How do we make contemporary theatre burn with the spirit of the ‘60s without being regressive or old-fashioned? 

Convener(s): David TSE Ka-Shing

Participants: Francesca, John Hale, Tanya Roberts, Alison Mead, Alyn Gwyndot, Alan Sharpington, Fran Gerene, Ellis Kerkhoven, Morna Burdon, Nick Philippou, Madeleine Trigg, Jen Toksvig

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


The convener began by suggesting that the election of Obama might herald a new Age of Aquarius, when hope, change and participation (particularly from young people) might produce new forms of theatre that would re-capture both the spirit of the ‘60s and the zeitgeist.


This started with shared experiences of ‘60’s theatre; the idea of chaos and living it (“We don’t know anything”); and the potential for change and counter-culture, so popular in the ‘60s, no longer being viable in the noughties. Culture now seemed much more mediated through both the media and modern technology, the Generation of Apathy had grown up with the value of “There is no society”, the language of business had infiltrated the arts and sometimes, there seemed to be no sense of a collective ideal.

However, there was also a growing awareness of an attitude of dissent, the possibility of the end of capitalism / consumerism (with the current chaos in financial markets), and an optimistic sense that it might be possible to harness the positive energy of many people who were hungry for change. Examples of this were flash mobs, and the power of the collective in modern “Happenings”.

The ‘60s spirit was summarised as follows:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Anarchy
  • Creating outrage
  • Equality and liberation
  • Redefining heroes / debunking who and what we respect
  • Counter-culture / anti-establishment (some element of danger)
  • Fractured forms, eg. Happenings, John Cage, performance art (moving away from narrative)
  • Love and Peace
  • Nihilism
  • Confused nation needing to find a way
  • Spirituality and religion (eg. Beatles heading East to “find themselves”)
  • Survivors of WW2 offering freedom to their children
  • Temporary breakdown of class barriers (hippies)
  • Empowerment of the working class (first time grants were offered to attend universities)
  • Existentialism

What has been learnt from the ‘60s?

  • Chaos and anarchy can’t be spun by spin doctors or planned
  • Not offering an explanation for work can be extremely disturbing
  • Fault lines / instability in current beliefs could enable the zeitgeist to be changed
  • There is a constant swing from materialism (eg. Big Brother on TV) to deeper values of interconnectedness / interdependence (eg. Tribal Women on TV)
  • The current global crises of both climate change and the credit crunch would force all of us to reassess our values and consciousness, and influence the kind of theatre that would be made in the future.