As mentioned in my last Remembering January post, last month I took part in a three-day workshop to examine the transition from feudalism to early capitalism through the lens of early modern drama (Shakespeare and contemporaries). This was of interest in itself, but also, potentially, a way into thinking about about the boundaries and nature of capitalism today, about what our argument with capitalism is, and how capitalism might be superseded by something else. Paul Mason calls this “post-capitalism”; I’m going to go with that too for the time being. Since this was a workshop with a group of people working in theatre, we discussed how theatre can represent or a play a part in post-capitalism – what is a post-capitalist theatre?
As I also mentioned previously, at the beginning of January, I found out that the the funding application for the show I’m currently working on, Britain’s Got Tenants had not been successful. Since then, we’ve also had a funding application for Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka rejected. This has prompted thoughts about how to fund my work, and about funding for the arts in general.
The following started as a response to an idea that was proposed at the end of the post-capitalism workshop: that a new model for funding the arts could be to attract corporate sponsorship to:
– build a technologically better-equipped theatre
– the company would put their name on the building
– audience members, would “plug into” it in some way and the corporate partner could have access to certain types of data about the audience (this might be of value to them)
(This was the idea, in very broad brushstrokes)
The following should be read more in the spirit of a “provocation” than a fully thought-out plan which I think is ready to be implemented
The network – that’s the new technology. The theatre building itself needn’t be “hi-tech”. People already have the technology in their pockets. What more is the theatre building going to provide?
The reason we were able to do the Post-Capitalism workshop is because the Young Vic has a well-administrated network and a heated room that was given to us free of charge. I am able to organize a fortnightly improvisation and theatre games night in the same way: I have an idea I want to try out – the Young Vic organizes a room for me and sends out an email to however many hundred directors on the network, people who are interested get back to me, we get some work done together. From the perspective of a “maker”, the YV directors’ network is an invaluable resource for facilitating work which wouldn’t otherwise be happening.
Rather than spend money on a theatre building (however hi-tech), we should invest in a network, network administrators, and places to live and work for artists (more on this below)
The national theatre network
If the idea is to get a big tech company to offer sponsorship in exchange for access to data, I don’t believe a building, however well technologically equipped, is a particularly attractive proposition. Even if you have, say, 1,000 audience members a night, and they’re all “plugged into” the building in some way, you’re still only gathering limited amounts of data for people living in a relatively circumscribed geographic area. However, if you have a national network which theatre-makers, venues and audiences are all logged into, advertising shows, booking shows, giving feedback on shows, you’re generating a lot of data. That data is potentially valuable, because it is not limited to people’s online browsing or shopping habits, it gives you information about how people from all over the country, from all different backgrounds, etc. go out into the “real world” to have a good time.
[I need to run this idea past people who actually know what makes data valuable]
To an extent, these networks already exist. The Young Vic has its network, the National Theatre of Wales is essentially a network, I think (although I don’t know much about it, so someone correct me if I’m wrong), there are any number of rural touring networks…
The national network will integrate all of these into a single network which will perform all of their current functions: facilitating collaboration between artists, booking tours, developing audiences, etc.
BUT it also goes one further: ultimately it will enable audiences to invite shows / art exhibitions / concerts to an arts centre / theatre / community hall near them directly. A show / concert / exhibition will have a page with a description, reviews, pictures, video, ratings and comments from other audiences who have seen it. If enough people in a given area want to see a show, it gets booked.
People all over the country will be able to order art (performances, concerts, exhibitions) online, like ordering takeaway off Just Eat, except it will be free!
(more on how the “free” bit works below, but first, accountability)
The network has the potential to solve the problem of accountability – it allows us to be directly accountable to one another
The problem of accountability is about how we justify giving public money to artists. At the moment we have reporting, targets, feedback forms etc. As anyone who’s applied for Arts Council funding knows, this creates a burden of admin which can be seriously inhibiting to small organizations. It also creates a burden for the Arts Council: a disproportionate amount of their time and energy is spent dividing up an ever-shrinking pot of money. Let’s get rid of the pot of money, cut out the layer of bureaucracy that goes with it, and use the people who work for the Arts Council in a more productive way (in more of a “producer / facilitator” role, for example). We no longer need to be accountable to a bureaucracy because we are directly accountable to the audience (they will leave feedback on our page after the show; they will decide to book the show, or not) and the audience and venue are accountable to the artist in the same way. The principle that we are directly accountable to one another is how trust is built online, for both commercial services (Uber, Air B’n’B, etc.) or non-commercial ones (couch-surfing, Wikipedia, etc.). I don’t see why it shouldn’t work for the arts as well: there are no commissioners or gate-keepers, just artists, audience, facilitators and administrators.
