Paved Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot

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I study English and drama at university. I read plays and novels instead of medical handbooks, I do practical classes and performances instead of placements, I use literary quotes instead of formulas to back up my arguments, and most of all, I don’t have a clear cut career path ahead of me. Therefore, I am perceived as doing a “soft subject.” We live in a society that is ever increasingly valuing productivity over interesting, balanced, varied lives. To do an arts subject is seen as foolish, the preserve of the privileged or a non-serious degree choice. They are the degrees that you will end up re-training after because, after all, can you really make a living from a drama degree, an English degree, or a music degree? The answer, to that question is yes, if only we allow each other to do so, if only the government and wider population change the way they think and act towards the arts sector.

We are not even half way through 2015 and already we have seen an 11.2% cut to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s funding, the loss of Queens Festival Belfast, 44% cuts to Tinderbox and Kabosh theatre companies, strikes by the underpaid staff of the National Gallery in London against the government’s plans for privatisation, an 84% funding cut to O’Brien press, and the move to “text-by-text” funding for a lot of publishing houses in Ireland, amongst other cuts and detrimental changes. Yes, the governments need to make savings, but we cannot continue to allow the arts to be a soft target for cuts.

We need to change the image of the arts sector. It is not just an occasional night out at the theatre that we could miss and not be too upset about, it is not just a gallery full of old paintings that really, we could just buy a €5 print of online, and it is not just the latest bestseller that you figure you will buy when the hype and price has dropped. The arts are a vibrant and essential part of our lives. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “They are a very human way of making life more bearable.” If we continue to allow our arts sector to be driven into the ground by cut after cut, dismissing it as a disposable frivolity, then we will very soon find ourselves in a much less colourful world, a world lacking our greatest outlet for expression, a world without one of its major forces for change, and a world which has lost a part of what it is to live. As the quote from Bertolt Brecht (which lives on a post-it above my desk) puts it, “Every art contributes to the greatest art of all, the art of living.”

We need to stop seeing the arts as a subject taught occasionally as a break from the “proper subjects” in primary school, as a soft subject in secondary school and university, as an expendable luxury, and as an easy target for cutbacks. It is time we recognised the arts for the powerful and valuable force in society that they are.

World Theatre Day

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Happy World Theatre Day! Today is a day to celebrate theatre in all its forms, to celebrate practitioners and audiences alike.

We are living in a time where the arts are facing huge funding cuts, where artists, companies and venues are struggling to continue, and where the arts are more important than ever. Theatre has the power to change lives, and yet it is all too often dismissed as a non-essential luxury. It is time to realise the true value of the vibrant theatre community we have in Ireland and across the world. We need to advocate, support and celebrate theatre today, tomorrow and every day.

Check out director Krzysztof Warlikowski’s inspirational World Theatre Day message at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3fdXeALRzk&feature=youtu.be

Stories from the Front

Liberty Hall
14/1/15
First Fortnight Festival

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Based on Boal’s Forum Theatre method, “Stories from the Front,” one of the final events of First Fortnight, weaved together recorded narrative, onstage performance and audience discussion about the topic of mental health to create an evening of powerful theatre that informed the minds and emotions of the audience.

Boal developed Forum theatre as part of his concept of “The Theatre of The Oppressed.” In this form of theatre, the audience is free to stop the actors at any point in the production and alter the performance to make it better represent the situation (most often pertaining to a social or political issue) they are portraying. This idea came through Boal’s reasoning that an actor can only ever really perform their own ideas as even when they are supposedly performing the ideas of others; it is through a lens of their own subjectivities. This production did not follow the exact format of forum theatre but instead combined elements of it with its own particular style to create an individual, powerful piece of theatre.

The piece followed the stories of a number of people who have suffered with mental health issues and those who have cared for them. Each segment opened with recorded interviews which then informed the performances, which were carried out by the people interviewed. The fact that the people whose stories were being performed acted them was very effective. It meant that the performances were less polished; however, they were raw and honest portrayals of the people’s experiences. The experiences behind the stories lent a true passion and reality to the scenes that brought them to a new plane and heightened the audiences’ connection to the narratives.

Further engaging the audience, the opportunities provided to them to comment, make suggestions and share their thoughts made this show a truly moving and educating experience. New perspectives on mental illness and new ideas were uncovered at every turn, but the overriding thought behind this piece was that of the importance of empathy and human understanding.

This show was a valuable experience that taught me a lot. If it is ever repeated, I would highly recommend that anyone with any interest in theatre, social change, mental health issues, and essentially, helping other human beings, should see it.