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  • Writer's pictureClare Prenton

Shafts of light

What is it we wish to shine a light on, when we get the chance? Collaboration, honesty and a hunger for connection are key...

I've been asking myself 'What will bring audiences away from Netflix, Apple TV, Tik Tok?' As a writer and a director and concluded what I have always felt that we need to assert that the theatre offer is not competing with high quality streaming content, big budget TV (it's another golden age for TV). The offer is about connection and shared experience, the thrill of live interaction. We don't need to copy these media, but assert what it is to be in a room with people - celebrating the experiential. Studying Beckett's Endgame for work with students at Janis Hart's Scenehouse course in Edinburgh reminded me that there are already great works dealing with isolation, lockdown, existential crisis.

I've been working in the digital realm on a new project for Eastgate Theatre that is hoped will go live in the early autumn which focuses on this age of anxiety, through the despair came hope; finishing a play or two that I have had time to re-work and other opportunities are emerging as well as my teaching work has focused the mind on the possibilities of the future, but in a different way.

And in the last week there have been chinks of light emerging, pantos being announced; some theatres are programming tentatively to May and everyone I talk to seems a little calmer, a little wiser perhaps? and affected by the past 12 months in ways that are emerging but won't be fully apparent to us all for some time. But we will think differently going in. I'm not going to use the cliches here of what the future might look like as no one knows that. But the known unknown is that we will question the purpose, delivery and the experience we are offering audiences perhaps more after this period of de-socialisation for all. I hope too that we have all learned a little more compassion on how to treat freelancers who make up over 70% of the industry. Many people have left, career switched and moved on. Not because they were not as committed as anyone who chooses to stay but Covid has been a war, a battle that left permanent collateral damage. Some organisations will have treated their staff well but some have lost the good will and respect that theatre so heavy relies on too. We may have lost a lot of talent in the process backstage and onstage. So we need to be mindful that the high skills levels we were used to, in lighting, sound, production may have been challenged by this. It's a defining moment for theatre. It's been a brutal shake up with tragic consequences for many. I for one don't want to go back to what we had. A new openness and compassion is needed as we move forward - the old structures and old hierarchies don't apply. Covid has been the great leveller. Let's remember that as we meet new colleagues and hope the 30% in salaried jobs remember that too.

I find myself going back to Peter Brook's The Empty Space more and more over the past few months. What is it we wish to shine a light on, when we get the chance? Collaboration, honesty and a hunger for connection are key. If theatre is to survive at all it needs to be honest, open, responsive and bold with quicker turn around times for projects that reflect our times and engage our audiences more than ever. There will be a hunger for good theatre. Let's not disappoint them.

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