Former culture minister Ed Vaizey recently criticised the arts for possessing a left-wing groupthink that prevents progress in the sector. Whilst it is easy to scorn at the arts’s association with the inclusive values of the left, it is true to say that without an open attitude to exploring all points of view regardless of their taboo nature, art would be incredibly bland.
Inside the rehearsal room many theatre companies may choose to adopt a stereotypically left-wing approach. This could include shunning the traditional hierarchy of Producer-Director-Actors in favour of all creatives working as part of a democratic collective, taking equal ownership of the piece. These creatives may also all consider themselves to be politically left-wing, but this doesn’t render them incapable of exploring right-wing issues. Even if the piece created was a left-wing critique on a right-wing issue, theatre starts conversations about issues rather than legislating on them.
Theatre is open to interpretation, disagreement, and often challenges audiences. However, if audiences to more contentious plays are generally of a left-wing persuasion the conversation that arises from the evening’s entertainment will be rather one-sided and limited in its utility. After all, social cohesion isn’t created by one group of thinkers already feeling they have the moral high ground due to their theatrical introduction to an issue.
It is vital that however left-wing (or not) those working in theatre may be, those with opposing views still feel that they are welcomed by the theatre. This is not to say that theatre should decide to be safe and indisputably uncontentious, but that it should frame work that challenges audiences in a way that doesn’t exclude the audiences that perhaps need to see the piece more than anyone. Perhaps this could be aided by inclusive formatting of post-show talks that go beyond a Q&A with the director and encourage exploration of issues tackled.
When talking about the arts, it is important not to use left-wing as a pseudonym for financially inept due to vague and self-indulgent artistic priorites. There are few industries that are forced to be as flexible with reliance on arts funding often resulting in pieces being moulded (not always to their detriment) to fit funding categories.
Whether left-wing or not, the most important thing for theatre to do is to promote discussion and debate that is accessible to audiences of all political stances to help us to confront the reality of the society we live in today, rather than brushing the difficult parts under the carpet.