Freeing power of the arts

Davina Patel catches up with Jodie Marshall, who uses theatre to change young people’s lives.

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Jodie Marshall is not your average 29-year-old. Over the last seven years she has been using the performing arts to turn around lives in South Yorkshire and the shantytowns of Brazil.

Marshall set up her social enterprise, A Mind Apart, when she was 22. She and her team work with children aged five and upwards, especially those who are not in education and have behavioural problems, ADHD and autism, or are young offenders or involved with gangs. ‘We use performing arts as a tool to reintegrate them back into society and to get them thinking about what they want to do.’

A Mind Apart

A Mind Apart students at their Annual Performance 2014

She draws on interactive theatre techniques devised by Augusto Boal, the Brazilian director, artist and activist who founded Theatre of the Oppressed. These promote social and political change, through creating dialogue between actors and audience. ‘It’s about looking at what’s stopping you – what are your boundaries, what are your oppressions – and then looking at how you can change that situation to improve your circumstances,’ she explains. ‘It uses the premise that you can’t change the people who are oppressing you, but you can change you and how you respond, and that may change the oppressor.’ Having studied Boal at university, she spent some months in Brazil using these techniques with streetchildren before starting A Mind Apart.

Marshall is passionate about the arts: ‘They are such a freeing thing. When you look at a painting you get emotion from it and everyone has an opinion. It’s the same with theatre and dance. I believe theatre is a massive tool for social change.’ In general, she says, plays deal with social or political issues that are timeless and anyone can relate to. ‘Take Romeo and Juliet, for example: who hasn’t felt passion for somebody, experienced lust or love? This is where conversations start to happen about the differences between love and lust and how that fits in with the actors’ lives. Suddenly you have a conversation about healthy relationships.’

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Marshall’s Christian faith is a source of her passion. ‘I believe we are born to steward the world – socially, environmentally and politically. Everything I do revolves around how can I honour God and steward the world in a better way.’ She worked on a pantomime in the West End for a season. ‘I loved it, but it made me realize that I don’t want to work in commercial theatre because it’s all about money. What am I going to give this audience apart from a night in the theatre? I can affect all the kids on the stage performing.’

Jodie Marshall has recently been appointed as one of the National Coordinators for Initiatives of Change in the UK.