Public Acts is a nationwide initiative led by the National Theatre that creates new works of participatory theatre. Its aim, to ‘create extraordinary acts of theatre and community’, places equal importance on community-building and theatre-making.
As a national programme, Public Acts builds on the experience of creating we’re here because we’re here, a living memorial to the dead of World War One devised by Rufus Norris and Jeremy Deller and performed by local people in towns and cities across the UK on 1st July 2016. Public Acts is inspired by Public Works at the Public Theater in New York’, and the visionary participatory work of many theatre companies across the UK in the past decades.
Launched in September 2017, Public Acts is a permanent part of the National Theatre’s portfolio. It began with a two-year programme in London, initially with eight community partner organisations from across Greater London and one partner theatre, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch QTH). Six community partners enabled the National Theatre to build new relationships with local people (Body & Soul, Open Age, Thames Reach, Coram, The Faith & Belief Forum, Bromley by Bow Centre), two were neighbours to Queen’s Theatre’s (The Havering Asian Social Welfare Association and DABD), and a ninth group, Queen’s Community Group, came together in 2018. Led by NT Director of Public Acts Emily Lim, a team of associate artists developed bespoke programmes of drama workshops designed to support each partner organisation’s objectives. The first year of Public Acts culminated in three performances of a new adaptation of Pericles by Chris Bush with original music by Jim Fortune, directed by Emily Lim and designed by Fly Davis. Pericles was performed on the Olivier stage in August 2018. The second Public Acts production, As You Like It, adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery with music and lyrics by Shaina Taub was directed by Douglas Rintoul, Artistic Director of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and the production was staged at QTH for five performances in August 2019. The most recent Public Acts programme took place in Doncaster at Cast in August 2021. It culminated in a joyful performance of a new play created by Jasmin Mandi-Ghomi and the company, The Magic of Wild Heather.
Helen Nicholson’s research has informed the development of the Public Acts programme. the core values of Public Acts – Open, Generous, Brave - were shared consistently and creatively across both theatres and all community partners and is changing how theatres and community partners work together, with sustainable and long-term impact.