Although we are not nearly out of the woods yet, I like to think I played some tiny part in prodding the government to come up with a rescue package for the industry with my various emails and petitions.
The past few weeks have certainly reminded me not only of the power of campaigning but also of the many areas in our industry, from diversity to gender, where there is a lot that still needs to change.
I have been thinking about how to use my own creative talents to help. As an actor and singer, I have occasionally been in shows with political themes but have tended to be a chorus member rather than a lead voice.
Now I feel I need to speak up, too. I’m scared of getting it wrong – but I also know silence changes nothing. Can you give me advice on how to use my performing talent effectively to create positive change?
Campaigning was a big part of my original arts career: as a cartoonist and illustrator working for community and development organisations. I was inspired to transition into performance by fellow artists from the performing arts. I saw how powerful their work could be in highlighting issues and creating change.
Whatever individual paths into theatre each of us has taken, I agree a lot of change is still needed. In that spirit, here are a few suggestions based on lessons learned the hard way back in my pen-and-ink activism days.
Being clear on what you want to achieve with your song, monologue or other contribution is important. Art can persuade, raise awareness, explain, encourage and express anger – and great art can do all those things at once.
Reflect on which of those outcomes is the key one for you in each individual piece, because this can have a bearing on your audience and approach.
Whatever result your creativity produces, make sure to run it past a sample audience before releasing it to the wider world, and preferably not an audience that already agrees with you. Don’t tell them in advance what your piece intends to say. That way, you will get better feedback on what your work actually does say, and can adjust accordingly.
Whether you get it wrong or right, not everyone will like your message or the way you present it – including people who are nominally ‘on the same side’. That is not a bad thing. Work that doesn’t raise strong emotions is unlikely to change anything.
If you have done the planning discussed above, you can be confident that any pushback is based on what you are trying to say, not misinterpretation caused by woolly communication. Deliberate misinterpretation is the stock in trade of trolls and bots, which are hard to avoid these days, but much easier to combat (or ignore) when your message is clear and comfortable in your own mind.
Speaking of communication, keep a close eye on the progress of campaigns and initiatives in the industry, so you can link your own efforts to others where strength in numbers might help, but also to avoid accidentally duplicating or ‘talking over’ campaigns by individuals or communities directly affected by the issues you are keen to support.
Be alert for the times when your best creative response is to amplify the creative responses of others with less of a platform, because not only are we ‘all in this together’ but we are also in it for the long haul. The more generously we support each other, the better chance of positive outcomes for us all.