Monthly Archives: October 2010

Blog Post: futile fury at the arts cuts and what i thought next

It?s been a while since I have felt such impotent, infant-like rage. I sat listening to the Comprehensive Spending Review screaming pointless obscenities. I watched Alan Davey (Head of the Arts Council) being interviewed by the House of Commons Culture Committee and threw tantrums, shouting at the computer screen ?Stop accepting the premise of the question you cretin?. As if channelling C.J. Cregg was going to have any impact on an event that was long finished and of which I was watching a recording. And so it went on- Late Night Review and I was throwing things at the very expensive and still not paid off TV screen. Facebook, Twitter, a discussion event for the NSDF, when my Arts Council officer visited. On and on.

And beyond the cuts themselves I was angry at the people I thought were leading my industry for doing such a dreadful job. Not dreadful because they lost the funding review (that was inevitable) but dreadful because they couldn?t seem to articulate with any skill why they SHOULD have won it. I was angry at the endless bickering within the artistic world, with each and every line of defence against the cuts contested by different sections- like an arts re-run of the Labour Party in the 80?s. I was angry at the fact that no single line of defence seemed to hold for ten seconds before it was drowned out by new, noisier contestants.

Endless, pointless, often ill-informed, futile, childish anger. Irrelevant.

I?ve always been an ambitious man. Always thought I could make an impact. I?m a Thatcher child. 1978. Read a lot.

Alongside the huge, macro issues that these sweeping changes to our country have made me think of, there is the personal realisation. I?m a progressive theatre director, the Artistic Director of a new work company on the fringes, based in the North of England.

It had never occurred to me before that I was about as far removed from the discussions that matter as anyone was. I mean I know that has always been the case. I just never had cause to consider it as a conscious thought.

And that being a smart arse on Twitter, screaming at the television and so on were the acts of a man who knew he was irrelevant. Lashing out.

There are of course many avenues open to an engaged, motivated citizen who wants to make an impact, endeavour to make an improvement to society and I shall be pursuing the ones that seem appropriate. But that?s not why I?m writing.

As a result of all this I lost sight of- for the first time in over a decade- the worth, the point, the rationale behind being an artist. In all that had come before- the lack of money, my illness, the frustration at trying to get work, the warehouse shifts, the long days and endless travel, the mountain of rejection letters- it had never, not once, occurred to me that what I was doing was not an important part of society.

And all of a sudden there I was stumped.

?Make something people want to pay money to see,? he said.

And out of my mouth came? nothing. I was raged out. Explained out. Exhausted by it all. Forgotten was each and every reason for doing it, forgotten its value and worth. In the face of everything that had passed I felt utterly, completely irrelevant.

I have been so lucky, in the midst of all these announcements, to be in the middle of presenting a show. Each night of Anthology, I greet every member of the audience as they choose their artefact that decides their evening?s journey. Doing this, repeatedly, for hundreds of people I slowly realised that in one tantrum of three days I had lost sight of a certainty that had driven me for ten years- and helped me out of much worse situations than this one.

Here were people coming for story, for adventure, for experience, trying in their own way to make sense of the world, and using the things we had created to do that; to cry, smile, imagine and remember.

I was reminded of an event we did a couple of years ago for Theatre in the Mill, Bradford. The Village Fete. 12 hours of scratch programming on the stage surrounded by stalls run by and selling the goods of artists. It was provoked by the realisation that we were a community- the theatre and art makers of West Yorkshire- just like a village but spread out geographically. One of us was good at cake baking, another at making lap-top covers and so on and so on; together we had the makings of a pretty good village fete. I did a barbecue. People had a whale of a time. They met, discussed things, took strength and inspiration, shared audience and supporters, ate some burnt meat.

If the large-scale city strong institutions are to survive they will do so as wide open, collaborative buildings; the beating heart of a city?s theatre community. By being the village hall.

In a manner that homes the diverse creative processes not dilutes them.

Equally the alternative sector is going to have to look to centre with greater faith than has sometimes been shown to the institutions, appreciating there isn?t the resource to have competing organisations in the same city, only collaborating ones.

The potential for a richer artistic output as a result of necessity has started to excite me; as we all shelter from the storms in the same place- because that?s the only place left- what new conversations might happen, new exciting directions created by necessity, realised by determination.

