Rod's blog 21.03.13 - Red Ladder Theatre Company

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Rod’s blog 21.03.13

Now that ‘Psychos’ is well and truly on the road, it’s time to think back on the work and then begin the journey of the next project.

I want to reflect on openness and what it is to be open. One of my early rehearsal exercises is to explore being ‘open’ and being ‘closed’ – and the very different energies these concepts and behaviours create. Theatre making is an investigation of human behaviours; how we communicate, how we interrelate, how we react to each other’s stories and how our own personal story informs all of this behaviour. I am often accused of being too open – of being too honest or even of being tactless. I am unsubtle in my use of Twitter (ahem …5193 followers and counting) and my comments sometimes provoke strong reactions. I stated on Facebook that the early shows on the ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ tour were ‘still not quite there’ – and a reviewer picked this up and quoted it. She went on to describe the show as a work in progress – taking my openness as literally saying the show was on the road and unfinished. That was not what I meant at all. To a director a show is always going to have flaws and my comment was as a theatre-maker the early shows were good but held the potential for more. Was it unwise to share those artistic musings on Facebook? Who was I talking to? I was being open. I am being open.

I define intelligence in terms of being open-minded. To have open intelligence is to have clarity and therefore more potential for deep understanding of the world. You cannot be open-minded unless you are open in your dealings with the world. The first few days of the ‘Psychos’ tour were a real test of this openness. The play was well received by the audiences – three good houses at Carriageworks Theatre followed by two sell-out shows at Sheffield Crucible. Each audience ranged widely in age, diversity, class – a school party of GCSE students alongside adults right up to Shakespeare’s ‘Seventh Age’! Each night they were engaged and their applause was warm. The first reviews were quite harsh however. A reviewer has to be honest and open in their appraisal but a poor review still stings – after thirty three years of theatre-making, a poor review still feels unjust. If people in the audience had walked out, if the applause had been muted and polite – then I would have felt a poor review was justified – but this was not the case. However, within days, the early poor reviews had been replaced by glowing reviews. By the end of week one of the tour, the show had been awarded 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars from reviewers. The review system suddenly becomes a bit ridiculous when a show provokes such a wide reaction from that section of the ‘expert’ community and yet ‘Joe Public’ had much more to say on Twitter and Facebook – the true voice came through those channels. This whole process throws up the essential question – why do we make theatre and who is it for? We have a duty to our stakeholders who have invested public money into the company to make theatre which is of a high standard – but we do not have a duty to make the kind of theatre that only the stakeholders want. We have a duty (in my opinion) to make theatre which provokes questions but doesn’t answer them. One criticism of ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ is that it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. So? Maybe that is the point. It is now three years since the banks were bailed out and yet we seem to just sit back while they continue to behave in exactly the same way as before – paying out obscene bonuses to their chief executives while the rest of society suffers. The play describes what we know – that corporations are psychopathic in their behaviour. The real question at the end of this play is…what are we going to do about this? Do we just adapt like Noel and behave in the same psychotic way? Or do we move on in our human evolution? How much more can we say in a 70 minute studio play?

What I have reminded myself of course, that all of this is just data. All the comments, the criticisms, the praise, the debate, the silence (plenty of people in theatre just go silent when they don’t like something – it’s easier than saying “I didn’t like that play”) – it is all just data for our brains to receive. If we are open to this as just data then it doesn’t affect us. We can accept all of it. It isn’t simple of course. As director I have a team of vulnerable people who might be affected badly by harsh criticism: a talented writer who is ambitious and wants to write more and more about the world and commissioning him is not just a gift – it is a responsibility; a team of performers who I have guided through a deep and careful rehearsal process until we agreed we were ready to share this fragile piece of work with a live audience.

Openness means that we do allow ourselves as artists to be exposed to opinion and debate. Red Ladder is 45 years old this week. If we think back to 18th March 1968 and the group who took a piece of agit-prop theatre onto the streets for the anti-Vietnam War protest, their honesty, their openness and their desire to express their frustration and anger at the world was as big a risk as putting a play on about this same stupid, psychotic world in 2013. The same psychotic society that was bombing Vietnamese villages without any one individual taking responsibility is now shrugging responsibility for the misery of being poor and in need of welfare. No-one is being open about it – we do not have the mechanisms to express our fury or frustrations. A piece of theatre is the only way I feel I can – and yet if it were to say what I really believe the world is guilty of, then the same experts who complain about the work being too short would complain that it was too long – and too polemic.

On June 22nd there will be a people’s assembly against austerity organised by The Coalition of Resistance . I’m not sure what that will entail – but I’m going to go down to London to participate in it. Ken Loach, Owen Jones and several leading radical voices have endorsed the day and will participate. If it is a true assembly then it will not be a gathering with a platform for visiting speakers, it will not be a political rant. What it should be is an opportunity for people from different perspectives to be open with each other – an Open Space where conversations are facilitated and ideas flow  until real change is put in place. I guess you’d call this Socialism from the bottom up – no leaders, no state – people coming together to share responsibility and empathising with each other’s data. Actually, I’m not sure if that is Socialism or true Anarchy. In which case, that kind of openness will be too dangerous and the state will  squash it. See you on the 22nd June?