Towards a sane society

I look at the front page of Aussie Theatre today and I see something that I said: “I think we have a problem in our cultural value of the arts as vital and necessary tool for the preservation of a sane society”.

I look at the front page of Aussie Theatre today and I see something that I said: “I think we have a problem in our cultural value of the arts as vital and necessary tool for the preservation of a sane society”.

I guess – I had better step up to the plate and explain that statement.

Those who are familiar with the Philip Parsons lectures will know that my statement is drawn from the words of the Late Richard Wherrett. But, in amongst his astounding ‘foot print’ observations he left us in that speech, this sentiment hit Will Conyers in the guts. My Holy Grail of why I do, why I invest so much in this crazy thing called ‘show’, was answered. But, it was answered at a level of profundity that I felt barely capable of bearing. ‘The preservation of a sane society’.

Could ‘the arts’ be so vital to our world? Aren’t we just there to entertain? But my attitude to my responsibility to my craft was irrevocably changed.

I also said in the article on the front page, “I think perhaps a convincing argument could be put together that the behaviour of some of our sporting greats has been the spawning ground of some of our social behavioural issues.”

Now – I am no academic. (I would really like an academic to pick up this idea and do some clinical research on this).

The gladiatorial spectacle of sport is also absolutely vital to our world. We love it. But how does this change the player’s responsibility to THEIR craft?

This is a huge discussion that nudges the notions of celebrity, of sponsorships, of DISCIPLINE and example-setting. It also nudges the imbalance of media exposure of sport as compared to the arts.

While the media will front and back page Sporting heroes, their highs and their horrid lows (performing artists are not exempt from this scrutiny either), with such an imbalance we will have a problem in allowing the Arts to do it’s job. To preserve a sane society.

We actually celebrate the violence on the field of sport. I will say that again, we actually CELEBRATE the violence on the field of sport.

This violence is actually perpetuated by celebrated elite athletes (and celebrated they should be – they’re bloody brilliant at what they do). BUT, with that elite athleticism, that elite celebrity, that elite testosterone, those pin-up calendars, and all those interminable ‘apologies’, we have a world where a pretty screwed-up example is being set. It is being set by a group of people who are, like it or not, are saying, “It’s OK to bash someone in the face in the name of sport and ‘good’ television. That’s what you do when you are pissed off. It’s OK”.

Then we wonder about things like the Cronulla riots, the shameful behaviour at the Melbourne Australian Tennis Open, schoolyard stabbings, the list goes on…

What is our population, many under incredible stressors, financial or otherwise, to do? Get a little bit angry and deal with it by bashing someone. “Hey – it’s OK just saw it happen at the footy. If he can do it, so can I”.

‘Responsibility to the craft’ indeed.

So – enter the Performing Arts. The best mirror of ourselves that we have.

Since man could see his reflection in a pond or a river – once, a terrifying magic –  he has been fascinated to know more about himself. Emil Bloch holds the first patent (1903) for what we call a mirror but we know that they have been around for centuries. There is an entire philosophical discussion there too. Mirrors. Photographs. Videos. We need to see US over and over again.

But a mirror is not enough it seems. Tribes will dance around the fire telling the stories of the generations, reflecting us back to us and we feel good.

Parents will tell a bedtime story with all the voices of all the characters – and we feel good.

Actors take to a stage and reflect us to us – good, bad, and ugly – and we feel good. We feel alive. We trust our existence. We, us insecure selves, feel that we are somehow OK again. Our flaws are permitted. We are human.

Does violence happen on stage? Yes! Of course it does! But, there are two mitigating factors here:

   1. We have suspended our disbelief and know that we are simply being shown a facet of ourselves and no-one is actually being harmed.
   2. In the Performing Arts, with it’s inheritance of the Morality plays and tales, we often get to witness and experience the CONSEQUENCES of the particular character’s actions.

Please don’t think my soul target is Sport here – I could start on the irresponsibility of film makers also.

What I am talking about is that we need to restore balance and the Arts are the vital pathway to that balance. To that peace.

So – the first step is to get the tabloids to start giving the arts some decent space. To stop showing pictures of blood spurting faces with mouthguards flying through the air. And it is up to the TV outlets to welcome back LIVE performance (not just from the music sector), comedy, variety, live drama, live Music Theatre, live dance.

If there’s someone who reads this who can give these issues a nudge – get your shoulder behind it and call me and I will be there to give you a hand.

You can always send your topic suggestions through to me at: [email protected]

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