Monday, 14 January 2013

Theatre Nemo Newsflash

If there is a tension behind the practice of criticism, it is the nagging doubt that the work being considered is not always the most important strand of the arts. Since New Labour recognised the social function of the arts, there has been an emphasis on its ability to transform communities: the proliferation of community events supported by The National Theatre of Scotland reflects a broader trend towards work that has a clear social objective.

Nevertheless, criticism is operating under the same assumptions as the original Arts Council which, in the aftermath of World War II, considered high art as the most effective way to civilise a nation. The Edinburgh Festival was set up to connect nations through the spectacle of the performance and low arts, which include amateur dramatics and outreach projects, was relegated to social work. Unfortunately, this trickle-down theory is not verifiable. Fascists sing love songs, too, claim The Creative Martyrs. They are also partial to a spot of opera. 

So, that mind-scrambling version of The Maids may not have the sort of social function that a project by Toonspeak has. If the arts are measured by their social worth, the reviews are covering useless ornamentation. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of companies willing to do the hard stuff. Theatre Nemo, based out of the Briggait and with a sweet rehearsal space next door, have a clear mission - to support mental health. And they've been invited up to the House of Lords to receive the Robin Corbett Award from the Prison Reform Trust. 

The Robin Corbett Award is for "outstanding rehabilitative work with prisoners." I have heard it argued, mainly in that book by Carey, that it is this work that matters most in the arts, that has the most powerful social impact. That story about a guy who had sex with his mother is all well and good, but it doesn't encourage people to address their problems.

Thinking about it, the idea that watching art makes a better person would make me the best person in the world. I am glad to be evidence that Theatre Nemo need to be supported. Not content with the award, they are hitting Barlinnie with a major project. 

In conjunction with the local Riddrie community, they are asking "What is the origin of Barlinnie, the largest prison in Scotland?" Going back to its foundation over a century ago, they are looking at the social issues of the past, the sort of things that got people the jail back in the day, and how it treated them when they were sent down. 

Theatre Nemo are pretty tight with the Bar L. They have a brick from the execution room - one of only three left after it was demolished. Barlinnie kept one, and gave the third to HRH Princess Anne. I guess if any group can develop this social history, Theatre Nemo can.

Here's their appeal:

This is a year long project culminating in a performance and a documentary or short film. The working process will include visual art, story development using valuable and interesting information from the research gathered, leading to the dramatisation of a final story.

We envisage this project being a successful, memorable and historic time- piece full of fascinating previously unknown accounts of Barlinnie life then and now that can be accessable and shared with the public.

We need your help in gathering information, photographs, news-paper clippings, experience or stories whether from 10 years ago, 50 years ago or even 130 ears ago, we'd love to hear them!

Please contact us on this email we've specifically set up for this project:
Thank you for your help on this!

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