Sian Rees, 25 January 2015

Thank you very much to all who came!

People present: Jane Ensell, Jonathan Mulquin, Hugh Chapham, Billy Barrett, James Gough, Frances Rifkin, Milli Chatia, Elena Byers, Nick Cassenbaum, Lina Jungergard, Anna Mors, Andrea, Verena Leonardini

I am seeking performers, artists, activists to create protest performances in response to austerity. I’m a theatre-maker, performer and I’m currently doing a practice-led PhD at Goldsmiths examining the efficacy of creative activism. Please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved! This was my initial reason to bring people together, but our discussion went far beyond practicalities and ended up exploring a wide range of theories, thoughts and responses regarding the relationship of art and politics, utilising creativity for political reasons, personal experiences and personal motivations for getting involved in this line of work.

Please see a summary below. We discussed:
• The astonishing gap in inequality today, the statistics which have recently come out from Oxfam, for instance, - if the economic trends continue as they are then 1% of the population will own 99% of global wealth.
• How theatre, performance, art can attempt to challenge austerity:
• Frances noted how the current trend in creative activism reminded her of the 1990s, and the need for it was disconcerting.

• Theatre of the Oppressed was mentioned as a discipline which had potency politically and socially (working with union members in particular)

• We questioned how the aesthetic decisions make the performance/protest more or less effective? The context needs to drive the work
• An interesting point was whether if you place a performance piece into the middle of a movement whether it changes and shifts it into a more passive form (especially compared to more specific direct action which disturbs, is disobedient and doesn’t have permission to take place.
• A student who had experienced violence at Warwick University during an occupation shared his experiences and explained how it had motivated him to create a performance piece in response, drawing on re-enactment, historical comparisons, documentation and documentation of documentation!
• One person questioned whether lobbying was a more effective form of creating change (using the example of the upcoming infrastructure bill)
• Others responded that it was part of our historical legacy which highlighted the discontent with the situation, the value of protest was in that level of clarity which this offered politicians - it serves as a powerful public statement
• One person mentioned the importance of working and creating work for a localized context. For instance – in a fishing village (please add in the details if this was you!) where strict regulations had affected the amount of fish that people could fish (impacting largely on smaller fishing communities) – a play directly addressed issues that were important to local people
• Another brought up the importance of radical participation – engaging through politics through theatre and performance. For instance, a Saturday afternoon tea dance takes place for the elder community each week – in collectively coming together and solidifying a sense of community – acts like this are important politically and are anarchic, they are a form of protest against stereotyping the elder community.

• I questioned what impact re-situating the tea dance in a politicised site – this brought up an interesting conversation about different aims – they are, the group decided, different ways to find and create changes. Bringing people together is an important one.

• One person questioned whether the art of protesting itself, in the most traditional sense, is a privilege?
• Another questioned: do we need to find creative ways to bring people together? And/or do we need to organise direct, single political events? (bringing art into activism or bringing activism into art)

• The work needs to go beyond persuasion into more of an experience
• There used to be far more performance on the streets – simply performing outside and enjoying the process is a political act in reclaiming the space and interrupting the everyday with something creative
• The importance is in not being afraid, whether you are working in the political theatre field or the protest performance field.

If you’re interested in getting involved in future protest performances, please contact me!
[email protected]