Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Voices in the Time of Silence

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Three Writers Comment , The Lockdown of Public Culture , April 14, 2020
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Three Writers Comment Online comment is nothing if not forthright. Nonetheless a reaction to an article published by Nation Cymru on 18h April was unusual. The title of the article was “Distant Voices: How the Welsh arts and creative scene is staying resilient in the time of Corona” and the first reader reaction was “What absolute, self-absorbed, bo*****s.”

The author had nearly a thousand words to play with. It carried a lot of padding:

“It also poses questions apart from financial ones. What role do creatives play in this crisis? How can we emerge from this stronger? Will we emerge at all?”

The answer to the first is most likely none, at least in the short term. The answer to the third is that the Government of Wales via the Arts Council is sincere in launching its support packages.

There is some high waffle. “The government’s division of society into essential and non-essential workers poses questions for the sensitive (and perhaps egotistical) creative mind.”

This is simply false; government policy is that as many work from home as are able.

“After all, how would the lockdown be tolerable for the millions confined to their homes without the films, novels, and music produced by the non-essential artist?”

This is vanity and posturing. We are watching film and listening to music that is served to us by the market. It is a market that works in profusion.

Another article from a Welsh publication weighs in at a hefty 1140 words. If its length is long its substance is wispy.

“If we look at previous big shocks to the global economy, like the terrorist attacks in 2001 or the global recession in 2008, we see that the arts can bounce back relatively quickly.”

This is just daft. There is no comparison. Instant and total loss of cash-flow for an unknown period has no precedent.

“There will be few winners in the business community after Covid-19.”

This is false, a writer declaiming without knowledge. The tech giants are big gainers for a start.

As for the future the recommendations are vacuous. “Boards and CEOs will need to be ruthless – the money won’t be there, and the public will have no time for style over substance.” I am the public and have no idea what that means. “Organisations need to look at business models with a razor-sharp sense of risk.” All art-making is risk.

“Digital will be vital – virtual organisations will now come to the fore. Until now there have really only been tentative moves to online engagement, streaming performances and online museum tours.”

This presumably is a recommendation that organisations not trouble themselves with filling auditoriums.

“Attendance at live events has been falling for years.”

No evidence is given. It is false.

“With Covid-19 inspired move towards online engagement, it could be that audience consumption habits will change for good.”

No evidence is given. And for a good reason; there is none. If there is one lesson from this terrible time it is the immutable nature of humanity. Our need for the presence of others is as profound as it is desperate.

The Nation Cymru author does inject a good point:

“There’s a pressure – internal and external – to incorporate this crisis into our art, given the so-called free time now available. But a lockdown is not a writer’s retreat, nor is home always a comfort zone” and later “coronavirus is not a brief you have to respond to. It’s a forced pause, a hugely disruptive set of restrictions and problems and our own health and family matter most.”

Richard Morrison, who is a good music critic and arts commentator, took this theme for an article in the Times of 3rd April. He welcomed the big & the rich putting on stuff, airing their back catalogue.

But for individuals he thought it was different.

His article was headed: “Note to artists: It's not a sign of weakness to be unable to work now.”

The villain, again, in his reading was a familiar. “I detect an insidious new sort of psychological coercion coming from social media.”

“It could be harmful- if the trend carries with it the unspoken implication that everybody should be doing it. Or that if they aren't, they must be inept, lazy or hopelessly slow about adapting to the new reality.

He looks to describe the effect on artists:.

“First, let's acknowledge the hiatus for what it is. Not a surprise holiday but a massive shock to our routine that is likely to be traumatic for many. And the one thing that the history of art, literature and music teaches us about traumatic disruptions is that, although they may trigger interesting creative work in the long-term, in the short term they crush any impulse to create anything.”

He looks to some greats:

“Monet painted nothing for two years after his wife's death. In Picasso's case, the break-up of his marriage and the custody battle over his son caused him not just to give up painting for a long time but to find the sight of his art hateful.”

"My feeling is that feelings of guilt and helplessness will pile up on already insecure artists and performers inflicting serious mental damage.”

Critics are supposed to be a dispassionate lot. And rightly. But dispassion does not preclude empathy. Morrison sees this:

“For many people in the arts the stress is extreme. They are dealing with unprecedented degrees of insecurity and self-doubt, as well as feelings of rejection caused by the closure of their normal platforms.”

There is a difference in these commentators. Richard Morrison reads to me as more insightful. He has more truth to him because he is a critic.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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