Artist X Audience
This is a rant aimed at those of you who go to the theatre who grew up in safe surroundings. This is for the middle class cultural elite, specifically theatre audiences.
There’s an anger I experience that I rarely speak about. It’s taken me a while to acknowledge, process and uncover it. This anger doesn’t sit in my stomach, in fact it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to you - the audience.
There’s a power imbalance I experience that I rarely speak about. It’s taken me a while to acknowledge, understand and fuck with. The power doesn’t sit with me, it’s bought and sold by you - the audience.
I make theatre shows that are the truth. They are not based on truth, they are not warped truths, they are an account of what happened and when. They explore the working class, fat, femme, queer experience. They unveil the failures of our systems, self medication, trauma and ignorance. I don’t hold back, I go beyond the staged truth and into uncomfortable honesty. My truths are ugly because my life was and is full of the shit that other people decide to pollute it with.
My work is often discussed as cathartic and confessional or uncomfortable or ugly. This has been particularly prevalent in my memoir Bravado - an account of what white working class men did to me and my body between 1991 and 1999.
From the very get go I knew that the stuff that sits in the belly of Bravado was by no means resolved for me, it would be, again, picking scabs for the glorification of others - when I say others, I mean you - the audience.
With this in mind I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to perform it. I don’t want to bleed for my supper, for the benefit of posh folk, sat in rows, feeding off of the failures of folk like me for a sense of validation - validation of you, not me.
Without giving away too much away about Bravado much of it and the device its sits within is wrapped up in divorcing the audience, challenging them and inviting them to think about my absence.
Something I now repeatedly come across in my autobiographical theatre work, none more so than Bravado is rage, directed at me, about me, because of me. I’ve had audiences scream in the faces of producers, emails of complaint, messages of disappointment, folk walking out, people taking umbrage at my enlightenment and frank conversations with commissioners who tell me how angry they are / were after seeing my work.
Folk pull apart “the work”, my decision to off load this on a paying audience, the choices Bravado gets to make volunteers and my openness of saying I am afraid of white working class men.
I’m often discredited, up for scrutiny, told I’m wrong or burdened with how you, the middle class audience are triggered by it. I’m essentially told off for telling the truth. Repeatedly cis men tell me my experience isn’t a thing anymore because they don’t see the problem, I’m challenged on my authenticity to tell this story - my lived experience, because they deem me posh now I’m an artist. They are angry at me but not angry at the systems that failed me.
When I’m faced with this anger, speculation and distrust I always try to deconstruct it, understand it or meet folk half way when really my body is screaming at the posh choir of edgy haircuts and beaded necklaces that they got off lightly, they got the theme park version, I lived the real thing. I want to tell them to go fuck themselves with a Waitrose carrier bag.
Sometimes I remind myself that is is the price of putting your pain on a platform. That might be very true but this is my room to respond, this is me saying I think you - the audience - need to be challenged. Sometimes I worry that if I didn’t platform pain I might be redundant. I try to remember why it’s important to share the shit and that without working class fag femmes like me the theatre world is one long hour of ethereal shit that makes people nod.
I need to get this off my chest. I feel the level of anger I’m met with because of the work I make is unfair. The anger has only ever come from the bodies of people who say the ends of their words, those in positions of power, those with privilege and an education.
I like to remind myself of the working class queers who hug me and acknowledge how difficult telling these sort of truths are. I remember the working class Salford Mum’s who tell me they thought the show was going to be much worse - reminding me that my story isn’t the worst case scenario. I remember the queers who cry at me, unable to find words but grateful I’m bearing the brunt. The homo-Irish-queers who write blogs in response to the work because they also need to share their story.
I'm not sure where I’m going with this. This is a rant isn’t it? It isn’t a balanced opinion, it’s not a conversation, it’s catharsis. I’m sulking, I’ve adopted the anger. This is a response.
Next time you are watching an outsider artist bare their soul, speak their truth, ask yourself why you are in that room, what are your intentions? Are you there because you think this might make you feel better? Are you crying because you need a good cry or because you’ll leave that room galvanised to change some shit using your privileges? Ask yourself why you are angry? Did you read the copy? Did you investigate what the work was about? Is your anger wrongly placed?
Once you’ve sat and watched council kids like me offload ask yourself who does the power sit with in this commerce - is it the artist? Or is it you, the punter, with thoughts on how their real life could have been staged better for entertainment purposes.
For now Bravado is finished, who knows if it will ever come back, I’m not sure I’ve got the energy to carry your bullshit about my bullshit. I’m tired of telling the truth for now ...and then I remember who I’m doing this for.