Yesterday there was an article in the Stage about being radical and not pandering to an establishment. A director, and friend, I really admired shared it on twitter and said "yes". I responded with haste and, admittadly, no consideration and gave one side of my argument. Wasn't overly thought through and slightly driven by the fact the author gives me shit on twitter all the time. But I wanted to here. I think these blogs are a more useful place for reflection. So here we go.
Lets start with what being radical means. Radical means to hold the establishment the account. Now the establishment takes on many forms in British Society. Yes it means "The Government". It also means Toxic Masculinity. It also means Hetronormativism. It means white culture. It means a load of different things. If we're talking about "political change" I'm going to tell you now that everything you do is about HOW you TALK to your audience. I think this happens in four ways:
Outriders are useful; Owen Jones, J. Corbyn, Katie Hopkins, Piers Morgan, ***** *** all these people use huge political gestures to edge the conversation. This is cool. Carry on. I don't know if it'll help us as Artists if we do it on twitter (from experience you get dragged into arguments, frustrate yourself, and then hate everyone) but essays are good. Papers are good. This is useful. I suppose a good example of that is Nathans article on theatre for the homeless which shaped my work properly. Or Victoria Sadlers stuff. Loads. This is good. Keep it up. We can all do more of it.
Being Given Power
This is obvious; we saw it with Madani at the Bush. Given power and weilded it to see the change you want to see. This is rare for an Artist like me as I'm not a leader. I'm just a guy in a terraced house in an area of Liverpool called Wavertree. I, at this point, don't do cultural leadership so I guess this is out of the question for me and many other artists across the UK. However that's one way it happens.
The act of destroying and restructuring the establishment from inside. The first port of call, for someone like me, would be to see the change they want to see by operating inside an establishment. Asking the questions; subtly changing the minds and view points of those around them by asking questions that need to be asked. This, for me, is why it's really important that our biggest and boldest organisations have a diverse staff that exist to ask the difficult questions. Only through having those questions asked in a room that the "establishment" (what ever form that might take) can engage with it and be progressive. Holding power to account doesn't always involve fire. It can also involve being in the establishment and asking the questions. This is scary. It feels like you putting yourself on the line. It feels like you are risking the "privilege" (note: it's not a privilege fuck that idea) you have of being in that building. But if you want/ need change - you need to keep asking those questions. The future of everything depends on it.
Finally if you're not given power and can't get in the room we have to provide alternatives. If you're an Artist that means you have to make Art that does what you think is missing. I am proud to say I feel like I have done this. I've made work in music venues and pubs across the North reaching the working class audiences I want to reach. I have worked with communities to be voiced both in our biggest theatres and in halls and in fields right across the country. I have ran free workshops for anyone who wants to come. I've organised speakers from across the UK to come to places that need it. I am proud of what I do and that is why I feel like I can speak with some authority on this. You have to be the change you want to see if you can't get into the big hubs of power. You have to do the job they fail on. This is the mentality that inspired John McGrath, 7:84, Joan Littlewood, Theatre Royal Stratford East, John Godber, Hull Truck, Alan Aycbourne, The Citz, Wild Cats, Oran Mor, Slung Low, Middle Child, Red Ladder, Live Theatre, Leeds Playhouse and Not Too Tame. If you want to see what Radical looks like pay at visit to Slung Low in Leeds. Or go and see an NTT show at a random pub in the middle of an estate in Manchester. Red Ladder do Mouther Courgage in a barn in Leeds.... In fact The Bunker in London is doing this too. It's answering the questions of Theatre and Society via action. If you see a change you'd like to see - be it. We NEED you to be it. The UK and the WORLD needs you to be it because that's why you're special. Because you are you. Only you can see your Utopia. And that's what makes you an Artist. So be it. Please.
Radical is holding the Establishment to account. There are ways to achieve this but we, as makers, need this to be our driving force. We need to establish why our work exists and how it does that. What we're achieving. Then we can go to christmas and actually mean it when we say that we think it is important. Our Radicalness is our biggest energy but it only counts if we take action.
p.s thank you to N. Sommers. I'm glad I went on this trail of thought it's a great provocation.