[I was asked by the very brilliant Kate Craddock if I would write a 100-word manifesto on the future of theatre for the ‘Training Grounds’ section of the journal Theatre, Dance and Performance Training. This is what I wrote.]

A MANIFESTO ON THE FUTURE OF THEATRE

I have been watching youtube clips of Russian teenagers climbing things again
They climb cranes and half-completed buildings
They climb until there is nowhere else left to climb to
And then they sit at an edge
Legs dangling
Like they are waiting for a lift home from somewhere
They hi-five
And say things I don’t understanding
And I feel their precariousness
And their audacity
Like a firework dropped in my gut
And maybe it’s a protest or an escape or whatever
But I wish what I did could make people feel half as scared as I am
Watching them.

b-carton

1. Love love is gonna lead you by the hand, into a white and soundless place

Debbie and I are walking through the effortless Edinburgh drizzle, wet sandstone and quickly disintegrating posters. We walk down Lothian Road towards the Traverse Theatre. I am remembering out loud the time I saw Arcade Fire supporting Franz Ferdinand in the pouring rain, I am remembering the choral howl that opened the set and how it splintered into the cool night, and I am remembering the end of the set, Win Butler wrapping the rest of the group in the tangle of his microphone chord and pulling, and pulling and pulling. And from here I end up talking about the Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats – not a concept album as such but rather a collection of songs all dappled with the same unbearable bruising. On the Sunset Tree, John Darnielle navigates a journey through the memory of his abusive step father, and it is so angry, and so full of hurt, the pain of it thrashing around looking for a way out. And yet at the same time the record never feels hopeless, never lost – he is carrying us somewhere. Somewhere both definite and uncertain. Actual and unknowable. We are moving defiantly forward, not towards resolution or redemption or revenge, but perhaps towards something that feels like a victory even if it doesn’t look like one. I buy a packet of crisps and a can of coke in the newsagents and head downstairs to watch Men in the Cities.

2. Men in the Cities

I’m watching Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities. Chris stands in a pool of light and begins to describe people – all these people seem to be waking up, in England I assume, maybe even London. Initially they are to us just names spelled out in undirtied snow. These names become characters, becomes histories, become ruins, but they do so not like narrative arcs but rather like colours or instruments in a symphony; swelling and sinking, counterpointed and combined in eddies of feeling, a dizzying rush of movement and textures. Chris looks like he is storytelling, but that’s not what it feels like, it feels like he is orchestrating fragments of imagined lives, his own included. A sequence of notes tumble over each other so quickly we can barely keep pace with them, a tone flares up into a deafening roar and then dies away never to be heard again, a refrain plays and replays itself at the very limits of our hearing and Chris holds onto it gently, and then firmly and then, eventually, he just lets it slip away.

3. Deerpark

I saw a show once by a company called Deerpark. I was at the National Student Drama Festival and I was 19 years old. I’d never seen anything like it. It was entrancing, intoxicating, unsettling, baffling, indecipherable. Nothing I had thus far been taught about theatre would allow me to decode what was happening. The show was called See You Swoon and it came accompanied by a small brown book that I still have in a drawer over a decade later. In the book there was a quote from someone and the quote said

THIS IS MORE THE EXPRESSION OF A LONGING THAN AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING

and I still think about this all the time.

4. In the middle

At some point in the middle of Men in the Cities everything seemed to grow darker, the rest of the audience drifted into inky blackness and I felt the hot wooziness of being high or being scared or being exhilaratingly lost. All I could see was Chris speaking into the microphone and beyond that nothing.

5. What else did I feel?

I felt full of everything. I felt full of anger and pain and sadness and love and lust and desire and longing. So full of longing. And I felt the world to be full of all these things. And I felt the refusal of resolution, or redemption or revenge, I felt the white heat of urgency to be as full as the world we live in.

6. What else did I feel?

At the end I felt like I had witnessed a victory, even if it didn’t look like one.

