“It might not be the start to the decade that many of us dreamed of,” Norris writes, “but as any artist will know, certainty is no bad thing.”
So when did certainty become the bedrock great art rests on? Was that what made Elizabethan England fertile ground for dramatists and poets?
Kodicek said what I wanted to say when she wrote: “I want to scream into the sea at the idea that… I have to ‘agree to disagree’ with politicians who, if they are not racists, are happy to court the racists’ vote.”
No screaming for Norris. His “New Year’s resolutions are to celebrate the work and best practice around the country, and engage with this new government towards that easy win”.
Who can blame the director of our National Theatre for not wanting to “waste energy punching myself, or anyone else, where it hurts”?
As Kodicek says: “How can any theatre leader do this in the face of inevitable Tory cuts? They need the millionaires’ money…”
I am grateful to Kodicek and, whether by happenstance or editorial opportunism, to
The Stage for saving me the trouble of making a point that was made for me by the opposition of these two points of view in last week’s issue.
I don’t suppose it’s likely Kodicek could replace Norris as director of the National Theatre, but if it were put to a referendum she might be in with a chance on moral grounds, if nothing else.
Hear hear [to Rufus Norris’ column]. Look at what Howard Bernstein achieved in Manchester by putting a strong case for investment to whoever held the purse-strings at the time.
The only reason I can think of for writing this drivel [Rufus Norris’ column] is to protect the National Theatre’s grant. Otherwise it’s perversely tame. “To not waste energy punching myself, or anyone else, where it hurts.”
This is a love letter to Boris and his band of rogues. Norris also believes inequality led to Brexit. He is wrong. It was misplaced nationalism and a relentlessly hostile press, not to mention the lies peddled by the people who are now running the country. New writing holds authority to account. Theatre is a vehicle of protest. No longer at the National Theatre if this mealy mouthed statement is anything to go by.
“People are more than their ideologies. In an increasingly polarised world, sometimes the most radical act is to give people the benefit of the doubt: to see the humanity in those whose views you utterly disagree.” (Editor’s View, January 23, p6)
Alistair Smith speaks as though all sides of an argument are equally valid. They are not. We should not be “giving the benefit of the doubt” to people who call people like me “tank topped bum boys” or liken gay sex to bestiality or call women who wear the burka “letterboxes”, or anyone who cosies up in bed with them either.
Institutions with power need to step up to the plate and stop pretending there are “two sides to every debate”, when, as a gay man, my right to exist, or the right for young people to know I exist (and that they have the right to also exist in this way) is positioned as “one side of a debate” – that is homophobia. The same goes for my trans friends and chosen family. Or, when another discussion is taking place about what “constitutes” racism or anti-Semitism.
I am seriously disappointed with both Rufus Norris and The Stage’s response to this.
Universities are not ‘safe spaces’. In fact, if they are doing their job, they are radically contentious spaces, brimming with opposing ideas. Originally conceived of, in its current form, by Equity, the ‘safe space’ manifesto has now been embedded in official policy by my alma mater the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I perceive this to be a manifestation of a flawed ideological culture that has been developing over the last few years in the arts and in higher education more broadly. The policy states “personal offence”, subjectively defined by definition, can be acted on in an official capacity. Not only is this a serious technical problem, it raises troubling questions about our social culture and its treatment of society’s fundamental free-thought ideals.
Although hypothetically well motivated, I am concerned by what I see as a condemnation of compromise; a rejection of those who defy group orthodoxy and a promotion of the false assumption that there is no wisdom to be found in unpopular or uncomfortable opinion.
The answer to bad ideas is to openly reason against them and to advocate for and generate better ones, not to empower authorities to parameter our interactions. Given how fast our moral culture evolves, it may be wise to doubt we have reached the peak of our ethical wisdom. This emerging culture values tolerance over the pursuit of truth, which is valuing protection from personal offence over freedom of speech.
Conservatoires should be nurturing the next generation of robust challengers and adventurers. Performance is designed to generate a response and provoke reflection, discussion and debate. We cannot hope to create honest performance, or indeed competent artists, in an environment where the purpose of its outcome is excluded from its conception. Alternative perspectives are, at the very least, potential realities. We would be wise to prepare to meet them with our eyes wide open.
With all its profound injustice, we cannot make the world safe, so the best thing we can do is make the individual strong.
Michael J Ferns
TV and commercials director
Email address supplied
“If you ask anyone who’s played Hamlet, it’s completely destroying. It cracks you open, and you feel like you’re this mass of nerves and open skin.” Actor Ruth Negga (Independent)
“I think about it and think about it. ‘How the hell am I going to do that?’ The more people say, ‘Ooh, it’s going to be great,’ the more I just get so depressed.” Actor Imelda Staunton on Hello, Dolly!, opening in the West End later this year (Times)
“Why are people so interested in what performers have to say? Actors talking about acting has to be one of the most appalling things to read. I mean, it makes you scream!” Actor Toby Jones (Guardian)
“When I first started I thought, in a sort of arrogant way, that actors were fannies and spoilt and you just turn up and say something, but the longer I worked, and then getting a chance to produce and see the other side, they really are the magical bit.” Actor and producer Jack Lowden (Scotsman)
“I’m happy to say that despite us being a very commercially orientated company, of which I’m proud, we too look for opportunities to produce shows that are very high quality, that are topical, or that we just believe should be on our stages for whatever good reason. I think Sonia Friedman Productions’ The Jungle is a very good example of that, as indeed is ATG Productions’ production of Caroline, Or Change.” Chief executive of Ambassador Theatre Group Mark Cornell (Business Leaders podcast)
“I think British theatre – like fridges and smoked salmon – will find a market, whether we’re in a political and economic club or not. If what you create is good, people will buy it.” Theatre owner and producer Cameron Mackintosh (Sunday Times)