Theatre that looks beyond its walls

I’ve just done three twelve-hour days back-to-back as Snuff Box Theatre prepare to open their new show Weald at the Finborough Theatre. Sitting in the darkness of the theatre for stretches of three or four hours at a time and you can easily forget about the world beyond the theatre’s walls. I couldn’t tell you what has happened since Saturday. Perhaps the odd snippet of information has broken through in our breaks but during the last few days everything has been focused on getting Weald ready for an audience.

That’s one of the joys about production week, it is all heads down and getting the show where it needs to be, but I can’t help wonder who is keeping an eye beyond those theatre walls, connecting the show with an audience and how that will have an impact upon society and culture. Perhaps that is a big ask and it throws up many questions about the purpose of theatre which isn’t what I intended to write about.

When I give lectures to students I always find myself coming back to one phrase:

You can’t make art in a vacuum

For me and I think I can speak for Making Room with this too, art is vital to the running and understanding of a society; art runs through the very veins of society. It has to constantly be looking outwards just as much, if not more so, than looking within itself. Self-indulgent art has no place in my vision of how I want society to be informed. In practical terms I’m not sure how this is done. Is it my job as the producer of Snuff Box Theatre to keep one foot rooted in the external world? Or does that role belong to the director, Bryony Shanahan, as she carves out the world within the theatre for an audience beyond it?

This stems from a worry of mine. As we get closer to opening this show we get more focused until we’re almost wearing blinkers and can’t see anything but the world in which this show has created. We’re practically living in the world of the play, occasionally reminded that there is something beyond as we clock off to get some sleep before we start it all again.

I might be exaggerating slightly and I know any production has an element of having to narrow its field of focus to ensure the work becomes the best it can be but I do wonder who is allowing that membrane of the real world to filter through and where does that responsibility lie? And how do we ensure that this play we’ve made is more than just some theatre we’ve created.

Thankfully I know, having gone through the process of producing the show for Snuff Box Theatre, just how rooted in the world the play sits. How every word and action has been thought about not in terms of theatrically but authenticity. I know Weald speaks to a wider audience but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re tucked away in a darkened auditorium spending hours perfecting the sound and lights.

It’s about perspective. Theatre can just as easily zoom in on the micro but it has to constantly question and explode outwards again. At the Fringe last year I ended up shaking my head and asking the question ‘Why?’ constantly. ‘Why are you making this work? What is it meant to say, where does it sit within society? Why now, why here?’ I think it is important for us as theatre-makers to be rooted in the why, to question and challenge it. Otherwise what is the point? Great art has to be rooted in the society and culture of today. We have to keep perspective.

… and with that, here’s a video of a TED talk I’ve enjoyed in the past. Looking at how to build a theatre that responds to an ever changing set of needs, thinking beyond how it functions inside but opening it outwards.


Photo by Hernan Pinera via a Creative Commons license.

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