Cheer Every Ship
Now, more than ever, The Arts needs to stick together.
If the last few years can teach the country anything, it’s that sowing seeds of division just weakens all sides of reasoned debate. And to remember that accepting cleverly constructed headlines as absolute fact can lead many astray.
As the reality of Covid-19’s financial impact strikes daily, with show closures into 2021 and mass-redundancies at venues and suppliers, the initial industry unity could start to fracture.
Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber continue to dominate the news – whether with Andrew’s ‘trial’ of socially distanced theatre (which Cameron said exposed the policy as “a disaster”) or Cameron announcing that Phantom has finally closed (to which Andrew responded “will reopen”). Both are absolute powerhouses in the UK theatre world, and no one should knock their obvious desire to reopen as soon as possible, but they are in the tricky position of publicly being “staunch” Conservative supporters.
As such, they have the ear of the Government but carefully temper criticism of what, despite big announcements, has so far been ineffective help across much of our industry by their friends in power. The danger is that, while the Government and headline makers follow these two impresarios in their gallant quest for a solution, they can give the public the false perception that help is either here or just around the corner, when the truth is far more brutal.
But whether we like them, their shows, or not, theatre still needs the bright lights of the spectacular. Regardless of what we now aspire to in our careers, for many, it was the flame that first attracted them to the stage, whether the West End or our brilliant Regionals. With huge successes comes huge publicity for the industry, which in turn feeds ambition, training, funding and jobs, right down to grass root levels.
Early memories of the stage remain etched in our minds for eternity. Posters of idols on bedroom walls. Soundtracks played over and over until we were word perfect. Ridiculous playground rumours of your primary school show ‘transferring’ the local regional stage (I've never fully gotten over the crushing realisation that it didn't...).
Creators are dreamers. Theatre attracts those who feed off the buzz that comes from bringing visions and ideas to life – that propels them in front of audiences, in turn bringing others to the table as they hear what’s on the menu.
The venues need the producers, the investors, the risk takers. The producers need the directors, the designers, the writers, musicians, choreographers and marketers. They in turn rely on the actors, the technicians, managers, builders and makers. All of whom depend upon the suppliers, hirers and transporters. When one part fails, we are all at risk of failing too.
Our instinct, when danger threatens, is for self-preservation. We may fight for a wider cause while we can, but the more desperate we get, the harder we will begin to fight for our corner.
The Arts strength lies in its absolute diversity and the recognition that a solo show in a dingy Edinburgh basement to an audience of four has the potential to be every bit as important as a sold-out run of Hamilton to those who witness it first-hand.
Now, as we get used to the new reality of shows and venues closing, dreams dying, and months of uncertainty for our workforce, we are faced with a choice – to applaud potential survivors of this disaster or watch us all go down together, because we were so busy fighting for a place on a lifeboat that we ended up breaking them all.
Here, I know where I stand. Each individual victory must be celebrated for its success.
I’m a Star Wars obsessive. When the first rebel transport ship escaped the Imperial blockade at the battle of Hoth, did those left fighting hopelessly on the ice planet grumble about who was onboard? No. They stopped whatever they were doing, raised their hands and cheered, before turning back to their tasks – to try and save themselves. Were they still afraid? Of course. But that didn’t stop them wanting others to have a chance – to succeed – to survive.
That’s who I want to be. Most days, I know I’ll have to remind myself of that.
But whether it’s Superstar opening at Regents Park, new musical The Coven doing one night at Le Gothique, storytelling at The Minack, or Shakespeare at The Maltings – each announcement is a reason to cheer. It’s another ship away to safety for those onboard.
While the battle continues, our challenge must be to keep fighting, but always together. Now, more than ever, we need to be colleagues and not rivals.
We need to keep raising our hands and cheering on those who have safely navigated past the blockade. We need to not sink the lifeboats.
For those who followed the Star Wars saga through to its conclusion, the rebels won, but it looked pretty bleak for some time. Many weren’t there at the end to celebrate but Rey’s final victory was only possible through the spirits of ‘all of the Jedi’ before her. For those who will rightly point out that Star Wars is fiction, I would repeat the age-old advice to all writers - “write what you know.”