polar bears 4 16-04-2010

I’ve written very little here over the past few weeks because most my energy has been taken up by polar bears and the forthcoming art exhibition (of which more later).

it seems odd to mention polar bears without saying how amazing the director, Jamie Lloyd, and the cast are, and how working with them has been of the most instructive and enjoyable experiences of my writing life. but it’s also slightly emetic. so, enough.

some things I’ve learnt over the past few weeks:

there is a mysterious link between the utter triviality of theatre – it’s just people dressing up and pretending to be different people – and the utter seriousness with which good actors and a good director and a really good theatre go about making it work. there is something terribly important about this link, about serious playing, something that runs against the current of pretty much everything we do in a society that runs on money and status and quanitifiable achievement. brain eno once said (and I’m quoting from unreliable memory here), culture is everything we don’t have to do, which includes both opera and old people’s homes. that’s almost it...

theatre has a reputation for being exclusive and elitist when compared to film and tv. I think this reputation should be taken round the back of the barn and shot in the head. film and tv are industries. sometimes I think they’re industries which just happen to produce films and programmes as a kind of waste product. most films and tv programmes cost vast amounts of money. most of them involve huge numbers of people and demand tonnes of equipment. theatre doesn’t have to cost anything. you can do hedda gabler at the national theatre, or in your living room, or in a prison, or in a school. films and tv programmes are products. theatre is a communal experience. increasingly, I’ve come to think of theatre as the down-sized, community-oriented, low carbon-footprint answer to mass-produced entertainment.

you will never have your work edited as well as it gets edited in rehearsals. partly because it is acutely painful to watch people trying to act writing which doesn’t work. and partly  because the director and the actors have their arses on the line. if your words don’t work then they’re going to take the flak (Jamie and I cut about 20% of the original script during rehearsals). however brilliant a literary agent or a publisher or an editor, they are never going to put this kind of effort in, because they are not going to suffer nightly in front of 250 people if you’re writing isn’t up to scratch.

older audiences are good, too, but younger audiences are fantastic. they come to the theatre with fewer expectations and fewer preconceptions. they are louder and more outgoing and less embarrassed about reacting spontaneously to what they see and hear on stage. and they very rarely fall asleep.

there is always someone who falls asleep in any show. invariably they will have bought tickets near the front of the stalls so that they are visible to the actors. you’d think, if you were prone to doing this you might choose a seat at the back of the circle or off to one side, but there seems to some ancient and immutable law at work.