Issue: ‘Our ideas are in everyone’s heads’: performance and destroying capitalism
Convener(s): Francesca Lisette
Participants: Aliki Chapple, Jonny Liron, Chris Goode, Kieron Hughes, Julia, Emma, Alex, Rod Dixon, Dan Bye (+ many more)
Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:
We began by outlining the centrality of FORM and its connection to exchange, participation and sustainability/ duration. We briefly considered the issue of funding as a central question in other discussions, and observed that despite our anti-capitalist resistance to that, money and energy operate in relation to one another because both are kinds of fuel. The will to do isn’t always enough. A related problem is whether theatre becomes – or at least acknowledges – its dependence on a system it is trying to climb out of.
It was suggested that a helpful objective for practitioners was to ‘be exemplary’ and to ‘be the change we want to see’. Out of this arose the question of how to present this work inside or outside of the structures of private space and public space, performer and audience. A fissure opens up between the work that is being made, and the privilege or access to resources required to make it. An example of this was a privately rented but autonomous space in which new work could be rehearsed, tested and shown. It was also suggested that we attempt to bypass capitalism by living in co-operative artistic communities or squatting. Some felt that this was an opting-out, which still didn’t solve the wider issue of privacy. Squatting for example still used buildings, which were privately owned, and therefore operated as part of capitalist infrastructure. We felt that the way to get around this was by focusing on nuance and divergence – by maintaining respect for each other, the audience and the encounter.
With relation to the issue of participation, Alex shared his view that ‘theatre is a place we live with strangers best’, rather than a space for utilitarian, enforced unity. Chris then talked about the revival of the idea of the theatre building as a civic space, in which citizens came to listen, learn and speak – of theatre as a secular church. The point was raised that cinema, which has elsewhere been assumed to be supreme to theatre as a tool for raising political awareness, often allows the continuation of a passive form of spectatorship. This led on to further discussion of the audience/ performer relationship, whereby exemplary performance enables the audience to recognize their own aspirations. Equally, dissident forms of performance as protest were discussed as forms of ‘performative terrorism’, which forced an encounter or engagement upon the audience and thus risked alienating them, though perhaps productively. It was suggested that it was important to foreground the permeability of the membrane between audience and performer.
We spoke about scale, and how to subvert capitalism’s reliance on growth, and established that a resistant theatre practice would be anti-growth. ‘Our anger is fuel for the fight, but our optimism is how we win’; using a ‘roots’ approach which encourages all to assume individual and collective responsibility. Support and affirmation would be sought and provided to each other, rather than focusing on career aspirations such as financial endorsement or critical acclaim. We spoke about this affirmation, and how that manifests itself in the work as a gift, the effects of which might not be immediately realised, but which did invisible work. The gift, as opposed to the transaction, led to the suggestion that theatre aim to reclaim the concept of ‘value’ from capitalist exchange. Quantitative governmental measures were deemed not to understand theatre’s endeavour, and it was observed that it is part of system in which ‘the right to fail is reserved for science’. Artists revise reality. We need to demand respect by taking ourselves seriously, and also by insisting on the importance of play, laughter, and ‘delight’ – creating a poetic subversion.