6. 

photo
A Lecture (with contributions from the floor)

A sharing of an idea by Andy Field and Mamoru Iriguchi
30 July 2014 4pm, The Place, London

 
This sharing will be the culmination of two weeks of experiments and conversations as part of a Jerwood Choroegraphic Research Project funded residency at The Place. The event will last approximate an hour, including time for questions at the end. If you’re interested in coming along please email me on andy.t.field@gmail.com

The opening ceremony began simply enough
with the breaking of a hospital window
Shards of glass spinning through the
darkness of the stadium
Like snowflakes
The dancers moved
so beautifully
Their young feet
skipping across
old flakes of skin
broken teeth
piss stained mattresses
A festoon of burning wheelchairs illuminating the smiling faces of the crowd
We held hands and spelt out our names with sparklers
We kissed as old wounds were
carried out on new brooms
held aloft like bayoneted rifles
and paraded across the thick green grass
to adulation
A riot of colour
A bonfire of old ideas
It rained delirious anaesthetic
And for the finale we had all been waiting for
we held our breathe
and released our broken promises
one by one
into
the warm
summer
Sky
They made a good job of it
the organisers
for sure
and everyone left satisfied
drifting out now towards the car park or the train station
children dragging behind tiredly
gazing back in silence towards the stadium
their eyes
opening and closing again
hands cold
despite the favourable conditions.

[A short essay written for Cambridge Junction’s Adjunct Magazine about Forest Fringe’s Paper Stages, a festival of performance contained within the pages of a book]

It will take you approximately two minutes to read this. Two minutes you are giving to me. Not giving to me like you might give me a birthday present or money in exchange for a theatre ticket. This is a different order of giving. There is no material exchange. No passing of something from you to me. This is giving like you might give thanks, or give a damn about something. Your time honouring my time, the two of us holding on gently to opposite corners of this page and remaining there together for a few moments.

I’m interested in acts of giving. A few years ago I wrote a manifesto that suggested that in this era of balance sheets, of loans and debts and profit and loss, perhaps giving would become an increasingly radical act. A messy, unaccountable kind of giving. A giving for the sake of giving, or perhaps more accurately a giving for the sake of unsettling the expectation that it is possible to turn every action into a transaction; every gesture into something measured and accounted for.

Paper Stages is in part an attempt at just such an impractical and unsustainable act of giving. A playful subversion of capital’s tendency to transform theatre into a commodity masquerading as a performance,  Paper Stages is a festival disguised as a book, a seeming objet that unravels as you read it, its instructions bleeding off the page, pursuing you round the room and out into the city beyond.

Like any proper product, this book has a price, but like the book itself that price is intended to lead us off in unpredictable directions. We ask for an hour of your time, which seems on the surface a reasonable exchange. One hour. One Book. But rather than work for us, we ask you to give your hour to someone else. In so doing we hope that what initially appears to be a straightforward trade is transformed into an act of performance; an act of giving that starts to look less like the giving of a present and more like the giving of thanks. A moment of giving that ripples out into the world, beyond our oversight or benefit, causing trouble hopefully, or at least offering an opportunity for you to think and be thought about.

An hour of time is about the most deliberately unstable unit of currency imaginable. We cannot store or accumulate them. We can barely keep track of where they are offered and received. Your time is illusive, irrational and prone to lengthening or shortening at a moment’s notice. The very impossibility of trading in hours is what I find so appealing about it, allowing the seemingly sensible contract between you and us to blossom into something more complicated, more expansive and more theatrical. Not so much a form of payment as it is a first contribution to the task of turning Paper Stages from a series of books into a single festival.

Thank you for your time.

Today is the beginning of the No Boundaries conference, which I was supposed to attend. Unfortunately I am really sick so will not be able to make it. Instead I encourage you to find ways in which to perform these small acts of intervention on my behalf.

1. At a moment to be decided entirely by you, step outside of the conference and repeat the last question you heard to a passing stranger.

2. Find a quiet quiet corner  and carefully but determinedly begin to push against one of the building’s outer walls. Continue to do so until someone asks you what you are doing.

3. Whenever someone onstage mentions participation, shout loudly “Participation! Of course, how could I have been so stupid?!” and run out of the room.

4. Whenever someone onstage mentions funding, think for no reason at all about seaside piers and arcades that smell of old coins and donkeys walking slowly backward and forward along a flat, greybrown beach.

5. Make a small parcel of complimentary snacks from a paper napkin and when you leave the conference hand them to someone who you think might want them.

A book of five very short plays created for FUSE at Vancouver Art Gallery, to be performed on the night by members of the public for an audience that did not realise it was an audience. 

