Community engagement or community conversation?: Boomtown, a large-scale regional, outdoor community theatrical event

Carter, Danielle & Heim, Caroline L. (2015) Community engagement or community conversation?: Boomtown, a large-scale regional, outdoor community theatrical event. Australasian Drama Studies, 66(1), pp. 202-224.

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On the 18th of July 2013, three hundred local members of Gladstone, Queensland erupted into song and dance performing the fraught history of their community harbourside through tug boat ballets, taiko drumming, German bell ringing and BMX bike riding. Over 17,500 people attended the four performances of Boomtown, a Queensland Music Festival event. This was the largest regional, outdoor community-engaged musical performance staged in Australia. The narrative moved beyond the dominant, pejorative view of Gladstone as an industrial town to include the community members’ sense of purpose and aspirations. It was a celebratory, contentious and ambitious project that sought to disrupt the traditional conventions of performance-making through working in artistically democratic ways.

This article explores the potential for Australian Community Engaged Arts (CEA) projects such as Boomtown to democratically engage community members and co-create culturally meaningful work within a community. Research into CEA projects rarely consider how the often delicate conversations between practitioners and the community work. The complex processes of finding and co-writing the narrative, casting, and rehearsing Boomtown are discussed with reference to artistic director/dramaturge Sean Mee’s innovative approaches. Boomtown began with and concluded with community conversations. Skilful negotiation ensured congruence between the townspeople’s stories and the “community story” presented on stage, abrogating potential problems of narrative ownership.

To supplement the research, twenty-one personal interviews were undertaken with Gladstone community members invested in the production before, during and after the project: performers, audience members and local professionals. The stories shared and emphasised in the theatricalised story were based on propitious, meaningful, local stories from lived experiences rather than preconceived, trivial or tokenistic matters, and were underpinned by a consensus formed on what was in the best interests of the majority of community members. Boomtown exposed hidden issues in the community and gave voice to thoughts, feelings and concerns which triggered not just engagement, but honest conversation within the community.

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ID Code: 85038
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Community theatre, Engagement, Boomtown, Sean Mee, Queensland Music Festival
ISSN: 0810-4123
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > PERFORMING ARTS AND CREATIVE WRITING (190400)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Schools > School of Media, Entertainment & Creative Arts
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Danielle Carter and Caroline Heim.
Deposited On: 29 Jun 2015 23:20
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2016 12:04

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