I’m fond of the 50-seat Finborough Theatre. The Artistic Director, Neil McPherson, programmed my first play professional play, Lemon Love on its stage in 2001. He has been AD at the Finborough since around 1999 making him one of the longest runnings ADs in London.
The Finborough also helped start the career of Kate Wasserberg and Neil was an important nurturer. It was a privilege to hear her speak to a group of writers about her career so far. Here follow some notes and fragmentary observations.
After some mixed feelings in San Francisco on sustainable investment - a mix of blah blah and some real passion and commitment, and a host of contradictions (wealth/homelessness; race) - it was inspiring to see a theatre director so committed and passionate.
It’s rare to meet directors who knew they wanted to be directors while still in school. It makes for intriguing conversations with career advisers.
-You wish to fight social injustice, you wish to inspire hope and you want people to feel joyous?
-You wish to try and resolve the contradictions and disparity in what humans are and what humans do?
-so... social worker? ... teacher...?
-I’m going to make theatre.
For me, having only a partial foot in the theatre ecosystem, it was mind opening to hear how cuts have impacted the arts. We see it in other services to be sure, but the value of art is so intangible like the soul, that hospitals and schools, prisons and courts, will always be higher up the agenda. ... cuts have been really bitter...
But what tools do we have to allow people to cross divides...? How do we give people hope and joy and keep them out of prisons and poverty and despair ? Surely, art is part of the answer even if we can not measure it well.
As Kate reflects as an adult part of her life as a theatre director does stem from finding so much of life unbearably painful (cf. stoics) and that theatre is way of making sense of it - giving meaning to human experience
...too long away from theatre and there’s this urge to do impractical and unreasonable actions like pack up your family to a refugee camp and try and bring them all back with you...
Theatre can be and is in many ways a brutal industry (in terms of money amongst other matters) and so to have a place like the Finborough which a young director can call home for a while - that was a crucially valuable offering and an inspiration for Kate to start a theatre in a pub in Wales - the Other Room.
Plays performed there take the ethos of “make it as good as it can be... as if it will be performed anywhere” a Finborough ethos of making work as best as it can be and not settling for “Ok” or “blah blah”...
Coming to Kate’s work now... it should be:
...without fear (Or what’s the point?)
....political (Or what’s the point?)
....joyous (Or what’s the point?)
Theatre is made by teams.
Not one man. Not one person. It is bigger than that.
We own the legacy of buildings and companies we fall into
But theatre is made by teams and that legacy contains many beautiful and brilliant artists
One things we can change and own is culture
If you are fighting or commenting on social injustice then make the ratio of lower staff to higher staff a more equal and fair set up
Set pay above the London living wage for your cleaners and yours assistants
Think about diversity...
...diverse artists often wear so many hats partly as they have to but maybe partly as they get on and do... I can act write direct sing - why not ? .... if there’s no work out there... or no work I want to be in... maybe I need to make it ?
...there can an attraction in the mix of bravado and naïveté...
I’m asking now - what’s your play for the Nation?
Some organisations are funded to read every script (like the Royal Court). Some organisation don’t have that type of funding.
We should be honest that if you can’t read every script, if you are not funded to do that, then you shouldn’t say we have open submissions for every script.
The riskiest thing is to be too conservative
(me: this is something I learnt when Chairing Talawa and I tell all small companies, be bold! If you do the stuff you think as “safe” it is more likely to fall flat... if you do the stuff that excites you, no matter the artistic risk, it’s likely to fly)
Find hope in shared experience...
...every night these people would come... watch this love story about a couple who fall in love but never meet... and at the climax... this couple meet and shake hands...
...And shaking hands it’s the climax where hundreds of people would draw breath and sigh...
That’s a magic of theatre and it crosses divides.
Me: If you have a state of the nation play, it will be in good hands with Kate
And with people like Kate passionately, thoughtfully forging ahead
Maybe there is hope for all of us yet.
Hear about the chat with legendary agent, Mel Kenyon.
Some notes from listening to the literary manager of the Royal Court, Chris Campbell.