1. After the Goldrush
He wanders through the gallery
politely asking
for directions to
Cape Canaveral
Woodstock
Altamont Freeway
Castro Street
The World Trade Center
Kent State University
Candlestick Park
The Watergate Hotel
and a number of other
fondly unremembered places

2. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
In a barely noticed corner
a crude rendering of
the happiest thing
they could think of
drawn on a paper napkin
and stuck to the wall
with chewing gum

3. Oh Lonesome Me
Walking slowly
through
long white corridors
trying and
somehow failing
to spot anyone
despite their
obviously inadequate
hiding places

4. Birds
Quite suddenly and
unexpectedly
a flock of starlings
flooding through doors and
windows
crashing into
glass cases and
digital projectors
tearing canvas
drawing blood
and shitting
everywhere

5. When You Dance, I Can Really Love
She stands alone
in front of a
large painting
swaying slowly
arms raised
building momentum
eventually finishing with a
delicate pirouette
and a respectful
bow to her
partner

1.

I’m not thinking about the mouth
that hangs in the dark above us
like a bird
breaking itself against a closed window
Instead I am thinking about the rest of us
Swimming in the darkness beneath it
I am imagining our sea of upturned heads
So much concentration
swallowed in such a small dark maw
I am imagining us consumed
and consuming
collecting in those jaws like an overcrowded lift
like a mouth too full of pebbles
like a mouth too full of someone else’s words
A man’s words
like so many others before him

 

2.

Yes, women have been dispossessed of their bodies, their desires, happiness and rights. But they have always remained mistresses of this possibility of eclipse, of seductive disappearance and transluscence, and so have always been capable of eclipsing the power of their masters. (Jean Baudrillard, Seduction)

The deconstructionists were incredibly fond of women, in the abstract at least. They associated them with a seductive, illusive, embodied power that counterpointed the enlightenment man and his world of words and certainties and guns. A women’s body became the vessel for a new set of possibilities constellated around cycles, circles and reflections – a set of indeterminate movements between indefinite points. A signifier of effacement and oscillation. Not so much a body then, as the absence of a body, rotating endlessly in space.

What destroys people, wears them down, is the meaning they give their acts. But the seductress does not attach any meaning to what she does, nor suffer the weight of desire. Even if she speaks of reasons or motives, be they guilty or cynical, it is a trap. And her ultimate trap is to ask: “Tell me who I am” – when she is indifferent to what she is, when she is a blank, with neither age nor history. (Jean Baudrillard, Seduction)

As I said, the deconstructionists were incredibly fond of women, in the abstract at least. But who has ever met an abstract women? Someone who is not so much a body, as the absence of a body, rotating endlessly in space.

 

3.

There never used to be anything before the number one
not in the classical Western world at least
We were afraid of nothing
Of the void into which it would cast us
It was from India that we borrowed the zero
A nothing with a circle drawn round it
A tiny piece of nothing broken off
And displayed for our consideration
Like a red mouth
with a dark centre
a soft fleshy zero
broken off from the rest of nothing
A form
without a body
rotating
and rotating
endlessly
in space.

The market arrived unexpectedly
one night in late November
a persistent low rumble
and the faintest tinkling of bells
truck after
truck after
truck after
truck
like a Coke advert
A blitzkrieg of wooden chalets
spiraling out from the town square
in neatly ordered rows
blocking junctions and side rows
filling the pedestrianised high street
spreading ever outwards like spilled wine
like manifest destiny.

We are running
wrapped in plumes of our own
hot coughing breath
a melee of arms swinging
coats flapping
disordered legs
old trainers slipping on iced brickwork
plummeting through faceless crowds
shins bruising on passing shopping bags
they do not try to stop us
they barely notice us
we tumble downhill
like a failing evacuation
past dream catchers
and small wind up toys
silver jewelry
and Banksy prints
eyes watering
hands throbbing hot red and white
snot spit and splutter
trapped temporarily against the technicolour facade
of a helter skelter
straightjacketed by the clinging smell of
sugared wine and barbecue sausage
it’s starting to snow again
we are running 
in circles
once familiar streets now seem to 
fold in on each other 
like the pages of a map stuck together
we are sure Debenhams didn’t use to be there
we are not sure how long we have been here
running in circles
searching endlessly
hopelessly
for an exit
we are hungry
but our collectively pooled change
doesn’t even cover the cost of a small bag of glazed chestnuts
and they don’t accept cards.

