Talk by Frances Rifkin titled ‘A Biased History of Political Theatre’ took place at the People’s Bookshop, Durham on 23rd May 2012. Here you can listen to the talk, with a short introduction by artist Margareta Kern. Also, here you can download a verbatim transcript of the talk ‘A Biased History of Political Theatre’, which we recommend to be read in conjunction with the sound file.
Excerpt from the talk:
“Our movement really developed on six fronts. I counted them yesterday. We called ourselves ‘the fringe’ as an act of defiance – it was called ‘fringe theatre’ – a proud statement of opposition to the mainstream. I remember how angry I was when Time Out started calling it ‘off West End’. I thought it was a real betrayal that we had lost the title ‘fringe’. That was then. I think slightly differently now. It’s radically altered in meaning now. […]Our movement, right. Six fronts:
One. This is a formulation which will probably alter. The politics of the vocation. To be creative. To make new, exciting, avant-garde and experimental political work outside the mainstream but valid as the mainstream.
Two. The politics of choosing where we were in the arts structure. In other words we were outside the mainstream we had another structure and another way of looking at the arts. And that was very diverse and caused a lot of quarrelling. But it was genuinely and well diverse in a very good way, quarrelling or not.
[Three] The politics of thinking who the audience is and might be. To go to audiences who wanted a voice. Who wanted art and creativity. Who might be silent. Who might be culturally scorned, regarded as marginal, inarticulate. Regarded as marginal, inarticulate, and incoherent, not saying that is what they were, but that’s how the establishment would see them. And worse still, be on strike. Or, you know, be in some awkward relationship with the state or the employer. And I’m saying here this is the whole working class I’m talking about, by the way. It was largely excluded from any notion that there might be a creative and cultural environment in which everybody could take part. We were very, very proud of that. And we also wanted to look in practice at how to develop it. Not just in theory. In other words as we did the work we learnt.
Four. The Politics of engaging our public in the public arena to support us, but also, in parallel, to engage them in developing the work. I remember having a big argument in the Arts Council in the mid 70’s with Richard Hoggart and Roy Shaw I think it was. We went to see them and we argued that our audiences should play a role in assessing the work. They were both educationalists and they said they couldn’t possibly consider – I tried to secretly record the conversation but the tape recorder collapsed. [Laughter]. Not surprisingly. Um. They said they couldn’t consider anybody but themselves deciding what constituted art. It’s quite straight forward. So, to work with audience support on the sort of political and cultural level but also to develop the work with the audiences, which everybody did in different ways, some more, some less. Huge range of possibilities.
And then the fifth is the politics of getting paid. Fighting for minimum wages and conditions. A militant movement to get funding and recognition with the strong organising surge, which meant there were over 80 companies which got together. Some of them – I’ll go through them shortly. Some of them you may have heard of and in some cases, maybe you haven’t. But some will have disappeared.
And then the sixth one is to be recognised as artists and as workers. I always called myself a worker. I began to call myself an artist when they started cutting funding because we were shifting. Our identities were very shifting in a way. But at that point a lot of us said we were theatre workers and refused the term artist. ”
‘A Biased History of Political Theatre’ Talk by Frances Rifkin at the People’s Bookshop, Durham, recorded on Wednesday 23rd May 2012, as part of Leverhulme artist-in-residence project Strike1984 by Margareta Kern, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.