6 April 2020
Emily Hamilton reflects on the industry’s collective mobilisation efforts, and watching from the sidelines
Why on earth did I volunteer to write an article when at present I can barely complete the basics of looking after myself? If I have brushed my teeth, eaten something, and posted a witty tweet that makes me appear as if I have my life somewhat together online, I am counting that as a good day. Even if it’s not so witty, I’m still counting it. How can I even talk of theatre when people around the world are in hospitals fighting for their lives, dying of a new and deadly virus? So, I ask again, why on earth did I believe I could write five to eight hundred words on anything that could be of any value to a conversation about the future of theatre right now?
One month ago, I would have had a lot to say. Definitely Fine, the theatre company I had co-founded, had secured funding and I was the producer of NSDF selected show EZRA. We had a London run in the diary and I was working on securing a fringe slot for us. Plus I had just landed a dream job as assistant programmer at Bedlam Fringe. After working restlessly, things were starting to fall into place.
But since things started to fall apart, I haven’t consumed any theatre online. I’ve stopped reading The Stage articles. I’m ignoring my work emails. I have failed to update my theatre company’s social media with any words of hope, and I’ll admit, very little research was done before writing this. Does my current failure to engage with the thing I love most, make me a failure? I hope not and I hope it’s okay that I am giving myself permission to mourn the loss of projects, connections and opportunities that would have been but, now cease to exist. In the wider perspective of the intense suffering being caused by this international emergency, I know these grievances are minuscule and insignificant. But I believe we can make space to acknowledge this whilst also allowing ourselves to feel shit about personal losses.
It's hard not to feel inadequate when our communities’ mobilisation effort to adapt to a new age of theatre online feels both impressive and rapid. I can’t help but wonder if I was better at my job, would I be more capable of adapting to this sudden change? I am also curious about the sincerity of those who are seemingly martyring on. Regardless, the fear of being left behind, before I’ve even really begun, is paralysing.
Once we emerge into a new ‘normal’, I believe it is paramount that the big guys keep taking risks on us little guys. Us new companies have a lot to offer. We have fresh and untested work on the sidelines, ready to be supported and believed in. More established names may reassure investors or make theatres believe they will get bums on seats but what does this say to us emerging theatre makers? That our work is not to be trusted now due to risk aversion? That the competition is too advanced and experienced for us to stand a chance in these new more difficult times? Now more than ever I urge established creatives and institutions to reach out and ally with us who have yet to emerge. Support us and we will continue to nourish our community by challenging and interrogating pre-existing expectations and narratives. Don’t let it be last ones in, first ones out. The future of theatre depends on us. And now more than ever, we depend on you to continue to clearly and calmly lead the way. What I hope most is that this new era of togetherness continues, even when the big guys recover and fail to remember this time of great uncertainty.
Let us not allow a ‘survival of the fittest’ ethos to take over. Let us resist the capitalistic compulsion to compete with one another. Let’s celebrate and remember those individuals, companies and producers who put aside self interest and stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow theatre makers who are currently fearing for their physical and mental health as well as their financial security.
And, if like me, you have felt like you are watching this all unfold from the sidelines, our time will come. The show must go on, but it doesn’t have to go on right this second. How we are able to navigate this time is deeply personal. Take the time you need to reflect and regroup. We are walking into the unknown. Let's just make sure we are all walking there together.
Photograph: Charlie O’Brien