By July the helter skelter has fallen down
and the ice rink has melted back to the concrete
All the knick-knacks have been bought
all the chestnuts have been eaten
Red wine lips blistered dry
Snow drifts of glazed sugar
Shards of festoon glass
People sleeping on carrier bags in the thin spaces between each peeling chalet
The mourning cries of scavenging birds
and the faintest tinkling of bells
Only at the edges is there any life
in those chalets that have
with time
drifted away from the pack
finding themselves isolated on motorway verges and flyovers
or sat restfully on the roof of a block of flats
or a newly built Travelodge
Left to their own devices these last few market stalls have evolved their own curious, hybrid merchandise
gingerbread men with clockwork arms
knitted candleholders
earrings made of plastic cups and artisan cheeses
There is no one left to buy anything
but still they are happy
They make
and they make
and they make
no two items the same
each newly minted creation
admired for the briefest of seconds
and then added to the pile of other similar gifts
settling on the ground in front of the chalet
like freshly fallen snow. 

[This is going to be a moderately sized post about the mechanics and economics of small scale alternative theatre. If that is of no interest to you then you are more than welcome to carry on past as if nothing is happening. More other things soon I promise.]

My friend Bryony wrote a blog the other day about the relationship between artists and venues. Lots of people read it and had very different opinions. Some people suggested that artists are being taken advantage of by venues, whose salaried staff simply don’t understand the difficult economic conditions faced by freelance artists. Other people suggested that we should be equally sensitive to the difficult economic conditions the majority of venues are also struggling through, with many doing the best they can for their audiences. Some suggested artists should be able to ‘name and shame’ venues or rate them like trip advisor, which seems relatively unfair without some kind of right of reply for venues, which it is too easy to forget are not faceless institutions but are in fact made up of real people doing the best they can, often far fewer people than you might think.

Another thing that someone might have said is that this is all a little bit like bickering over deck chairs on the Titanic; that theatre as we hope it might continue to exist is basically a capitalist impossibility but that this is ok, in fact it is one of the best things about it, and what we collectively need to do is make a more compelling case to the general public for why we (venues, festivals, artists, etc.) should be better supported to make survivable careers out of doing this financially illogical thing.

I think I have all of these opinions to a greater or lesser extent.

I am sometimes an artist and sometimes I run a festival and the arguments from both sides (if there even are sides, which there probably shouldn’t be) certainly resonate with me. Forest Fringe doesn’t pay people sometimes and sometimes it does. We (myself, Ira and Debbie) don’t get paid to run it sometimes and sometimes we do. This is a situation that we are only able to sustain with any degree of good will and support because of the level of transparency we ensure we have at all times. When they work with us artists know what the full deal is all the time. Whenever anyone asks how Forest Fringe works we tell them with all the fullness we can. In so doing we hope it is apparent that we are always trying to do the right thing, and if it isn’t we hope this level of transparency encourages people to say so.

Taking this into account it is perhaps not surprising that I think some of the fundamental conflicts and suspicions that arise between artists and those organisations that support and present their work could be immediately improved if we found ways to hard wire a greater degree of transparency into the relationships between them. And to that end I wanted to make two small suggestions that I think might immediately begin to make things better.

1. To create an online space where artists can declare how much they have been able to charge for their work, venue by venue, in the UK and internationally.
This is not about naming and shaming, about slagging off venues you’ve had a bad time with, or a license to have a moan about something that went wrong. This is only about trying to create a paradigm shift in how everyone talks about the money they currently earn. Doing so should in the first instance, give all artists a clearer sense of what they should or could be charging for their work. It should also make it clear where its not worth approaching a venue about your work, or visa versa, and thus avoid some of the messy haggling that Bryony describes.

2. To encourage venues and festivals to declare as a percentage how much of their annual income goes directly to artists. 
Artists in this instance might also include writers, designers, workshop leaders, associate or supported artists etc. Again, this is not about shaming venues. It is about finding simple ways in which to gauge the fairness and consistency of the way in which venues are dealing with artists. It is also a way for venues and festivals to honestly demonstrate the commitment they have to artists that is not implicitly tied to the size of fees they pay. I’m not even saying that there is a percentage amount of your income that you absolutely must be paying to artists, but perhaps making these percentages public would encourage venues to elucidate far more than they currently do where the money they have goes and why, which can only be a good thing.

I am not suggesting that either or both of these things are the solution to a very difficult situation. In fact I think I’m suggesting that there is no solution and that that is main problem. However, perhaps if we trusted one another more, were more consistent and transparent in how we talked to and dealt with one another, then we could all go on trying to solve this impossible problem together. Maybe these are two ways we might build some more of that trust and transparency.