Should Art Have A Point?
Yesterday I wrote a story about how I met a director who was a wanker:
"Saw a play I didn't understand once. I asked the director what his vision and idea were and he said "why should it make sense? life doesn't make sense? my job is to show you visions and you to read your own truth" and then I was sick and died."
The Theatre Maker Tom Hughes wrote a blog about it saying that he felt out of sync with the tastes of British Theatre and that responds to the above tweet amplified that feeling. All fair. In the grand scheme of things I suppose my tastes are pretty down the middle. My work has always built on the idea of theatricality on top of Narrative with human journeys being at the heart of stories no matter how small. Maybe, for a group of people within this community, that is conservative but I genuinely think I'm serving an audience that are familiar with that and offering them something that's at the apex of that and innovation... Anyway that's not why I wanted to write this. I just wanted to pick up on two points from his blog that I feel are actually really important and that I hope thinking about might be useful for any younger writers reading this.
Here are the quotes in question:
"Spectating becomes exclusively an intellectual, rather than visceral, exercise."
"But, there's more, why wouldn't an audience want to 'read their own truth'? Again I dunno if I'd put it like that, but why would you want to explain everything to an audience? They're always going to be active audience members regardless of what you put in front of them, so why wouldn't you want them to make leaps in logic, to imagine speculative connections, to allow it to resonate in their lives in their own way, and then to have a lively debate about their experience afterwards?"
Look. First and foremost in a process of making Theatre we have to articulate what it is we're making. My process begins with me and a producer asking a series of questions that articulate what we're exploring, how we're going to do it, WHY (and that's the important one) we're going to do it and what a story might be that we go on.
I think theatre is pointless if it can't articulate it's own reason to exist at this point in time and space.
As a writer I don't think that that message is ever said in a play (with obvious exceptions in my own work and others) but it absolutely should be in a play. For me theatre is about passing on knowledge and/ or asking questions for us to work out. It's sitting around a campfire and warning off other caveman from the woods because of the lions. It's telling stories that you hope will make other people either look at themselves in their bodies and this society and this time in order to understand it better or to escape it for a bit. Either way it has to have intention and be active.
Art has a point and that point should resonate in the people that engage with it. I actually think me and Tom are talking about the same thing. When we just say what the message is that's lazy writing (guilty). We want to EMOTIONALLY engage with it and that happens, in my work, through STORY. We go on an emotional journey with a character and they engage with the issues we're exploring and we come out of it with an emotional AND intellectual understanding of that issue. Take Violence and Son by Gary Owen for an example: the reason that play had such a profound effect on men is because we had a character we all say a bit of ourselves in put through a series of trials and tribulations we recognised as toxic masculinity that had a profound affect on a women that was tried to be solved again by toxic masculinity. We all came out with ourselves in new perspectives in our own heads. The point was clear: toxic masculinity lives in every oraphis of our society and it's affects are crippling on men and women alike and we can change society if we chose to reject it.
Look this is just taste and it's absolutely cool to have differing approaches to Art (why artists are awesome) but it's important to note that we're not a million miles away from each other - it's just how we achieve that thing. But I will take it to the grave with me that to ask people for money to make a show: you have to have an idea of what it's about and what the act of doing it in a paticular place is doing for a paticular audience. If not I have no idea how you can ask a theatre for 300k or what ever to do your project (not saying Tom does this at all but if the director above was too).