I want to begin with a story.
When we get to the story it has already started. Piglet has asked Winnie the Pooh what he is doing and Pooh has told him that he is hunting woozles:
The Woozle, or Woozles plural, seems to be going around a little group of larch trees, so Pooh and Piglet go round the larch trees too, and Piglet tells stories about his Grandfather William, and Pooh wonders if perhaps the Woozle they are following is a Grandfather instead, or maybe two Grandfathers, and if so whether they can keep one of them.
Suddenly, there is a revelation – Pooh stops and points to the ground!
“What?” said Piglet, with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice more in an exercising sort of way.
What Pooh has spotted is that there are now three sets of tracks – they are now following three separate Woozles or Grandfathers! But in fact, Pooh has noticed that the new tracks are different from the old tracks, which means that they could be dealing with two Woozles and a Wizzle, or even two Wizzles and one Woozle. Who can say? They must continue to follow the tracks.
We were asked where theatre is going.
And if innovation was leading the way.
And if so what way?
So this is a very short talk about going round in circles.
According to the Flare Festival website
We are all here to the experience
The Theatre of the Future
Which gives you literally the easiest answer to the question of where theatre is going.
It is going here.
Or not here as such
But a new place that these artists
Or artists like them
Will have led us to
The undiscovered country
Boldly going where no one has gone before
They are following strange footprints
Looking for something uncertain but exciting
Or all three
The idea of the pioneer is based on the logic that the future is a place, and not just any place, but a place we haven’t been to yet.
It was the New World
The Wild West
And then when we ran out of world we had Space
The final frontier
And it was full of dozens of new worlds
And then when we grew tired of space we discovered the internet
A much more readily accessible New World
And we all headed off into it
And in no time at all it began to think of itself as a wild west too
Sometimes I worry that theatre, and especially so-called experimental theatre and live art, is far too eager to hitch itself to this particular carousel of progress.
To imagine that the future is a place
That we are going to
A place that no one has been to before
And that consequently we need someone to lead us to
Do we too unthinkingly re-iterate the rhetoric of Enlightenment progress and a vision of the world in which time is moving ever forward? And in our attempts to keep up, do we perhaps end up re-affirming a brutally capitalist fixation on the insatiable production of new things – new ideas, new material and new innovations.
And when we find a new place. A patch of what we assumed to be undiscovered country. Do we think it belongs to us?
Do we think we can sling a fence around an idea, or a new piece of technology, or a way or working, and assume therefore that it is ours – that anyone else who does something similar is stealing from us?
Or equally, do we see what someone else is doing and assume that we have no right to do the same thing?
To use the same ideas or the same technologies or the same resources.
Do we trudge back to what we have chosen to call a workshop
To do some more of what we have chosen to call R&D
To produce some more new material.
To find our own little piece of the future that we might stick a flag in and call our own.
The problem with all of this, as you probably already know
Is that its based on faulty logic
And some aggressively manufactured ideologies
There was no undiscovered country
We live in a big circle
And the internet is not a frontier
It looks like this.
Even Pooh figured out there were no woozles or grandfathers eventually
And he is by his own admission
A bear of very little brain.
The idea of progress has a violent history
Often written on the bodies of people we choose to forget
And innovation has become little more than a part of the hungry rhetoric of capitalism
We should be thinking before we re-iterate this language, in the way we choose to talk about the things we do as artists?
Indeed, should we perhaps put more thought into how we can resist that logic?
How we might celebrate the fact that we don’t have to abide by it and its understanding of production and ownership?
Because we’re not really going anywhere at all
Time repeats itself
It concertinas together
It reoccurs in elaborate even beautiful patterns
Like a bear’s footprints building up in layers as it circles round a larch tree
I hope the future is about appreciating the delight of going round in circles
Which is not about revivals of “the classics”
Or re-enactments of the “past performances”
Because both of those projects still assume that there is some original that exists over there in the past, with its own fence around it, and that we must ask permission if we want to go back there.
I believe that the past can repeat itself in far more unruly and unlikely ways
I wish we could feel freer to copy each other
To reincorporate and reuse
Create intricate patterns of reoccurrence
A radical and generous ocean of ideas in constant circulation
Like the idea of oratory
Old stories remembered and re-spoken
Old rhythms and choruses and drum loops
Reused, remixed, reincorporated
Or even like an internet meme
An idea or a behaviour or a performance
Repeated beyond the point of absurdity, becoming something else entirely
Building into impossibly dense, incredible, nuanced patterns
A one-note joke becoming slowly with a near-ridiculous global effort a thing of genuine beauty
An exploration of our complicated relationship to each other
Rather than an attempt to get ahead of the crowd.