Good morning, dear reader! It’s a bit chilly today, so I hope you’ve got your scarf, gloves, etc.
Last night some friends and I went to the Finborough Theatre to see a play called The Hard Man. The producer is a friend of ours whose work we wanted to support, but actually it was well-worth seeing in its own right. The story is based on the life of Jimmy Boyle, a notorious gang leader who was convicted for murder in Glasgow in 1967. I’m not sure if this is what we were supposed to get out of it, but for me it came out as somewhere in the middle of Trainspotting, Brighton Rock and The Shawshank Redemption. I won’t go into too much narrative detail after that baffling three-way comparison, but the performances were brilliant and the production as a whole was very compelling.
The crux of the play’s message was that people are the product of their environments. This wasn’t so much an attempt to absolve the characters of responsibility, but an indication that there is always logic at play rather than a conscious decision to become “evil”. If you were born into a hard life in Glasgow, you responded in kind. If you didn’t have a father, you did what you needed to to bring money in. If someone hit you, you hit back. There was inevitability at play rather than a tragic downfall of the imperfect hero: in the writing and the performances, there was no tangible plea for the audience to understand or sympathise, it was just: “Here we are. This is what we started with, so this is what we had to do.” It was logic, not bad luck.
That may just be my opinion, and I hope that my producer friend will forgive me if I’ve interpreted the play all wrong, but it definitely struck a chord with me. Perhaps there is an inevitability and logic to our lives, sometimes so small that we don’t even notice it. For example, everyone in my family went to university, so I did too. I wanted to go, but it never even occurred to me to do anything else, when of course there are hundreds of other options to take. I loved my university, and I don’t regret my decision in any way, but it’s just a curious thought: did I apply to university on autopilot because of my environment? What might I have done differently if no one in my family were university-educated?
The things that we believe, think, say and do are all a factor of who we are now, and who we are now is the result of years and weeks and minuscule moments that have shaped our lives. I don’t know how many moments in your life you can point to and say “That split second changed my life”, but in a way it doesn’t matter, because they all did. The question is what to do about it now that you are here.
In the arts sector in particular, people have found that the years, weeks and moments have led them to a place where there is no money and no certainty. It’s all very well to say either (or both) of the following two things:
1) “We didn’t get into this business for the certainty of it; art is all about the precarious and unknown!”
2) “It’s not fair. Why shouldn’t we be able to make theatre? It was just dumb luck that our generation started out in the middle of a recession.”
But saying these things is not going to get your play produced or your your novel published. Saying those words is just repeating what we all know already, so don’t waste your time. We are where we are, and there’s nothing we can do to go back in time and stop the recession, so we will just have to use it. I’m not saying that making theatre is going to pull this country out of its financial canyon (although you never know), but the fact is that people who want to paint, write, act, direct, dance and every other artistic discipline under the sun have to take what the world gives them and use it to make their work better. You can’t fix it, so use it.
The recession is not going to go away just because we don’t like it, and arts funding is not going to magically increase just because we want it to. Those might be nice side effects of our work in the future, but for now we should be looking at the world around us, accepting what we cannot change and using it to our advantage. On a very basic, impetuous level, we should take every opportunity to defy the asshats who lost our money by becoming stronger, better and more active artists. Think about the logic: if the country’s wealth hadn’t been so skew-whiff in the sixties, John McGrath would never have formed 7:84 Theatre Company.
I think what I’m trying to say is that we should be ruthless and realistic when it comes to facing the odds. Even if they are stacked so highly against us that they’re starting to wobble a bit, we should always, always be looking at situations as opportunities to become better artists.
I got on my soapbox a bit there, didn’t I? I’ll clamber down now and make us some coffee. D’you take sugar?