When the arts industry cancels or makes the decision not to show a production that has themes of that directly deals with controversial issues within society it is telling the world that the issues are not important and should not be dealt with and this means the industry fails to uphold its job within society.
The National Youth Theatre (NYT) cancelled their production of ‘Homegrown’ due to be staged in August 2015. Earlier the same year Ipswich High School for Girls cancelled Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, from an incoming touring company to the school.
Both of these cancellations were due to either being deemed as inappropriate or concern over how it is perceived by the public.
NYTs production ‘Homegrown’ dealt with the issues surround young people and terrorism, something that is very much part of today’s world. Here in the UK we hear of people, both young and old joining extremist groups and then going on to harm innocent communities.
The actual reason given for this cancellation is ‘that there was no complete script’, this just tells the public that there was no real plan or organisation in the process, giving a double barrel of negativity to the organisation since the script or concept of the final production should be in place before auditions began. So was the real reason about the issues which it explored?
Then for a school to cancel an incoming tour because they deem it as ‘inappropriate and not an educator of girls’ when it contains topics of sex and abuse, claiming that ‘it’s hard enough to think or talk about let alone watch’, seems quite ironic coming from any school when society has a problem with teenage pregnancies and child abuse coming into the media more and more. It is not a schools job to talk about these issues? By not doing so are they failing the children they are entrusted with and to the communities to which they serve?
In today world young people are far more aware of these issues then we, as adults, will ever realise with modern technologies, the internet and social media. They all probably know someone, either directly or through a friend who is affected by these issues. They themselves may even be dealing with something connected with the issue. Maybe they don’t know how to deal with it because society tells them it’s a ‘taboo’ topic that’s not to be spoken about. But by allowing explore the issues through the arts, either watching or being part of it helps to break down the barriers and they feel connected in ways that they may not otherwise be able to in their education.
We should never underestimate the power of the arts and how it tackles issues head on. Shakespeare dealt with racism and social class through his play Othello, even if the actor was white with black painted face, a topic that in the 21st Century we still deal with daily, but in the 1600s this was a radical idea. Les Miserable deals with issues surrounding oppression and poverty and what it does to people. Disney’s Lion King deals with corruption teaching children that the truth will always manifest itself in some way or other.
Abuse happens; terrorism is a very real experience for some so they must be addressed head on. Yes there is a need to be sensitive, but at the same time it all needs to be kept very real. The best weapon society has against these issues is knowledge; the best industry to provide that knowledge is the arts in the way they do best, through telling stories.
Have we forgotten that part our heritage of the industry is to create discussion? A part of that process is negativity but it shouldn’t put us off dealing with the issues. It should make us feel as though we are doing our job, unless the comments are about the actual staging of the production directly.
We have to accept that there will always be those who find opportunities to twist the story into something that was not even considered. In May 2016 I read an article on the BBC news feed about a photographer who had posted a picture on social media of her sick son in her husband’s arms in the shower attempting to keep the boys temperature down. For most it was a humbling photo, yet there were a few who found it offensive and inappropriate simply because the persons featured were naked.
The ease of offending people is becoming easier and it does put people off having those important discussions, but these people will always be around and their views are important to the conversation as they to the get nitty gritty keeping us in check by exploring the underpinning issues that we are trying to convey. So these people should be encouraged not feared.
Young people should be encouraged to see and be part of productions that deal with controversy, because if we have agreed they can see it at least we know that the information has been given in a controlled and safe environment. In the end they will go find that information themselves, because that’s human nature to say ‘no’ is a temptation to do. If they do go looking for themselves online secretly, there is no way of knowing what they are viewing or whom their information is from and this potentially the consequences could be a lot worse. As adults and the curators of today’s world, that apparently we want a better place for our children, so it has to be our duty to be ready for those awkward conversations.