Sunday, 9 November 2008

Open Ended?

Walking past the Royal Court in the 80's I remember a huge sign hung outside, on which was proudly displayed the following slogan - ' This is the Decade of Fear'. At the time I felt a whole mixture of feelings at this wierdly swaggering declaration. On the one hand I was indignant - who the hell had decided this was the decade of fear? What self appointed cultural Commissar had the effing cheek, quite frankly? Why was this decade more fearful than any others? Bollocks! And does that mean that every production had to, in some way, reflect that? Was this advertising slogan really a thinly disguised party line?
Of couse, underneath that indignance lurked my own personal insecurities - after all, my plays weren't being produced by the Royal Court. There were a few sniffs of interest, but nothing more substantial. So quite apart from my own raging doubts about my own ability which I hid behind the usual nonchalance, I was wondering - maybe my work wasn't fearful enough? How could I make them reek with zeitgeistian anxiety? Was the magic trick?
Trying to anticipate what Theatres want is of course the death knell to real creativity. Instead you immerse yourself in your chosen subject - which of course in many respects chooses you - and write from inside out. In that way if you're lucky you can sometimes find yourself one step ahead of the game - or at least discovering those things in your own writing which resonate with the times, as a friend put it - 'speak to the moment'. But slogans like - This is the Decade of Fear - have considerable impact upon young impressionable writers - and can be terribly unhelpful. They can come across as proscriptive. A template for the successful Royal Court Play. And after all, as much as we want to write we also want to be successful. Who doesn't?
Over the years Writernet has also pursued a different agenda, in which no assumptions are made about decades or otherwise. Instead of triumphalist slogans to live up to, it has offered writers a theoretical and practical tool kit to quietly develop their careers. This could be through opportunities to have their work produced, or to build alliances and relationships with Directors and Theatre Companies over time, or simply to reflect on the work itself. And I've always felt, that although the ideal end point for any finished script is production, there has been a part of Writernet that has really honoured the process of writing - has, in effect, valued the Playwright for what s/he is as well as what s/he does. So as we move from 'The Decade of Fear' to 'It isn't Fixed' - a movement that feels more open ended and inclusive to me, more confident to embrace new possibilities and to value new ways of making theatre - but all the time ensuring that what will enable theatre to survive is its 'theatricality' - a full blooded, vulgar, renegade spirit that is unashamedly rooted in artifice - the lie that tells the truth.
However, I have a challenge - and it's as much a personal one as professional, which I'd like to share at It Isn't Fixed - so humour me a moment. I'd like to see a really good new play written about Sex - and in particular the profoundly liberating influence it can have in our lives. In this country there is a terribly confused attitude towards Sex - partly nudge nudge, partly moralistic, very largely hypocritical. Behind this lies a really deep antipathy towards the idea of pleasure which is rooted in a puritanical ideology that thinks everything must be judged by it's usefulness. If it doesn't have some practical application then it is morally defect - and of course sexual pleasure in itself is supremely unuseful. I think drama - because it often seems to explore private individuals in public worlds - is by and large powered by this puritanical energy, this need to make a change, a contribution, to be 'useful'. Because of that sex is usually treated in several ways - agonised individuals caught up in sexual scandals, or sex seen as exploitative and/or commodified, used as metaphors for colonialism - and if not this doom laden catastrophic model then it is treated in purely ironic terms, laughed away into inconsequence, trivialised. How about writing about sex as a force for adventure, for personal fulfillment, for expansiveness, for JOY? Now that really would be radical, wouldn't it.

Nicholas McInerny

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