When it comes to the theatre I’m very prejudiced.
I don’t like plays really. Lots of people pretending to be other people sitting around talking to each other.
However I have seen some great plays in my time. I still remember “Cinzano” at the Tron Theatre Glasgow in 1989. for example, with Forbes Masson, Peter Mullan and Paul Samson. An extraordinary play by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya about three young men in Moscow who drink themselves into a stupor to escape their drab lives and family responsibilities. I felt completely enraptured by it and the stunningly believable performances. But then Peter Mullan can really play drunks well, eh? It was one of the best memories of watching a play, ever.
Another prejudice – I don’t like Shakespeare productions by the RSC because most of the time it feels like people just showing off.
On the whole I don’t like acting, but, as a young boy of 15 or 16, I remember David Warner as Hamlet at the RSC and feeling dazzled by his performance. It inspired me to start a career in the theatre and is still with me nearly 50 years later.
So why don’t I go to a play or the latest Shakespearian masterpiece by the RSC anymore? I mean I work in the sector, I probably should. Ultimately I just think I will be bored and will probably feel angry at it all. What’s all that about? I watch bad television and enjoy it. I like slobbing out on a sofa watching “The Apprentice”. But I think the theatre has lost its soul. It is full of good intentions formulated by strategies and think tanks, but, for me, it rarely delivers because – another prejudice – artists tend to be shut out of the decision making process.
Lynn Gardner has been writing a lot in the Guardian recently about what’s wrong with British Theatre, based on her visit to the No Boundaries Conference. She wrote an article entitled “Theatre is default middle-class, white and male. We must diversify or die” followed by “No Boundaries: theatres must reach out and involve their audiences”
10 Ways to Change Theatre in England
This is my contribution to the recent No Boundaries Conference held in Bristol and York.
This list should include all art forms – I am just talking about theatre because that’s what I do most. My take on it all, is that there are no rules, no absolute way to change things. You just have to do what you believe in and not listen to anybody else when it comes to your own creativity. Look inside first and then let it out. Don’t be afraid and, particularly, don’t listen to arts organisations and creative producers and critics.
Here are my top ten things that will change theatre arts in this country forever.
1. Develop Centres for Creative Communities across the country, as in Hobart, Tasmania which has recently been set up – and The Welfare State International model in Ulverston, Cumbria starting in the 1980’s.
2. Integrate the arts into the mainstream departments of social care, town planning, youth & community, health and education for a start – instead of it being an add on.
3. Don’t look down on amateur and community arts, embrace them. Participation in the arts, from the whole community, is going to make the arts more exciting and meaningful for everybody.
4. Respect artists.
5. Don’t create theatre – create events
6. Don’t start with writers start with somebody who has a good idea
7. Think internationally – work with the best artists from around the world
8. Grab every opportunity to work with people you don’t know from different cultures, different skill sets, different abilities, different languages and different ages. Celebrate Difference.
9. Believe that old people have still got lots to offer
10 Establish permanent ensembles of artists in every city in the country – like a football team
One Final Thought
If you want to look at somewhere that has established most of these things, have a look at the City of Dundee