We are surrounded everyday by negativity and despite making the decision not to watch the news or turn on the radio that day, conversation still always leads into something negative; a situation that’s not quite working in your current workplace, city or country, furthermore the world. So we look to theatre to the arts as a way of navigating our way through these issues, to try and find a voice or find lightness in what can often feel like an endless cycle of negative narratives. As makers we become activists.
"As makers we become activists"
This was the theme of the Directors Lab North held in Toronto and a theme that when I wrote in my application I wasn’t sure I knew enough about and wasn’t sure if I considered myself to be an activist, but the lab took me on a journey and made me think further into activism and it’s relationship to theatre.
We heard talks from Directors, writers, and performers. We attended shows that challenged and provoked strong conversations about what is the responsibility of theatre makers with regards to our audience’s; the experience the audience has during the performance and also how they are left. Should it be the responsibility of the makers to make it ‘ok’ for everyone or should it be more of the responsibility of the system in which performance exists? I was taught that theatre should asks questions, but throughout my time on the lab I found myself questioning the role of the director as much as the role of theatre. Some of the questions that arose for me throughout the week were:
Am I really a director because I mainly devise? Does that put me in a lower rank to those who direct only pre existing texts?
Should your location determine the talent and how you are perceived as a director?
Is becoming an artistic director of a building the be all and end all, the end goal for a director? If not why did it often feel that way?
Do we have a right as a director to tell the stories that aren’t our personal experiences?
The shows and conversations that we saw and heard challenged me emotionally as a human being and challenged me to really think deeply about the work I am currently making and want to make. A lot of my work is focused on giving a voice to those who are underrepresented, and that comes with responsibility. Responsibility was a recurring theme that arose for me throughout the week. The difference between some of the directors who owned their responsibility that recognised their privilege and chose to speak strongly and passionately about it was then evident in the performances we saw, and also how their fellow colleagues spoke about working with them. However the lack of responsibility was also evident at times and became frustrating to hear them wanting the answers from the ‘marginalised’ to help them understand or tell them what to do instead of accepting their own individual responsibility. If we want to create change as a director surely we have to have a bit of self-reflection and awareness first?
Jill Carter spoke on our first day about the Indigenous Rage and she asked the questions “how can you be visible without being a spectacle? are the narratives raging through our bloods visible through our performance” Again here I go back to the point about responsibility, the lab has left me really thinking and questioning myself as a director as a performer and an activist, because of my own personal experiences that has led me to do the work and create my theatre company that I now run. I have a responsibility to respond to others who have similar stories to me, to recognise the intersectionality that exists, to be a voice not just for those who are closer to me in experience but to be responsible to the recognition of other people’s narratives even if I cant be the person to directly tell them, I will work alongside them to advocate with and for them to ensure that those of us who exist in such intersections remain visible but not as a spectacle.
Alix Harris is an experienced Theatre Practitioner, Director and Associate Lecturer of Plymouth University. In 2015, Alix set up Beyond Face with the aim to promote and raise the profile of people of colour in performance work in Plymouth and the wider regions. The company works with young people, emerging artist and professionals across theatre and dance. Beyond Face is now a resident company within the Barbican Theatre Plymouth & a participant of the Artistic Directors Leadership Programme. Alix works at the Barbican Theatre as a freelance Practitioner & Director, the Theatre Royal Plymouth & Indra Congress CIC.