To change the world.
Towards the end of 2008, flush with the idea of taking the artistic reigns at Exeter Northcott Theatre, I was sitting in a room near Waterloo, on a plastic chair in a circle with a room of people. All the people were there because in some small or more nakedly ambitious way they wanted to change the world. They are all theatre directors and possibly potential artistic directors. The room was being convened by Dominic Dromgoole – Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe. Previous to this he’d been Artistic Director of one of London’s (at that time) most iconic fringe pub theatres – The Bush. Famous for championing new, subversive and countercultural writing, The Bush’s reputation stood gigantic above its 60something seats in a tiny room above a pub. Dominic was referring to how back in the 1990s, when the arts cuts came swingeing through the arts communities, a bunch of people wearing track suits and smoking, sat around and got angry, together, and resolved to change the situation.
He contrasted this with the situation of 2008, when the Arts Council England set about rejigging its portfolio of funded organisations by playing those organisations off against each other. People in suits turned up at the Young Vic and fumed collectively at ACE at an industry meeting, and then lobbied privately for their own survival.
Today in 2016, I sat on a plastic chair in an underground room under Waterloo accessed through the Graffiti tunnel. I was at a meeting self-organised by artists, funded by ACE through Improbable Theatre, attended by people who want to change the world (theatre-makers and civilians).It was a meeting held in open space : D&D VAULT Fest Satellite #3: Building on the Ruins of the Left – working together to find a new voice for progressive politics (13th Feb) 3-6pm.
Oh so very different: about 20 people of three generations – the youngest early 20s the eldest 60+ – in everything from track suits to designer wear, wanting not just to mobilise for the arts but for sake of the nation itself. Who are we now? What will we become? How can we engage with people who don’t think the same as us? How do we respond to people of other points of view, how do we engage in political debate with people we love (e.g. our parents) who hold a different world view? How does a white woman ask her colleagues not to be so racist? How does a white, middle-class male tackle the dominant structures of pale, male and stale? Left-wing politics, Messiah complex… (and yes 4 dolls for peace were sewn). Where does intersectionality fit into all of that?
When I was a teenager, I started reading Simone de Beauvoir and JP Sartre and more influentially for me, about the lives they lived in what seemed to be a permanent fug of Gauloises and ideas, living through the turbulence of history. Oh how jealous I was of them all. I wanted to live through turbulence and change.
The great thing about open space is that anyone can call a session and the sessions are about encouraging people to explore a question which feels urgent and then to work out how to take action. The whole spirit of it is that you don’t have to wait for some great luminary to smile on your idea before you get going. You get going because it’s important to you.
Today, a group of strangers being part of conversations, listening to people from all over sharing experiences, observations and supporting people tackling difficult questions, resulted in a bunch of actions which will take place. There is no shortage of enthusiasm to bring people together and organise new ways of tackling our broken politics.
Poor politics it is so very poorly but fortunately there are people everywhere determined to make it better.
The great thing I was reminded of this afternoon (in amongst the actions I have for myself) is that you don’t have to be JP Sartre to change the world and it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a track suit, a suit or your Saturday clothes; it doesn’t if you work in sales or the theatre, all you have to do is show up and take some action.
Today’s open space session was one of a series. You can find out about the others here. The events are free.