Sparked by an exchange of emails with an old and close friend of this website, the monkey wants to share a little conversation it had recently.
The friend was pondering whether offering free tickets to those who had never seen a show would be a good idea.
As the monkey pointed out, it has been done by private benefactors, charities, and local councils. To it, the result seems pretty much the same – no mass change in theatre attendance. Those who want to go to the theatre and can afford / find ways to afford it, do. The rest, a massive majority, just tell ballerinas to get to the back of the line.
What then struck it was far larger: what are we doing defining “theatre” anyway?
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all is for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
Peter Brook, "The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate.”***
In other words, a school child who has been in a classroom facing an inspirational teacher’s lesson or heard anyone read anything in a school assembly has seen a “live performance.”
Watch a market trader “pitch and dem” (monkey adores those amazing shows). Pass a busker. Two people arguing entertainingly in the street. A live football match with a player rolling on the ground showing his sponsored boots to the camera and begging for a kick (take that as you want). Or a simple kick-around in the park. The pub singer. Grandma pulling a coin out of her grand kid’s ear. Eulogy or marriage blessings spoken from the front of a church or secular room. Peter Brook is right, it’s theatre.
In other words, what we are really talking about is getting more people to pay to see a performance. Commodify culture in a way which benefits those who produce it.
There’s nothing wrong with that. The monkey along with a million others relies on it – and we all know what happens when the government forbid us to practice so that we could be paid for it.
Likewise, though, is it actually worth getting concerned about from anything other than a commercial angle?
Certainly, arts of all and any kind enrich anyone’s life. The same goes, though, for appreciating a sunset, the companionship of a pet, the hand of friendship. Teaching a child to make space in their lives for such things is vital. Equally so is giving them the tools that allow them to do it.
The freedom of time and from worry to take advantage, instil a reason to use time that way. That’s an early skill to be taught, and a lifelong right to be enshrined in society.
The monkey’s point is that handing out theatre tickets treats not the roots and sometimes not even the symptoms. If it did, society would be avid live entertainment seekers and such projects would be moot.
Accept instead that “theatre” is that man walking through an empty space. Provide another man the time, emotional and economic freedom to watch him. Add the ability to appreciate and respond to what he is watching on intellectual and emotional levels. Surely that is the true starting point to create a truly enriching culture and form a better society.
***NOTE: The monkey is aware of using the word "man" in this blog. This is for style reasons only, to tie in with the Peter Brook quotation used. To be clear, it does of course include everybody, however they choose to identify.