Friday, 8 April 2016

Diderot Did Decline Democratic Dramatic Discussion

As it happens, I am off the Happy Pills again. I am experiencing considerable friction within my nervous system. I'd like to apologise to the lovely and patient people who share my workspace at the CCA, and the duty managers who have had to put up with a higher level of distraction than usual from this hairy little bloke in the suit who seems to have lost his keys again.

I am in a real temper today. I was looking on Twitter to find somebody to flame, but the always intriguing @thejennawatt diverted me. Instead, I am going to have a go at Diderot.

It's ironic: Watt makes theatre, but she can't afford to see as much as she'd like. My research into the history of theatre allows me to pretend I have a long-dead culprit. When Diderot challenged the status quo of pre-revolutionary France, he advocated a bourgeois theatre. In the following centuries, architects, playwrights, companies and philosophers followed his lead, culminating in that day when Wagner turned off the lights in the auditorium, and forced audiences to make a pilgrimage to see his latest epic cycle. Basically, it got expensive to keep the riff-raff out, the kind of people that used to go to the Globe to have sex with a prostitute, shout at actors and occasionally listen to Shakespeare's poetry.

Of course, it is really Aristotle's fault (he did say that tragedy was for a noble class who had time and money), and a by-product of capitalism - oh, and the replacement of live theatre by the cinema, then television, then the internet, leaving what used to be the top entertainment as an esoteric taste.

Speaking as someone who decided that romantic opera is the pinnacle of live theatre, and is preparing to take his place with the Werthers Original set, I am worried that Jenna Watt has spotted the massive problem with any research into theatre. It has become expensive, exclusive and the means of production have shifted it beyond the financial reach of many people. This removes it from the public sphere what Habermas talks about - no good being part of public debate if only the rich can afford to see it - and the political content of works like Iphigenia in Splott is belied by the price of the ticket. For  rough guide, if the class of characters that a play is about can't get a ticket, it's not serious about them. 

It doesn't solve the problem entirely, but when Scottish Opera are offering bargain tickets to students (do they still do that?), or Buzzcut is pay-what-you-like, maybe the directors of the theatres could, like, offer cheap seats at the last minute, or go out into the street and give away any tickets that are left half an hour before the show? I know that last suggestion would cause problems. 

Anyway, access to culture might not be a human right, but I think it is part of a democratic society. I'll get around to that some day. I've got withdrawal symptoms to enjoy. In the meantime: I try not to forget that there is an economic dimension to Watt's question, and probably a class one, too. That neoliberal mantra about choice is a right load of hot air when that choice depends on how much spare change you've got.

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