When relationships come to an end, and you’ve stopped listening to Sinead O Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You” on repeat, there often comes a point of reflection. I made a list once, in a rare moment of clarity after a particularly painful break up, of things I swore I would never do again, signs I would look out for, values I would never compromise on. I didn’t see the things in the list during the relationship because the relationship was happening around me all the time. But when it stopped, and it was just me on my own again, I could consider what might be different next time I fall in love. Today, I’ve decided to do the same thing for theatre. Here goes…
Next time I have a relationship with theatre, I will:
-know who I’m talking to. I have to say I always kind of evaded the “who’s your audience?” question before by saying erm “everyone!”. It’s not a badly intentioned answer, and I do believe theatre should be for everyone, so why not strive for it, but it is also maybe a bit naive. Theatre wasn’t for “everyone” pre lockdown, and the barriers that stopped it being so (expensive tickets, lack of accessible work, stories only reflecting the experience of a small number of the population), are still in place right now. Lockdown has made me think of audiences a lot. If I can’t go to the theatre, then how can theatre come to me? What kind of audience am I? If I can’t make theatre for (wishful thinking) the Royal Court, or the Kiln (more wishful thinking) or (go on one more wish) The National Theatre, then where can I make theatre for? My street? Who are “my street”? What do they want to experience? Will they be able to access the experience? If not, how can I remove those barriers? Maybe removing those barriers will help others, in the adjoining streets to also enjoy it. And the streets adjoining the adjoining streets. And the streets adjoining the adjoining streets of the adjoining streets.
-work more collaboratively. Writing is hard. And lonely. Lockdown is hard and lonely. My instinct through hard and lonely is to connect. This makes sense because, if I don’t connect, it’s just me and Kelly eating trays of home-baked biscuits in front of Ru Paul’s drag race all day and night (not that RuPaul and Kelly are not great company; in fact I can’t think of two gals I’d rather spend my time with). I have to be honest, I’m the world’s worst sharer of my work. Because - fear and ego and imposter syndrome. I’m a fucking perfectionist. Because - similar reasons. But something has shifted for me. I admit this might be part of a “you’ve got nothing to lost” mentality that’s come out of me (as one of the thousands of freelancers arts professionals out there who aren't eligible for SEISS) literally having nothing to lose. I don’t want to keep cards close to my chest anymore. I want to share ideas. Early ideas. I want to find people who think - oh that’s a cool idea, what about this? I want to co-create. And not just with one person. Like LOADS of people. The more the merrier. Wanna make shit with me? Holler.
-really engage with liveness. “Liveness”. That’s what I’m really missing. A musician sat in the street outside our flat a couple of weeks ago playing his guitar. We were in the "only leave house for shopping or exercise" phase of lockdown. I watched from the window. This is it, I thought. Live performance. Performer (them), audience (me). If I wasn’t hanging out of my window, he might have stopped performing. If he wasn’t performing, I wouldn’t have been hanging out of the window. Their liveness depends on my liveness and my liveness depends on their liveness in this moment in time. There’s so much digital theatre content out there. The jury’s out on this tidal wave - there are certainly positives (reach, innovation, redistribution of gate keepers). There are also negatives (inaccessible (lots of it), false democracy (voices that shout loudest win), so blimmin overwhelming sometimes I have to delete Twitter from my phone etc). I’m most interested in the digital theatre that’s experimenting with liveness. A non-theatre example comes to mind. Me and Kelly have been doing Joe Wicks every morning. Sometimes we do it live and sometimes I’m late getting out of bed, and we do it a bit later. It’s always more of an experience when we do it live, because I know my parents are doing it on the other side of London, and Kelly’s aunts, and her cousins and their kids. A shared experience of sorts. “What makes your play a play and not radio, tv, a novel, a newspaper article?” “Because the dialogue is active, because the story, because there’s stage images”… yep, all of that. But also because the guitarist.
-make work that means something beyond what it is. This is something I’ve always enjoyed about making theatre and what makes it so addictive for me. The play is an output, a final saleable “product”, for sure, but it’s also so much more than “a play”. It’s messing around in the rehearsal room, collective problem solving, trying out new things, post rehearsal drinks at the pub, real people bringing their real lives and real experiences into a fiction, and that fiction becoming them for a short while, maybe longer. I was working on a project recently about a group of widows, and one of the actors working on the project’s mum died the morning she began work. She wanted to do the project so stayed with us all week. It was a piece of fiction but it also really wasn’t. Our rehearsal room, brilliantly held by Yasmeen Arden, had to become a sanctuary, a safe space. And as we all rallied round her to support her through this difficult time, the play found itself - it was about a sanctuary, a safe space. It was about the value of female support networks through challenging times. The making process, and the people contributing to that process, determines output. And right now, in this moment where live output is harder to put out, process and people is the beating heart.
I’ll just listen to Sinead one more time, and then I’ll move on…