The Function of Art (Forward To Collection of Plays by Luke Barnes & Young Vic, Taking Part)
Humans started telling stories around camp fires with a very simple purpose: To share stories in the hope that the world would become easier for others. Since those days the world has changed but our reasons for telling stories stay the same. We tell stories with an intention. Whether it be to get people to see the world, to turn away from it, or to make others feel less alone all story telling has to have an intention in its telling. These plays exist with intention. They have been written for a reason. They are not vehicles for fame. They are not vanity projects. They are not a demonstration of intelligence. They exist clearly within the parameter of their purpose. Men In Blue exists to give community to men who are service users with the NHS for mental welling, Fable exists as a platform to share their experiences of migration and reimagine the narrative to challenge the popular conception from a lived perspective and The Jumper Factory exists, in the first instance, for a performance in prison to help men articulate their emotional lives in a world where emotional life isn’t discussed and in the second as a deterrent for young people at risk of offending. When we talk of making Theatre we have to talk about the reason for putting a show on in the parameters of the place, time and space of each production with the absence of the ego of the writer, director, or actors. What is important is the gesture of making this thing, here, now, what that signifies and what the repercussions of the act of doing that thing are. This is Theatre with a function as all Theatre should be. If you are a maker of Theatre, a story teller, or indeed any one who does anything I hope that you take from this that every venture we set out to do must have an intention and that intention has to transcend ego, money making, or career advancement. Everything we do has to have an intention and hope of change within in it in this time and space; with these people.
The act of putting the bodies of people, that aren’t actors but look and sound like me and you, telling their true stories is the purest form of Theatre imaginable. We learn from doing this that beyond the intelligent forms, and star actors, and politics of British Theatre there are lives being lived that are so close to our own both in physical proximity and potential futures. We learn that we are all born into this world the same and it’s our experiences that shape us. We learn through looking at each others experiences and lives how we live our own. We learn to understand the complexities of human existence and we learn, through drama, to empathise with those complexities. As we learn to empathise we learn to better humans and make choices in our relationships, our businesses, in our Art, that make life easier for others. The urgency of story telling goes beyond the politics of Art. What this collection of plays offers is a by-pass from agents, ego-driven actors, politics and cuts to the main function of Art: to share the human experience so we may grow to be human beings more understanding of each other, of the self, of the society and of the landscape we exist in. We do not need anything other than truth to tell stories. There is a point to making Theatre and is it not in ego, it is not in fame, it is not in recognition but in the simple act of a group of men sharing their experiences with mental well being to other men experiencing the same to feel less alone. It is in prisoners exploring their emotional lives with other men in a way they never would have been able to in day to day life. It is in migrants telling their stories to debunk the narrative we are told by popular media. That is the tangible social value of Art. It is as simple as that. And for every simple truth we tell with intention and the hope of a repercussion on a particular audience we cure the infection audiences catch from hammy Shakespeares, from over clever new plays, from live art that thrives off it’s own complexities and elitism. This is the simple truth and in engaging with it we grow as individuals, as friends, as children, as parents, as lovers, as communities, as societies and as a species. That is the function of Art.
What I hope that these plays demonstrate is the irrevocable bond between community and Theatre. That buildings have a responsibility to make Art with a function that is intrinsically linked with the lives and concerns of the people living with in it’s reach. The function of Art must have resonance with the lives of the community the building it’s serving. We must be presenting work that is of the community, for the community, and in service of the community the building exists in. When we talk to a community and hear their stories we can begin to make Art with a function for this community, in this place, in this time that is of use of the people that engage with it.
Luke Barnes 2018