Doing What We Do Best, Better

Photo by Austin Chan, via Unsplash

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

In the latest Government Covid-19 announcement, we heard the news that we have all been waiting for; theatres are soon able to reopen. Whether you met the news with a muted sigh of relief, or an exuberant whoop of joy, it is an exciting moment. More exciting, in fact, than just a return to normal. As we reopen our doors and get back to doing what we do best, we have a chance to do better. Now is our moment to examine what we do and how we do it, and consider how we might need to change as we move into the future.

One heartening example of this is the recent announcement of the Basic Income pilot scheme for people working in the arts in Ireland. As the National Campaign for the Arts stated, the scheme “has the potential to be an historic milestone for the arts in Ireland, a reflection of a nation that truly and authentically understands and supports the artistic process.” By providing artists and arts workers with a guaranteed basic income, you take away some of the precariousness of depending on a freelance income, and in doing so allow people to do their best work and advocate for fair and sustainable conditions for that work.

In another version of sustainability, as we return to buildings it is the perfect moment to consider our environmental impact. Many venues and organisations are already making great strides in this respect, with Dunamaise Arts Centre recently publishing an impressive ‘Greening Dunamaise’ update, Síamsa Tíre receiving a Julie’s Bicycle sustainability certification, and several venues working with Theatre Forum on their current Greening Venues Pilot Project. Outside of venues, we can all make a difference; whether you’re a theatre-maker deciding how many flyers to have printed, or an audience member deciding how to travel to a venue. Each little decision we make will have an effect. Choosing to cycle to a show or take the bus instead of driving might seem like a trivial thing, but if a hundred audience members all make that choice, it adds up to a lot. As we go back to normality, let’s not go back to all of our old habits. Take a moment, make a choice, and do your bit to make a difference.

Beyond the background, and onto the stage, there are new approaches to be explored, boundaries and limitations to be broken. Break down the barriers of concepts like “high-brow” and “low-brow,” banish the perceived division between “arts” and “entertainment,” and ignore the boundaries between artforms, themes and audiences. After a year of communicating at a distance, now is the time to reach out and find community. With works like Brú Theatre’s Ar Ais Arís, which connects small groups of audiences in Gaeltacht communities all along the Atlantic coast, Pan Pan’s Mespil in The Dark, which explores thoughts of loneliness and community through a series of short episodic performances, and nationwide events like Cruinniú na NÓg advocating for creativity on a national scale, it feels like this is already happening. So let’s push it further, make the arts the web that supports communities. Whether it’s through a local pantomime, a touring opera, a school play or a céílí (when we can dance together again!), let the people around us be at the heart of all that we do. Make and consume art with generosity, openness and no preconceptions, and open wide the arms of the arts and invite everyone in.

I recently read a quote from the writer Don Miguel Ruiz, which struck me and stuck in my mind. “Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.” Shake up the tempo, syncopate, make the arts the biggest dancefloor imaginable, and as we find ourselves back in theatres, studios, parks, galleries and other shared spaces, let’s dance our way to a better rhythm together.

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.