Listening and Usefulness
When I first started writing I remember very clearly being really intimidated by an actor who had been in a show at the Bush because she had been in a show at the Bush. I remember talking to her and her talking down to me because I hadn't been in a show at the Bush (or anywhere I don't think) and I remember being disheartened by it swearing that one day I would be successful enough to talk to this paticular person as an equal. I never saw her again and think she's in some shit tv show now and I still hate her. But basically it got me thinking that if I, a confident middle class 20 something (at the time), good looking (at the time) white man, am scared to see my value in any conversations because of my CV then wtf was everyone else feeling about operating in an industry where self worth is defined by an arbitrary CV.
Up until my first little mental health miccup in my mid 20s I think I made a career basically on the confidence/ delusion that I was special. That somehow there was some mythical plan laid out for me that made me special. When I hit my late 20s and I started to age, I didn't get jobs easily, my relationships broke down, I started to be faced with more regular sexual failure it dawned on me that I was human and that I wasn't going to have the seamlessly easy life I was expecting. And I say this because there are a million young beautiful people in this industry right now that are expected to breeze though this world and it's not going to happen. So you have to be prepared for that and let go of that shit now or you'll have a break dow and everyone will hate you.
So the question is if we're not special and the golden road to stardom isn't guaranteed... Then how the fuck do we find a life that is worth living with in the parameters of the industry that we actually find ourselves in? This doesn't neccessassily mean burning yourself to the ground and resurrecting as a phoenix but it does mean two things. Firstly the question is what do I actually believe in? And it's ok to say "I don't know". You don't have to some burning unfullfilled in justice in us but what I would say is just to stop for a bit and listen to the world. What is your anxiety (as I heard James Graham put it) and your body and it's relationship to the politics of the world around it? What liberties are being oppressed? How could the world be better through Art and conversation? For me a massive revelation was meeting Chris Meades and talking about the constant dour northerneness we see in popular culture. Meeting Middle Child and talking about Truck, 7:84, Joan Littlewood... And somewhere in there my own community; about feeling there isn't enough where you are, about being told your not enough, about feeling like the world is out to get you... And somewhere out of that came a lot of my work. It starts with listening to your world, letting go of you being special, and then asking how you are useful to it? When Peter Brook came to see my play The Jumper Factory at the Young Vic he said to me "the only thing I've ever worried about was being useful". And it really stuck with me. Identifying what you care about and how you can be useful to a cause and how that usefulness is political.
Recently I've found myself in a pandemic. There's a virus killing people around the world and I've been locked inside for 9 weeks (as of today) without social contact. I've been asking my self what happens if I listen and make myself useful. Through it I've raised thousands of pounds for individuals in Liverpool, I've organised conversations about The North and despair and I want to do more. If I am in a position of privilege (which I am as a 30 something, currently wealthy, home owning man with time and health and social media following) then it would ben positively tory of me not to lend those resources where they can be usefully applied. The same applies to Art. Our projects should have a use. They should come from the world we engage with and their usefulness should be in the end goal of their existence. This is listening and usefulness in Action. I saw it in Misty, The Adventure, Fake It Til You Make It, and so many more... We ask it in the end goal of art but also in the process.
As I mentioned earlier I spent the first couple of years, before my first minor break down, riding off the arrogance of being a middle class white guy. Then it became apparent it wouldn't cut it anymore. Then I started listening... But still in notes I have "ffs this person is a jobs worth who is this cunt wtf" attitude until I eventually did notes just so they'd leave me alone. After that I had this mad moment where I just went... What if they're not shit. And I listened and low and behold... The work became more clearer and more complex.
Recently, during this pandemic I'm currently in the middle of, I've started attending a lot of Zooms. one in particular I really like is run by the Good Night Out Reading Group. A lot of these people are super clever (some I find less charming) but generally they are good people who want to do good. When I first went I thought of my self of an expert on John McGrath and socialist theatre and I was furious to find that many of them were better in formed and cleverer than me. My practise is better for listening to them. When you let go of your ego - your life becomes better for it.
So what's the point of all this? I guess it's a mix of saying we have to stop assuming we're special, listen to the world, be aware of the politics of our bodies in it, make work that is useful and informed by the world around us for the betterment of the world around us.... Not just to talk down to people with less extensive CVs than ours. And that is leadership; really. Isn't it? Taking initiative to solve the worlds problems via action... Isn't that taking responsibility? Isn't that what we should all be doing as Artists?