I was invited to give this provocation at the #Theatre2016 conference at the Arts Theatre in London on Thursday 12th May at the beginning of the session chaired by David Edgar.
I had three minutes so you can read this at a gallop!
“How can theatre play a more prominent role in key issues of national and international debate?”
In 2012 I was invited to a conference in Norway and I met a silver-haired lady holding a baby. When she moved on I hadn’t quite caught who she was. I was told that she had been the Minister for Arts AND the Artistic Director of the National Theatre – I thought WOW – that’s a CV I want.
I’m talking as a citizen and a theatre-maker. As a theatre-maker I’ve been at the coal face making work and enacting policy strategies in my practice tackling gender, diversity, access, regeneration/gentrification, climate change, for the last 20 years. Not because anyone told me to, but because I thought it was a good idea.
In the last two I’ve been trying to make and tour shows which explore our roles as citizens & the refugee crisis, austerity, the EU – trying because I’ve been squeezed by funding at one end and by the need to prop up the crumbling care system at the other.
It was whilst working alongside carers and nurses around the time of the last General Election at my parental home that I heard the clarion call to join the Women’s Equality Party. And I did because – and What Next has been an influence here – making work and lobbying didn’t feel like enough anymore.
As I marched alongside 3 million women rising, representing the only organisation with the potential to make change, I wondered if in a time of emergency – making theatre and lobbying take too long. As artists we can influence, document, agitate, inspire but we can’t legislate.
I believe the current system of politics is broken, and that too many people are looking under the wrong rocks for the answer. We need to invent new paradigms. So I stood as a candidate for the GLA London list for the Women’s Equality Party and I’ve just finished campaigning – for now.
At times I wondered – frankly – if I had any business dipping my toe into politics. At others and it’s a provocation I’ve thrown out in theatre workshops and at WE branch meetings, maybe everyone should be required to do this – like jury service.
I’ve felt outside my comfort zone at times and that’s made me realise the value that artists can bring to politics. We have a great capacity to be empathic with the other – to see past rebuttals and try to get beneath the skin of a differing world view to our own.
Artists can play a role in ending the adversarial system.
When I’ve felt alien, I think it’s not because I don’t fit – but more that the system is not fit for purpose. At the Women of the World Creative Day I heard myself describing the system as an ill-fitting suit.
We creative thinkers should be redesigning a new suit – not just for gender issues, for the whole bang shoot.
And that for me is where the cross-over begins. I want politics and life and theatre all to be more imaginative, more ambitious and more inclusive.
I would argue that artists are essential to defining a new set of values not just commenting on them.
I would argue that we need to change our dramaturgy as well as our politics.
We need and we are being invited, by pockets of government by the climate change movement, by a new wave of economists and activists to help redesign the suit.
I wrote an adaptation of An Enemy of the People in 2013 in which the female protagonist said “if you can imagine a better future, you can start to make it happen.”
Artists are visionaries and optimists and we are needed.