Who are we kidding? (She left because she recognised she didn't belong...)

Richard Gregory, 5 September 2012

Richard; Emma; Di; Lee; Renny; Lorraine; Kirsty; David

The question was provoked by something that happened as Lee was running the opening session. An older woman had joined the group at the outset, but midway through Lee's explanation, she stood up, apologised for being in the wrong place and left. Shortly afterwards, as we were about to start, a group of younger people passed by the tent, briefly poked their heads in and walked on - again, my perception was that they immediately had a sense that they didn't belong…

Of course this threw up some fairly obvious - and perennial thoughts and questions about who theatre is for and who feels like they belong…

…but I had a more specific question which I wanted to start our discussion with: that the nice middle-class hobby that is theatre in Britain tends to suffocate purpose, “relevance” and the radical, which perhaps leads full-circle towards this large cosy private club that Birtish theatre tends towards.

Maybe if we can (continue to??) shift this, we might address some of the problems about ‘belonging’?

The were some instant responses:

- Di: some people think that theatre's not for them

- Lee recounted an anecdote from Ruth Mackenzie some years ago at Nottingham Playhouse where there were questions about why, although the theatre was friendly and welcoming it was impossible to entice people you saw on the streets ionto the building. Ruth said but yes - would you go into a betting shop?

- So some of this of course is a question about class…

But it's also about the work and the nature of the work:

- I'm often embarrassed to say “I work in theatre”

Di- Theatre has an image problem.

Richard - but the image is mostly accurate: it is exclusive, dull, encoded…

- there's a tacit agreement in this cosy club that nothing terrible will happen - we'll be mildly provoked, pleasantly agitated;

- there was general agreement that ‘theatre bores me and makes me feel stupid’ - and yet we still do it and are passionate about it, because although 90% of what we see (although perhaps over time we go less and less) we find dreadful, there still remains that rare experience of theatre that inspires and moves and opens windows on the world

- Di: We're British. We don't complain.

- Lee: we should apply the law of 2 feet more often to theatre

Who needs theatre?

We need it more than ever - because it's liveness/immediacy/ability to engage with people live and in the moment with complexity makes it rich - as we all know - specifically today becuase we have a new Culture Secretary who apparently has no interest in theatre (and, if this government is true to form) will show little regard for the kind of theatre we might be talking about here…

What can we change?

Theatre institutions - the big theatres, the Arts Council - like any institutions - are slow-moving behemoths. They rarelry invent exciting new ideas but can, slowly, respond to them. Example of ACE in 80's/early 90's not funding education/participatory work because “we don't fund amateurs”. Now very different.

That's not because some bright spark at ACE came up with idea of ‘participation’ but because some artists had been working in this area for many years - ACE caught up.

We can try top-down solutions:

_ Richard (me!) talkled about a model from Netherlands a decade or so ago where theatre buildings acted as efficient producing machines (with technical/marketing teams etc but not producing work) and the ‘hottest’ companies were given short-term tenure over the building - bringing injections of ideas connected to here and now.

- Lee: a healthy community talks to itself - and holds different views. The most glaring absence in D&D is the large institutions: the National, the RSC, ACE.

- They generally don't need or perceive the need to be part of conversation - theatre is perhaps seen from within that framework as a ladder, with those institutions at the top.

There's no real understanding of independent artist desire/drive to plough a singular furrow;

An artist-driven solution:

Artists can lead the thinking and maybe should recognise and accept that institutional behemoths move very slowly and are generally self-protective

So if artists stick to their guns and make their work uncompromising it may mean years in the wilderness (unless luck or genius strikes) - institutions mostly won't like work that rattles the nice, middle-class status quo - but eventually you can hang on to that sense of integrity and identity and they'll come knocking…

- David: my sister lives in Austria. More people seem to attrend theatre. It has a bigger, perhaps better educated middle class.

- Emma - I worked in a Young Offenders institution. Once I got past the barrier that what we were doing was theatre (it makes them feel bored and stupid - back to the class issue here) they were of course engaged and interested.

I talked about Dirk Pauwels in Belgium and his tendency to break strauctuires once they became ‘too’ successful (eg Victoria morphing into Campo) to prevent the bloating of institutionalisation.

We could make a temporary institution. With a use-by date.

Emma wanted to leave here Twitter address: @elaru

Here's the one for Quarantine, who i work with: @QtineMcr


Community, class, Boring, community, independent, use-by date, exclusive, Image, wilderness, institutionalised, radical, image, solutions, betting shop, dreadful, artist-driven, middle-class hobby, Victoria, belonging, Netherlands, temporary, top-down, Campo, British, purpose, participatory, boring, Dirk Pauwels, amateurs, relevance, institutions