‘This Brave, O'erhanging Firmament' - Hamlet, being rather Meta and talking about the Globe Theatre’s pretty paint job in 1602.
Hi there Bazzers! All here is abuzz at Baz (such a satisfying sentence, ahh) with meetings, sending out our facilitators to Leeds to educate over 1,000 teachers (boo-may we say-yah) and our friends and colleagues continuing to be completely brilliant in all respects. This has put us in such a good mood we’re all excited to look at beautiful places in the world to perform theatre and daydream about our world domination…in a nice way, obviously. A kind, hostile global takeover where all theatre is free, we’re equal, respectful of all and fluent in Shakespeare. For like, a start.
If you lovelies have been following our Baz Insta posts (which you should, we’ll wait here while you follow, then come on back- we’ll wait…) you’ll see we love a hashtag BazPlace(s) - where we visit somewhere epic either in a meeting, to see a show, or to explore the city and it’s possible locations, and share a photo of it - and it got us thinking. London is an epic theatre city, boasting new and old, often alongside each other. As theatre makers and theatre lovers, anywhere that houses performance, whether it’s one big ornate room, or a gentleman’s club, we are here for it, as our earlier blogpost on our most fave unusual theatre projects will attest.
A recent visit to the National Theatre got us on this thoughtpath (we made that up, we like it, it’s staying, feel free to use it) and the idea of theatre as status - a barometer of its location; how the arts, through the decades has been stigmatised as an upper class pursuit. We love the National, and it has an interesting background - Sir Laurence Olivier founded it in the late 50s, finding a site on the then fairly abandoned South Bank and sought, very nobly, as a nobleman does, to create a new kind of theatre decidedly overbearing the Thames bank, and unlike any theatre seen before -with its brutalist and consciously unflouncy shape and sharp corners shocked the likes of Shaftsbury Avenue. Along with the new look, the fairly traditional and old-fashioned progenitor wanted to induce a new kind of theatre too, for all - a good example of using private wealth for public use. Of course, despite its best efforts, it has fallen into the trap of achieving it’s mainstream goal, whilst unavoidably becoming a symbol of status and the old guard. And as it should: a hub of great theatre events, and a sure fire ticket in ol’ London town. But it begs the questions: how does an institution avoid elitism? Is it possible?
As long time affiliates of experimental theatre, we are used to seeing and producing work in the most unlikely of places: our past two works have taken place in a lighthouse/lookout on Aldeburgh Beach and The Vaults under Waterloo Bridge with our production of dreamplay. Our question is that if a performance, a crew of actors, technicians and creatives adopt a space, does it automatically gentrify it? Is theatre still seen as, one of our favourite films of 2015 ‘Birdman’ states something to get through until the interval, where, filing out quietly ‘they can all get a cup of coffee and a slice of cake’? What can we do to change it? And should we - theatre is not just for the young, but it needs to keep moving, keep rejuvenated. Of course, places like Venice, Norway, Sweden have their share of theatres - beautiful Restoration, delicate, hand-painted masterpieces- that are more museums than places to see live theatre - where opera is still performed de regur and you most certainly will not be let in wearing trainers. This idea is changing however, and a sub -culture of experimental, site specific and promenade theatre has found its place - the successful runs of our mates’ shows like Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, any and everything by Forced Entertainment and Get In The Back Of The Van theatre collectives- (delightfully mobile, fluid, hedonistic and literally in-yer-face theatre, never mind the 90s theatre moniker) but it’s all considered ‘specialist’ and whilst there is (and always should be) a time for revivals and musicals- not to the detriment of others.
So what is the answer? Take over the delicate music-box theatres in Amsterdam and spray graffiti all over it? By it’s nature change has to use willpower and have a movement, a shape - but this can easily be misconstrued as aggression and destruction - think of the Sex Pistols in 1979 calling a household name interviewer a ‘rotten wanker’ - and that is not what’s happening here. But much like getting a seat on the tube, you might have to make good use of your elbow. And yet, there’s cause for celebration - so many new writing theatres dedicating to new talent their time, expertise, rehearsal rooms and performance spaces, this scene is expanding - and with £15 under 26 tickets at the National, £10 Mondays at the Royal Court, a rise in ‘Pay What You Can’ offers, apps like TodayTix that find and search out the best ticket deals on the West End and elsewhere. It’s all looking pretty bright from over here - as long as we don’t give up and continue to make cool, all-inclusive stuff and take the focus slightly away from the traditional theatre of the West End, or else put something in the water in Drury Lane*- cos nothing changes if we don’t. Deal? Deal.
*to be clear, we here at Baz aren’t advocating putting something unpleasant in the water in a busy TheatreLand and London, street. Nope, no. Be assured.
Ah, so with that in mind, in a very Henry V way, we hope you feel inspire. All the best to you today whether you’re picking up a pen to write a scene, a prop dagger from the store, your script for your readthrough or all of the above + a strong latte - more power to you. And...create!
All the Baz love,