Risk, theatre and a divided nation

risk versus opportunity


Opportunities to make theatre are rare.

In the realm of venue-based work the theatre maker needs to dive into a commitment to a vision, attract allies with an original idea and then push up and through a series of waves to eventual production.

A show is the consequence of persistence and alchemy, the right idea plus the right money plus the right people at the right time.

It’s a long game.

Where the aim is to reflect our society dramatically (as it most usually is in theatre which speaks to general audiences) prediction of zeitgeist, and hitting that trend before its passé, or before its even happened, requires almost psychic levels of precognition.

And luck.

And courage. Or lack of a fear of failure. AKA taking a ‘risk’.

woman diving
Painting by Eric Zaner

There are two main areas of risk in theatre, financial and creative.

Common sense dictates that high financial risk equals bad and that high creative risk equals good but both come with modifiers.

Some financial risk, for investors from funders through to ticket buyers is desirable. The unknown’s of a theatre experience make for excitement, the more intriguing the concept and story, the ‘what if?’ the surprising casting and the buzz around the show the more risks investors will take.

Conversely all creative risks need parameters; who wants the play to not speak to anyone in the audience at all or for the stunningly designed glass set to dazzle the audience when lit?

Finding the boundaries for both kinds of theatre risk is hard right now.

Money for most people is very tight and opinion on virtually everything is unpredictable, party lines no longer apply, bigotry calls itself patriotism. The choice feels like put up and shut up or risk approbation but the consequence of rattling cages and challenging the status quo is rarely empty houses.

eric zener 1
Painting by Eric Zaner

Theatre history indicates that agitation and dissent in dramatic format has acted as focus and catalyst for change, provoking it or mirroring and amplifying movements in society.

Ibsens’ DOLLS HOUSE, questioning female subjugation caused outrage but lit fires, THE CHILDRENS’ HOUR, TORCH SONG TRILOGY and ANGELS IN AMERICA addressed injustice and drove gay rights forwards and BEHTZI questioned abuse and violence veiled by religious impunity.

In an era where much that is progressive in terms of equality and emancipation is in jeopardy drama representing the journeys, status and values of people with learning and other disabilities can speak volumes to people of all kinds trying to make sense of a skewed current reality.

Funding cuts and Crowdfunder fatigue don’t have to equal a retreat into known theatrical formulae. Creative risks can get bigger.

If the fields are on fire why not bet the farm? Why not spit in the eye of political meltdown with a pot boiling musical about a modern day UKIP voting Boadicea and her daughters?

In an uncertain and volatile political climate, when we’re aiming to make work for a society split in two, its vital that theatre deals with contemporary UK life, with its division, prejudice, shocking poverty, nostalgic self-delusion, neglect, resurgent class distinction and simmering anger and ensure that people with vastly different opinions are able to sit next to each other and consider alternative stories, with cathartic endings, offering views which lead to a vision for a better future.

If theatre of contemporary societal and political relevance becomes too hard to countenance for fear of upsetting one side or the other then we’re all the poorer.

The loss of an agitating and provocative theatre experience for a disparate and diverse audience is the biggest potential risk of all.

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