I got into a bit of a debate a little while back with a collection of people on twitter about You Me Bum Bum Train and the ethics of volunteering. You can still go and look at it. That’s what’s good about twitter. I won’t rehearse the same arguments I made back then for the following reasons:
a) I think I made my position pretty clear.
b) The people I was arguing with are all very nice people making very reasonable points and it is definitely more interesting to see what I think in the context of what they think.
c) A while ago I stopped being the kind of person that enjoyed having arguments on the internet.
Since then however the shadow of a bigger question has been moving through my head, prompted not only by how surprised I was by people’s aggressive response to You Me Bum Bum but also by my own hopes and anxieties for Forest Fringe; the things I’d like it to be and some of the things that people have accused us of being. I’m going to try and draw some chalk around what are still very unformed thoughts. This will out of necessity have to be brief and a bit messy. It’s not meant to be a definitive statement or an accusation of anything. If I’m being deliberately slightly evasive, it’s because I don’t totally know what I’m saying yet. But anyway.
I want to take a few minutes to think about what we call value and what we call being valued.
I want to take a few minutes to imagine a situation in which we can truly celebrate the potential complexities and contradictions in the different kinds of value that we might ascribe to what we do.
I want to imagine a situation in which we can acknowledge pluralities rather than seeing them as a weakness or a threat. A situation in which the different approaches that people have to what art is and how it should be made are accepted openly and generously, without the fear that our willingness to countenance such difference will be used by the powerful as a stick with which to beat us.
I don’t want to watch young, passionate and brilliant theatremakers screamed at on the internet like wayward children who need to shut up because they are going to get us in trouble.
I think I’d rather be accused of being a Tory stooge (as I have been more than once) than work in a culture that determines everything that we can and can’t talk about on the basis of how it might be perceived by our government.
I don’t want to believe in a solidarity that is predicated on all of us doing and saying exactly the same thing.
And then after that I would like to imagine something better than the present way we have of talking about the value of art.
I want to imagine how else we could think about what we do if we didn’t talk about it as an industry.
I want to have the opportunity to experiment with alternative ways of making and presenting art.
I want to begin to countenance the pretentious and beautiful possibility that art might be somewhere we can begin making a genuinely post-capitalist society.
I want to devalue art to the point where it has no economic value at all, just so we can see what it retains.
I want to devalue art like letting the air out of an overinflated balloon, so that we can see the other shapes that it might make, the other ways in which we might use it, the different directions it might be stretched. I want to do that so that we might realise that art needn’t be as fragile and precarious as we imagine it to be.
I want to think about reasons for doing what I do that have nothing to do with making a living. I want to think about desire, weakness, hope, instinct, faith, generosity, reciprocity and love. I want to think a lot about love.
I want to be able to say that, and do that, and I want you to trust me that I am doing it for the right reasons.
I want to be able to say that, and do that, without there being an assumption that I am deliberately or otherwise putting your job at risk.
I want to be able to say that, and do that, without it being consumed by the insipid, morally bankrupt rhetoric of Big Society volunteering.
I want to be able to say that, and do that, without you conflating it with the insipid, morally bankrupt rhetoric of Big Society volunteering.
I want to do that without it being assumed that I am implicitly undermining the whole of the present system for making and funding art in this country.
I want to do that without it being assumed that I am therefore a massive fucking hypocrite if I ever accept any money or work from that very same system.
I want to find a way of acknowledging the privilege that allows me the space in which to make these claims and explore these ideas, and that perhaps that privilege is also a responsibility.
Perhaps more than anything, I want this to be a conversation. I promise.
And then finally for now, I want people to understand that the things that I and some others make (be they shows, or theatre companies, or festivals) are like fragments of a different kind of conversation. Which is to say, they are meant to be tentative and curious and open. They are often meant to have a question mark at the end.
I want you to understand that everything Forest Fringe has ever done should probably have had a question mark at the end.
I want you to imagine that this short document also has a question mark at the end.
[Image of Tim Etchell’s Lisabon Fight City for Forest Fringe, by Ira Brand]