Should theatre aim to inspire action?

I really like this article in the Guardian Theatre Blog by Molly Flatt.

She questions whether the wave of theatre in London at the moment that focuses on the banking crisis is simply meant to make people feel like they have absolved themselves of sin and responsibility by watching it, without actually taking any action.

“There is something a little suspect about how good these plays make us feel. Money and Enron are both fantastic shows, spectacular and chilling. Booing at their pantomime-villain bankers and traders feels great, but that’s mainly because they allow us to point fingers and condemn the bad guys in a way that we singularly failed to do at the time. Although there were a few perfunctory attempts in each show to remind us that we, the great public, are the ones who facilitated the high-level deceptions – with our failure to question unsustainable returns and our willing collusion in a too-good-to-be-true system as long as it gave us three bedrooms and an en-suite – none of them really hit home. Instead, we got to revel in our own humility and restraint compared to the mad maths geniuses whose hubris dragged us all down.”

This is a phenomenon we are conscious of at iceandfire, and one that I think we try hard to counteract. Audiences could potentially feel that, in coming to see a show about (for example) asylum seekers, it means that they are therefore automatically part of the solution and no longer responsible for the problem.

We hope that audiences don’t feel like that after one of our shows. Part of the way in which we try to combat such a mentality is by offering genuine, hands-on ideas of what people can do to make a difference after they have watched the performance. While they are feeling emotionally moved and motivated, we try to offer them practical solutions that they can be a part of. Some of the ideas we suggest are listed on our website, on the Get Involved page. It is not enough for people to feel bad about an issue but then forget about it. We want to encourage people get involved.

I suspect, however, that our Outreach strand, Actors for Human Rights, is less likely to attract visitors with the mindset identified by Molly Flatt. Because Actors for Human Rights is often performing in non-traditional venues, such as church halls and lecture theatres, I think there might be less distance between the performers and the audiences. Without the lights, costumes and big stage it is maybe harder for the audience to feel they “have repaired our crooked values simply by forking out £20 to watch them replayed”.

Also we usually don’t charge for our Outreach shows!!

What do you think? Perhaps it’s ok for audiences to have their awareness raised without any action being taken? Perhaps the impact should be more subtle? I admit that it’s harder to know what an audience would do about the credit crunch, now that the event is in the past tense. Perhaps the Royal Court should encourage people to cut up their credit cards??

By Charlotte George, Media & Communications Officer

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