first featured in the Irish Daily Star on 5 August 2013.Dr John Coulter with a piece that
Make a drama out of a crisis – literally! That's the way to bring a workable solution to the present parading debacle in the North. Political theatre could well be the way forward to lasting peace in Ireland, as long as the situation does not deteriorate into a political circus where the clowns control the arena!
I was highly impressed with the 'in your face, no punches pulled' work of a new professional theatre company formed to create a voice for Protestant communities, especially the loyalist working class.
The challenge now becomes – could loyalists and republicans sort out their political differences on the stage rather than on the streets?
The Etcetera Theatre Company – recently launched in Belfast's prestigious Linenhall Library – is the brainchild of former loyalist prisoners who met in the Maze – William Mitchell and Robert Niblock.
Such drama does not sit easily in the Unionist community. Rather than telling their stories, Unionists like to bathe in the swimming pool of self-pity, or else keep a British stiff upper lip by keeping their feelings bottled up.
The Union flag dispute has sparked claims that republicans are indulging in a cultural war against Protestantism, loyalism and Orangeism.
But the real truth is the inability of the Unionist community – especially the Protestant working class – to talk about their experiences through the medium of drama.
Mention drama to Protestants, and it immediately conjures up images 'La-de-dah' comedy performances by Young Farmers' Clubs, or wine and cheese evenings by middle class dominated amateur dramatic societies.
There is a loyalist culture in the North. It is not under siege. It's just that Prods lack the ability to tell their stories.
The People's Forum and Unionist Forum meetings have clearly diagnosed the new social cancer in loyalism – a substantial section of Prod opinion feels alienated, marginalised and disenfranchised.
Unionists literally need to learn to act, not complain. Drama can provide a terrific morale boost for the Protestant working class community. There is enough energy and commitment in that community to displace the conflict and replace street violence with stage theatre.
But for projects like Etcetera to succeed will also require the Protestant churches and community groups to weigh in behind such drama groups.
The Fur Coat and No Knickers Brigade along with the snooty Blue Rinse Brigade in Unionism need to take their heads out of their trendy wine glasses, get off their BBQ patios and get a dose of loyalist working class reality.
Etcetera's launch was personally uncomfortable listening, hitting me like a historical kick in the balls.
Actors performed a couple of scenes from the company's first production, Tartan, by Niblock, about the hardline 1970s Protestant Tartan gangs which roamed loyalist working class estates seeking Catholic victims.
As a teen, I was a member of our village's local Tartan gang – except there were no Catholics to burn out. We wore Wrangler jackets and I donned a Bay City Rollers tartan scarf bought at a Boys' Brigade summer camp.
We didn't curse and we were good little Sunday School boys trying to impress the local lasses.
But Niblock's scenes showed the real Tartans – hard-cursing hoods preparing for a life in the paramilitaries. It was a very painful reality check!
Maybe I should pen a play about being a Black Sabbath-loving, Presbyterian preacher's kid trying to survive in the ultra-conservative Co Antrim rural Bible belt?