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Greeks Bring Gifts: Time For A Rebirth of Critical Theatre?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical  Thick of It.  TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical Thick of It. TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Bazlings! We are supremely sorry for what we’re calling, for the want of a better word, our hibernation (Clocks went back yesterday…get it?) But we have all, separately and together, been doing our things: from directing, acting, and bringing up kids…check out our Twitter: @baz_productions and our Instagram of the same name for proof, y’all: we got it all, recommendations, updates, all sorts! But this here is out blog and we are back, charged up and better than ever! What’s more, we’re about to drop some history on ya…so watch out!

London, or Londinium, when it was, shall we call it, ‘hostile takeover’-ed in somewhere 100AD by the Romans actually led to a lot we still call home – pasta, religion and those lovely ladies of the arts, the Muses. Also, aqueducts. For all this influence though, it seems as if the modern theatre came from Greece and the great Amphitheatres of the age. Here, 5th century tragic playwrights such as Euripides and Sophocles didn’t only stage the heavyweights of Electra and Oedipus, they also wrote about current invasions, wars and political decisions, often staging their work in the theatres placed right next to the buildings of government. Imagine it- you’re a lawmaker, going about your daily business, deciding who lives and who dies, where to invade next, etc – and you hear the commotion of you being played by an actor in a silly voice, mimicking your voice and actions – and people laughing at it, at this, an age of literal marketplace backstabbing. Now that takes some cajones.

Of course, the act of satire is not new to us: Beyond the Fringe had Dudley, Peter, Alan and Jonathan take aim at Harold MacMillan, who was sitting in the audience, Tom Lehrer was writing funny songs about who’s got the bomb in the nervous 60s, Spitting Image saw the Royal Family at a typical dinner, and most recently, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin – have, you could argue, won against Sarah Palin and President Trump respectively. In the cloudy, faraway mists of the past, however, it seems these playwrights were the first People’s Champions – playing a game of Russian Roulette for their art. Some recent academic thinking sees a strong link between Athenian Tragedy and Democracy, and treat the original plays as historical documents that tell us in more detail, and more astutely then any other kind of record.

These old texts asked moral questions of an audience that had suffered or lived through the actions it staged – sometimes even mocking authority - and was flocked to by all manner of fare – from the farmer to the lawmaker. It’s not surprising, then that fine actors of the age blurred the line between performer and politician – namely a bloke called Aeschines, a popular actor of the age, hired by would be king Philip, father of Alexander the Great to plead his case for taking over said actor’s township. It’s both extraordinary and not, as you hear hyperbole in recent elections of how politicians look, sound, and exude their charisma – not so much politic as chic. Still, plays and their writers had more than a view on the social climate, the affected it – it seems unfathomable now that theatre could affect policy – in this current state the arts find themselves in of self-sufficiency and theatre making for change and representation thankfully still going, but off site – these plays went to the masses. We could learn something from these much lauded, seemingly limitlessly brave writers and orators.

A lot has happened since Ancient Greek theatre – and its not as if these traditional methods didn’t come back, often with a vengeance – after all Reagan, an actor, achieved terms as a serving American President, and Arnie is currently running California, so the charm of the film star has been known to reach out of the screen – and here in England, we have a tradition of actor-activists, from Jessica Hynes' powerful BAFTA speech, Hugh Grant’s work with Hacked Off, Stephen Fry’s campaign for mental health and recently Michael Sheen’s semi retirement from acting to launch his fair loan scheme, inspired by the struggles he witnessed with unregulated lenders in his native Wales.

A fundamental right is that of freedom of speech – but if we return to the age of the snap reaction plays – say, a play set behind the scenes at Whitehall on the night of the Brexit vote– would we get in trouble? Can we only make critical theatre when the subject is dead and gone- what are the laws on this? Censorship on theatre was only lifted in the late 20th Century, are we still at an impasse – and is theatre too polite? As we always say, we here at Baz want to engage you, push you and interact with you – but will our time be long gone before that’s the norm?

We here at Baz don’t know – but if there’s anything we want to do, it’s to tell truths and represent real people and stories. We have done this in the past through Ancient Text – our 2013 Prophesy was our take on the Greek Myth – but it seems the old Athenians had more to offer than previously thought, as new texts are being discovered all the time, and all that is old is new again. Perhaps.

 

Boom. And that is how you drop some history!

Oh and this blog is proudly pro-Cynthia Nixon for NY Governor by the way. Come on guys, really

Big love, til next time!

