Should I Loath Myself?

The issue of columnists regularly comes up in the Stan’s Cafe office. Craig and I loath them. Charlotte thinks we’re just biggots. Craig recently submitted a parody column to The Guardian which was spot on and unsurprisingly didn’t get published. I got invited to write a one-off column for The Birmingham Post and it did get published, which was surprising (on both counts).

So should I loath myself? Well as it was a one-off I thought I could get away with it by considering it ‘an article’ and studiously avoiding using the first person pronoun. Here’s the article (I wasn’t paid by The Birmingham Post so hopefully they won’t sue me for breach of copyright on my own writing). Here also is a link to a rather good response.

“Stan’s Cafe is a rare beast, a theatre company, driven by a passion for making unusual art that runs as a thriving business. The first eight years were pretty tough, we were producing great shows but with the British market in our ‘sector’ pathetically weak we were struggling to build any great momentum. Finally, a strategy of targeting European festival directors started to pay off. One prestigious booking brought others and soon a significant portion of our turnover was coming from abroad. Our burgeoning export business was spotted by Business Link, they helped us make the most of key showcasing opportunities and things geared up further.

Last year Stan’s Cafe performed for over 100 days abroad, across Europe, North America and Australia, including presenting a major new commission for the Vienna Festival. Now we regularly present shows in two, occasionally even three different cities simultaneously.

We’re not in it for profit; we’re in it for it. We believe that live performances are important. If people, distracted by other leisure options, stay at home we will be poorer as a society and the next generation of Stan’s Cafes will never make it through those difficult early years. It is with these thoughts in mind that we deliver the following polemic.

The key thing is to be there when it happens. To be part of it, up close, where you can smell the bodies and taste the air they stir.

We are sausage meat in the multiplex and less than that in front of our televisions, where the contempt we are held in is now more transparent than ever before. Cheap radio solicits emails, texts but even when we phone-in we are still stooges, ‘listeners’ and nothing more, not participants. We may as well not exist.

Electronic handshakes lack flesh and blood warmth. The fabled ‘interactivity’ of our digital realm rarely stretches beyond banal, push-button, Prozac primate stimulation. Even absorbed in multi-million dollar consol games we are mere lab rats, willing prisoners thrashing around inside a painted algorithm. It’s time to escape.

Let’s get to those rooms above pubs, street corners, concert halls, village halls, school halls, libraries, fields and theatres where real live people are performing for real live audiences and sharing a moment in time together, participating in a social exchange that celebrates an act of creativity engaged for its own sake, prompted by values outside basic commerce. Let’s go and be with other people, sharing a communal moment of beauty and provocation, which will dissolve as soon as it is done and remain precious for that very reason.

These events have the potential to be stunning, perception altering, life shifting encounters and when they are not – which will be most of the time – it will still have been good to have been part of the endeavour. Occasionally we will see something terrible, and the same forces that make the live event especially brilliant when it’s brilliant will ensure this terrible event is especially terrible but what is the cost of not risking the terrible? Of course we can play it safe, check and double check before committing, seek reviews or references, recommendations or other reassurances but in so doing we lose our chance to catch the raw, fresh and exciting.

If we all stay at home with the predictable and the safe then our artistic culture will be on the same trajectory which finds all our high streets an uninspiring re-shuffle of globally familiar shop-fronts and all our carrots the same shape and size, scrubbed clean and tasteless. Let’s go there, let’s be there, it will be better than we expect.”


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