For the record I wasn’t the one who subtitled my speech “making the impossible possible”.
But I thought talking about what we think of as ?impossible? might be interesting.
Beyond the Front Line was an outdoor installation Slung Low made with the Lowry about the British Army. There was a moment in the show when 100 soldiers, all dressed up in helmets and flak jackets, many with replica automatic rifles and a couple with big chuffing machine guns had to move from where they were hiding, and take up position in a shopping plaza, take up positions 8 stories up on rooftops, and in big windows, outside Cafe Rouge, in sandbag structures, on the bridge that crosses the canal by the Lowry and so on. Crucially they had to do this whilst being completely unnoticed, unseen by the audience who were in a small tent in the middle of plaza. And they had to do all this 3 times a night as we did 3 shows a night.
For this show we had a professional acting company of 14 and a chorus of amateur performers of 252- split in to 2 groups so they could do alternative nights. We had chosen to put 100 of the chorus into being soldiers on the plaza, the others being used elsewhere in the show.
So I’m stood there one night and one of the managers of the Lowry comes out and stands next to me, watches them all dash in to position and he says “We should have been bolder. We could have had 150 soldiers”. It made me laugh.
It made me laugh because what he’s forgotten in that moment is that it was but 6 weeks before that he- and not just him in fairness- sat around a table and said “It’s impossible. It’s impossible” and wondered whether the whole project might be best cancelled.
That project was the result of a city wide collaboration, a combination of Slung Low who created something, the Lowry who hosted something, Paul Crewes who produced something along with us, the Arts Council who paid for something, the Lowry Plaza Shopping Centre who tolerated something, the University of Salford who manned something with a chorus of 250, The British Army who provided something with expertise and supplies, Salford Council who licensed something and chose not to cancel it at the vital moment and the Imperial War Museum, North who put their name on the poster.
Whatever their contributions, importantly each of these organisations had the power, at different points, to cancel the project. And in order not to be the one responsible for cancelling the show, each organisation had to lay down one, two or many of their “MUSTS”. The long list that some organisations have of the way things have to be done is their collection of ?MUSTS?.
There?s little that is genuinely impossible- when ‘impossible’ is cited it?s because the idea has come up against a ‘must’ somewhere.
There?s a lot of MUSTS in our industry, I know they were not created out of laziness or lack of wit, that MUSTS are needed to keep organisations running regardless of individual whim and energy. But by the time you get to the end of all the musts there is left often only a piece of space, some room. And that room is too often exactly the same size and shape as the project that came before. In this way many things will be impossible, not just the ambitious.
It is not impossible to cover the Lowry Plaza with armed soldiers without the audience noticing but in order for it to happen- for the audience to get that moment of ?what? Where did?? a whole wave of MUSTS had to be examined.
Because what we mean when we say “impossible” isn’t actually ‘impossible’- we mean, we can’t do it from here, where we are today and we don’t want to go anywhere else to achieve it. We can?t do that new thing and all the old things in the old ways at the same time and it is too tiring/frightening/boring/difficult or unnecessary to examine all those old ways of doing things yet again. So it?s easier to call it impossible.
But you and I know that those things are not impossible- we simply wanted other things to happen more. That?s okay. But we need to be honest about the reasons why things aren?t happening. As long as we admit to ourselves that it wasn?t because it was impossible we leave the door open to come back another day and achieve it then, strengthen our partners to abandon another MUST and take the leap.
We’re going to be making those sort of decisions more and more in the coming years as things tighten up.
And I am absolutely certain that our audiences- as things tighten up for them too- will be demanding more and more of the impossible- to be inspired by increasingly greater achievements and stories and experiences. I think that long list of ‘musts’ will be examined by more and more people in the coming years. Good. There’s no such thing as impossible, just something we failed to imagine a place for in our existing wor
And, for the record, he?s right. We should have been bolder, 150 soldiers would have looked better.
Stronger Together Conference- 29 June 2011