Lee Simpson is a friend, a theatre director, a writer, an improviser, and someone I self-appointed to be one of my directing mentors. I like the work he makes and I like working with him. I also like how he thinks – deeply – about many things, and I know he cares about sport. This is a piece he’s written about the Olympic legacy, that feel-good thing we don’t really have a word or a term for, and how we keep it going. About where else it (already) is. I think it’s great.
You can follow Lee on twitter @lee_simpson1971
Lee writes :
And so the legacy begins. The Games are over and we’re not even allowed to clear up the mess, nurse our hangovers and smile silently to each other in a “That was pretty good huh?” kinda way. We have to knuckle down and be inspired, have a new attitude to life, take up archery and have a changed attitude disabled people. We’ve got to get legacised.
On the Channel 4 news just before the Festival of Flame closing ceremony, John Snow was talking about the end of the Games to the bloke who is not John Snow (but isn’t Krishnan Guru Murthy either) and John was trying and failing to describe something he thought was important. It went along the lines of “Everyone, politicians especially, are keen to keep this … this feeling this … mood going and not let it dribble away.”
John Snow was, as usual, right. I think the thing that people have been most struck by, the thing that has surprised and delighted them about the Games, more than British medal success, more than the astonishing stories of dedication, sacrifice and noble triumph and failure has been that…that feeling… that mood.
Many people, especially politicians, seem rather confused by it and certainly surprised by its appearance. “Hang on” they seem to be saying. “Economically we are buggered with a good deal of buggering to come and there are lots of other reasons why everyone should be well narked off but look at them, contributing and taking part and behaving like they all belong to a community. As if they have something in common? How did that happen? What is it? What’s going on? HOW DO WE KEEP IT GOING?”
I am no better at describing that … that feeling …that mood than John Snow although I’d be tempted to use the word “spirit”. I might say the Games, for a while, took care of, acknowledged, in fact downright encouraged us to connect with our collective spirit. See, I can’t really describe it either but I am not surprised by it and it feels very familiar to me. I suspect it feels very familiar to some other people who work or participate in the arts.
I’ve felt it in workshops, shows, community events, Open Space events, outreach programmes and anything else that aims to support people to access that thing…that feeling…that mood….that part of them that is intangible, ineffable, indescribable; that part of them that (crucially) makes them feel connected to themselves and their community. The thing that makes life worth living. Spirit.
I’ve felt it in those places because I work in theatre and comedy. I’m willing to bet that people working in other fields recognise and understand it too. They, like me, will not have seen it happen to so many people at one time as it has during the Games but then I’m guessing none of us has ever had nine billion quid to spend on a project.
The arts understand this spirit because it is the stuff we deal in. It is what, if we are doing our job properly, we create, nurture and grow – manufacture if you will. So to all you politicians who don’t understand what it is or how to keep it going, here’s the good news: You don’t have to understand it, because there is a sector that does. What’s more, you don’t have to know how to keep it going because there is a sector that does. All you have to do is recognise that it is important, and that you want some more of it, then outsource the job of doing that to a UK industry that is widely regarded as the best in the world (more good news, the world leading practitioners in this UK industry work cheap). Does everyone in the arts understand this to be their job? No. Can those of us that do be better at it? Undoubtedly. Can other sectors (sport, education…) take care of our spirit? I bet they can. However the basic decisions are what is important. That’s your job politicians: Identify something we need, then support people to create it and keep it going.
Legacy? My guess is that most of us won’t make money and we won’t take up sport. But the legacy of the Games could be that we take seriously the idea that our spirit is important enough to take care of. That would be some legacy.
Lovely words Lee, I would name something slightly different, or rather tag onto ‘that feeling’ with some more ideas about how – values. The Olympic and Paralympic values are what really inspire people – long before the host country marketing machine gets hold of it and despite the commercial nonsense, the corruption that comes with big money and lots of other nasty stuff along the way; those values still managed to shine through the games and the people who got involved with them. And many people in the arts share and practice those values (allow me some licence to avoid just spinning with the marketing) of effort, patience and goodwill, putting people first, trying to be our best, serious playfulness and celebrating each other’s achievements. We have a tendency to squirm a bit at the idea of values, but actually I think we need to name and define them, we need to stand by them, defend them, help each other to aspire to them and work out when they are being undermined. Parhaps this is also part of the legacy. We can’t feel good all the time – in perpetual festival, otherwise we deny that problems exist and need to be addressed, but we can remember why and how we get that feeling – maybe?
Hi weareallbidingtime. Yes. Values. Without them all is lost. I agree. The Olympic and Paralympic values did somehow get communicated through the blizzard of marketing and spin (the commodification of values). Just as important I think is the way the Games became a way for us to reconnect with our own values, values that the world repeatedly tells us are a luxury, or too idealistic or impractical (and makes us squirm as you say) but life with no values is pretty freakin’ meaningless. Thanks for your response.