How do you solve a problem like the theatre?

Our industry as we know it is ending, for better and worse. So what do we do?

While film and TV tentatively start up again, the UK theatre world is reeling. Theatre after theatre is going bankrupt, laying off staff who were already on furlough, pushing reopening dates back and back and back.

It hurts. Acknowledge that.

Acknowledge the depth of the grief and fear theatre makers and audiences are feeling - that our identity, our communities, our vocation, our precious venues, are all hanging in the balance, and through its inaction, the government is implicitly telling us it does not value any of this.

Then, when you've had a cry, or several, perhaps allow a tiny bit of hope.

A dark forest with the word HOPE lit up

We are creative.

We are scrappy.

Yes, we are exhausted.

But we are in the business of fulfilling humanity’s primal need for story.

To paraphrase Peter Brook:

If I take an empty space, and someone does something in it, and someone else is watching, that is theatre.

I plan to read the new book by one of my favourite podcast hosts Casper Ter Kuile, ‘The Power of Ritual’, to help me think about how I want to connect with other theatremakers right now, to do the grieving of the industry we knew and the shaping of the industry we want.

I’m also aware of the opportunity to reset. Many on social media have been expressing this hope as well. ‘Back to normal’ is not a worthy goal when ‘normal’, while it has gifted many beautiful stories to this country, has excluded and denigrated many, particularly Black and Asian theatremakers and audiences.

White Theatrical Privilege. There is white privilege. And additionally - white theatrical privilege. Never having to questions whether we were cast for diversity's sake. Knowing we will never be the only actor in the room who looks like us. Never having to fulfil roles written in racial stereotypes. [And the list goes on.]

I’ve been reading and writing and practising and buying equipment and crying and meditating and learning, and thousands of my colleagues are doing the same.

Here are some suggestions if you are in or care about the theatre industry and want something to do:

  1. Take a survey of what is going on. Have a google of ‘theatres going into administration’ or ‘theatres closing’, or read these articles from the Financial Times, The Times, or The Guardian. Jump on Twitter and look at this tweet, or the hashtags #WeAreTheatre and #SavetheArts.

  2. Feel your rage. Take an online dance class (I personally love Lewis Barfooot, or if you’re less 'hippy dippy' and more 'commercial music theatre' check out Aimie Atkinson or Grace Mouat’s classes) and dance out your tantrum.

  3. Tweet or email your local MP to find out if they are engaging in Parliament’s discussions about an arts rescue package.

  4. Meditate. Actors, emotional volatility is our superpower, but if you’re not aware of the state of your own heart and mind you’ll find it hard to articulate a way forward.

  5. Educate yourself of racism in general and in the arts in particular. I'm enjoying Akala's book 'Natives' on growing up mixed-race in London; you can check out articles like this or this.

  6. Brainstorm, and hope. I used this article recently to figure out my approach to anti-racist activism, and similar principles could apply to theatremaking. If you want structure for your brainstorm, it could look like this: Figure out what your assets are (Artistic skills? Interpersonal contacts? Access to physical spaces?), and your limitations (Early career/low prestige? Financial constraints? Disabilities?). Then figure out who the artists and organisations are who you want to support (The theatre/s near you? Groups doing excellent engagement during lockdown? People who didn’t get a proper shot at theatre before lockdown?). Lastly, write down as many contacts as you can think of, and put all these things together. There are more permutations of steps you can take than you have the time for, I guarantee you.

Chookas, break a leg, toi toi, merde.

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