Twice this week I have picked up my 14 year old great-nephew from his rehearsals for a BIG play by a BIG writer with a BIG actor and a BIG director for BIG theatres. He’s allowed to get to the rehearsal by himself from school, but needs a chaperone to pick him up. Because rules.
Twenty years ago it might have caused a twinge of “oh, that might have been me”. Forty years ago (I’m 54) it would have been hugely painful that he had the lovely job and I didn’t. No matter that it’s a job for a boy/young man, no matter that my life at that time had no possibility of me knowing how to go to acting classes as he has for years, let alone where & what ‘auditions’ were, let alone the possibility that any of that existed in my small town and my parents would have supported it. They didn’t, and they wouldn’t have*.
Now, it’s just all interesting to me. How are they running the room? Have the adult actors welcomed the young ones? Are they treating them as fellow professionals, or – as many older people do with younger ones, in any arena – are they not sure how to talk to them and so default to not talking to them at all? Are the production team making the young actors feel welcome, wanted, valued? I’m not interested in the play or the work or the acting or the performances or the star people attached, I’m interested in how the people making the show create the community of the cast and crew. I’m interested in how a young person, with very little (obvious) status in the room, navigates that space, and how the rest of the room holds and supports that navigation.
Which, basically, and very clearly, shows that I’m interested in the people and the community they are making, much more than I am interested in the ‘art’ they are creating. So it’s lucky that (other than the odd – and gorgeous – bit of impro or supporting a theatremaking friend in their own making) I’m making Fun Palaces much more than I’m making plays.
I don’t think this is just a shift to do with my age, I think it’s a shift of consciousness. I want to think broader than work, than making in one narrow area – we theatremakers might think theatre is a universal area, but all the stats remind us that theatre – like ballet, like opera, like classical music – really aren’t universal, not at all, though I’m happy for us to keep working for them to be so. I see younger (and older) friends shifting their thinking outside of just the arts, or just business, or just law, or just medicine. I see them pushing themselves to think more broadly, more inclusively. It might be a consequence of current politics, of Brexit and Trump, it might be to do with social media offering many more possibilities of thought, it might just be the time. But – unlike so many pundits – I think we do have a future. I think it’s a future of middle aged and older people thinking differently and young people being in our lives. I think it’s a future where teenage actors have great-aunts who know that theatre isn’t just about plays.
*my dad, not an easy man, was astonishingly sanguine when I came out, but when I told him I was going to be an actor – as the youngest of 7 (the other 6 all left school at 15 and 16, we were children of parents who left school at 14, I was the only one with the chance to go to university – and I spent those 3 years wondering what the hell I might do with the rest of my life, because of course, once there, I realised that university per se meant nothing at all, other than the invaluable gift of time) – he was really, genuinely upset. He couldn’t believe I would ‘waste’ that coveted education on arts, he thought I should use it to get a proper job. I have (still) never had a ‘proper’ job, never had sick pay, holiday pay, compassionate leave, never had a single paid Bank Holiday. (Hmm, maybe Tom was on to something …)
I hardly ever put pics of me here, but I love this one – last weekend I went to Bergen to talk about Fun Palaces at a conference regarding the city’s future cultural strategy – this is me, cold and happy, looking up at Grieg’s lovely writing hut. Looking back to look up and out.