Too Thick for Theatre

Arrrggggh!!!!
I have been reduced to my most incoherent, working class roots by a combination of patronising elitism and thorough-going Philistinism... So much so, here is my second post in a day!
A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a colleague who was trying to argue that we should eschew being "too arty" and using poetry in a particular context for fear that it might alienate people from working class (and especially working class protestant) areas... I think we got our disagreement sorted out, but there is definitely a sense there that "the arts" are for the middle and upper classes and not for those in working class estates.
Then you have William Humphrey's ill-informed comments on the Lyric and Mac Theatres saying that they offer little "tangible benefit to the people in Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett," and that "The concept of 'the arts' is not something which the Protestant working-class community in this city buys into at any great level." Now I know that comments can be misrepresented, and there is a degree to which I agree with him - there is little buy in and because of that there may be little perceived benefit... But is that a problem with what those theatres are putting on or is it the old problem of education, which is seen within the protestant working class community historically as something to churn out someone who knows just enough to work in industry, but not enough to ask too many questions - an economic unit not a fully rounded personality? Hence the concentration on the 3 Rs (what illiterate ever thought up that term) and a smattering of Bible, and an avoidance of all that poncy arts stuff... Instead of criticising the MAC and Lyric how about visiting them first and acting as an advocate? Did he see the Lyric's recent run of Gary Mitchell's "Re-Energized" set in Rathcoole? Or has he booked for the MAC's up-coming "Summertime" set (or at least inspired by) Ballybeen? Has he actually read "Observe the Sons of Ulster" which he claims the Protestant people could relate to, with its exploration of homosexuality in the midst of that mythic slaughter?
But then it's not only here in Northern Ireland you get this - in England Michael Gove is driving a coach drawn by apocalyptic horses through the education system, arguing for higher standards, but focussing again on core subjects aimed at increasing the economic value of students and cutting back on subjects like drama, music etc...
AND THEN you get Julian Fellowes telling us that "he adapted the language in his version of Romeo and Juliet to make it accessible." Again, perhaps this report by his detractors at the Globe may be doing him down, but I believe that his purveyor of faux sophistication in the form of perfumed soap is in the words of a friend, a pompous ass. I loathe Romeo and Juliet, I think that it does for teenage romance what others think "The Merchant of Venice" does for anti-Semitism, or "Taming of the Shrew" does for gender politics, though with fewer laughs... But such a patronising attitude is typical of an approach to the arts that sees its purest forms to be only for the educated elite... and that we need to feed the great unwashed on watered down versions that don't tax their limited intellects... I took my son, who has limited knowledge of Shakespeare to the Globe's 10 hour marathon of Henry VI in its raw entirety, with no dumbing down and few bells and whistles and he was captivated...
Check out the work of the Educational Shakespeare Company with prisoners and ex-prisoners... the work of Dan Gordon on Observe the Sons of Ulster in Hydebank young offenders centre...
Don't just offer them things that are within their current ken, but that will inspire, enthral and encourage them to not only seek out more, but to express themselves in ways other than what is currently paraded (and I use that word deliberately) as working class culture, be it here in Northern Ireland or in the post industrial areas of the other island...
Get busloads of people from Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy and Ballymacarrett going to "Brendan in the Chelsea", or "Philadelphia here I come" in the Lyric (and if it is a question of cost they have a scheme where if you sign up as a constituted group you can get radically reduced ticket prices) or to the MAC to see the schools Shakespeare festival or the aforementioned "Summertime." I don't know if they will be good or not... but that is half the excitement of the theatre... the opinions afterwards...
And someone, somewhere think about staging Titus Andronicus on the Shankill, with its bucketloads of blood... Midsummer's Night Dream in Woodvale Park... Twelfth Night on the Newtownards Road (that's Twelfth Night in January not July - though there is perhaps an idea for a play in there...)
Just stop this patronising claptrap and cultural snobbery (some of it reverse snobbery) about the arts and particularly theatre not being for the working classes...

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