The other problem with political theatre

COMMENT: It’s good to support political theatre. This should not turn into political vetting of theatre.

Last year, I went on record over the issue I have with most political theatre. Not the concept of political theatre – when done right, political theatre can be a huge vehicle for change – but my frustrations with how often it’s done badly. If your idea of political theatre is a play on a safe subject matter, where you know you can get a like-minded people to turn up and approve of what you say, it’s a relatively easy job. But if you are actually seeking to influence anyone – and entrenching views your audience already hold isn’t enough here – it’s a harder task. And most frustrating is that so many artists keep making the most basic mistakes: crap arguments, incomprehensibly abstract, or talking down to anyone you hope to get on your side.

However, you can ignore that here. For purposes of this article, I am talking about political theatre that gets the basics rights, with arguments that are not shit, incomprehensible, or condescending. I am now turning my attention to the next level up, and that’s the groups and theatres who support political theatre. The thing that got me thinking about this is Live Theatre’s new artistic director, Joe Douglas, seeking to bring in a lot more political theatre. Welcome though this is on the surface, it does raise some questions about vetting of work and artistic freedom. In the worst-case scenario, it could even be an issue of censorship.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear this is not meant to be a grilling of anyone in particular, and definitely not a grilling of Joe Douglas. I’ve met him and I like him, both as a person and someone who’s made an effort to open up Live Theatre to everyone and not just rely on inheriting an existing in-crowd. I haven’t seen his Live directorial debut yet, but¬†Clear White Light sold out by press night so he must be doing something right. And I will stress that the questions I’m raising are genuinely meant as questions – I honestly don’t know what the answer to this is. But these are difficult questions that require difficult answers from someone. Continue reading

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The problem with political theatre

Frame 1:
How differing views are treated on the internet – but is the same happening in theatre? (From Chainsaw Suit.)

COMMENT: It’s fine to do political theatre aimed at changing people’s minds. But you’re failing in your objective if the only people listening are people who already agree.

Disclaimer: This is not a catch-all attack on every piece of political theatre ever made. If you make political theatre and you’re cross that I’ve said something that you don’t do, please append #notallpoliticaltheatre on to the disagreeable statement.

Last week I did my annual trip to the Vault Festival. My roundup of that will be coming soon, but whilst I was away I missed a rather high-profile event at Northern Stage about how to respond to Donald Trump. (This wasn’t specifically an arts-focused event, but Northern Stage¬†went far beyond a role of host and made a big thing of it.) It was followed on Tuesday with Live Theatre’s seminar on writing political theatre as part of its Live Lab Elevator festival (which, again, I couldn’t get to because of clashes). This wasn’t specifically about him, but I am picking up an obvious pattern ever since that day of November of wanting to use their arts to fight the new Mr. President.

Just to be clear, I think Donald Trump is a complete fucking nutjob just as much as anyone. But as I read through the blogs and social media talking about these events, I have one consistent observation, and a lot of you reading this are not going to like this. Quite simply: I don’t understand what these people expect to achieve. This is not a new problem to anti-Trump plays, but stretches back long before then. No shortage of people intent on using theatre to deliver a message against Trump or the Tories or corporate greed or misogyny or anti-immigrant sentiment or environmental destruction – but in terms of winning other people over to this position, I see little evidence they’ve thought that through. Continue reading