s capital.
The play ended with a competition for a project to change real life for the better. And the clear winners of a small cash prize to make it happen were Maria and Marek for an idea that costs almost nothing to put into action. The other two ideas were good too: a leaflet campaign to promote a club for single mothers and a public event to excite support for pedestrianising The Shore in Leith. And they could still happen. But on an old fashioned show of hands most votes went to the smiles.
Smiling Leith simply asks everyone to smile three times a day to a complete stranger. Try it, urged a smiling Maria and Marek, it can make you and someone else feel happier. “I don’t mean a grin,” adds Maria, “I mean a smile from the heart.” (They won £50 towards a poster campaign to make it happen).
I got home just in time to catch the end of the leaders’ debate. It seemed more contrived and controlled than ever. Perhaps saddest of all, not one of them seem able to risk speaking from the heart to acknowledge the great benefits of immigration. Maybe we should invite Mrs Duffy to meet the wonderful volunteers of Swietlica. And watch a performance of Change by ACTive Inquiry. (see more on Leith Open Space)
Audience participation: Mridu, Marek and Marcin (standing) accept a challenge to change the course of events in the play.