Not just talking about a revolution: showing solidarity with Egypt and Tunisia and artistic responses 

Convener(s):  Josh Neicho 

Participants:  Roz Wynne, Alex Swift, Tom Brocklehurst, Dan Simon and one other

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We began by talking about freedom of speech which is the basis of artistic expression in the UK and the West and the extent to which the protests represent an aspiration to this or whether the ideology of some of the protesters is incompatible with free speech. We discussed whether the West has also tried to deny free speech in the Arab world and the inherent conflict between realpolitik and the defence of democracy in Western political pronouncements. A distinction between the actions of governments and the beliefs of individuals was drawn and a value in the individual’s awareness/conscience acknowledged even if (as in climate change) they can have little impact as an individual and their beliefs could be considered selfish.

It was not so much the reaction of “the arts” but of companies and individuals to events like the Egypt protests which were considered of interest. In terms of the kind of theatre that would be a strong response to events such as those in Egypt and Tunisia, it was felt the events themselves were more dramatic (and more instantly communicated) than anything that theatre could portray – so it was theatre’s job not to portray but to comment on such events.

The possible uses of and integration of Twitter in theatre were discussed, with the examples of ENO’s A Dog’s Heart and the dance short play in the BAC’s recent Coalition series. The unsubtlety of the politics and use of the medium of much modern and contemporary political theatre was discussed: examples of more effective political theatre were mentioned as works by Enda Walsh, Pornography (both at the 2008 Edinburgh fringe) and James Graham’s Tory Boyz. Theatre de Soleil’s Le Dernier Caravanserai with its actors as refugees speaking in the original language and the audience seeing the actors’ dressing room was mentioned as an especially powerful, all-encompassing political work - different from anything in the UK but the varied traditions to approaching politics in theatre in the UK was acknowledged. A political play it was felt could be one in which the audience is made to feel part of a political world watching a performance which is suggestive of a better world; whether the experience of this kind of political theatre depended on the mood of the audience member and their reaction to a particular performance was considered. Brecht’s “teaching plays” (not teaching in a didactic sense) were seen as another example of theatre with a political character. The student protests were felt to be an enlivening political experience but it was considered  impossible to say whether the political climate was any more or less healthy for the arts today than 5, 10 or 20 years ago.