Brainstorm – What does an un-capitalist mode of performance look like?

Convener(s): Tom Hughes and Kieran Hurley

Participants: Tom Hughes, Kieran Hurley, Julia Taudevin, Dan Copeland, Jonathan Pethebridge, Gemma Brockis, Sam Pallis, Andrew Haydon, Marie Kenny, Ben Webb, Alex Brown, James Baker, Andy Field, Aliki Chapple, Amber Massie-Blomfield, Pat Ashe, Fionn, Chris Rowland, Lucy Oliver-Harrison, Jo Mackie, Chrissy Jay, Alex Swift, Mike Knowlden, Adam Barnard, Eva Liparova, Laura McDermott, Francesca Lisette, [email protected], plus others who came and went. 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We called this session because we felt that every conversation we had participated seemed lead, at some point, towards a discussion of how the values of consumer-capitalist appear to be at the root of the ‘problem’ in question, whatever that might have been.  We wanted to get people together to brainstorm practical responses to this broad issue.  We’d done a lot of theorizing, and wanted to think in a more concrete way about what an alternative looks like or might look, and hear examples from current practices.  We didn’t get the sort of manageable bullet points we might have hoped for, but instead had a really varied lively discussion which will be quite hard to sum up here – but here goes.

Loads of people turned up.  The only thing that feels really clear is that this is a burning issue for lots of people. 

Spaces: What performance spaces might be appropriate for a performance practice that defines itself as un-capitalist?  Johnny Liron’s Situation Room was mentioned as a good example of autonomous space, in which artists can maintain ownership of space and work.  Is there a danger, where autonomy is concerned, of becoming insular, and of failing to talk the ‘outside world’.  It was agreed that autonomous spaces such as the Sit Room are a great example of one approach which is important within a wider ecology.  What about theatres as civic buildings, as places of community responsibility, like churches? (ref to conversation with Chris Goode earlier in the day.)

Flashmobs, punk, rave culture – examples of instances where a language of resistance as been appropriated by the mechanics of capitalism.  How do we create a form which resists appropriation?

Suggested that we need a genuinely dialogical practice that listens to audiences.  Is this easier if we let go of the hang up of ‘having to reach lots of people’ – what if we allow ourselves to be small?

An argument in defence of big crowds emerged in response to this.  Solidarity-engendering experiences can occur in crowds – does theatre need to get better at dealing with crowds in a way that resists passive spectatorship?  Is the artistic form of, say, The Lion King, politically disempowering even if we divorce it from its economic context?

Kings of England are making a touring show called I Belong To This Band which will tour rural communities.  The show was given as an example of dialogical practice, and compared in some ways to 7:84’s The Cheviot The Stag And The Black, Black, Oil as an example of work that listens to the communities and the people that it attempts to speak to.

We spoke of the importance of making things happen at a local level.  To resist making work that can be simply reproduced or repurposed, because what is right for one community (or set of people) might not be the right thing for another community. Perhaps methodologies can still be reproduced though.

Is what we’re doing here, now, an example of a practical model of a contribution to an un-capitalist performance ecology?

Wallace Shawn’s Fever given as an example of re-purposing private spaces.

Do we need a viable Trade Union movement for performers?  A Living Wage for theatre makers?  Need to think not just about artistic form but about systemic issues such as these.

What about writing plays that focus on collective experience rather than that of the protagonist – a way of resisting the culture of individualism?

Who does the looking, what is being looked at?

Performances during the student occupations – music, comedy, etc – frustration felt that our forms might not fit this vital context?

Being able to say what we want in whatever language we want without apologizing for it.  But this tempered against a desire for access, to communicate with people who are not necessarily literate in a language of contemporary performance.  True listening, as opposed to shouting in the dark and hoping that something sticks.

Good grief.  It goes on – the conversation went to many, many places, lots of which I’ve been unable to represent here.  If you were present, and haven’t been represented here, I’m genuinely sorry.  I’ve got about as much down as I’ve managed to take down, and need to wrap this up before everyone leaves for the night and goes home or to the pub.  The conversation and the action continues. Onwards!