I walked past (but wasn’t at) the ‘devoted and disgruntled’ event at BAC that Improbable have been curating. Everyone who’s anyone seemed to be there, talking – it looked to have been a massive success. I felt I was a little in dereliction of my duty to have avoided it. There seems to be a tremendous attitude of support towards talking at the moment – and towards seriously trying to come up with some way of making things better for artists in British theatre.
I hope good things happen. But I spend a lot of time waking up thinking that things are pretty good at the moment. Not for me personally (like, I’m sure, most people, i feel underemployed) , but actually, we saw loads of excellent things on the stage in london (and elsewhere) last year. Of course there are a hundred types of cynical shit being peddled by the commercial producers – but let’s just be clear that their aim is not to bring the best work to the audiences – it’s to bring the most saleable work. And let’s be honest, not only will people put up with some real rubbish, but a lot of the time they prefer things that aren’t new. Look at TV, which is much more in need of a devoted and disgruntled event than theatre if you ask me. Anyway I love the new and the challenging, but I don’t always go out to be invigorated.
But – young writers are emerging (perhaps being overcommissioned, but they are greeted with excitement). Venues are looking for innovative companies to create work in different ways. There’s an openness to experiment. There’s a struggle between the literalists and the metaphoricalists (if you’re to believe the bloggers) – which must mean both are in health. There’s a lot to be gruntled about, in truth.
We’ve all got gripes. It’s difficult to get people to trust you to produce work, and there’s not enough money to go round, but in our society where we’ve been brought up to think we can all be theatre directors, there are bound to be lots of them. Most of the inequity can be traced to people being people – nepotism, favouritism, blaggers blagging their way, artistic nervousness leading to programming conservatism. What kind of a system would ensure the meek but talented got ahead of the confident, time-rich and persuasive? That I’d like to see.
When i have been in those discussions the bottom line for most participants seems to be”why is it that my company are scrabbling around to get support?, when we could be creating great art?” It seems we’re all underpaid and overstretched. I hope the devoted and disgruntled people come up with a good list of clear problems that they think could be addressed.
This may need some adjustment.