‘Theatre is not a building you go to. It’s an experience you have.’
It escapes me who exactly said these words. They struck me hard when I first heard them. As I think about the role of the writer in uncertain times I find I am reminded of them once more.
The long list of my favourite experiences of theatre include watching audience members react to what they are seeing. In those moments I saw notions and ideas being challenged in real-time e.g. the youth club group from Belfast whose collective jaw hit the floor when they saw a kid their age on stage, a kid of Indian heritage, speaking with a NI accent as broad as theirs. Preconceptions and stereotypes took a pummelling as imaginative space was created for other possibilities.
Another example: two middle-aged women who were so shocked by the torrent of scripted ‘fucks’ being uttered by the performers. As their outrage persisted so did the ‘fucks’. The women caused such a commotion I thought they were preparing to get up and leave when something entirely different happened. I’m not sure whether they saw the absurdity in their protestations, but after a brief moment they were convulsed with laughter. They were laughing so hard they were gasping for air. Something changed in that moment. The performance provoked one response and within sixty seconds another had prevailed. However they remember the play they will be less likely to forget that moment, how they reacted to it, how their reaction changed and possibly why.
Theatre, in all it’s manifestations, is many things for many different people; A safe-haven. A bubble. A place where the choir is constantly preached to. A talking shop. A mirror. A vocation. A bully pulpit. An ego trip. A cash cow. A poor box. A challenge. A provocation. An utter irrelevance. An indulgence. A hobby. A religion. A night out. A tick-box exercise. Anathema.
We will always live in interesting and challenging times. Flux is a constant. Theatre, like all other art-forms, will never cease to offer us ways to explore what it means to be human as political and cultural themes and preoccupations ebb and flow.
I often question why I am minded to write a particular piece. It can be because the idea is something I might like to see or share with an audience. It can be an interrogation of a divisive topic. I now realise that at the heart of every creative impulse rests a simple proposition: How can we be better than we are?
Decades pass. Different faces populate our various screens. The same question persists: How can we be better than we are?
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck…
Famla by John McCann is in the Upstairs Theatre at The MAC from 21st-25th March. Find out more here.