Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie
It feels a little strange to be trying to write about theatre with everything that is going on in the world at the moment. As we read stories of lives being destroyed in Ukraine, I find myself wondering what I could write here that would justify being read amongst that news – writing recommendations of shows to go see feels somehow flippant. But maybe it is in these moments that we need things like theatre more than ever. In the face of the inhumanity of leaders like Putin, it becomes all the more important that the rest of us embrace and enact our own humanity, and gathering together to experience art collectively can play a part in that.
This coming together can be enacted both on and off stage in many ways. Offstage, we can take political and social responsibility and make a difference. This week, a huge number of European theatre networks, joining together venues, theatre companies and individuals, have pledged to support Ukrainian artists and to host events in support of the country. By choosing where we put our money, and how we utilise our spaces, we can help those who need it. Venue programmers can choose to support and platform Ukrainian artists, but audiences can do their bit too. Perhaps when you go to see a show this weekend, instead of buying an interval drink put that money towards aid to Ukraine, either through charities or by donating goods to any of the many local collection drives around the country.
On stage, we can platform unheard voices, we can question the status quo, and we can engage with people who have been otherwise kept on the margins. From Ancient Greek theatre platforming the political debates of the day, to Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre, to the work of organisations like The Freedom Theatre in Palestine today, art has always been utilised to effect political change. Where people gather and have the freedom to make their voices heard and hear their stories told, a positive change is always possible. Yes, practicalities of food, shelter, medical care and other needs must be met, but souls need to be nourished too. Reading the ongoing series of letters from political prisoners in Belarus that the Belarus Free Theatre publish, there is, of course, a lot of discussion of the practical and emotional hardships of life in imprisonment but almost every letter references art in some way too, whether it is lines quoted from a poem, opinions on music shared, or meditations on how painting and drawing has helped them to process their experiences. Even in such awful situations, the impulse is there to reach out to others and share art and its effects. That instinct is deep rooted in humanity.
Any way in which we can draw people together to share their time and experiences can have a positive effect, whether that is through a theatre workshop, a food drive at your local community hall, or laughing and crying collectively at a performance. So this month I am not recommending any particular shows, but instead I ask that you take the generosity at the heart of the arts and play your part in spreading care and support where it is needed. People need refuge and supplies, but they also need hope, and love and care – as the song goes, ‘hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread but give us roses.’ Reach out to others with open arms and share what you have in whatever way you can.