Challenging society’s assumptions: Is all theatre political?

In Features, Inspiring people, Opinion by Chris GradyLeave a Comment

Freshers week at Mountview is complete and 12 producers from UK, Peru, Spain and Greece are now settled down in Wood Green with assignments, projects, lectures and meetings packing their lives (and mine) through to Christmas. For some, they have a very clear creative path planned. For others they are using this year, especially the next few weeks, to stretch their experience of different artforms, new theatre and performing arts companies, and completely different cultures. It is wonderful to be part of their journey.

Whilst they get to grab student rush and special offer tickets all over the West End, I get back to finding tiny nuggets and sparks of creative passion which excite me, challenge me, and feel like “necessary theatre”. Plus of course grabbing a couple of remaining seats for Follies.

On Wednesday I found my way to the Haggerston Rose Lipman Theatre to see Outbox Theatre making theatre queerly – in this case a powerful wonderful personal “show about the messy business of gender” And The Rest of Me Floats. I could not be happier to have been invited by one of the company Miiko Toiviainen who has just graduated from Mountview and completed his run of Pippin and then XY for From Page to Stage. Here 7 artists devise and tell their messy stories in a messy and glorious smorgasbord feast of ideas and challenges. I was in floods of tears in joy and heartfelt connection with elements of the piece. Thank you to all the company and director Ben Buratta for bringing these voices to the stage. There were some chilling moments, and some moments which made me think of it as a 21st century Chorus Line without the kickline. I leave you with one moment from one of the artists as they walked to the front of the space and opened their heart to us, giving us space to calmly witness them. “I normally feel everyone is looking at me. Tonight I just feel seen.” Thank you.

I was then alerted on Facebook to the work of an artist I admire greatly, Flo O’Mahoney, founder of Human Zoo Theatre Company, who is quietly and carefully exploring ways in which she can make a show with her sister who has severe learning difficulties. Rachel is inspiring Flo and some other artists to see the world of play and theatre and life through her lens as she runs the rehearsal room for this r&d. Together they will explore whether this might make a show which can play to an audience and inspire us all to play and think differently. With Flo’s permission I share a tiny 5 minute video blog where she talks about the second day and the crazy card game involved very different concepts of time and rules.

In both cases these works of creativity seek to challenge our assumptions about the world “they” live in. What is gender ? What is binary now in a more fluid messy world ? Can we have a glorious messy rainbow midst black and white and no-grey ? What is neurotypical? – whatever that means when we most of us struggle to find our way around our own neural pathways on a good day. And how can theatre make a difference?  One of our MA Creative Producers at their interview stated a belief that “every piece of theatre is a political act” – no wonder they seemed great to have on board in a mix of opera, dance, theatre, musical theatre, event, edgy, new work, classical and multimedia producers.

Tomorrow I go to see The Ladykillers at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich where I suspect I will feel as though I am amidst a pretty typical non-political, neurotypical, middle-aged, Saturday night audience. Is that a political act ?   Well it is – if only for the fact that it is generating full houses and full coffers from those who can afford it, which contribute to the access, diverse, non-typical, harder to reach, harder to sell riches which make up the portfolio of any high quality community based regional theatre today. I know I and my 90 year old mother-in-law will have a good night out, and I’ll get to hear Rebecca Applin’s music which is part of this production – so that will be a treat, along with the obligatory icecream.

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Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.

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Chris Grady on RssChris Grady on Twitter
Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.

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