There’s an interview in today’s Metro with ‘rockpera’ start Meatloaf, where he is lamenting the death of the album due to current zeitgeist of downloading individual tracks. The ‘itunes effect’, he claims has caused us all to be lazy listeners and that “ten years ago … You couldn’t just buy four songs off the album. It’s terrible”….
Hmmm, terrible for whom, Mr Loaf? Terrible for us, not having the gift of your divine musicality in its full LP glory, or terrible for you as you realise that your bank balance is forcing you to bow to your greater masters, the fickle and devious audience, and actually provide what they want? Because, you see, not everybody wants to sit through an hour and a half of self-indulgent waffle to get to the three or four songs that they actually like, so what’s the harm? – you might, in fact introduce new listeners who may not have bought your album but actually quite like your single (my dad being case in point).
And yet I realise that through my chastisement, I am actually bringing myself to account. You see, we thespian and arty types have an elevated sense of nobility about the work we present (particularly yours truly) – how can we not when we share our ancestry with Aeschylus, Ovid, Sir Shake of Speare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht, Beckett, Pinter, Hare; even Messers Gilbert, Sullivan, Bennett and Ayckbourn? Furthermore, art in general, and to me theatre in particular, have an unequalled talent for inspiring, educating, uplifting, calming, angering, galvanising; awakening the visceral beast within to ultimately affect change. Yes, when you pare everything else away, we are trying to change the world, even on a minute scale. And yet on my list, I have missed out perhaps the most important quality of all – the ability to entertain.
This factor is our lifeline and our nemesis. For what else is theatre’s sole purpose if not entertainment, even sombre entertainment? We pack our audience in to vacuous pantos, musicals, farces, hoping that some may spill out and seek depth in our poignant dramas and satirical comedies. We know you actually, really, honestly, truly, do want to see high-brow and cultured work. You see, we (in the immortal lines of the Fast Show) are “considerably insightfuller than yaoooow”. We know what is good for you, we know what you need to make your life richer and with greater depth, we know how to make things better…. Don’t we?
And yet where is the line between demand and supply? Arts often justify public spending on the intangible benefits: sense of wellbeing, awareness, social cohesion etc but is that what people are seeking when they turn on Britain’s Got Talent or visit the latest ‘jukebox’ musical? Or do they just want escapism for an hour or so, after another hectic day?
But if we succumb to pure audience vs profit anaylsis, are we to see a rise in cheap made-to-measure TV talent contests in place of challenging theatre? And with the impending cuts that loom above every industry’s head, do we go with what the audience want or what we want?
I think there is a fine line to be trod when programming or creating work – especially for iceandfire, as we would hate to be deemed polemic, pedagogic or patronising but it is our mission to provide a voice for those stories that need to be told, but may not want to be heard by Joe Public. And the way to do that without alienation is to be truly artful – to mesmerise and capture the hearts of our audience in a way they won’t experience just reading an article in the paper. Since joining the team, I’ve only caught a handful of the shows and pieces…. but each time I’ve come out with misty eyes, and I’m not the only one. And, honestly, I’m grateful for the experience no matter how heart-wrenching.
So find solace, Meatloaf, art is not dead after all.
By Lil Binham, Administrator