…in July I was invited to speak on a panel at the Children’s Media Conference titled “Sell Out: Can television brands be effectively exported to the the live space? Are the resulting shows shallow, cynical, money making exercises or might the worlds of commercial and artistic theatre ever collaborate?”
Beyond the MASSIVE problem I have with the pitting of “commercial” against “artistic” (when I think hope that the intention was actually to discuss the different pressures of commercial vs publicly funded producing), this was a really compelling, spiky, provocative (in all the good ways) session. Especially since it took place against the backdrop of the announcement of the closure of the News of the World.
And I found my notes yesterday and hope they might be of interest/use as a contribution to the conversations about audiences, art, money, politics and production that framed much of what was discussed at Edgelands.
I’ve also embedded the video extracts of Chris’s provocation for the event “I Want To Write Like the Fascists Do” at the end of this post…
NOTES towards a contribution for “Sell Out”
I have NO interest in exporting TV brands to the live space because yes, in my experience, they are shallow, cynical, money making exercises.
My abiding, overwhelming experience of any of those shows that I have naively taken my children to or been forced to accompany them to is of the merchandise, the shameless upselling, the pimping of toys and of being given no option but to walk through THE SHOP the moment the “show” is over.
I an however, passionate about my children and their cultural, social, political experience of the world they live in being a rich and positive one.
And they in turn are often passionate about the stories and the characters that they encounter – often and unavoidably (for the time being at least) through that most ubiquitous and socially, culturally, politically powerful object and medium – television.
I WANT artists from the subsidised sector and commercial companies to work together.
And I don’t know many artists who don’t want to make a living (and even a good living) out of their work.
Equally, I don’t know any artists that are motivated only by making money. Happy to have anyone point me to examples that you might know, but my point is that there can’t be m/any. If you want to make money out of ‘creativity’ and ‘storytelling” you’re much more likely to be working in advertising or marketing than as an artist.
I do however know MANY people working in commercial environments that are primarily VERY motivated by making money.
So there is a massive value clash here that should not be 1) underestimated or 2) considered insurmountable as an obstacle.
I don’t *know* this to be true but I feel (recklessly?) optimistic that a purely profit driven (capitalist) approach to the market is one that is increasingly at odds with a developing mainstream anti-capitalist sentiment.
There’s already been a huge backlash against the banks and the profiteering system that they continue to support and operate within, and that we all live under. How many children have you ever heard say “When I grow up, I want to be a banker”?
And on a day when the NOTW, its parent companies, supporters are being universally described as “disgusting” for their behaviour which it is proven now is NOT motivated by public interest but by greed and the desire to PROFIT by exploiting other, ‘ordinary’ peoples’ pain and suffering… and that there is no social economic benefit to that because there is only an ongoing widening of the gulf between “rich” and “poor”…
It’s difficult not to accept that the existing models of production are not only unpopular but they do not work.
And important not just to pay lip service to this idea but to actually act upon it.
And I would suggest that the onus must be placed on the commercial companies to change, to soften their stance on the list of MUSTS that often accompany any engagement with them. To try and genuinely open up to and trust a much more bottom up approach to creating work.
My friend Alan who’s a director of another theatre company in Leeds, Slung Low, recently spoke very eloquently about how nothing is IMPOSSIBLE – it’s just often the case that that thing that didn’t happen, didn’t happen because you wanted something else more.
I am not saying that all commercial companies should be tarred by the same brush as News International.
However, by association with the values and business practice and the strictly for profit models that companies like News International operate by, there is an unavoidable tainting of and lack of trust in the transactional process between producer and consumer.
(thanks to Matthew Taylor for expressing that thought so clearly that I robbed his expression of it entirely)
And there is an increasing amount of evidence, particularly with the super fast growth of use and influence of social media that the power is shifting from the sphere of production to the sphere of consumption.
Artists are VERY good at engaging with, working with people. We are driven by a much more complex MIX of values than purely commercial organisations that more accurately reflect the values of the people that make up our audience – y/our market. By not only working with us but by also sincerely embracing our values, creativity and entrepreneurial flair there is a huge benefit for all.