Was there any point…?

October 1, 2010 at 9:00 am | Posted in arts council, arts funding, arts promotion, creative process, creativity, culture, Ensemble, flow, improvisation, performance, Physical Theatre, pleasure, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | 3 Comments
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The decision to set up DUENDE and stage the “The Shattering Man” was one I took last November. I was spending a holiday alone in a cottage on the side of a mountain in Cumbria. Nothing but lots of books, walking, quiet, endless heavy rain (it was the time of the floods in Cockermouth) and a wood burning stove. I did a lot of thinking. In that thinking, watching the flames flicker and listening to the rain fall, I decided. The decision was a coming together of thoughts that had been floating for a while but which, in that moment, found their shape. The project grew from a place of deep personal desire, need and belief.

Ten months later, Eilon closed the show with the line “my flame is flickering still” and the beautiful, wordless, ethereal singing of the ensemble fell to silence and the stage sank to darkness.

Some of the journey from start to finish is charted in this blog.

Now, nearly a week after the show closed, the ensemble dispersed to the edges of the world, the inevitable sense of loss starting to lose its sharpness, I wonder, what was the point of it all? What was the need that spoke to me in front of the fire that wet autumn evening?

Certainly it was not for the sake of fame or fortune that I set up the project. It has cost a lot of money, both for me and for all of the other participants. Not many people saw the show, and while I hope that those who did will recognise the huge skill of the performers, I fear that they are likely to see in me someone who is committed to working in uneconomic ways on uncommercial product. As such, the funds I have put into the project are not an investment for they are unlikely to yield any return.

Pointless then?

Of course I don’t think so. In fact, I cannot think of a better way to have spent my time and money.

There are all sorts of ‘justifications’ advanced for the making of theatre. Most of them talk about theatre’s ‘use’ or ‘function’. Theatre is seen as being valuable when it conveys a ‘message’ (though the value of the product to any individual depends on whether they agree with, or are convinced by that message). Theatre is seen as valuable when it allows one community to speak of itself to another. Theatre is seen as valuable when it enhances the self-esteem or educational achievement of those who participate in it or attend its performances. Theatre is seen as valuable when it allows a society to present its official version of its ‘cultured-ness’ to itself and to the outside world. Theatre is seen as valuable when it is a vehicle for ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ debate. Theatre is seen as valuable as entertainment or as therapy (through ‘personal growth’ for participants or catharsis for audiences.)

All of these ‘functions’ of theatre seem perfectly valuable to me. I’ve worked in many types of theatre and find fascination and challenge in all of them. I accept and value the rich ecology of theatre and think that every ‘type’ of performance enriches every other type – if only by providing something for people to react against.

But is theatre worth anything in and of itself? Is the experience of an audience and live performers being together in a room one that has intrinsic worth, regardless of the ‘content’ of the work? Is the fact of sharing communication between people who did not, prior to the performance, know one another, a worthwhile end in itself?

I believe it is. In fact I believe it is the single most important justification for engaging in the process of making theatre. All the other ‘functions’ of theatre can be effected through other means – perhaps not as neatly, but they can still be effected. If you need to communicate an ideological perspective, you can write a manifesto. If you want to tell your community’s story, you can blog or record music. If you want to engage in conceptual speculation, you can work through any aesthetic structure, or write learned or incendiary articles in appropriate places.

But if you want human beings to be in a room with other human beings, sharing an experience at the moment that it happens, then you need to bring those people together at one place and time and craft an experience for them to share. That’s the heart of theatre. It may involve sharing outrage, realisation, emotion, laughter, bewilderment, intellectual stimulation. But it must involve sharing, communication, collective experience.

So what was the point? The point was to create an experience for myself, for my collaborators and for audiences – an experience of collective communication. Of course I take full responsibility for WHAT was communicated, for the content of a script I wrote and a performance I directed, but, underneath those ‘meanings’ I see something of even greater importance – the very act of shared experience that is the root of theatre. I believe in the intrinsic worth – indeed the crucial importance – of the act of making and performing theatre.

This is an old argument, one that’s been raging for centuries. Often characterised as being for or against the idea of ‘art for  art’s sake’. A similar debate rages in the educational world – is education worthwhile in itself, whatever is being learned, or is it only worthwhile as an aid to the student getting employment? Unsurprisingly, I believe in the intrinsic worth of education as well. What we learn, what we experience, what we share, what we understand (both intellectually and on non-verbal levels) IS who we are. Activities that enable individuals, groups, communities and entire societies to experience the complex glory of the world in more depth, with more appreciation and more sense of their own ability to interact with and affect that world (or at least affect how they react to that world) are intrinsically worthwhile.

