Remembering the Boundaries…

Recently I reviewed a some new work at the Southwark Playhouse in London where young people explored the issued surrounding sex and pornography in a safe and open environment. Themes based around sex and sexuality seems to be part of a new generation of production as theatre becomes less about show and tell and more about allowing an audience to interact with the show. The recent production of the 1923 story The Great Gatsby here in a London and Sleep No More, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet in New York.

Whilst the aim of these productions is to bring the audience away from the traditional bystanders and become part of the story being told and there have evidence of audience members taking part in a fun and erotic way, boundaries are still be being breached and in some cases a huge lack of respect for the actors.

Why is the Sky Blue? was a very subjective production based on interviews of young people the same age as those in the show. The audience were invited to participate, they asked questions, danced with the cast and even gave their opinion. But the boundaries were there, the audience did not get up on stage the cast stayed on stage and at the end the audience left after the cast had gone to the dressing room.

Can you imagine what would have happened if that audience had crossed the thresholds? Or vice versa that a cast member got all erotic with an audience member, bearing in mind that the age range of the cast of six to twenty two year of age.

Theatre has always been about inspiring hearts and minds; it should always aim to challenge the status quo and personal views as it explores the different social issues in today’s generation. But it should always be done in an environment that is safe for everyone including those that create and perform.

Other shows that could really take to a platform of what is known as immersive theatre would musicals like Cabaret, or walking through the woods of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s night Dream, caught in the battles of Romeo and Juliet.

Whilst some of the issues could easily be blamed on provocative publicity which some of it is built on self-indulgence side, however, those booking to see the shows still need to understand that even though they are being invited to be part of the narrative it does not mean audience members can make up their own part of the show by doing what they feel suits them.

It is encouraging, but at the same time sad to hear the security measure to protect cast and crew have had to be stepped up involving the need to install panic buttons for the event of unwelcomed behaviour from audience members.

If you are reading this as someone going to see some form of immerse theatre then remember the enjoyment is there for everyone, so treat the cast and crew as you would do at any other event. As for cast and crew if anything happens that you are not happy or comfortable with ensure you report it straight away, safety is paramount for all involved.

Visiting Conditions

Working in a tidy and organised area is something that is a must for me if I am going to be in any way creative, motivated or productive visual and feel of my space is vital. If you go to someone’s house as a visitor you’d expect there to be level of hygiene and organisation at the very least in the areas ‘designated’ for visitors. So I think there should be at the very least the same expectation of theatres.

Most theatres spend a lot of money making front of house look pretty for the public as first impressions is so important when it comes to strategies to bring punters back week after week, show after show and this is understandable as it’s the audience that bring the revenue. But that revenue can only come in if there is production companies will to put on shows.

Many of our theatres, for whatever reason, seem to be neglecting their backstage areas. For some this is purely they don’t have time or resources to sort it. For others they are just hoarders of stuff, keeping everything just in case it is needed again in thirty years or so from now, well that’s what it seems anyway.

Theatre is, by far, are one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, which makes housekeeping so much more important and with the EU threatening to pass legislation that could see every light from the rig replaced, theatres need to be tidy and organised it’s even more important as this will be a huge job. Personally I have worked in theatres where stage level backstage is fine, but the gantries have been the issue, with cables, lights and gels just left all over the place after use.

Over the years one of biggest lessons I have learnt is that if you ‘tidy as you go’ then even the big spring clean becomes an easy job not needing a huge team of people or time as its near enough done. Maybe the carpet’s need a wash or a new coat of paint on the stage is required these all become quick jobs as extra time is not wasted by having to do things that could have been done weeks ago.

And this is not just about housekeeping, it’s also about keeping things maintained. A simple quick fix is not always the answer, especially when it potentially put people at risk where the rain is coming in close to a lighting rig or into a high traffic area of backstage where the dangers of slipping are greater as artist and crew dash around frantically during performances for costume and set changes.

Ensuring audience members come back is one thing, but keeping your incoming tour companies happy is even more important, because when they decide not to come back and go to your competition instead there will be a risk of closure for your venue, bad reputations get round quickly with word of mouth.

These problems with conditions backstage have got so bad that actors union Equity have motioned at their Annual Representative conference to take action to tackle these problems.

With more young and less able people involved in theatre it becomes more apparent that safety should be paramount. As for crew not only should their safety be considered, but also welfare, basic things like kettles, fridges and microwaves should all be provided as it’s so often the crew that will do the longest shifts during touring so all the basic facilities should be functional.