This morning, I was blissfully scrolling through Twitter, when a link appeared to the following blog.
“21 Theatre ‘debates’ I would love to put a moratorium on” by Jana Perkovic, an Australian based theatre writer. I found myself feeling completely enraged – unsure whether it was the commute/terrible weather/shockingly unpredictable hormones, I attempted to let it settle.
However, I find myself sat here, plugging away at the keyboard, in some vein attempt to translate this frustration into a fairly legible counter-argument. In my opinion, this blog highlights some big issues surrounding attitudes towards theatre study, participation and engagement.
My perspectives of the value of theatre have dramatically changed since leaving university. This is almost entirely down to my current job, as well as my artistic work. I am taking responsibility for the future of the theatre industry, and therefore my perspective is almost entirely in consideration of how writing/performance engages young people of all backgrounds, hence why I feel so strongly about the importance of debate.
NB: This response is in no way intended as a personal attack on Jana. It is used as an example to highlight what I feel is a much larger issue with attitudes towards theatre in a variety of capacities.
NB: I also apologise in advance for having to describe myself and certain people as ‘young’ or ‘emerging’. I hate those terms. I have no doubt of the level of professionalism; unfortunately it is an easier way of distinguishing career development thus far.
Why debate still matters:
I am saddened by the cynical use of quotation marks around the word debate. I understand that for someone like Jana, who has had the privilege of studying and engaging with theatre for many years, may become slightly exhausted by particular conversations (21 to be precise).
However since the Edinburgh Fringe this year, twitter has been rife with blog posts, articles & hashtags surrounding many of the issues highlighted by Jana as redundant debate issues. These posts have been coming from theatre heavyweights such as Lyn Gardiner and Mark Fisher, as well as from talented emerging writers such as Catherine Noonan and Dan Hutton (catherinanoonan.com & danhutton.wordpress.com). The best part is that these two ‘worlds’ of theatre are engaging and debating with each other. This has been going beyond the cyber too, with events like ‘For the Love of Theatre’ at Battersea Arts Centre – inviting professionals and young people to discuss such issues around critisism in an open forum.
It’s not coincidence that across the theatre spectrum these issues are being explored. It highlights a need for these debates to still exist: firstly, to inform the younger generations of the industry, aiding them with their intellectual development which can only inform whichever artistic practice they develop. This in turn directly aids any current investment in the future of the industry – advocated by those professionals engaging with us.
On academic/intellectual engagement with the theatre:
I agree with many of Jana’s responses to the debates, particularly those surrounding arts funding.
However any form of relating or understanding from the perspective of the everyday theatre-goer (unless they have had the privilege of an academic crash-course in performance theory) is abolished with the following statement:
“15. Poor and wrong definitions of post-dramatic theatre, followed by fierce discussions of how there is a story in everything, you can’t not have a story, etc. (Everyone should actually read Hans-Thies Lehmann.)”
I have read Hans-Thies Lehmann on the recommendation of a tutor at university. I wrote extensively about the theory in relation to various works. I would never recommend everyone to read it. Why? Well firstly, there are so many alternative ways of engaging with the arts in a meaningful way that don’t relate to the avant garde. Many ways which much more valuable to society than debating things in academic circles.
NB: I am not entirely dismissing the importance of academic enquiry – in many disciplines it can later go on to inform government policy etc, but I’m talking about it in terms of the arts & making a direct, current impact to a particular group of people.
I understand that perhaps Jana’s point attempted to illustrate the annoyance we all experience when someone enters a discussion with large statements about a topic they are ill-informed in. However, if a young person approaches me looking to engage more with theatre, I am not going to order them to go out and spend £25.99 on a copy of Postdramatic Theatre.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore a good theory book. However, think back to the beginning of this fascination with theatre – how did you first engage with it? I’d tell them to take that money, take advantage of the brilliant subsidised ticket offers and go see as much work as possible, because the experience of performance is what informs debate more than anything theory book does (Lehmann’s himself is informed by SRS, DV8, Pina Bausch etc). For me, provided that someone has seen a piece of theatre/read a play and has an opinion on it, it is enough to engage in a debate with.
NB: If you are now curious about postdramatic theatre, read this lovely summary from Andrew Haydon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2008/nov/11/postdramatic-theatre-lehmann
I find it really difficult to accept the tone of the piece, which is a shame because many of the other blogs featured on the website are engaging and informative. I have clearly outlined my motivation and interest in the arts in terms of my work, so you can of course understand my complete outrage at the following statement:
“10. Whether and how we should ‘support’ ‘emerging’ artists. (Support to do what?)”
This appears to be the only debate in which Jana has not closed the argument with her clear opinion; therefore I have decided to construct a clear answer to this to assist Jana with putting this debate to bed:
Yes we should, and we can support them in many ways that go beyond financial. In fact, many organisations do: Roundhouse, Soho Theatre, A Younger Theatre, Ideastap. NB: Apologies for not having more info about other regional schemes, to illustrate the point I have used ones directly accessible to me.
These institutions provide facilities in which to practice the art, offer platforms and funding opportunities to show it, they offer inspiration and opportunity at a time where our government is letting us down. (I have addressed this issue in a piece on funding which can be found here)
It contradicts the fact that Jana believes that there should be lots of art funding available; does that not apply in her eyes to younger people who are still in the very early stages of developing their craft? I really hope not.
I am hoping that several of the topics I have addressed have highlighted that debate should be encouraged in a healthy and intellectually fulfilling way, for anyone of any academic background.