The new economic model
The new economic model is that artists work for free. It’s already happening. Imagine trying to raise the money for the three-day workshop we just did if you had to pay everyone union rates [about 15 people took part in the workshop]. This raises the problem of how the artists survive. Some options:
– only wealthy are able to work in theatre: an exacerbated version of what we have at the moment (nobody wants this)
– we pay all the artists involved in the scheme (ultimately thousands of them) a union wage. This is potentially prohibitively expensive and, for me, not an appealing option for two other related reasons:
- We introduce a relationship of exchange where none is needed or wanted. The artist’s work has a value which cannot be measured in financial terms. So let’s not try.
- If we’re talking about a post-capitalist theatre, we need the artists to buy into a post-capitalist philosophy, and a union wage works strongly against this
(this is a little elliptical – I’m happy to expand if people are interested. The important point is that this is a model based on gifting, not on quantifiable exchange)
– the reason union wages are necessarily high is that much of them end up straight in the pockets of landlords charging over-inflated rents or banks charging interest on mortgages. Instead of spending our sponsorship money on rent and theatre buildings, let’s spend it on homes, food, basic amenities and transport for artists (this is all we need and it won’t cost much!). Let’s build the homes somewhere cheap (not London or the South East of England). Let’s set them up as a co-operative structure where tenancies are secure and it is not possible to make a profit out of increases in land value (the homes cannot be sold for profit). Artists will also need:
– laptops and mobile phones
– work / rehearsal space (this should be straightforward too: there are lots of empty spaces, especially outside of London).
– materials with which to make art (again, this is generally quite a small proportion of any budget for an arts project – wages take up most of it). A lot of materials could be donated.
– network administrators
– When artists tour they will be hosted and fed by local friends of the venues (I’ve done this – it can work really well and it means that your hosts are automatically more invested in the show). The model is built on the principle of gifting rather than exchange.
Artists will still need some cash to interact with the rest of the world. Venues will not be charged a fee to book shows, but there could be a Pay What You Decide ticket system on the night, and the proceeds from this would be divided up equally between all artists in the network. Alternatively, we could allow artists to do paid work one or two days a week.
As mentioned above, corporate sponsorship doesn’t go towards a building or paying union wages, it goes towards:
– building, maintaining and administrating the network
– free homes for theatre-makers built in cheap places and co-operatively owned.
– basic food / transport / amenities for artists
– mobile phones and laptops
– materials for art (this probably needs to be defined a bit better so it can be costed properly)
– rehearsal space and performance space
While some people might feel queasy about a model which gives a big corporation access to personal data:
a) it’s already happened
and b) there’s something intuitively very appealing about Paul’s idea of post-capitalism growing within the husk of capitalist structures. I realize that’s not a very rigorous argument – open to discussion.
For me the big question is: would the data generated by such a network be valuable enough to a corporation for them to cover the above costs…?
Clearly, it’s going to be difficult to make West End musicals or big-budget operas using this model. However, it feels to me like a good structure for creating contemporary, popular theatre: theatre which could only have been made now (think of all the shows which look like they could have been made at any point over the last sixty years) and which has a wide appeal.
We do not need to invent new forms for the age of the internet, they are already being invented. Just as, over the past 60 years, the language of film and TV has seeped into the theatre, over the past 5 years so has the language of the internet. A lot of the most interesting contemporary theatre I have seen recently has created an experience which has much in common with being online. A few “strands”, off the top of my head:
– the “performance / live art / theatre-lecture” types. They can make shows with their mobile phone and their laptop (venues will provide a video projector and screen). Their online presence is an extension of their work. They have co-opted the language of the internet into their theatrical vocabulary: they create a new type of public / private space (the boundary between their own lives and their art is fluid), they have found theatrical transpositions for “links” and “browsing”, they use film and pictures and videos and anything that you can do with a mobile phone, a laptop, a projector and a screen
– the large-scale outdoor spectacular. A particularly interesting example, for me, is Slung Low in Leeds. Their base is about as a low-tech a base as you can imagine, but their work harnesses the potential of networked individuals through large-scale outdoor community shows which the audience will film on their mobile devices and share with friends. Around 150 people from the local community are participants in the show – their family, friends neighbours want to come along and see them.
– Interactive theatre: playing at being a capitalist in World Factory or playing in the city with Coney, etc.
Some of these use mobile devices directly, others have adopted, transposed or subverted the codes of the networked individual.
As for the classics, I suspect the model will mean they have to be re-written in quite a radical way, which might turn them into popular works again…