Can theatre change the world?

8 Apr

Recently a friend told me if you want to change the world you need to do something more immediate than theatre.

On one level, I have no argument with this. Direct political action and social service are indisputably more important than art. Don’t write a play about the homeless. Volunteer for a soup kitchen.

But on another level, I think my friend’s well meaning comment is only half the truth.

Firstly, our values need to come from somewhere. I believe one place they spring is from our stories.

I believe we should produce theatre that shares beautiful and empowering ways of looking at the world. As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to make theatre that reminds the miserable of happiness and the happy of misery.

We should aim to produce theatre that adds something useful to the cultural toolbox. (Of course, this can be done in many ways besides theatre. Perhaps to have the biggest cultural impact you should create an internet meme.)

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Perhaps this is an overly sophisticated view. Perhaps we are noble savages, born perfect and corrupted by society. In which case, theatre (and all art) is at best an unpleasant noise, and at worse an inducement to evil.

Which leads me to my second objection to my friend’s well meant comment.

I think everything we do changes the world. Or perpetuates it. The world is made by us. Or, at least, an enormous part of it – the human part. (And increasingly large parts of the non-human world, too. There’s an old joke: everyone complains about the weather, but no-one does anything about it. Human-made climate change has stripped the giggle out of that one.)

Our choices matter. We should choose to be – and to encourage – curiosity and joy, compassion and tolerance. And we should do it in the way we talk, how we vote, in what we choose to eat, how we spend our money, and in the making of our art.

Veronica Kaye

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2 Responses to “Can theatre change the world?”

  1. lisathatcher April 14, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    At risk of becoming a serial commenter on your blog, I believe I can convincingly argue that theatre is (in fact) the only thing that CAN change the world.
    All political actions are a product of justice and realism – even in ideology, they must concern themselves with the world as it is.
    The worlds current problems can’t be cured outside of deep need for freedom. When something is concerned with justice, it cannot be concerned with freedom, because they are dialectical opposites, justice being at the service of conformity.
    To use your example of the homeless person, you can either feed a homeless person today, tomorrow and the next day, or you can work hard on creating a world where homeless people are not necessary – or where we are all homeless people and they are necessary. Only art can do this. Only art can question morality (conformity) sufficiently enough to come up with a freedom based solution.
    Feeding homeless people is as much engaging in the flawed reality of our world, as not feeding them.
    Only art can experiment at the level where a solution can be found.

    So not only can art change the world, it is the only thing that can change the world. And it is the business of artists to concern themselves with freedom.

    • veronicakaye April 15, 2014 at 4:28 am #

      Thank you for reading, Lisa, and commenting! There’s so much in your response that I suspect we’ll have to have a good chat about it over a glass of wine sometime!

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