 

Baz

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She Stoops, She Conquers, She Scores - Women in Theatre

Hello Bazzers!

Early Edwardian Actress Lucy Weston who graced the stage - in fine fashions. 

Early Edwardian Actress Lucy Weston who graced the stage - in fine fashions. 

Oh how we’ve missed you- we’re back and brought some Spring with us! In fields of Daffs, hot cross buns (yes, fields of buns, think about it...it  would be so soft and tasty) and bunny wabbits - we thought we might spring forward like the BST clocks we are and take a wide look about how it’s going with women in theatre as a whole.

As you do.

So get your buns out the oven (steady) and let us review shall we? Current political climate notwithstanding, things are looking a tad brighter than they have been for a while - high profile events such as Tonic Theatre’s Lucy Kerbel bringing out an excellent book, All Change Please using hard fact and testimony to provide all the material you’d ever need to lay a convincing case of ‘be better to us’ to the jury and the arts industry as a whole. Tamsin Greig has won everyone over as Malvolia at the National in Twelth Night and it’s just been announced that Josette Simon will be playing Cleopatra in a hotly anticipated production of Anthony and Cleopatra at the RSC (great article here about the powerful woman/whore dichotomy in the Guardian this week) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/21/josette-simon-cleopatra-rsc-shakespeare) Also, the ever brilliant Baz patron and our favourite Ceasar ever, Harriet Walter talked about her new book, and taking on the male canon in her inimitable style and to great critic acclaim in Brutus and Other Heroines.

So far so good? Well yes, but something goes up, something else must come down. Emma Rice’s well-documented run as artistic director of the Globe continues to make headlines, and it’s hard not to note that now, with one less female artistic director at the helm, there’s still very few running buildings in the UK. We are all for inclusivity, diversity and women in theatre as a whole, but it seems as if this is only just about stretching to the actors. We need more producers, directors, stage managers, artistic directors and soon. Goodness knows that once indoctrinated with a lack of diversity, opportunity, or even misogyny and racism, it becomes a new norm.

So what can we do about it?

Well. We here at Baz have a gorgeous team of women running the show - our trinity of founders are an impressive array of producers, writers, actors and practitioners - our producers, set designers trainee directors, even our blogger all share an x chromosome and it’s obviously at the top of our list when we look over actors we love for our productions - that, and obviously diversity. It’s been in our manifesto since day one And we are not alone in this - many theatre companies such as Kneehigh, Punchdrunk impress a difference on the theatre landscape in their casting and the landscape shifts a little more in the right direction.

But as ever, not all opportunities, or indeed all doors are open to the just off the University roll call producer/designer/director -but never fear, Baz is here - with a list of things to check out n do:

  • Tonic Theatre events - Go.To.These. It’s a great place where the shiny happy people go and of COURSE where great female-facing projects and books are launched that you already love and want to read cos you wouldn’t be reading this if not. Wink.

  • Women@Rada - A fantastic free initiative at RADA for female playwrights only - lovely nights where the next generation of female playwrights get to show some work - a fantastic platform for writer and performer alike.

  • Directors Programme at Young Vic - A fantastic long running directors training programme at the Young Vic - a programme all of it’s own kind that has brought much talent to the foreground. A wonderful initiative! 
  • Sphinx Theatre Company - Apart from programming some excellent female led theatre, this company regularly runs festivals, opportunities and is generally a great resource of stuff to do with women in theatre. Thumbs up.
  • Bechdel Theatre - So relevant it has it’s own test named after it - another behemoth of theme and concept led theatre, their latest project required recorded conversation between women for their latest piece. Inclusive, strident and outspoken. We dig it.

 

Apart from that - see it all! Go to the first nights, meet the people ,take the opportunity and the lead ...you never know where it will get you. And ahem, one other suggestion, if we may…

  • Baz Productions - C’mooon. We had to. PLUS we are really cool and love theatrical ladies so stick that in your pipe.

In all seriousness though, it is all in our hands - and sure this industry is a tough pill to swallow at times, and a main reason Baz exists is that we felt the situation was so dire we decided to step up and make it ourselves, but triumph comes out of adversity. Be the missing piece that fits into that slot. Nothing is achieved unless you open the door to it. We need to stick with each other and stand on each other’s shoulders. Now more than ever.

We’re rather good at this. Maybe we should sideline in life coaching?

There’s a stat floating around that states ‘Women speak up 75% less when they’re surrounded by men.’

*beats path to Destiny’s Child soundtrack*

We believe in you. Now get out an hustle!

Big Lady Love,

Baz xx

 

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