What are the responsibilities of theatre makers to respond to these difficult, volatile and confusing times?

Proposed by = Louise Osborn

Participants = Kevin Lewis, Kit Lambert, Jain Boon.  Later joined by Sian Summers, Carmen Medway-Stephens.

Louise

In the context of the “Spring Awakening” around the world, Great Britain seems to still be asleep.  People don’t know how to address their shared concerns and fears about wider economic, political and environmental issues.  Theatre makers seem to be equally silent on these global matters.  Surely the theatre should be a space to confront them?  At the moment, “edgy theatre” seems to relate more to explorations of form rather than content that reflects the anger, passion and genuine discourse that we feel a need for.  There is not enough meeting of form and content in most theatre that claims to be pushing boundaries.

Kevin

The relationship with venues is restrictive in terms of getting plays on about big issues.  They want known titles, safe bets.  For this reason, it is hard to make more political theatre and actually get it made/seen by anyone.

Jain

Venues need something they can sell.  Is Welsh theatre as a whole too “safe”?

Louise

Cold Spread, recent Cardiff production, didn’t feel safe as a piece of theatre, but still didn’t address these bigger concerns.  Often works instead focus on how people are ugly to each other on an individual, personal level.

Kit

One of the issues with making more political theatre is that too often the audience consists mostly of other theatre makers.  There is often a feeling of preaching to the converted, such as with the recent production of Serious Money at Chapter (“Greed is bad! Tories are bad! Aren’t we all wonderfully liberal?!”  The problem seems to be how theatre makers can take these debates to a wider audience.

Lou

Yes, we need to take braver work out into the world.

Kevin

Is this where the role of schools and TIE companies is important?  Often these companies can get political work seen by non-traditional theatre audiences.

Louise

NTW seem to be able to generate new audiences.  What is their role in tackling these national and international issues?

Jain

It is noticeable that since the Iraq war demonstrations there has been a lack of large-scale protest.  Does this reflect a lack of knowledge and understanding of the financial arguments etc.?

Kevin / Louise

This sort of theatre needs to be telling strong stories.  Site-specific or multimedia work is all fine, but people need the stories to help them make sense of the world they live in.  We all experience the fear for ourselves and future generations in relation to debt / politics / global instability.

Kevin

Reminds him of the old “All you need to make theatre is two planks and a passion.”  Where is the passion?

Louise

We need more content and message in the work we are creating.  What is making theatre about?

Kit

Is there a problem with the corporatisation of theatre making?  When working with venues or organisations, there seems to be more of a pressure to play it safe.

Louise

Does funding make us produce sanitised work?  Are we too scared of losing our comfortable situations to follow our instincts?

Kit

Still the question of how to engage the public in these debates.  Art can take on a role in this protest.  V For Vendetta masks have become a symbol of international protests.  What are the symbols we can create?

Louise

In the last 20 years, it feels like “agit prop” has become a dirty word.  It is no longer fashionable to make angry theatre.  Have we all become too civilised and sophisticated?

CARMEN JOINS

Carmen

Have recently written a new play which she sees as “not safe”, but now struggling with finding somebody to make it.  If you rip up the rulebook too much it becomes unmarketable.

Kit

It is frustrating to hear politicians talking about using theatre projects to reach out to young people and prevent gang culture / future riots.  I was working on exactly that sort of project in the spring with Kompany Malakhi, and the Arts Council withdrew all funding from the company.

Jain

Yet Arts Council Wales talked about withdrawing funding because companies were too safe.  It seems there is a conflict here.

Kevin

Are there quicker and cheaper ways to make theatre in response to current events.  Do we need to explore more rapid response work?  Boal?

Louise

Was recently involved in a project in Butetown (NTW, community engagement).  She set artistic tasks to explore certain questions faced by the community.  The result was passionate and angry.  What can you do with those /debates emotions once they have been created?

Carmen

Are we afraid of litigation?  Being too outspoken?  Failure?  Reprisal?  Is it easier to make what you want outside of “corporate” theatre structures?

Louise / Kevin

Community engagement seems to be key.  It is important to respond to what a community wants to make theatre about, and not to impose this from outside.

Kit

Do we feel able, as artists, to take responsibility for exploring and analysing these huge global problems?  Do any of us really understand the politics / financial issues?  How can we overcome our own doubts about these things in order to write and create passionate debate?

Kevin

The world has always had a certain “end of the world” feel.  Every generation feels like the apocalypse is coming.

All

Important questions:

What are the stories we need to be telling?

How can we get them to a wider audience?  And a younger / less predictable audience?

How can we make protest fashionable again?

How can we overcome the fears involved in making this sort of theatre?

SIAN JOINS

Sian

If you ask members of the community to make a piece of theatre, would they actually want to?  Are we imposing our own cultural values on them?  How else can we get them to engage?  Shouldn’t we be looking at their own forms, not just our own?

Louise

But the passion and anger is still there with these groups.  If you work with them on finding a way to express it, it is still just as relevant.

Kit

And often it is just about language.  “Theatre” and “Play” might be scary words, but you can find alternative ways to engage with different groups.

Sian

Do we have the right to try and impose theatre on these communities?  Isn’t it patronising?

Kit

The spoken word in performance is already used by young people to express anger and protest, if you look at performance poetry, freestyle etc.  Surely it is just about finding the right sort of theatre?

Do we need better community spaces to engage with the wider public?  Places that can genuinely be used by all sort of local people, catering for a range of arts events that don’t all appeal to traditional theatre-goers.

Carmen

How do we package the protest within what we are doing?  Why was a play like Accidental Death of An Anarchist so successful in its day and since?

Kit

Is it the combination of comedy and anger?  Finding a balance and genuine relationship between the entertainment and message, so that neither cancels the other out?

Louise

Accessibility is very important and comedy is a great way of doing that.

Kit

Nobody wants to be ranted at, or feel like a one-sided political argument is being crammed down their throats.

All

Important to find the confidence to go out and create work that tackles issues we are passionate about and not feel like we have to play it too safe.

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