Theatre as Protest Alive and Well

There’s an interesting and provocative blog post up over at Belt Up Theatre that prompted me to join in.  The tenor of their argument is that if government funding for the arts, arts education and arts training generally dries up, then the arts will dry up.

While I agree with their assertion that artists will find it harder to make a living, and audiences will be harder to attract if the government (aka society itself) refuses to contribute to the very real financial costs of creating and presenting theatre, I can’t agree that theatre will die out.  There have been harder periods for creative artists throughout humanity’s evolution, and still live performance continues to exist, mostly to entertain but frequently to provoke and challenge the powers-that-be.

Much as I value training in the arts, especially as my livelihood depends upon it, I am also aware that actors in particular will keep on acting, creating new performances and sharing them with audiences whether they get paid or not.  Think of the so-called ‘dark ages’, when theatre was totally banned across Europe. Did this mean that there were no performances? I’m not sure of the numbers, but I believe it lasted for around 1000 years, and at the end of it there were still jugglers, singers, dancers, musicians, AND actors available, and skilled up ready to carry on, but this time legally.

Closer to home (chronologically speaking), it is sad but true that some of the most exciting, vivid and effective theatre-making happened in Eastern Europe during their ‘dark ages’ under repressive communistic regimes. Theatre makers don’t give up, they just become more and more ingenious and inventive.  I remember a production of “Lord of the Flies” by the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg which I found, from my Australian/UK cultural background to be quite weirdly literal, was considered by its funding body (the communist government) to be a safe adaptation of a world classic, while its audiences read it as a refreshing indictment upon the politbureau.

Of course we must lobby for decent and adequate funding of the arts, especially for arts education if we want to live in a thoughtful, well-informed society.  One of the ways to do this is to keep on creating theatre that challenges the status quo and the assumptions of the ill-informed that the arts are irrelevant to daily life, and to a healthy society.



8 March 2011 at 10:23 AM

Flloyd, of course theatre won’t die out. How’s that for a confident statement! 🙂 It’s an expression of an enormously powerful human impulse at work. It’s interesting that successive repressive political regimes throughout the ages have sought to deny theatre artists the opportunity to have their say; theatres have been shut down and voices stifled. By the way, I think the so-called European Dark Ages (invented by the Renaissance men) that you refer to were quite alive with performative activity, whether via strolling players, jongleurs et al or the church-based performances that gave rise to the Mystery and Morality plays. The closure of theatres during the English period of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell apparently also saw illicit performances behind closed inn doors and the like. You can’t keep a good idea down. Viva theatre!
PS Good to see the blog back up and running.

    8 March 2011 at 10:33 AM

    Thanks Kate. Yes, Yes and Multitudinous Yeas! I remember sitting in school being told that “there was no theatre in the dark ages, because it was banned” and thinking how deeply illogical that statement must be.

    Now I must get a link up to The Groundlings here!

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5 March 2011