Theatre and politics


Having trained as a teacher in the early 70’s, and moving on to work as a performer, lighting technician and stage manager professionally, I came to Rose Bruford to teach in 1981. My interest had always been with a radical tradition, touching briefly on TiE with Perspectives; with diversity theatre with Temba; children’s theatre with Unicorn and Robert Cooper; but mostly shades of community through the rep movement, roadshows and main auditorium work.

Starting a family and becoming part of a community meant I was able to, and needed to, become politically active; campaigning with Labour through the Thatcher years, through into the heady days of Blair and seeing a left-of-centre agenda being played out locally; in Westminster and in Brussels. Seeing regeneration at work in poorer communities, and new visions of the role of the arts emerging that seek to engage a broader consensus, as Jack Lang did in France.

And professionally I see my work changing, taking into account a certain class bias; questioning assumptions of cultural value. Trying to be honest with students about the challenges that face them as practitioners; about ethical dilemmas on who is included, and who isn’t.

In 1974, while I was ‘resting’ I was employed by Labour to canvas Coalville, Leicestershire. As a town it did what it said on the tin. One night my last call was to a collier’s house (his description) – the guy was now a bus driver, having laid out an overseer over a professional disagreement. An emotional man; but, as I thought, not greatly cultured – I’d read Sons and Lovers so I had an idea. He then told me that his family knew to get clear when he got out his violin and played the Bruchner concerto. Not something I’d expected in a Leicestershire council house, but perhaps that says more about me than him.

Discussions about class culture are complex, and riven with contradiction, just like the collier violinist. Cultural capital varies from person to person; and one is constantly surprised by richness and dearth each springing up side by side, in many different places. In the end one is searching for the value of a life well lived; of demonstrations of human kindness and compassion; of understandings of the world which may be expressed as easily, and as movingly, by the recollections of a pensioner as by a poet laureate.

Some issues:

  • Poetics in performance. It’s not about the language content as such, more the structuring . May be this is the craft versus Art debate.
  • Ownership – whose show is it anyway? The manager who put the deal together that made it possible, and who pays the wages and takes the, er, profit? The Director whose vision and foresight is n display, and who wrings the performance from their cast? The Actor who struts and frets every night, and whose timing and talent keeps the audience on the edge of their seats? The Audience member who bought the ticket, and without whom it would be so much more easy, and so much more onanistic to do the show? Or the Stage Manager, whose “unassuming control of that small empire” allows for an operational reality?

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