Whose theatre is it and who can make it?

Susan Clarke, 18 July 2012

Susan Clarke called the session

Attended: Susan Moffat, Vicky, Michael, Candida, Kitty

Summary of discussion

1) Who owns the stories and who decides which stories are told and how?

(Susan had conversation with herself at first)

Basic drive to tell stories- I remembered this; I went to see the cave paintings in Altamira a few years ago- extensive network of caves filled with daubed red hands, figures hunting and animals. No-one knows what they are for- the link is broken- but in one dark spot the guide makes you stand and face a stalactite – taller than a man- on the wall behind it are the back legs of a bison.

As the guide moves his flashlight over the stalactite a shadow of the head and front legs of a bison appears on the wall, joined to the bad legs and as he continues to move the light the bison appears to run.

So who was the person creating that image- who was it for- the experience of seeing it was of leaping back through time into the footprints of the first people to see this 40,000 years ago. An audience is always an audience.

So is theatre always theatre?

Joined by others (as above)

2) Legacy

New Vic perspective was that they had a responsibility in mind always that they had to ensure that the theatre still survived after the individuals had moved on, to provide theatre in North Staffordshire.

So, how do you create a legacy? An entity that survives people?

At a recent arts and humanities research council event Susan M reported that further relevant questions were raised such as;

• does “theatre” have to be a building?

• Can anybody call themselves an actor?

• Can any event that has people doing something in front of other people be called theatre?

• What’s circus?

• What’s “accepted / acceptable” theatre?

• What do we call ourselves?

• What do our audiences call the experience?

We also discussed the role of the funders- to what extent do they direct the process/shape the work?

Moving Stories (Kitty): their work was about giving people a voice, helping people to get to know one another.

3) Legacy

Conversation then moved into investigating what is the relationship between audiences and theatre and how that’s established 

The use of Forum Theatre- and the audience as spect-actor-Kitty reported an Italian friend commenting on an English audience’s restraint when faced with the opportunity to “join in”

How has digital changed the scene- has it?

B arts use of it to source/ devise shows eg Take this Waltz

What are the ownership/ ethics/ IP issues around working with vulnerable people?

Make sure the work is responsible to those who don’t think theatre’s for them

Ask- “who isn’t here?”

Locally people don’t bump into the arts so the responsibility of practitioners is to open theatre up. They consider it elite- “Something for posh people, people in London/ other cities”

(There’s a brain / talent drain- actors leave and go to London, they in turn are not taken seriously by casting directors.)

NEED: Commissioning process and fund set up locally so that smaller seed-bed projects can happen, and encourage emergent artists to stay local

Have audiences got an understanding? And if so what is it of theatre

How is theatre taught at school and in FE/HE?

there are very limited narratives about theatre in educational settings and it's called


- only thought of as the West End

- diluted through “performing arts” (mixed courses for song/ dance/acting)

- no technical or directing experience

NEED: activity to supplement education

4) Old School

Old school theatre has rules and standards that stop everyone doing it (Equity, tight cliques)

In contrast there was a common understanding around the circle about creating a dialogue between non-professionals and professionals

And that the language of theatre making was the language of the making of a civil society


cave paintings, civil society, dialogue, Audiences, Altamira, audiences, forum theatre, London, education, funders, actors, Actors, local, london, B arts, Moving Stories, legacy, New Vic, bison