Every community deserves to speak in the national conversation, but it can only be a truthful, socially progressive and useful voice when the people speaking are engaging with the community they speak for. If not, they risk reinforcing toxic stereotypes because they do not know the reality of a communities’ concerns, the depths of its resilience, and how it combats its problems.
We need to think of how Arinzé Kene’s Misty celebrated its community while demanding a better world, how Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia did the same and how Frances Poet’s Adam made a whole community visible, understood and celebrated to a world that had gross misconceptions about it. This is art and community working in sync.
But there is a real danger of artists leaving their communities and taking up the role of spokesperson without continuing to engage with where they came from, perpetuating negative stereotypes, and exploiting their communities for their own gain.
Living in Liverpool, I know this city has an issue with toxic masculine patriarchy and that is what my new play Lost Boys is centred around. I know from the way my friends, family and strangers live that we have an issue, here, with the way men think they have to behave.
The repercussions of this on the emotional, psychological and social lives of men and women in Liverpool are staggering. There are many cases of suicide in men under 30 and women suffer constantly from misogyny on the streets, in the workplace and home.
We need to have a conversation about this in a form that engages with the city’s culture. Our intellectually and emotionally intelligent community responds to absolute human truth and being offered innovative theatre, informed by looking outwards nationally and internationally, with rigorous interrogation of subject matter – and a bit of fun.
To fulfil our jobs as artists who serve our community, we must take control of the narratives about our communities from a position of truth and celebration. This can also be aided by major institutions. Although we, obviously, don’t need the giants of UK theatre to give us permission, it does help to have encouragement and their financial and structural support.
In the case of Lost Boys, the National Youth Theatre has given the message to my community that our voice is a necessary part of the fabric by choosing to produce work here, using local artists, production staff and buildings. This helps us make the work we want to make and raises our profile to aid ticket sales and fund future projects. It recognises us as a part of the nation that the NYT serves.
A national organisation that supports the development of work in communities around the country is, in my view, what a national organisation should be and I am thankful to Paul Roseby and the NYT for that.
Lost Boys runs at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre from September 4 to 11, then at community venues in Liverpool until September 19