I was invited to give a two minute speech for a symposium as part of Transform at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the theme of Transformation and change. Excited to take part I wrote something before realising that the structure and timescale of the event would mean I couldn’t take part (Saturday is the day of our read through for Slung Low’s upcoming Singapore adventure, Pandemic). So I thought I would post it here for anyone who fancies reading it. I’m finding it interesting to look back on this blog over the years tosee how my thinking has changed/is changing/will change about these sorts of issues. And many thanks to anyone who is reading along.I was asked to consider “What is changing and how must theatre evolve to reflect those changes?” One of the most radical changes I have noticed recently is the loss of the public’s good faith. By which I mean we (public discourse/opinion) appear to inherently trust many things less than we did. There is more sneering going on. We know that politicians are on the take. We know that the Police are bent and racist. That journalists steal the secrets of murdered children. That the established church don’t care for the meek and the mild and cover up child abuse. Of course all those things are true. And it might be argued that we’ve always known them. Perhaps. But the thing that I have noticed changing is the strength of that knowledge- the certainty by which we know it. And the impact that certainty has on other things. Because we know all the above so strongly we know some other things now too; We know that fuel tanker drivers are greedy. We know that protestors who jump in front of boat races are naive, stupid and selfish. That the youth are generally violent and lazy. That doctors are unfairly wealthy. That teachers have too much holiday. That the BBC is biased to the right wing of politics. That the BBC is biased to the left wing of politics. We know that the Europeans come here to steal our NHS. We know that people pretend to be from abusive nations so they can get fat and rich on housing benefit. We know that Millionaires give money to charity so they don’t have to pay tax because they hate us. That children go to university to get high paid jobs and then give nothing back after everything we’ve done for them. In short we seem to know now more strongly than ever that the world is unfair, and everyone is on the take, stacking the odds against me. And if life isn’t going to be easy for me then I’m certainly not going to make it easy for you. You lying cheating scumbag. There seems to be little good faith left. And as a result we are incredibly suspicious- psychotically so- about things that proclaim to be for the common good, but may well benefit but a select few. And I think theatre needs to change in light of this.
Because if ever there was a thing that looked like it was designed entirely for the benefit of the ‘man’, entirely for the benefit of the select few, it is publicly subsidised theatre shows. Which is ridiculous because it should be the most equal of art forms- a crowd of humanity watching their own condition mirrored back at them. We need to reiterate to the public that we are as a sector, a part of public service designed entirely for and to serve them. We need to make it clear to people who don’t already walk through our doors, or sit in our seats, that we are their arts sector and without them we are pointless. And if we do not genuinely engage and delight all areas of our community then we will fail and very soon people will come and take our funding from us, and we won’t be able to do our magic anymore. They’ll take our money because the people will not care about us like they care about the forests and the BBC. I think what the arts need to do is get their public support up to the same levels as currently enjoyed by trees. And I think we should do that by being vital. Even more vital than we are now. Not by telling people we are vital. Or having other people tell everyone that we are vital. This is not a PR opportunity. We must actually become vital. To begin with I think theatres should open on Sundays. As a rule I think that theatres should present their work when people have the time to watch it. That seems to me to be sensible. We should open our theatres on Sunday. Because if we don’t then people look at us and think- why aren’t they open when I’m free to watch something. Is it because they don’t want me to watch it? Is it because they don’t think that it’s for the likes of me?
Whatever is stopping theatres running Sunday as a normal opening day and taking the Monday as a closed day needs to be overcome with the full weight that an inventive and imaginative sector like theatre can bring. Secondly we need to advertise our work in all areas of the community that we serve. I have been to theatres that have more of a marketing spend in borough councils from which they get no funding than in boroughs where they get the main bulk of their money. It’s not marketing departments fault- they are just doing what we told them to. But they must stop. We must vigorously- and without industry language- tell all members of the communities that we serve what we are doing at any one time. If the current systems don’t allow us to do that then we must change the current system as quickly and thoroughly as a sector of this considerable talent can manage. And we must reduce the price of our tickets. Not through a programme, or a scheme or a lottery or a discount on certain nights with the moon in the right phase of so on and so on.
The average wage is ?24,000 a year. The idea that a financially average person can afford the just shy of ?50 that it costs two people to see a regional main house production of The Cherry Orchard is ridiculous. The idea that those financially average people should be assigned to previews or times that are too inconvenient for the rich is as ridiculous and offensive to boot.
The systems and expectations that require tickets to be priced thus must be changed. This isn’t an argument for more funding, it’s an argument for reassessing all the sacred cows that we refuse to engage with that sees our buildings shut on Sundays, or marketing focused on rich areas of society and ticket prices at a level where 50% of the community cannot afford them. The part of the world I work in is being changed and remodelled by a whole number of forces at the moment and I feel it is being done through the exploration and research into what subsidised theatre making CAN’T do. I believe these 3 things re-calibrates that thinking into finding out what it MUST do in order to be a public service, a vital public service. I know implementing these simple things would force dozens of small and large changes throughout our entire theatre system. We as a sector are talented, determined and engaged. We should not doubt our ability to ride those changes out and end up with a more connected, more inventive sector- and crucially- one vital to the everyday lives of all our community. I’ll get my coat.