Mike Harris – From One Extreme to Another: Theatre in Education
Mike Harris's commissioned play From One Extreme to Another is about far–right and so–called 'Islamic' extremism. The play had a significant impact through its widely seen performances by GW Theatre from 2008 onwards in UK schools and other community spaces.
The play aimed to open up for discussion by young people and teachers a sensitive topic which can be difficult to approach in classes or other public forums – and it contributed to a public policy intervention in a serious social and political issue.
The research was constituted by the process of writing the play itself, which had to find an accessible contemporary form of theatre for school students from white and ethnic minority backgrounds which could dramatise potentially uncomfortable and divisive material for these audiences. This was done in ways which could help them to understand extremism's origins and dangers for all communities.
The play needed to create understanding for each set of characters and to present convincing and recognisable behaviours, while also critiquing where these might lead. This is done by intercutting swiftly between parallel communities whose fears, loyalties and assumptions can be seen to have much in common.
The project drew on earlier writing by Harris over a period of 20 years which sought to represent in community theatre perceptions about immigration, Islam and the far–right in the UK, with a particular focus on the north–west of England.
One Extreme to Another was toured nationally in UK schools and community spaces by GW Theatre to a total audience of around 100,000 people. The play was advertised via the GW Theatre website and a linked Extreme News site and was especially staged in cities where there had been recent inter–community tensions, including Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, and Luton.
Secondary school pupils, college students, their teachers and community groups have benefited greatly from discussing issues of far–right and Islamic extremism raised by the play (in schools and colleges using pre– and post–performance resources).
Feedback was collected via the play's website and there were positive evaluation reports. A number of government policy documents also referred to the play's effectiveness.
Teachers involved with the project have said
- 'It took the lid off a controversial area and allowed open discussion.'
- 'The play allowed pupils to discuss sensitive issues through the characters, taking it away from the personal.'
- 'They found that the parallel stories in the play made them feel "more comfortable" about dealing with the issue of violent extremism, which was shown to be an issue for all groups rather than just for one.'
Further tours of the play will take place in 2014 and 2015.