First post of Baz 2017 (our year) and bang - an exploratory essay! Okay, it’s not three layered chocolate cake, pass the parcel and party favours, but hold hard a moment. Now’s the time. So, a theory for you: art is the natural predator of fascism. Discuss? Okay. When Donald O’Connor sang Make ‘Em Laugh in the seminal Singin’ in the Rain - he kind of had it dead on. Satire, from Punch to the Private Eye, standup from Bill Hicks to Hannibal Buress grabs hateful types by the scruffs of their necks, holds a mirror up to their laughable beliefs and says, ‘Look: I don’t even need to do my job’ - as we go to the theatre and see The Producers and Springtime For Hitler, as we put in a DVD of Chaplin’s The Dictator, and as we click on entertainment sites to see clips of Alec Baldwin as Trump on Saturday Night Live, art proves it has teeth, a lipstick smile and diamonds to match.
All art, really is a response to the time it’s written in. Even if it’s written in a future, a past, in science fiction - ours is to imagine, but the best futures, the best stories come from real stories. The best drama is real drama. Brechtian theatre is the best example of currently using current affairs, of literally taking the action dictators made and dramatising it, speaking clearly to audiences and encouraging them to be educated, to act. There’s a great imagination in writing - but sometimes the truth is the most dramatic, most real and most scary. Parables have been the foundations of our society, how we behave - whether it’s holy books, myths, legends - values, ideals, aspirations have been subtly drip fed into our imaginations from a young age. That’s mainly why despots usually don’t have a wide vocabulary. All this could have been avoided if they just paid better attention in class.
Later this month A Very Uncool thing is going to happen in the United States. But we here at Baz take faith - in art, and weirdly, artists. Historically, British theatre talent has been no stranger to picket lines: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, and more recently, the likes of Michael Sheen and Samuel West have stood in the cold in solidarity using that duality of populism, the fact you recognise them to get you to realise they care about a better deal for you and your family, and a better society for your kids to grow up in. As you do. In the USA, for decades, as acting dynasties came and went, it seemed it was only Jane Fonda stubbornly upholding this value - enter Meryl Streep, stage right at the Golden Globes, 2017. In an age where awards shows are about self-congratulation, under-representation, what dress you are wearing, and infamously, Oscar goody bags containing amongst other things, a Vagina Rejuvinator (really) you get played off right in the middle of thanking your agent. Usually. Instead, Meryl said what we were all thinking in a shocking moment of un-glitzy lucidity. We attach it here for posterity.
Well. That’s kind of the end of the discussion, right? To borrow from her speech, Bravery inspires Bravery. There’s talk of top events producers in the US launching their own Freedom Concert on the day of the Inauguration- live music, comedy from your favourite A-List artists signed up on a ridiculous lineup on a rival channel - and they are encouraging you to watch that live channel all day to make Trump’s inauguration the least-viewed swearing in, ever. This is what we mean by art as a predator to the right wing. Meryl knows as much as the star of your local community theatre starring at your local church hall that art can only come from a place of unity - the crew, your fellow cast, your writer, director - no one role can be carried out alone. In a way, it’s the most Utopian workplace that can be imagined. Meryl knows the importance of an audience, of working together, and encouraging each other. With more artists breaking character and speaking out more than ever, taking roles as characters, and platforms as actors that directly contradict a terrifying new status quo there may just be a way out of this. That, for us, is what art is based on - having put on productions, ran workshops in rehearsal rooms, class rooms and meeting rooms, meeting new people for different walks of life, with different views, different stories, learning about he specific threats to the futures they face, the skills of performance and creating art can’t not help but bring people together, eradicate that fear, and fight back. Our manifesto has always stated that we want to make challenging theatre, and tackle the bad habits we have fallen into. So, our conclusion: we’ve done it before: with satire, humour, performance, music, dance - and we can do it again. That’s a great message to start 2017 on.
Roll up your sleeves everyone. We have work to do.