For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about what theatre actually means to me, what my need from it is and how I can be of use within it. This has partly come about because of Birkbeck and the MFA but more because of the way the business has changed due to economic pressures and cultural devaluation brought about by this government. The fact that I am getting older and closely examining my own values and what makes me happy is playing a large part too. The result of this introspection is a desire to see theatre put in proportion to living and life's experiences, it should be part of life but not 'life' itself.
Theatre is all I've ever done, well not all I've done but everything else that I have done (travel, funerals, insurance, cheese etc) has been to support that work. Everything I have given up, holidays, family events, pensions, security etc has all been to feed that choice. I have placed theatre central to everything I do, made it special, but now it feels more appropriate for it to be part of the everyday, the norm; to be simple.
There are, I believe, barriers to the majority of people going to the theatre; perceived as well as real barriers maybe but there nonetheless. How do you behave in a theatre building? How do you dress? Booking or not booking. Getting there, getting back. And of course, cost. In the run up to the Olympics in 2012 a radio programme was doing a phone-in on the cost of tickets and I remember a caller saying she would gladly pay hundreds of pounds for tickets for an Olympic event as it was value for money and compared it to paying a few hundred pounds to bring her children to london to see a show. She felt the Olympics was better value. Her perception was that theatre was only in london and it was big and expensive; she lived in Midlands, not exactly devoid of theatre. To many a theatre visit is a big choice, an expensive choice and a gamble.
Theatre (and art generally) should be integral to our daily activities. Whether it’s reading something (novel, poem, statement, bit of graffiti, a bit of vandalism), hearing something (concert, radio, street music, spoken word) or seeing something (everything around us) it should be accessible. The fact that has been created for us, that someone has gone through a process to make something with the intention of effecting us and changing us, should be something we hope to engage with in an open and exciting way on a regular basis. And those changes and effects don’t necessarily have to be monumental, they can be subtle, simple, everyday, but the frequency with which we engage with these little moments of art, of inspiration, all add up and make us people who are critical, sensitive, aware, intrigued, inspired, inspiring, questioning and seeking to become better, to make better, to be better.
The challenge for theatre makers now is to get our work into communities, to make it approachable, non-intimidating and fun (if I dare use that word!) and let people experience the pleasure of shared entertainment.
I suppose I’m saying theatre, like all good art, should be engaged with on a more mundane level, common place and to all. Regular opportunities for people to gather and share an experience, to discuss and grow from it.
Of course, big, spectacular theatre can be amazing and moving and brilliant and exciting, technical and dramatic. Wicked is fabulous, Complicite are astonishing. The spectacle can move and change us, but these are rare and expensive things and open only to those with money, a theatrical language and geographical good fortune. Theatre, and the emotion they create should be in all communities. They should be everyday experiences.
I don't think theatre should be special, it should be un-extraordinary and commonplace, however, the effect is has on us most definitely should be special.
The prospect of starting a completely new project from scratch, with very little idea of what the outcome might be seems absolutely terrifying; and it was. It is also a bit of luxury nowadays to have a blank room in which to play, with completely free range given to the performers and leaving wide open the possibility that nothing might come out of it. This was helped enormously by a group of performers who gave their time for free and brought a whole new angle to this project. But more of that to follow.
All I had was a notion that somewhere in this Dickens Christmas ghost story was an essence of something theatrical, a sense that there was something here that could transfer to a performance space and a small scale performance space at that. It was an intimate story, a fireside story and consequently deserved and intimate setting. So that was the R&D starting point, to make something for small audiences, created with the skills of the performers and reducing the technological requirements to a bare minimum. To keep it simple.
A story, five performers and the studio at Proteus Theatre.
10th - 12th August 2015
It's fascinating and challenging seeing how others interpret something you love or hold dear, or, as in this case, something I thought I knew reasonably well and felt a bit protective of, i.e. this story. Having spent the past 8 months mulling it over, re-reading, re-writing in my head etc I felt I had a good idea for a starting direction, consequently the best thing to do seemed to be to throw it open to the group and see how they could deconstruct it, re-shape it and make me re-look at it from a new angle or angles.
So, after reading a lengthy synopsis of this short story we split up in order to storyboard - a great way to find out where the confusions are, the weak bits are, the strengths are and to visually see where the drama and plot points all lie.
It threw up some interesting pictures as well as directly challenging the story and my preception of it.
So this was how we started it and, needless to say it brought up far more questions than it answered. i.e. What was our protagonist's relationship with his sister? Why does this strange keep appearing? How to deal with the Dickens perfect woman? How to deal with the Dickens coincidences? or are we missing something here? and did our protaganist have a fiancé or not? And if he did was it his sister or his best friend who screwed that up for him? AND what is this story actually about?