There?s been a long running joke whilst we?ve been at the Liverpool Everyman that they are the Monolith and Slung Low the band of Anarchists. Anyone who knows either group of people and their endeavours will immediately understand the silliness of those titles. And yet the papers said it to be so. And I am sure (although we never used those terms) I encouraged them with my Lady and the Tramp style retelling of the collaboration.

The camps, the mentalities are there and if they remain I am certain that in the future both sides will sink. Fast. With little mourning from the public, who neither understand nor care about the semantics or organisational positioning. We will weather the immediate future as a community, a village self-supporting. Or we will not weather it.

I have made good copy talking in the past about the need for the progressive to work with the mainstream. I am absolutely certain that we are at a tipping point where soon such labels- however loosely held- are going to be utterly meaningless. There will only be what survived. If what looks at the moment like an inevitable stream of cuts becomes a reality then there will be nothing left but the absolutely determined, the absolutely relentless, the absolutely exciting, the absolutely open.

Now is the time for daring, for hoop shots and visionary leadership, for bloody mindedness and adventure. It is the time for those who can make miracles out of nothing, with sheer fury and energy. It is the time for cockroaches.

Limping along like victims will not endear us to a besieged public. In all the mess and shit that is to come it is our role to excite them, enrage them, play with and for them.

I do not believe that poverty makes better work. But I think that whatever we have left once our industry, along with plenty others, is finished being ideologically mugged and financially harangued is what we?ve got. And from that we must make everything. Better than we did before.

Because when they?ve finished cutting support to the young, the poor, the old and the ill; when they?ve finished giving what might have been all of ours to the chosen few; once they?ve got rid of the hand up and the stepping stones to a better life; all that might be left to many is the desire to go out of an evening, to a story, to an adventure, to an experience, to try in their own way to make sense of the world, and use the things we created to do that; to cry, laugh, imagine and remember.

And we should absolutely be ready for them when they do.

The feeling of fury is still very much present. It?s the feeling of ir
relevance that has gone away.

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Blog Post: Things I have learnt from opening Anthology (after @marcusromer)

In many ways provoked by the lovely Marcus Romer who did something similar and a lot more eloquently last week after he opened his Romeo and Juliet.

Things I know from the run up to press night of an outdoor performance featuring 7 different routes. Along with some things I wished I had known before the run up to this one.

You can do nothing about the rain. Looking at weather forecasts is 3 minutes you could have spent doing something else.

Cursing yourself for leaving your press night cards until press night morning is because you don’t remember that yesterday was more frantic than today.

If you have to graffiti things that don’t belong to you leave it to the last possible moment. And get someone else to actually do it. The director will be missed from the press night if arrested. And by definition there will be journalists about to write it up.

Changing batteries in 200 headsets will always take an hour longer than you thought.

If you have 7 shows opening simultaneously the director cant have a favourite. Everyone else can. And they will. But you can’t. And you should smile at all times when they tell you which one is best. Remember they wont have seen them all. And not everyone likes Coca Cola.

If you have to leave a prop outside a. the Students’ Union or b. a Catholic Church you can lay good money on the church nicking it before the students. The students will try to hump it though if it is even vaguely animal shaped. Because they know you can’t see more than one a night the people who have seen different routes will always try to give you solutions. It’s a struggle to hear the problem sometimes but you must.

Out of any 20 people 1 will always have had issues with their headphones. They will always be the loudest voice in the bar. Talk to them first.

If you have to stop a preview because of a technical problem saying “technical error” will leave all the resident technicians hating you. Saying “technical issues” will have them all thinking that you rightly took responsibility.

Adding your own dog in to the show is never the simplest way to solve a tonal problem. But it might be the most handsome way of solving it.

Putting an airstream caravan in to the show is never the simplest way to solve a staging problem. But it might be the most handsome way of solving it.

If the only person insured to drive the Jeep that moves the caravan is the director then you shouldn’t put on your press night suit on until after that’s been done.

Just because it’s press night does not mean that you can single handedly lift the caravan that previously took 3 people. Try anyway just in case you have been given magic powers.

Don’t give in to the pressure from the hosting Artistic Director to stand on a chair to give a speech if you are 6 foot 3. You will look ridiculous.

Check before you give your speech that the press have left the party.

At the after show party dance with your wife. Most days aren’t like this.

If you want to have a genuinely brilliant press night party invite LIPA students. And make sure you personally leave before it gets too out of hand.

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Just for the record I was not arrested (and neither was the person I sent in my place!) but the press had not left the party when I got up on that chair so I woke up this morning to find my ramblings paraphrased in the reviews. Lesson learnt.