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

WORKING CLASS?

Annette Brook - 15 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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How to define Working Class

Are there still any visible signs of class?

Accents
Although not always reliable this is often felt to be an indication of social class: especially if distinct regional accents Northern, south-east London and so forth. Maxine Peake was told to ‘tone down’ her accent for TV series which she refused to do - this then became the defining feature of the programme.

Income
How do people sustain themselves?

Self defined identity. Used to be defined for you until the 70s/80s when people began to self-define. It has become confused with Britishness, immigration, race and other identities. Confusion as to where to identify/how to define. If you identify as Working Class then you feel a fraud when you return home. Pulled in many directions.

Being Afraid someone is going to ask you to leave. Does the industry do that?

Those not from UK (USA, Ireland) felt that class was a very British concept. That said they could identify with a specific class but do not have the conversations we do in UK on class. Embedded in British culture.

Existential migration.

Belonging to the Working Class
Many felt this was hard to do if you inhabited the Middle Class world of the arts. Some felt half and half and that they didn't really belong to either. The feeling of being a traitor was discussed - that the arts world wasn't a ‘proper’ job for someone of working class and that this had been commented on by family members.

Often a sense of ‘we’ and ‘them’ when the Middle Class discussing the Working Class; as though those of W/C background wouldn't be in the arts/theatre. This puts Working Class theatre-makers in an weird place as though they shouldn't be there - as though they don't fit. Taught to look down on what you are brought up with.

Anxiety in case you offend or are put in a box.

Working class as past
Aspirational working class of the 70s/80s longed not for money but choices. Social mobility has gone. Notion that the Working Class is a redundant term - not modern.

Representation on stage
Seeing ‘someone like us’ on stage was agreed as hugely important. Someone you can identify with. Anecdote of someone who saw the brother of a friend in a production and how this made them think well if he can do it!

Joan Littlewood and Red Ladder theatre.

W/C is often fetischised/unreal - ‘Mockney’. Seems fine to pretend to be W/C. Anecdote of being in Peckham and assumed to be ‘posh’ by hipsters - told ‘why don’t you go back to Richmond?'

The Working Class attending theatre
Live art changed people's lives. People need to have access to a little bit of everything (arts-wise).

Dave O'Brien's book on working class and inaccessibility

Fun Palaces - when people are offered the opportunity to create they do.

The need to dress up to go to one big show a year - West End - chocs/ice cream at an interval. ‘Proper’. Irony that the West End is often more diverse in terms of audience. Subsidised theatre being full of ‘weird shit’. Yet the W/C are paying for subsidised theatre through taxes and the lottery and yet not attending it. However, it was strongly felt that there is nothing wrong with populism. Joan Littlewood did what she believed in but it was populist.

Broadway Theatre, Catford (formerly Lewisham Theatre) runs lots of very popular Black Theatre shows. People go because they see themselves on stage.

Imposing buildings can deter.

Power of being able to say ‘I did not enjoy this’.

Am Dram makes work for an by own community. Great for reaching local audiences and getting them in.

Education/Curriculum
Performing Arts A Level is on the way out which is a great shame. This was a big deal. That said, it people do not like/do well in education/ school the government needs to look at the wider situation (beyond the arts).

Creative Alliance - training scheme as a stepping stone.

Shouldn't require a degree.

'Cleaning up accent' still done in drama schools (to the horror of the group). They question was raised: is it possible to play a hard man with a West Country accent? Work defaults to Middle Class cultural shorthands like John Lewis.

Parents need to be supported to support children.

Theatre trips are a good thing - important for children to go and see things. One good thing can have so much impact. Noted that Eton has 72 music teachers and a 200 seater theatre.

Influence of class on work
Does class influence your work? Maybe it influences who we want to make work for. How can this room speak to a Tory W/C?

We are storytellers - should we be looking at TV/film instead?Maybe we need to acknowledge that the kind of theatre we make isn't for everyone? Play for Today is missing!! W/C writers wrote it - huge audience (Cathy Come Home etc).

Follow Up
Camden People's Theatre - The Class Project, 4 April 2017

2004 BBC 7 different segmentations of class based on questions such as what sort of professions do you know as well as income and cultural attendance.

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