2020 Has Been [Fill in the Appropriate Word], So What About 2021?
It’s difficult to put a year in review, when most of the year was, well, cancelled.
It is even more difficult when as freelance theatre makers we still find ourselves in a nebulous unknown moving forward. Even with the year ending, the COVID-19 pandemic is not, and therefore work prospects, livelihoods, and commitments are still tagged with big question marks.
Since late spring I have been mentoring a young directing graduate and for a long time we met every week online to talk about the future and what would make sense to focus on at the moment. This proved of course difficult when everyone, from those starting out to mid-career and established artists, venues and theatres were and are being hesitant about programming and most are not in a position to offer (financial) support. And the conversation often turned to the industry and its working mechanisms. This got me to think: What are we actually doing? And whom or what for?
When the first lockdown came in Europe, I also went through the lobbying stages for a better, fairer industry with more solidarity; like many, I felt for a good while that this period could be the pause button we had (without knowing) needed, and provided us with the time-fuelled opportunity to sit down, talk and instigate fundamental changes. Lip service was paid, not much changed.
Then, in May, the world watched the harrowing 8 minutes and 46 seconds video footage of George Floyd being killed. For many the knock on the head finally came and we all realised that the time of looking away, pretending systemic racism and police brutality leading to only ‘isolated incidents’, was over. Work needed to be done. Now. And where the Black Lives Matter movement surged across the globe, in our industry more lip service was paid, and, for now at least, not much has changed.
Change can be painfully slow; this year was not the year we learned it could happen any faster.
And so, for a while, hope felt palpably close and possible, to then slowly disintegrate again, as the days got colder, darker and still there was not enough support.
Now, at any time, but particularly at times of crises, we have choices to make. We do need to position ourselves and stand clearly and boldly for what we believe in. And in 2021, this could not be more important. Do we see ourselves merely as functionaries in an often unpredictable and merciless industry? Or do we see ourselves as the artists we idealistically set out to be at a time when idealism is extremely important?
For me, it became very obvious that falling into a time of creating and producing was just not going to happen. And eventually, I figured out why: What was it all for?
Both in politics and in theatre, it is easy to succumb to the discussion on structures rather than content. In all the talk within and about the industry, in all the conversations with my young and rather hopeless-feeling mentoree, very few conversations centered on making work.
I realised then, that this was not ever why I started making theatre. Coming to think of it, no one I know started out because of the industry, the frame work in which we work. The very same industry that was now dropping artists in order to put its own survival at the front. Survival for whom? And for what? (PSA: Be conscious of the rabbit hole you may end up going down with this…)
So, what do we carry forward into the 2021 New Year?
I want to carry hope; that we can do better; that individuals will live up to the words they are saying; hope, that we have collectively learnt our lesson about how much we are interconnected; how much we need and depend on each other.
Most importantly, I hope that we take all that we learnt and vowed to develop ourselves in, and actively implement that in our actions and choices that we make. Today, tomorrow, next year. If you can’t find hope then, please, find the courage in yourself to create it.
I am hoping these things because then we will be less reliant on decisions made at the top, and start taking on the responsibility we all have to truly ‘build back better’. Regardless of the state of the industry we will return to eventually, we are creators. Therefore, let’s create better and at all times remind ourselves what we, in our own right, are doing it all for.