There are many things wrong with the world, many ways in which it could be improved and we can only all do our bit to bring about the changes that might make those improvements.
I can do small things to help the world as a whole, recycle, waste less, sign petitions, protest against injustice and highlight wrongs. I can pay my taxes and abide by the law and be a good citizen and offer my time to others. I can try to be patient and I can try to be kind. But the impact from these small things may join with others and make bigger impacts than any of us can know.
But can I make a bigger difference? Can any of us? I think so, but we need to stick with what we have the talents for – I’m not the person best suited for sorting out banking regulation or providing emergency healthcare in war zones – I don’t have the skills. What I can do is address the ongoing inequalities of the society that I actually live in, here in the UK and I can do this through creative work – particularly in the theatre, but in other areas of the arts too.
Culture plays a vital part in the way in which we see the world. It is particularly vital in the interpretation of the past, without the imaginative interpretation of writers, artists and film-makers many important events would be lost in dusty archives, unstudied by future generations. For example, our ‘historical’ understanding of people like Cleopatra or Henry V has been for many centuries almost entirely based on Shakespeare’s dramatic portrayals; portrayals that history might not support. Inevitably, in Europe at least, our culture reflects the long dominance of the white male on history. With each representation of this historical fact the imagination of a generation is focussed on the possibilities of what a white male may achieve – perhaps inspired by this to their own acts of history. But the audience for such imaginings is no longer predominantly white male – it is more than half female – and in a cultural centre such as London – almost certainly contains a large proportion of different ethnicities. How do they interpret these imaginings? Do they spur them to action, to revolution – or to a complacent acceptance that such things are ‘not for them’ – perhaps none of these a conscious choice.**
What might happen then if we reimagine both the existing cultural treasures and new works as a way of envisaging a better, fairer future, rather than reiterating the old unfair, unequal past?
If we present (as I have done) a modern version of Julius Caesar where any character can be male, or female. Where the dominant political figures are at least equally male and female, where both ‘good’ characters and ‘bad’ are equally male and female we can bring the play into the modern world – it is not inconceivable that such a political landscape should exist – it just doesn’t happen to exist in the UK at the moment .
Through The Possible Theatre Company* I hope to create works that reimagine our cultural icons and through them our historical past, in order to imagine a better and fairer future.
The phrase “black swan” was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement of impossibility deriving from an assumption that all swans be white because no-one had ever recorded seeing a swan of any other colour. However once the black swan, native to Australia was discovered, the phrase changed to denote that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven. By seeing the thing itself – the proof of its existence – even those who had not, could begin to imagine that it was a reality. By presenting to an audience a vividly realised world of equality and diversity, the audience may begin to imagine that this can also be made real in their own world.
Wikipedia suggests that you may determine a ‘Black Swan’ event thus:
-The event is a surprise (to the observer).
-The event has a major impact.
-After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data was available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs. The same is true for the personal perception by individuals.
This is the kind of theatre I want to make – surprising, impactful and leaving the audience with the feeling that this is how things have been and might be – that this is all possible.
*This doesn’t exist yet, but here I imagine that it does – perhaps it will come to be real – if you would like to help it into existence through funds, voluntary effort or other assistance please do get in touch with me at thePossibleTC@gmail.com
** I wrote this in 2012 at the beginning of my cultural activism journey. I now realise that what I have written here is a kind of passive (unintentional) racism. Thanks to colleagues in the What Next? movement, Women’s Equality Party and many random strangers I now (in 2021) think quite differently about diversity in the cultural sector.
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