Sometimes we look up and can barely believe we are living through this moment…

June 10, 2020

After nearly three months spent with us so far, all in lockdown, and following more seismic shift in our global, national and local consciousness over the last two weeks – Artistic Director Lorne reflects on where we find ourselves, and where we go from here.

I, and everyone else who holds any sort of power in this moment, needs to feel the weight of it. The responsibility and the possibility of our power should be felt with a great sharpness. As individuals, as organisations, as nodes and elements of larger systems we must not allow ourselves to grow used to that sharpness. We must not learn to live with it. We must not turn our bodies so that the bite is less painful. We must turn towards it, engage with the difficulty and the pain: examine our behaviour; share our power; widen our reference; demand our accountability; audit our actions.

I have always tried to understand theatre in terms of its usefulness and its porousness. To ask the questions:

  • To whom are we being useful and how?
  • When ‘we’ say ‘we’ who do ‘we’ mean?
  • Can the nature, practise and action of the theatre be effectively changed and challenged by those who are not employed by it?

For cultural organisations of all kinds, and those with the title of ‘National’ in their names even more so, a historical moment such as this demands that we face the fundamental question we should always be facing. ‘Are we useful?’ For a national theatre the question is not ‘what does the national theatre want to become’ but rather, ‘what kind of tool must we be in this moment to help shape a society that we wish to be part of’.

NTW is 10 years old. Its formation was an act of optimism and ambition. It is an act that speaks to the short term and the long. It says ‘we believe theatre can be an engine of progress in our society, that can hold open crucial spaces for the understanding, evolution, dissection and reimagining of who and what we are’. The critical word in this sentence is ‘can’. Theatre can be these things; it can also fail to be these things. It can also be a dead space, a reactionary space, an exclusionary space, a closed shop, an irrelevant space.

As was shown so powerfully by the toppling and drowning of the statue of Edward Colston on Sunday, symbols are important, history can be retold. Things that appear fixed can be pulled down and their meaning changed. As a sector we are facing incredibly complex and overlapping challenges. It can feel overwhelming. It can feel impossible to know where to start. What small thing to do first to begin to address these vast, systematic issues of racism and inequality. It can feel like the change we seek is impossible. In order to act, it is crucial that we do two things:

  1. That we turn towards this painful, dizzying complexity. That we face our urgent problems and when we are overwhelmed, resolve to pick ourselves and each other up and go again.
  2. Always remember that change is not only possible, it is inevitable and we can make the difference between change for the better and change for the worse.

As a company we are trying to think and act for the short term and the long. Trying to deploy our resources, share our power and target our actions to where they can help now. At the same time, we are trying to plan for the long term, to interrogate ourselves, our structures, our systems, to offer transparency and invite scrutiny, conversation and challenge as we offer plans and action.

We are part of an industry that can be a powerful force for re-invention, healing and recovery, but there must be no doubt about the scale and immediacy of the crisis we are experiencing. Without decisive and sustained support from government the cultural sector and theatre in particular faces a level of hardship and fundamental damage to our workforce and infrastructure on a scale never experienced before. If our sector cannot support our freelancers through this crisis, there will not be a theatre worth having on the other side. If it cannot address systematic and structural racism in our industry and society, there will not be a theatre worth having on the other side. If it cannot put inclusion of all kinds at the centre of action and thinking there will not be a theatre worth having on the other side. If it cannot protect our theatre buildings and community spaces, large and small then there will not be a theatre worth having on the other side. If we cannot do all of this with sustainable, equitable and ecologically sound models then it is irrelevant anyway.

In countless zoom meetings over the last two and a half months it has been inspiring to meet so many of the passionate, dedicated and insightful people working for the advancement and survival of Welsh theatre and culture. I am hugely grateful to all those who have helped me begin to understand the specific challenges and opportunities in front of us. The way ahead will undoubtedly be hard but I am more convinced than ever that there is boundless possibility here and I am proud to be part of the collective endeavour to create the thing that comes next. There is great long term thinking and conversation struggling to be made manifest: In the Wellbeing of Future Generations act; In the highly engaged conversations being had in forums large and small across Wales; In attempts to apply thinking such as doughnut economic growth models or the insistence in getting our colonial history properly taught in our curriculum. The challenge, as always, is to ensure that our short-term actions all drive to our long-term goals, to believe that this is a moment in which we can do better.

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing” – Raymond Williams

Lorne

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