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I felt the need to finally break my blog silence today (if the fact I have only blogged about once before can count as breaking a silence).
That is for one reason. In Deptford (which in SE London nestles between its trendy student cousin New Cross and rich sometime snobby uncle Greenwich) a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions is taking place.
I have grown to love Deptford during my time in London. It is where my place of work resides so I have spent lots of time walking its streets. I love its awesome market and the quirky nature it holds, and its inhabitants all possess. One of its gems is being taken away however. And without a sad whimper.
The Deptford Arms on Deptford High Street is closing down. Without warning and without any sign of a petition or anything. It is being replaced with a Betting shop… Or should I say ANOTHER betting shop. PADDY POWER coming soon! – It says in the windows of the boarded up pub. That will mean that a 100m stretch of Deptford High Street will have at least four bookies. Nothing seems to hit home more about the fact we really might have to deal with a recession (apart from the actions of a Tory government –… Liberal who?) than countless Bookmakers popping up everywhere when everyone else is closing down. Suddenly gambling with risk and chance is the only way some will find to make ends meet – to find a way to gain the wealth people feel is at least acceptable. It is this risk that seems so more appealing when your pay check no longer stretches further than one pint (thus the closing pub)
… So where do the arts fit into the changing face of Deptford High Street (and changing name to Betford or perhaps Debtford). Two things: The Deptford Arms closing is tragedy of Shakespearian proportions because it is the place Marlowe met his tragedy. It is where Christopher Marlowe is meant to have been stabbed and it had still existed till this very day (does anyone know if it is still the original building? – answers on e-postcards, please) until Paddy Power decided to move in and give the people extensive choice on where they want to gamble their money and loiter in until about 9pm (!). The second thing is it reminds me of something that someone from Birmingham Rep once said at Exeter Uni at a conference at some point (my memory is profound). We seemed to be just approaching the recession then and many people were pondering how this would affect the arts. The chap from the Birmingham Rep stated that a recession meant that theatre had to take MORE risks and not play safe like he felt most would. He believed that it would be risk that would find the success stories and that a recession meant artists had to be even more creative, think even further away from the dreaded box to find the next big thing.
It is in this regards that I think performance should follow the example of Betford. We need to gamble to find the products and shows that will give us cultural wealth. Even if we remain short of pocket. It is that empty feeling in our wallets that should make everyone push the boundaries of theatre to find the next huge show.
So pay heed big theatres and producing houses. Pay heed companies and artists who think now might be the time to play safe. People short of money will take a risk on something they think could be new and great. Not safe, old and more of the same. They can’t afford it. Pay heed or find your establishment go the way of something similar to Marlowe’s now defunct watering hole. Pay heed or watch your theatre become a Foxy Bingo bingo hall.
Back at the start of September, Corinne and I found ourselves in Shunt Vaults as the über blogger part of Write By Numbers has already attested to. We specifically went to see a piece by some friends of ours (by the company Made in China) and it was exhilarating and relieving that their piece was by far the best thing we saw in the Vaults (exhilarating, because it is always pleasing to see friends doing so well, and relieving, as you don’t have the conundrum of ‘to lie or not to lie’ if they are not doing so well).
What really got me thinking about this piece however, are the demands and lengths the incredible performer went to achieve her performance: Cycling non stop on an exercise for 25 minutes whilst delivering a monologue. And every few minutes giving bursts of acceleration as the performer peddles as fast as they can. And in said bursts they complete tasks. And not simple things like, not dying of cardiac arrest, but tasks like applying make-up. Changing clothes. Necking a WHOLE bottle of champagne (I’m being serious). Eating a whole packet of chocolate digestives (if shoving them into your mouth all at once can be considered eating). All of which was done whilst riding an exercise bike extremely fast (I felt the need to reiterate that point). In the lulls of speed the performer had to concentrate on the small matter of delivering their monologue.
Suffice to say, all of the above was highly impressive. So much so that I can honestly say the virtuosity, the sheer ability, the commitment – however you wish to quantify – of the performer is what made this performance for me. The content was funny, well written and meaningful but it was the lengths the performer went to that made the performance. In fact, as my title suggests, the performer WAS the performance. Why is it that seeing someone push themselves to what we perceive as their physical and mental limits so enrapturing? Is it that we are really fascinated in seeing people: Struggle? Sweat? Suffer? Fail?
When I have my writer head on, stretching the boundaries and pushing the envelope of what performers can do doesn’t often occur in my thinking. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever considered writing a stage direction that reads something like: and the actor does double back flips around the stage for forty minutes (which isn’t to say that this was the case with this piece, as it was clearly devised etc, but just except my hyperbole for the time being). Such practice may not have necessarily occurred in the writer segment of my brain before, but it most certainly will do now. At least as an option.
Write By Numbers
I feel before I write this blog that I should probably attach some kind of disclaimer to it – the disclaimer being that the thoughts given are very much my own and that everyone is entitled to their own opinion…
Saying that, I do feel that some clarity needs to be given on what we can class as ‘new writing’. Where am I going with this? An example: I saw an adaptation of a well known ghost story the other day in a rather large local London venue. Suffice to say, it was poorly written, wearily acted and would have looked dated in the 1980s. Now, the fact that the script hadn’t seemed to have seen its way past a first draft (at least I assume not) which resulted in many minutes of boredom was not the problem. I have come to the sad realisation that ‘tat’ (in my humble opinion) will get commissioned for the stage.
My problem is that this well known short story adapted for the stage had to be classed as ‘New Writing’. At least, I had to reconcile it in my mind as such. Why this disturbed me so is not because it is an adaptation (I am fond of adaptations myself, and WBN is planning an adaptation of epic proportions), nor is the problem the productions dreadfulness. The problem I had was WHY NOW? Neither the script nor the production seemed to have any relevance to the world we live in today. The only reason I can fathom that this play was made was for financial reasons. In fact, I think the production meeting probably went something like this: … ‘People might know this story – and they def know the author… We could do it with just three actors and a shoddy set! Ooh, let’s pay a small child to write an adaptation for the price of a mars bar!’…
I am not trying to suggest that ALL new writing needs to be based on current affairs. Even I, with a love of political theatre, would get bored if every play on was a Stockwell or an Enron (by the by, if anyone has an Enron ticket they want to give me I will give many pounds or do things for them of a suspect nature). But surely New Writing should be coming from the now – the writer or creator is making it based on the world and life they are living today. If this is too much of a problem (or if this is just my sole humble opinion, and gets shouted down by the masses) could there be some kind of differentiation?
If a distinction hasn’t already been made, may I be so bold as to coin the term NOW WRITING. Writing we can see has been created for now – that resonates with the world today. That doesn’t mean it has to be about the Olympics or Iraq or current affairs but has a sense of today’s world at its core – in its being. Now, that is obviously going to be subjective and my argument may be flawed and problematic. But if we can find a way of separating new writing so the next Jerusalem doesn’t get tarred with the same brush as the inevitable new adaptation of Dracula (because Vampire are SO in right now) then I would be very happy… I’d be nit picking and snobby, but happy.
Write By Numbers