An Experiment in Having An Opinion

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This is a new type of blog from me, world.

At some point, I’m going to update you on work – an urgent need that stays at the very top of every to do list I ever write, but not today. Today, I want to do what I never do, and I want to do a little writing about the state of the arts – I say state as a statement, not as a criticism, ‘the arts are a mess’ blah blah blah. Things ent so bad! They could be better, but they ent so bad.

Before grinding my little axe, I’ll explain why I usually try to avoid posts like this. I read lots of artists blogs. Artists are my favourite, their opinions, their thoughts, the way the see the world, matters to me. Bryony Kimmings is my favourite (as she pretty much always is…), with Scottee always being closely followed, Andy Field dipping in with his whimsical, pseudo poetic thoughts, Alan Lane,  Daniel Bye, Hannah Nicklin are always, always, always interesting and thought provoking, and anything that comes from Forced Ents and Third Angel is a treat. Not to mention the words of emerging artists, and old school, angry folk, like Holly Hughes, whose blog is like drinking whisky and eating sticky ribs at your Nan’s house. I loves it. I also love work orientated blogs – Invisible Flock are currently documenting their work on ‘Sea of Voices’, and as a company that creates such rich work that is so beautiful, intricate and technically complex (for a luddite like me) it is brilliant to see how they work, how they’re putting their wonderful pieces together.

But I always struggle with writing on audiences, and writing that criticises the state of Live Art & it’s older, more sensible brother, Theatre, because it is difficult – and I aim this statement at no one (not that any of those people would ever see this! HAH)  – but it is difficult to skirt the fine line between pointing out a difficult issue that you need to be a part of the solution to, and being a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is something which haunts me, as an artist and as a person, being disingenuous bothers me. People won’t know where they stand, and eventually they start to stop respecting your opinion. So my solution to this, is to try and almost not have an opinion, and definitely not to point it out. After all, the bigger boys and girls know better. But not any more. A big part of the arts is talking about them, and it’s time I joined the conversation.

So. Here goes.

Yesterday, I went to the Transform festival at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was lovely. I went on my own, but saw familiar faces, and seeing four pieces of theatre in one day (2 of which make you cry), when it’s not Edinburgh, and it took you 45 mins on the train to get there is a real treat, a real pleasure, and not one to be dismissed. I hope one day to see a similar festival with a similar calibre and range of work in my beloved Sheffield, and I think in a couple of years, we really could. We really could. I’m not in the business of reviewing shows – but I thought that ‘You, the Player’ was excellent, that the ‘Oh Fuck Moment’ had some stunning, stunning writing (and a brilliant bit with a well placed hockey stick..), and that Belarus Free Theatre are important. Important, powerful, blistering theatre.

However, one thing that perturbed me slightly, as I ate KFC and listened to the Groove Armada on the way home (too much high brow for one day. Time to get back to my Brummie roots, and to embrace some cliches), was the lack of variety within the audience. Leeds has a wonderfully strong, community feel, which I out and out envy. LEEDS, YOU SEXY ARTISTIC HUB. You call me like a siren. ‘Come and live here, Selly. Come and live here, where everyone loves art…’ When you go and see something in Leeds, you know exactly who’s going to  be there, you know they’re gonna tweet about it, you know they all know each other – and it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, something to be proud of. It needs to be strengthened in South Yorkshire (cus the beginnings of it are here), and I hope it will keep ‘joining up’ and becoming Yorkshire wide. It’s how things should be. A big part of becoming an artist is defined by your relation to community – whether it’s something you want to withdraw from, or be a part of. So that’s how it should be.

But you’re in dangerous territory when you look around, and they’re the only people there. Ralph Dartford, who works for the Arts Council, posted this tweet on… Saturday? Saturday:

Can’t be at #wyptransform this afternoon. Can I say this? ‘Transformation of audiences is key. We must serve them first. Not each other’..

And I thought it was the nail on the head. I’m not blaming the artists here, or criticising the audience that were there. But where was that variety of class, race, occupation and opinion that could have really opened the theatre up? That could really prove that the theatre is important, and vital, and something bringing communities together? I love artists, and I love theatre groupies, I am one, but where were all the ‘real people’? How do we reach out to them? The programming was fantastic – showing work that was exciting, experimental without being pretentious, and easily accessible. I’m not talking about taking your mum to see Ann Liv Young (did that, bad shout), I’m talking sitting in a room with two people reading incredible poetry to you, drinking tea, giggling about odd sexual activity and thinking about how nice it is to be able to admit you make mistakes. Anyone can see that, and everyone should. We have to start finding a way of marketing innovative theatre in a way that makes it seem a) like the most ordinary thing in the world, – not for pretentious tits only, and b) like it’s EXCITING! FUN! CRAZY! Worth seeing, rather than a gig, or comedy, or something else you know you’ll enjoy. Bags of fun, if slightly high end, like going to pizza express, rather than Maccy Ds, but with the chance there might be crack on your pizza, and e in your fancy wine. Not good for you, like… a meal of boiled potato, cabbage, overcooked stewing steak and watery gravy. You know it’s good for you, but fuck that.

So yeh. In conclusion, I just wish that we could get more people who aren’t just artists and art/theatre obsessives in to see art and theatre.

*jumps off high horse*

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