The Blakeney Millar Foundation Churchill Fellowship to study ways of engaging isolated people through local theatre in small communities

New Zealand
The Arts
Community Service
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My Fellowship

As a social worker, I have developed strong values about community inclusion. The productions were never community interventions as such, but the joy of community participation and connection was always shared openly in our community theatre. The audition criterion to win a role was to simply ‘Turn Up’. However, I have wondered how I could improve the experience for the performers, the audience and those who might but have not yet been included in either.


Improving the experience also meant lifting the standard of production as we gain experience together and improving the business and policy framework that supports the wellbeing and safety of those involved as our little group grows. The question began to form in my mind “How do you create theatre from scratch?”


Around that time the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust brought their Roadshow to Tumut, and my wife and I went along. Looking around the room I saw very talented people, but I rolled the dice and put in an application to study creating community theatre with inclusive values, and programs built on engaging and connecting the community.  


As I was within weeks of leaving for overseas on my study, the borders began to close with Covid management. This sudden change affected our situation dramatically, and it has been a rough journey catching up from that point. During 2020 I decided to pursue the new options of online or hybrid Fellowships being considered by the Trust. Although it felt very awkward with many unknowns, I finally commenced in early 2021.


Over the course of conducting online interviews I have learned so much. I can safely say it has broadened my horizons in ways that I didn’t expect. I have learned many new terms including ones that fit with what we have been doing here in Tumut. I have learned about networks and policies that support these inclusive goals and I have learned about programs happening in cities that could be adapted to a small community. Best of all, I have met incredible, inspiring people who, without exception were excited by talking about the interplay between the real meaning of theatre and principles of inclusion. It has truly been a feast to draw upon these experiences, even if it was just over Zoom.


Michael Stephen McSweeney

Michael Stephen McSweeney


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