This question – ‘So are you really a theatre company then?’ – was asked by a member of the student audience following Y Touring’s performance of Breathing Country at Manchester University (March 2010). Posed by someone possibly unfamiliar with participatory theatre practice and seemingly intrigued and perplexed in equal measure, it nicely captures I think the ‘in-between’ territory that Y Touring and other similar TIE-style companies occupy. The programme had begun with a context-setting introduction, using electronic voting to gauge attitudes and spark discussion; it was followed by a short drama that played out some of the key issues in fictional but highly credible form, and culminated in a workshop, in which the actors answered questions in role, and a debate involving the whole audience about the use of electronic media in the National Health Service, and the related issue of privacy in a digital world. The transitions from one approach to another, from classroom to theatre to questions and answers were managed expertly and seamlessly, but certainly departed from the commonly held assumption that theatre is essentially to do with fiction and entertainment watched by an audience in polite silence. A degree of puzzlement, not just at the interactive form but at the ability of a remarkably well-informed company to respond convincingly to questions (in and out of role), is unsurprising. But did that puzzlement also betray a worry about the relationship between fact and fiction – that the performed scenes were somehow diminished because they were lacking in the factual status of other parts of the programme? Or was the worry that the facts themselves had now become suspect because they might merely be pegs on which to hang the drama? Or was it

simply that the switching backwards and forwards between factual investigation and performed fictional drama was surprising enough to require more time to process? The student’s question has prompted me to consider some of the

challenges faced by performers working in such ‘in between’ educational settings who deploy both recognisably theatrical and more open, fluid, non-theatrical ways of working with young audiences. Actors in such settings are often faced with a multiple set of requirements. Not only must they perform characters in a staged narrative and sustain audience interest, and indeed entertain in the process, but they must also at another level inform, educate and, frequently, challenge preconceptions their audience may have; and further, in those workshop elements of the programme pivotal to Y Touring’s work, they have to engage directly with the audience in dialogue about the issues raised, which in turn requires of them detailed knowledge of the subject matter and its wider social implications. They must moreover deal with young audiences, many of whom have little experience of conventional theatre let alone of the deployment of theatrical means for direct educational purposes. The following discussion draws on two very different examples of

TIE-related practice: the work of Y Touring Theatre and that of Andrew Ashmore & Associates, a company specialising in the increasingly innovative realm of museum theatre and heritage education (on which my own recent research has focused). The philosophy and practice of Y Touring is articulated as the use of

a rich mix of live performance and digital technology to engage audiences in an informed debate around the outcomes of the latest scientific research. Our work explores themes and questions that will shape our futures and that we all need to have a say in. We do this in a format which brings the arts, science and technology together – Theatre of Debate.