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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Can the theatre sector provide a model for a post-capitalist economy

Ben Hadley - 16 January 2017

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Session called by Ben Hadley

I explained why I called the session: after reading Paul Mason's Postcapitalism and attending a workshop with him and Zoe Svendsen, I became interested in the idea of a “post-capitalist economy” i.e. whatever comes after capitalism. Mason's argument is broadly that with the rise of digital technologies, non-capitalist ways of producing wealth / working have begun to take over from capitalist ones. E.g. Wikipedia: it would be impossible to set up Wikipedia as a company under a capitalist model: you wouldn't be able to pay 10,000 people to edit an online encyclopaedia.

The question for Mason is not so much whether or not we want to get rid of capitalism: capitalism is collapsing - how can we prepare for this, so that whatever comes afterwards is better?

For me, theatre relates to this in two big ways:
1) because there's not enough money in the theatre sector, we've developed ways of making not very much go a long way, of gifting our time, energy, creativity to one another. It turns out that these ways of working might be better than the “capitalist” structures. D&D might be an example of this: D&D isn't just a low-budget version of a conference where you have to pay £200 to attend. It does something different (and maybe more interesting…?). Could these non-capitalist ways of working we've developed out of necessity be scaled up / applied to other sections of the economy to make it work better?

2) Could we rehearse the end of capitalism through a massive improvisation (i.e. 200 people in a room playing out the end of capitalism in a way maybe similar to D&D)? if we believe that the structures and systems in which we live are collapsing, how can we prepare for that in order to:
a) minimise the damage caused by the collapse
b) build something better afterwards

RESPONSES

There was a positive response to a giant Boal-type forum theare piece => doing something “practical”. => It should not be a “performance” so much as an experiment / study with sociologists, economists, computer scientists etc. involved, finding ways to document it / model it
The ideas are “embodied”.
Once we can “see it” we can deal with it.
Question: as theatre-makers, are we “locked into” capitalist dramaturgies / ways of telling stories? (i.e. we're always looking for objectives, conflicts, resolutions, etc.)
Mention of similarities with the “creating worlds” session.
=> mention of similar pieces which have taken place:
- building a city from the ground up. Everyone pulls their job out of a hat - sociologists observe how they “get on”
- Zoe Svendsen's past work
- enacting nuclear attacks in the 70s to prepare for them
=> theatre as a means of introducing ideas to the wider society, and testing them!
- question of who would take part in the piece: “results” would vary depending on where you did the piece. Would it be open to everyone? Or just with performers? Would trained performers always be looking for stories / drama / character in a way that wasn't useful for the experiment?
=> a way of making engaging with these ideas more fun, giving them a wider reach (ideas about economics - how we organise our society around the way we produce wealth and the way we work)

Question of what work would be like in a post-capitalist society:
- could we work better? Could we work less? Could we tell a positive story about technology - that it will be a means of working less? And once people work less, what do they do with the rest of their time? Could the big improvisation be used to model different ways of spending time?

Provocation: what if, as a model for funding the arts, we cut all arts funding but gave everyone a home for free?
Observation: lots of people who are quickly successful in the arts have a home given to them (by their parents, inherited, etc.).

An experiment: someone is given a certain amount of money to perform a task for a given amount of time. Another person is not given money, but is just left in a room with the same instructions for the same task. Does the second person tend to perform the task better?

Do activities which seem to sit outside a capitalist framework (i.e. D&D) actually depend on privilege, or on someone paying for them in a traditional transaction somewhere down the line?

Discussion of the way that theatre is made in other economies: soviet theatre had more time to produce shows; in Argentina, people work on theatre in evenings, and do a full-time job to earn a living - they will never earn enough from the arts to make a living…
Fooling: everything is done by donation - as the group progresses, they get better at asking for donations, and as their work develops, more likely to receive them.

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COMMENTS: 1

Chris Grady

16 January 2017

powerful provocations - thanks so much

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