I don't know what to tell you

Today I was invited to do a little 10 minute chat with MIF (Manchester International Festival) to share what I'm thinking, making, doing or have done. They are doing weekly drop in's with two artists and you can find out about them here.


I took it upon myself to write something about where I'm at.

This is where I'm at.

How to begin?


I’m not sure what to tell you.

I thought I’d be really honest from the outset and say that.

I’m sorry. Pass. I don’t know. 


I’m sorry if you were hoping for some answers to the questions we all currently face, or if perhaps I might have found our, or a way out of this, or have come up with ideas we can share. I’m sorry I don’t.


Instead, I thought I’d write something and treat these 10 minutes, this moment with you lot like a gig, like a piece of work. 


I’m writing this on a train, wearing a mask, listening to a record I think I’ve heard on Britain's Got Talent when the person is poor, or their Mum is dead, or both - so what I’m about to say could be overly romantic. 


My work is, I hope, painfully honest. The unadulterated truth. This is the first piece of work I’ve made in months I hope this is also honest. Although I think its just an elongated shrug of my shoulders that attempting not to be too disheartening, that doesn’t want to infect our young. 


I’m not sure what to tell you.


[Insert something profound here] ...and say it like you are on a TedTalk, with ...pauses. And, a question? Now everyone will nod their head and adjust their glasses like I’ve said something important?


Perhaps that might be enough to pass. Maybe we could all just pretend we have the answer, that I’ve helped somehow, to pretend none of this is happening, solved.


I mean I could sit here and tell you about what I’m thinking but I fear it would just be a list of unfinished ideas that all end in “…when we’re allowed to do that” or “…when that’s possible again” 


Someone this week told me ‘possible’ was never going to happen again. 


No quiver, no hesitation, happen again it won’t. And so we’re to dream new futures, new realities, new ways of working, seeing and feeling. We’re to rewrite the survival book we were never given, that many of us never authored, published, bought or was even allowed. 


Amongst the mailing lists of art jobs and opportunities the same theme emerges daily. Simultaneously, somehow every commissioner and funder have had the same idea to ask the same question - what next? And I guess its that I’m responding to. 


Each “oppertunity” asking artists to innovate their way out of Tory destruction cause they are convinced a theatre show might save the world ...when really the product will only save them a little longer. 


I don’t think theatre saves anyone. 


Maybe I should of just stuck to reading out a list of half baked thoughts and kept it optimistic. 


I could of just done some slides and read out some reviews and convinced you I was good and show you pictures that were international.


I’m not sure what to tell you… or how to make this helpful.


If I was being asked what I’m really feeling and not what I think might perk the ears of funders, or commissioners or those who might dole out some dollar well then I’d tell you the truth... 


I’d tell you I’m feeling resentment. Resentful that the art and culture we’ll create and curate out of this, for our own survival, will be used to prop up a government who killed so many of us - that we’ll aid to their recovery - and that those with platform will not commission loud work in opposition to the death and destruction to save themselves, that our funders with sit on their hands and smile and nod. 


I’d tell you I feel angry and all those so called ‘difficult decisions’ major, well fed organisations are ‘having’ to make, that see hundreds of the workforce out of work and executive teams reduce six figure salaries down to six figure salaries. And to those who feel that those who hold the keys to the doors are equally confused, staring into the unknown - I remind you those who return to jobs, they stare into a void with a government bailout, they are confused but with Arts Council subsidy, they are affected but with core funding, assets, foundations, systems, reserves, power and capital. 

I’d tell you I was confused - not able to finish ideas off, motivate myself, dream in the new world because I’m processing the legacy of what the last six months has done for my depression, eating disorder, anxiety, paranoia, classed, queer and fat trauma. 


I’d tell you I felt lied to - that having spent a decade doing it on the cheap, asked to fundraise on behalf of, bartering, working for free, undervaluing myself and others only to find out the money was always there. It was just hidden, reserved, given to individuals to apparently “attract talent” - the money is there, don’t let them convince you otherwise. 


I’d tell you I felt apathy - that glimmer, that moment of change we felt as lock down lifted for some of us, that feeling is slipping from our fingers and the machine will work in the same way it always has, to preserve those with enough to preserve themselves. Art capitalism. 


I’d tell you I felt reluctant - to get back on my social justice bike, pushing - no, dragging knobheads forward when with one swipe we were able to feed the poor, house the homeless, build 3 hospitals, pay peoples wages, make everything accessible overnight - just like that. Why the fuck have we been spending so much time and money attempting to uncover utopia when it was possible all along - I guess they just needed to want it too.


See, I told you. I don’t think saying these things aloud is helpful. So, I’m not sure what to tell you.


You know, if you were really asking what I’m really feeling right now - it's whether or not people need performance in this moment? Do the sort of people I make work with, for, on behalf, alongside - do they need an art thing right now? Do they need artists knocking on their doors asking them to get involved when they are trying to feed their young? Do they need the work when they are burying their dead? Do we need to create something in order to be supported? Could we just be given the means to survive and rest and collectively work out what next?


It’s not just you I dunno what to say too - I dunno what to say to the hoards of working class artists asking me on the daily if they should continue a career in the arts or if they should consider something else. 


I’m not sure what to tell you and I don’t know what next.

I don’t know how to do the next bit, or where we go and what conversations we need to be having. 


No wrapped up ending with meaning.

No question for the room to ponder.

No insight.

No rabble rousing finale.

A dead end. 

A bad ending. 

The truth.

I don’t know what to tell you. 

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