Songs for the Struggling Artist

British Invasion

Did you notice how much work was over from Britain last year? Almost everything in BAM’s spring season came from the British Isles. Likewise, St Ann’s Warehouse. On Broadway: Jerusalem, Brief Encounter, Billy Elliot, Pitman Painters. The two big theatrical events of the year,Warhorse and Sleep No More, are British imports with new American casts. The RSC was in residence this summer. It’s a wonder there are any Brits left in Britain at this rate. Am I upset about this invasion? Absolutely not. I’m grateful that I get to see the work I most want to see without getting on a plane. However, I do find it very discouraging.
I’ve done my damnedest to be in the UK myself to no avail so I have reconciled myself to making my work here. But I see that even to work here, I really ought to be coming from Great Britain. It’s a wonderful thing that New York Theatres are presenting good British work. If I were in charge of one of these presenting organizations, I would do exactly the same thing. If I’m charged with presenting the best available work, of course, I would import it from the UK.
But why is the work so much more worth presenting?
1) Governmental support of the arts – the Arts Council supports theatres of all sizes (Now that the new government has slashed the Arts Council’s budget so ridiculously much, we’ll see if that quality can be maintained)
2) Support for a variety of theatres means a variety of work and an opportunity for innovation and most important to me, the opportunity to do Research and Development, in other words the opportunity to fail. In other words, one can take risks in one’s work and make discoveries without risking one’s survival.
3) See reasons 1-9 for what I wish the American Theatre would learn from the Brits.

In light of their severe cuts, the British Arts Council is counseling its suffering theatre artists to follow the example of their American cousins. But I say, “Beware, cousins, beware.” I have seen a lot of work that moved me this year and all of it came from your shores. I can’t remember the last time I was moved by a piece of American theatre. Sorry my American friends – maybe I’m forgetting something – but it’s true. Some of us manage to create exciting moments or an element or two that really works against all the odds. We keep trying, bless us, but I fear we are fighting a losing battle. But then, I so very rarely get to see high quality American theatre. That’s partly because our “Art” Houses are too busy presenting British work, for which, I am grateful, but also furious because it feels as if there’s no space for American work and no structures in place to create it.

Let’s look at Black Watch, for example.
1) They put Research and Development resources into it. They paid a writer to investigate something. Gave him an expense account to buy a bunch of vets a lot of drinks. They hired a creative team and actors to experiment and explore the ideas. Additionally, they hired a consultant.
2) The creative team they brought in was highly skilled in innovative, devised, physical theatre. They developed those skills in smaller companies throughout the years, honing and discovering new ways to create highly theatrical work.
3) Public moneys created a production then sent it around for more people to see. Find me an American production that has that amount of public support behind it. Something beyond “I liked that show. Those people are very talented.”

I’d love to make something as good as Black Watch one day. Or as good as Brief Encounter or The Red Shoes or Beautiful Burnout or Warhorse or Sleep No More or Jerusalem or any of the Shakespeare at BAM last season or the RSC last summer. Can I imagine an American Theatre that could support me getting that good? I’m trying. I’m trying to imagine it. Every day.

It feels like an invasion, yeah, like the British Invasion of the 60s and like that Invasion it is most welcome. I just hope it leads to a renaissance of American Theatre in the same way.


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: