Sunday, 23 September 2012

Harry G (full)

Show Name: What We Owe
Artist: Harry Giles
Venue: Arches LIVE 2012
Date: Tue 25 - Wed 26 Sep 2012 | Slots from 6pm-9pm (15 mins) | £5

Description (from Arches website): What We Owe is a highly unqualified debt counselling service. In a one-on-one session, Harry will take you through a discussion of what you owe – not just financially, but emotionally, socially and ecologically. Together, you’ll create a personalised Debt Action Plan which will leave you happier – or, at least with a colour-coded spreadsheet.

In an economy driven by huge financial debts, What We Owe is a tragicomic glance at what we mean by debt, and how we struggle to even begin to deal with it.

How does What We Owe fit in with Arches Live!'s overall aesthetic?
Arches LIVE is such a diverse bunch of stuff that this is a tricky one to answer. Perhaps the main thing is that What We Owe is intent on being totally serious and deadly playful at the same time. That's an aesthetic we're seeing a lot in performance now - something beyond the arch and ironic, something that allows for earnestness by being fun.

Another big thing is that, if the Arches is doing its job properly (which I think it is), then it has to reflect how politicised performance is right now. Especially performance coming from young and emergent artists. There's a lot of anger in the arts at the moment, and that's coming out in the form and content of our work. 

Most of my performance is big-P Political - I tend to chew into a big issue (like "class" or "riots") and then confront it frankly, try and talk about it honestly, try and make it fun for any punter to engage with. That's what What We Owe does with the subject of debt. And it's really nice to see it sitting in a programme of politically-engaged performance.

Lastly, I imagine most of the participants in Arches LIVE are struggling to pay of loans of one kind or another, so it's pretty inevitable that at least one of us makes art out of it.

What keeps you making theatre and how does this piece express that?
Look, really, I keep making theatre because the alternative is death. I don't think there's any other honest answer from most theatre-makers. The rest is just post-hoc justification. When I started making my own theatre, I rapidly realised that nothing else made me feel as satisfied, and that I wasn't better built for any other activity. You make theatre because you have to. If you didn't have to, you'd do something more obviously worthwhile.

I do have post-hoc justifications, though. I'm an angry and a political person, and I think we ought to be having some kind of revolution right now already. I hate how alienated so many people are from politics (and Politics), and how disempowered folk can be, how impossible political action seems  to so many people. So most of what I do in the theatre space is in some way about engaging people with political stuff, and about empowering people to take action. 

My last project, Class Act, ended with the option to make a pledge to participate in class war; before that, in This is not a riot, I was training people to cope with riot situation through teddy bear roleplay. I deal with the anxiety that art is waste of time (even though the choice for me is art or death) by making sure that my artistic work has non-artistic implications, has some effect in the world for those who aren't obsessed with art all the time.

Politics with a big P. I am pretty ignorant about politics... no, that isn't true. I actually distrust all ideology with a cynical distaste. Ideas like "class war" make me concerned that some bastard in a party is sending out ideas without taking responsibility for the consequences... although I know that this is not you! Short questions: can big P politics avoid getting caught up in party politics and/or dogma?

I'll never be involved in party politics. I have no belief in representative democacy, basically. I'm a sort of anarchist, and the hopeless idealism of anarchist politics is probably one reason I've ended up doing it through art. 

As for dogma, well, that depends on your politics: old school leftists thought that a dominant a agreed political platform was necessary for revolution to happen, hence all that factionalism; autonomists and anarchists and allsorts tend to be more interested in pluralities of ideas. Contemporary activism is all abou finding ways to welcome diversity - hence all that infuriating coverage of Occupy's "inability" to have a "single set of demands". It's all about finding ways to do politics differently.

How far do we have to go to enact political change?

Very, very far. It will very rarely be pretty. I liked what you said bout "responsibility", though: activists have to take responsibility for their ideas the same way artists have to take responsibility for their audiences.

In response to your thoughts on the use of theatre, I'd argue that political action is all bluster and bullshit, a bunch of people showing off, whereas a play that takes politics seriously is far more effective at engaging with the issues in a meaningful way, and works towards consciousness raising - a far more important process. 

You sound like The Daily Mail! That's not an attack, but when people say cynical things it's worth reminding them what they sound like. Activism can seem self-inflating the same way art can seem pretentious -- and some art is, and some activism is. But there are a lot of earnest people really trying to make it work, in both.

Of course, at the end of the play, the audience is still responsible for its action, and maybe direct political action is then necessary, but at least art encourages a more positive response than say...

Next week, I'll have a different opinion, no doubt... but here's an example, I think. LGBTQ rights have come about far more because of the various creative responses to oppression than because of the odd demo... the arts can define the culture and thus influences values... it might be less satisfying than jumping up and down and shouting, but watching political theatre can be far more effective... 
Well, there are whole books on the theory of social change, and I'm sure some of them argue that demos are relatively ineffective. But come on: Stonewall, early Pride, Emma Goldman's arrest for distributing contraception, Section 28 protests... you don't think these matter? You don't think they're more than the "odd demo"? Protest is constant, consistent -- there are always people engaged in struggle.

There's this concept in contemporary activism called "diversity of tactics". It means that you need lots of people doing lots of different things to achieve change: plays, protests, riots, books, maybe even parliamentary action. And that, rather than spending time condemning this or that tactic, we recognise that we need to fight on every possible front to get what we're after. It's not about finding some spurious calculus of what particular action will be most effective at any given moment: it's about supporting people to act in the ways that they can when they can, whether activism or acting.

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