Those of you who've been listening will have found it hard to avoid hearing me talk about this show The Price of Everything. For those of you that haven't, here's a 20-minute work-in-progress that I did at TEDxYork earlier this month. The finished show will have a bit that deals with the disputes around the 1:2 ratio, a sad bit, and maybe a song. If you want to watch it when it's finished, you can see the beginnings of a tour schedule here. If you want to book it for your venue, you can contact me here. If you want to say something else that doesn't fit these admittedly limited categories, I don't moderate comments.
A crackling telephone line. Sometime in 2007.
DAVE. So Andy, you'd like this job?
ANDY. It's a very generous offer.
DAVE. Before we go ahead, there's just one thing I have to ask you.
ANDY. Go on.
DAVE clears his throat.
DAVE. Is there anything we should know?
ANDY. I'm sorry?
DAVE. Is there anything we should know? Anything we could find - you know - useful - to know
Now rather than later?
ANDY. Are you asking if I'm gay?
DAVE. Good grief, no. We're quite comfortable with that.
I mean, you know, make a few homophobic statements here and there just to even it out...
ANDY. Of course.
DAVE. But no, that's not what I was driving at. I was -
ANDY. I'm not.
ANDY. Gay. I'm not gay.
I mean, I don't care
No, what I was -
ANDY. And I'm not even racist.
DAVE. Even better. We can't have that.
I once met a black man in Plymouth, you know. It was in all the papers.
ANDY. Yes, we invented him for you.
DAVE. So you did. Could we use that in an election campaign, do you think?
ANDY. We seem to be drifting off the point.
DAVE. I do struggle with staying focused. It's what makes me dynamic.
ANDY. What were you driving at, Dave?
DAVE. What I was driving at was –
I know you press chappies –
what I was driving at was,
is there anything you've done as part of your professional role at News International that we could do with knowing?
DAVE. Take as long as you need.
A long pause in the recording, punctuated only by the sound of either or both eating crisps.
ANDY. We used to illegally hack into people's phones in order to get stories.
Is that the sort of thing you mean?
DAVE. That's exactly the sort of thing I mean. That's exactly the sort of thing we need to know. You're exactly the sort of man we need. You're hired.
DAVE. Just don't fucking tell anyone.
Just a few thoughts about your bewildering decision not to present Lee Hall's opera for fear of giving offence to homophobes.
Hold on!, you'll say. It's much more complicated than that. But is it? Because the way I see it, either you're frightened of giving offence, or you're actually homophobic. I'm going to be charitable and assume the former.
So what's the offence you could give, exactly? Acknowledging to under-11s that homosexuality exists? And what could possibly be wrong with that? Section 28 is long, long gone. We've surely moved on from the idea that one can 'teach' homosexuality. I can only conclude that our culture is stuck in a mindset that considers homosexuality something shameful, something that should be hidden for fear of frightening the horses. Don't mention your boyfriend on Radio Four, Simon - children may be listening. Nick and George, don't hold hands in public, Christians might be offended.
Well, I'm offended. I'm offended by the fact that many of my friends don't appear to have the same cultural freedoms as I do. As it happens, I don't particularly want to see anyone kissing in public - or on stage or screen. In life it's a private moment foisted on the public; on stage there's rarely much left at stake once it's happened. That said, I think there should be as much same-sex kissing on stage, on screen, and in public as possible, until middle England gets the fuck over itself. You, Opera North, could play your part in this gradual sea-change, by admitting to children that homosexuality exists. Or you can remain in the nineteen-sixties, sweep it under the carpet. You can refer to Uncle Paul's "special friend" instead of his husband, and write of him in his Times obituary as having been a "confirmed bachelor" when he was in a deeply loving relationship for the last forty years of his life.
Just yesterday I spent the afternoon with a friend who'd been at the recent Pride march. He pointed out that the very first of these, in the late sixties, had involved about twenty men, all of whom were beaten up and arrested by the police. Compare that with the joyousness we now see annually. Imagine how those twenty men, some of whom must still be alive, will feel, walking unmolested and joyful with a million members of their community. How far we've come! Then imagine how they must feel when they learn the very next day that we're still ashamed to talk about this to our children. How far we still have to go.
Opera North have presented some of the most wonderful productions of Britten I can imagine, and homosexuality is not irrelevant in his work. At this level, your decision is simply bizarre. You're clearly not homophobic, yet this decision makes it look that way. In your defence, you say you're not taking sides. Well why the hell not? If you can spend £15,000 on commissioning a writer, then commit to producing the work at great expense, you should be taking his side. If you can't stand by the work, you shouldn't have gone into rehearsals. And if you can't choose a side between homophobia and freedom of expression, quite frankly I'm astonished that you can hold your head up in the twenty-first century.
It's long been the job of artists to take people to places they didn't know they wanted to go. Of course there's still homophobia, and of course we sometimes have to fight it by gradual means. But by heading somewhere then panicking when the going gets tricky, you look cowardly and ridiculous. I beg you to reconsider your position. The work itself may by now be unsalvageable, but please, please make a strong statement of support for Lee Hall and a strong condemnation of homophobia. By not doing so, you tacitly endorse those who think it's ok to continue with their sly cultural homophobia on behalf of "others who may be offended". Everyone has a perfect right to be offended. What they don't have is the right for that to make the slightest difference to anything. As the posters say: some people are gay. Get over it.