So, that’s why I do what I do. I believe in theatre.

The genesis of this particular project was in a primitive place – sat in front of the fire being warm while storms raged on the other side of a thin piece of glass. In that place I identified a deep need in myself. That’s how it should be, for the need that theatre answers is a primitive need. However sophisticated we think we have become, if we lose the ability to sit, attentively with others and share experience with them, we have lost something central to our humanity.


splintering attention

July 20, 2010 at 9:36 am | Posted in arts funding, arts promotion, creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, scenography, Theatre, theatre design | Leave a comment
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As is so often the way when running a large project, there are multiple demands on my attention. There are arrangements to be made – I need to be at the airport at certain times to meet people and deliver them places. I need to ensure that everyone knows whatever they need to know. I need to consider various possible eventualities (what if there is torrential rain for all three weeks at the farm, what if there is a drought and the water runs dry (not my problem), what if  what if what if….?)

There are longer-term questions – publicising the show, making sure people who I want to be invited are invited (before or after their summer holidays….?).

There is a sense of responsibility. I initiated this monster, I need to make sure – at least to the best of my ability – that it serves the needs and desires of al those who have trusted in it.

How easy it is to forget to be an artist among all this noise and confusion. I have scarcely glanced at the script nor thought about developmental studio work in the last week. Am I remembering to serve my needs amid all this?

I’ve been doing this a long time, so there is a sense that I have a well of experience to draw on, but I don’t want to replicate, with this ensemble, work that I have already explored elsewhere. This process must be one of growth for me as well. For genuine creativity is a process of exploration and growth, not one of simple replication.

So today, the last day before going to Whitestone, I will carve out that hardest of times for an artist – the one that often we do not allow ourselves to have and yet which is so necessary. I am going to find a forest and go for a walk in it. I am going to muse and mull. Thinking of something and nothing. I am going to let different parts of my thoughts sidle up to one another and create new ways of thinking.

Like many artists, I have internalised a sense that if I am not ‘doing’ something, then I am somehow slacking. But what I need now, what the creative process needs of me now, what those who are working with me need me to do now, is not ‘doing’ but ‘being’. I need to go and be somewhere and to allow the irrational, inchoate, urgent sub-texture of the imminent process to talk to me as it did. months ago, when I was first developing the script.

As soon as I’ve finished this press release…

more thoughts on funding

June 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Posted in arts council, arts funding, arts promotion, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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It’s not unexpected, especially in the current climate, and I guess we are not the only people in the UK and beyond who will be feeling the absence of government support for things they once thought were important.

I need to be careful about how much we spend. Money will be found for the things that money must be found for and the project will happen – partly because that’s the commitment I originally made and partly because the team that has assembled, with or without government support, is exceptional.
One area I would appreciate help with is this. We need to promote the show to two distinct audiences:
the first is the sorts of people from the arts world who we want to come and see the show so that this type of work moves more onto the radar and they find it harder to turn us down if we apply for money in future. This includes promoters, critics, people from other companies, people from funding bodies, people who might be able to help in the careers of all or any of the participants etc etc etc. In other words the ‘movers and shakers’ from the arts world.
the second is the audience of people from around the country who are excited by this sort of work and might actually buy a ticket to see it. This includes friends and colleagues but also accessing the sorts of communities of interesting artists who might not otherwise hear about us.
It strikes me that one way of accessing both these communities is via social network sites – ‘facebook’ I guess. It’s a world that I know absolutely nothing about – I have to date always refused to register with any social networking site. Maybe it’s time I took the plunge. I’m talking about trying to set up some kind of structured campaign of promotion via such a site that could develop between now and september and perhaps remove the need to print publicity (which I always hate doing) and might even replace having to employ a publicist.
Does anyone on the team know about this sort of thing? Anyone willing to suggest how we might go about using social networks as a way of getting this show out to those people we want to get it out to. Ideally, I’d like to see some kind of ‘community’ building up not just round this show, but the idea of this sort of project created by a group such as we are.
I just returned from running a lovely performance and workshop week with Aliki in Thessaloniki. It was in part that experience that got me thinking about whether social networking might generate the sort of ‘community of people who are looking for something different in theatre’ that I so strongly experienced among participants and audience in Greece.
Any ideas?

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