A response to Sherman Cymru: What is the purpose of theatre?

This post is motivated by an evening at Sherman Cymru. The theatre welcomed new writers as part of its TAITH project. Three performances responding to the theme of social uprising were brought to the stage, with discussion and feedback. 

Do I think it’s the responsibility of theatre to create revolution?
I think theatre is at its best when it creates a dialogue.
It is a wonderful intermediary, a stimulus.

Enabling thoughts on matters not necessarily faced if not for the stage.
Enabling an understanding, of acceptance, revolution, whatever floats an individual’s boat.
To stimulate our thought process.

The Friendship Tree, The Knap, Barry

Iphigenia in Splott was amazingly successful at this. The wealth of responses demonstrating its reach and impact.
Sherman Cymru enabled a conversation, that those in the audience will have with a colleague at work, on a train, at the gym, with another parent on the school run, with a friend over a glass of wine.

It may not happen within the theatre, but people will remember, it will chime, it may not be immediate, but given the themes of the play, it’s quite likely it will chime in the near future.

The election, made the conversation real. It made people realise the bubbles which we exist within. That we have done it to protect our family, but in protecting our family we stopped talking, our community weakened. And by not  talking, stimulating the conversation, we didn’t appreciate the breadth of public opinion. And that’s ok, we weren’t alone, no-one expected a majority government ergo no-one appreciated the volume of those voting Conservative… or those forgoing their vote.

Is theatre only for the middle class?
Aarrrghhh. Welcome to sector wars. The same way construction is the career for under achievers. Because the theatre which lives and breathes your creativity is encased in the design and build of amateurs?
Every sector is competing for the best talent. It’s not that it’s about the middle class. 

But it will be, of course, if you allow it to happen, because if a career is not offering beyond the living wage it is restricting its talent pipeline.
So, garner support for the living wage across the board.
Enable each sector to be competitive so individuals can choose to access careers where their talents lie. The holy grail.
But do not compromise talent, it is worth paying for.

And what of attracting an audience?
Please do not compromise your value.
The projects the Sherman enables, Sherman5, the Christmas project, these are gold dust and should be promoted to allow other communities to benefit from their local theatre. 

Support, experience and encourage theatres bringing Room on a Broom, Octonauts and Hetty Feathers to the stage. It gets people into the theatre. It enables a child’s first theatre experience. Of course it’s a commercial dream. But it does create familiarity with theatre.

Because then it can be about the next theatre ticket purchase. 

And getting the adult to the theatre without their charge, and to see something which interests them.

Beyond tv and into the imagination.

 The rambling conclusion
Which brings me to my final point.
Sorry for interrupting to disagree.
But as obstinate child who never learned social triggers, I just needed to say.
Take Iphigenia in Splott to the masses.
Create the dialogue.
Give people the confidence of their voice.
Give people the confidence to make a difference.
And make it tangible to them.
Please consider making it about their community.
Taking it beyond empathy and association to a person’s reality.

Because nothing scares a person more than unwelcomed change.
A redundancy. A cut to public services. A library closure.
Immediacy creates uprising.
Dementia, redundancy, racism…. “it happened to me , I will fight it.”

Theatre creates the environment,
The individual pursues the dialogue.
It may not remain pure to the text.
But Iphigenia in Splott has created the dialogue. It opened doors.
And hopefully, beyond my immediate circles, it has instigated conversation, created change at the grassroots.

Because that’s what happened as a result of the election.
People realised their neighbour voted Conservative.
We realised those within our community didn’t bother voting because their vote wouldn’t matter.
The assumption that living within a stronghold meant one vote wouldn’t matter.
Because the contradictory messages made it too difficult to understand which party to vote for.
Because no party appealed to immediate priorities (and the impact of the manifesto of the party which would win didn’t feel real).
Because being engaged isn’t possible, the people standing are too far removed from life.

Iphigenia in Splott sparked the conversation.
What the arts achieves in addition to ‘entertaining’.
And when you spark these conversations.
And invite them, and nurture them through ‘Taith’.
You prove you can celebrate what you do well.
So, yes, I disagree.
Iphigenia in Splott is a huge success. And it can and will be a success nation (whether that be Wales, GB, or UK) wide.
Yes, it will resonate, it will allow audiences to associate.

But, I cannot stray from my conviction, that to know this is happening on your doorstep, in Wythenshawe; Burnley; Chalvey; Luton; bringing it home, creates the incentive for change. The immediacy.

To have a script with points of reference personal to you increases the feeling of intimacy, and relevance.
Nothing is worse, than the crime on your doorstep, your library closing, being declined a place at your local school, the recipient of discrimination.

And yes, you could get local writers involved. But this is something you created, something amazing which the talent of the Sherman fused. That quality needs to find its way to all communities, and shouldn’t be weakened through franchise.

Theatre can create sympathy and empathy. It can create humour, it can shock.
But now, more than ever, it can create an understanding of the alternative, the realities of sitting on hands, making people open their eyes to what is happening in their community and creating a momentum for change.

Theatre can create change.

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