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Excellence & Relevance: Demanding Change

January 3, 2020

I've just read an Article by a woman called Helen Lewis who I don't know. I didn't like it really but that's besides the point; I'm using this blog space to try and work out, for myself, and for anyone else if they're interested how we can be progressive about conversations that get thrown up from time to time. This is a moment to think about how we present our ideas, our projects, and ourselves in the face of conversations about excellence and relevance.

 

I'm not going to write about National Theatre here. I don't know enough about it. The stuff I see there I usually like (especially at the Dorfman). I have absolutely no interest in engaging in a conversation about a National Theatre I have no idea about the pressures they work in or face. To be honest I think it's the hardest place to run in the world... So I'm taking that out of this conversation and talking, instead, about Artists.

 

First I'm going to say lets ignore the word excellence. Excellence gives us the driest work in the cannon of British Theatre. Too many powerful people (Artists) rely on "excellence" as an excuse to be disengaged with the conversations in the nation, refuse to be a acknowledge radical thinking which deconstructs their status and refuse to admit that their tastes are antiquated for a modern audience and thus make work that is egocentric, conservative and, for want of a better phrase, formally and aesthetically redundant. The result of which is that people approach high profile venues and work and go "fuck me this isn't for me, it's wanky, and boring".  The reason I say this is because I want us all to think, no matter what our position in all this, about those questions: how am I engaged with my community, what am I fighting against, how is what I making a thing that people might engage with in this space? Artists and building leaders need to ask these questions. It's how Theatre becomes useful, part of popular culture, and stops being something the world see's as boring, over priced, wanky and irrelevant. If you can answer these questions, and mean it, you're fucking excellent.

 

Secondly lets think about relevance. I think that many of us are too scared to ask for the change we want to see by proposing projects. I understand why. It's hard to feel like it's our place to when the people we see suceeding, time and time again, are so far away from us. Many of the theatres are risk adverse which is code now - non-radical but that means that we need to be more louder and more radical than ever to challange the above. I think it starts like this: We are looking out at the world from our bodies. That's the starting place for a project. You, in a body, and an itch to speak from the above questions. You are a body. You have an understanding of how the world is working. A perspective. A formal way of articulating that. A story. A hope. A change. Specific to a place. These are the terms we have to start conversations on. When I talk to younger artists there is a feeling that commissions and oportunties just "come" when "our time comes". This is categorically not true - we have to learn to ask for our projects, that have been clearly thought out in terms of intent, to be supported. We have to make that argument. I know this probably seems quite daunting to a lot of people but exceptionally privileged people have this ingrained. Speaking of excellence there are a lot of exceptionally privileged people in the industry making very average high profile work because they have learned to ask for it and expected to get it. A lot of less privileged people are waiting in the side lines furious about the world and seeing themselves trumped by posh people purely because they have a track record in theatre making and they have the confidence to ask for what they want and the powers of bull shit to persuade people it's a good idea. I'm telling you now - if you're less privileged and you feel like you don't have the confidence to speak; you 100% fucking should. Now. If Art is the radical, the radical is holding the status quo to account, holding the status quo to account is the way to a better world then it's only the voices of the opposition that matter. It's only the radical that make this world better. The theatre, as it stands, feels like it's not for you - it needs you more than it needs anything else. Don't be scared - you are the thing that's going to stop it from dying. You need to find the people that are going to help you do what you need to do. That's the hard part; but know that you are valid if you feel like you can't speak. You are the most valid. Theatre's may be scared of you because you speak truth - but that only means you should absolutely speak truth. Nothing changes if the people who can see the radical need for change don't ask to be heard. 

 

So where does this leave us? What I'm getting at is that when we pitch projects we have to answer a lot of questions. We have to know why it's important. We have to know why we're radical. We have to know what change we want to see. We want to know what we're hoping to achieve in a place. We have to know how are form helps us combat the "well made play" (zzz) into something relevant for a contempory audience. We have to know why we are asking to make the changes we want to see. We have to be better than the conservative notion of "excellence" by being the most relevant we can - and relevance can be excellence of course. But relevant excellence, which should be a given, is meerly you speaking the truth you want to see in the most you way you can - in the way you think will speak to the people that need to hear it whilst being radical. That's it. Do not get caught up in the politics of buildings it is a waste of time. Get caught up in the world. In you. In the future. In the radical. Present the ideas that you think are the most important with the most thinking behind them, with facts, with shame, with breathing felt fury - then, if they don't happen, you know they're either already doing something like it or they're not the people you should be making work with. Find your tribe, make the most you stuff you can, make work which moves us all forward (sidenote: Midnight Movie - winner), make yourself heard and be prepared to argue for it. But we have to start the change with tangible projects. And we have to be prepared to fight for them. And we have to find our tribe...Everything starts with your body looking out at the world and seeing what it sees and then knowing something needs to change. That's the first step. What are we gonna do? How are we going to make the change we need to see happen? It may be that people still find the radical a risk - but, as artists, we need to learn to ask with the amount of genuine real conviction that the very privileged can bull shit and get away with.

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