Jimmy Fairhurst, Artistic Director of Not Too Tame, talks about the future of theatre:
Pete Postlethwaite, during his time at the Liverpool Everyman, said, “If it’s not relevant to the community, then we’re not doing it!”
When I was 15, theatre was performed by amateur dramatic groups or cravat wearing thesps. Audiences consisted of gushing mums or well-to-do families who dressed up in funny clothes, spoke ‘properly’ and weren’t a big fan of me hanging around with their daughters. I’m 30 now, have been a professional actor for 4 years and not much has changed.
In order to supply ‘Theatre for All’ we need to diversify the work and those who are allowed to create it. It is vital that we explore how we can break down the barriers of ‘us and them’ and meet our audiences face-to-face, engaging with them through honest work that both entertains and challenges. There needs to be a constant dialogue with our audiences and their community.
Theatre should serve a global community, embracing all classes equally. We shouldn’t just serve the people who can afford to pay for it. Ironically, it’s those who can’t pay top end prices that may benefit most. Theatre, in the same way as music, is for everyone. You cannot tell people what to like or how to enjoy it (but you can price people out of the gigs!). It is not class specific. Theatre, like music, doesn’t judge. It just gives. It explores. It works together, blending communities, challenging pre-conceived ideas and highlights injustices. At the end of the day, we all understand how it feels to laugh and cry regardless of language, colour, faith or class.
I’m not saying that I want to stop creating work for those dedicated theatregoers who are fortunate enough to regularly enjoy trips to Playhouses. Without this branch of audience, today’s theatre industry would be in a dire state of affairs. But if we do not start to engage a more diverse audience on a regular basis, British theatre will have some very dark days.
There are a number of companies doing phenomenal work to challenge this idea of theatre for ‘the privileged’ and engage a wider audience. Derby Theatre invests heavily into its community: integrating a youth company into professional productions and programming an eclectic selection of shows that caters for and challenges it’s community. Paines Plough have built a portable pop-up circus tent to invite people in to, all around the UK, as well as regularly holding symposiums to converse, face-to-face, with artists and audience alike. Companies like Punchdrunk create a really exciting mainstream style of theatre that has a huge general appeal, but at £60 a pop, we’re back to the problem of affordability.
I’m very proud to say that Not Too Tame are being invited to perform ‘Early Doors’ at venues across the UK to help theatres connect with a diverse audience who have previously felt estranged from theatre. 1 in 3 of our audience members for ‘Early Doors’ have rarely, or never, been to the theatre.
In order to achieve a thriving UK theatre scene that can support itself better financially, we need diversity in subject matter, directors, actors and spaces. So that we have, most importantly, a diverse audience! I would love to see a following for a theatre company as passionate as 1D fans or Manchester United supporters. It’s about getting the people to invest in theatre and in order for that to happen, we have to invest more in them.
We need writers from different backgrounds that understand their audience and are offered the support platform to have their stories heard. I find now that there is a great deal of work trying to put middle class solutions on working class problems; portrayals of ‘gritty’ working class families or situations that are falsely representative of these communities and only serve to further distance these people from theatre.
Experiencing theatre can help us deal with so many of life’s situations – a break up, a death, an injustice, a celebration – no one should say ‘you’re not coming in dressed like that’, ‘you can’t take pictures’, ‘stop laughing so loudly’. As long as you respect each other and the performers, you can experience it how you want. Theatre is for all of us and I, for one, absolutely love that!
By Jimmy Fairhurst, Artistic Director of Not Too Tame.
Not Too Tame is an ensemble company who are founded on the belief of ‘Theatre for All’. Focusing specifically in creating work the breaks the boundaries of tame, polite theatre, they aim to engage those who feel that theatre isn’t a place where they belong.
For more information, and dates of their upcoming tour of England, check out: http://www.nottootametheatre.com/