Homosexuality has been found in over ninety species, homophobia in only one. This observation has been made so often I'd thought it a cliche. But obviously some people still need reminding.
PS - special thanks to @mrthomashescott for a couple of the observations in here, and to Ian Shuttleworth for rescuing me from an infelicity in the penultimate par, now quietly edited. Any other cock-ups are, of course, etc.
Opera North have released a new statement which goes some way to addressing these concerns. It very squarely places blame for the issue with the LEA and the school. And of course they're right to say that Opera North can't force the school to do anything. I'm prepared to accept this explanation, with a couple of reservations:
1) I'd be very curious to know whether the following option was explored: were individual parents given the right to withdraw their children if they had concerns? Surely this would be a much more delicate way of resolving the issue of potential sensitivity to the opera's themes. I had a similar issue with a youth theatre production I was directing five or six years ago. Rather than cancel the production for all the young people because of the concerns of one parent, one young person was withdrawn. This was a shame for them but at least that decision wasn't foisted on everyone. And then after a subsequent meeting between me and the parent, the young person was un-withdrawn.
2) I'd still like Opera North to make the statement I call for above: in support of the work they commissioned and against homophobia in any context, including schools. Especially schools. Instead their statement is mealy-mouthed: what it's against seems to be the perception of Opera North as homophobic. Yes, and some of their best friends are gay.
By the way, Opera North's work is bloody brilliant and I really hope this can be fixed.
You're joining us today and I haven't written another one of these blogs for you to catch up on what we've been up to this week. Whoops. Just the highlights, then.
We've found quite a different rhythm of work to most of our devising periods in the past. Before, we've tended to run quite long-form improvisations and exercises to briefs I've set, then simply pick out what we like and try to hone it. We've tried to figure out why something spontaneous has worked, then find how to plan for it.
This week we've come at it from a range of different angles, but very seldom that one. For the first two days, we had Fiammetta, our designer, in the room. So we talked a lot about how the set might work and what opportunities it might give for play, and for storytelling. Sometimes these conversations bubbled into an idea for a sequence, and we'd then explore that practically. As with the best of these moments I can't remember how it happened, but the introduction of one moveable set item in particular has opened up the whole show, includes lots of our old material, in a very exciting and very funny way. The item is a coffin, or something like one. And sometimes we just talked through it, and that was great too.
We've also spent a lot of time talking about music and listening to music, to get towards what kind of music Jack might make for us to play in the show. One memorable jam session, featuring extensive percussion played on Dan's head, pointed towards a whole new way of reaching the climax of the show. It's more brutal and less restrained than what we have already, and I think all the better for it.
Yesterday we worked only half the day, due to a huge and extraordinary event taking place at Northern Stage. Called Stronger Together, it was a national conversation about collaboration, in all the forms that's relevant in the arts. (The least relevant bit was a fifteen-minute work-in-progress of my performance lecture The Price of Everything, but it was huge fun to share.) It was a real privilege to be part of Northern Stage yesterday. My regional theatre was showcased as a genuine national hub, with satellite events in Bristol, Manchester and London reporting back to us via video link. Thrilling.
When devising, one sees relevance in everything and draws parallels everywhere. Interesting that you should talk to me about the death of your grandmother – that reminds me of this bit of my show. Still, yesterday afternoon seemed an apposite comment on our process this week, which has often been slower and more contemplative than in the past, but has also created much more space for ideas, whatever their form and from whomever they come
We spent yesterday morning storyboarding, figuring out often in some detail whether what we're trying to tell the audience makes sense. That also often bubbled over into generating actual material, plenty of which is for keeps. We only got about halfway through before Stronger Together, and the second half is where it might stop making sense. So this is where we're going to start when you join us this morning: talking through story elements and laying the framework of games to play with them. We'll certainly play some of those games.
Today we also have the wonderful Alex Kelly in the room with us. Alex is co-director of Third Angel, who've made some of my favourite ever shows, one of which in particular was a huge influence and inspiration to me when, as a student, I was just starting to think about maybe doing this professionally. Alex is mentoring me over the next few months as we put together this show and I put together The Price of Everything. He'll bring a whole other set of provocations and inspirations. He's also a lovely, lovely man. At the end of Stronger Together yesterday, Alex did a performance in which he named everyone with whom he's collaborated in twenty years of work. It was funny, and beautiful and everything you want and I'm so delighted to add our names to that long and august list.
You're joining us today partly because we've got a showing tomorrow afternoon (4.30). This week isn't about preparing material for a showing. It's about answering some specific questions about design, music and story. But inevitably – it is tomorrow - we'll talk about the showing a little. What I really want, though, is to carry on the process we've enjoyed so far this week, but with the full team. We may end up, tomorrow, with such a clear idea of everything that we decide to improvise the whole show at 4.30. We may end up giving a presentation and showing tiny bits of three or four scenes, some of which we've done before. Either of these and everything in between is fine, and we don't need to decide until the last possible minute.
Whatever we do, we're all so excited to have you back in the room with us today. Safe trip.
PS - you'll notice this was posted three days after you were in the room with us for two days. My website inexplicably locked me out. I've now broken back in.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will