Saturday, December 31, 2016
On the threshold of 2017
These are such dangerous times.
More than ever I sense that our planet’s life is on a knife edge, somehow; and in these circumstances what we say and what we do really matters.
We have to stand up to be counted. We have to make sure, as best we can, that we are part of the process of creating the new.
That we are not complicit in the process of destruction.
We’re also all a mixture of everything, of course, and in the end that judgement is not ours to make.
We can only try to do what we can.
And part of that process needs to be to reflect on where we are now, and what in the last twelve months we have done.
The last twelves months of what, in spite of everything, I refuse to see as a disastrous year.
I’m thinking of a young trans woman I met in Brazil who was telling me, tears in her eyes, of the difference my “Jesus Queen Of Heaven” has made to her and her sisters.
Of the fact that the Brazilian production of the play has finally given her the chance to work in the theatre. Something which the implacable prejudice of her society had up to then denied her.
I think of the woman I met after performing the show in Belo Horizonte. She had taken a break from occupying the Culture Ministry to see the show, she told me, and I had renewed her inspiration and will to resist.
I think of the homeless choir member I met in Rio who was often trembling uncontrollably because of her chronic alcoholism but who, on the day we performed together, just couldn’t stop smiling.
And the beauty and hope and resistance in those voices I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I know it’s not not true now, what is often said, that art makes no difference to anything.
It does matter, and I was right all along to know that it did, and that artists bear a heavy weight of responsibility for the consequences, good or evil, of what we create.
And I was right all along to write “War In America” and foresee the disintegration of parliamentary democracy. To understand all those years ago that when the Berlin Wall fell it was not just about the collapse of communism but the collapse of capitalism too.
I was right, too, to insist on dramatising my grief in “Every One” so we could all begin the painful necessary process of looking at Sister Death.
I never knew any of that at the time, of course, I just thought it was me being silly.
But I know now it was more than that; because I saw “Every One” being performed so beautifully in Chris Goode’s production at the Battersea Arts Centre; and because next year the Attic Collective are performing “War In America” in Edinburgh’s old Royal High School and, for the first time on twenty years, I read the play.
And that taught me,too, that my impulse to create a cycle of five plays looking at the world’s profound and revolutionary changing was a good one.
That having written the first two, “Light In The Village’ and “War In America” I could write the third for Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
And what a joy it is to feel it slowly taking shape in my imagination.
A joy, too, to be beginning rehearsals next week with Graeae and the Exchange for my “House of Bernarda Alba” and to know, too, that my new version of this will help them in their struggle to right the discrimination and injustice suffered by disabled people in the theatre.
I’m aware, too, that all this is happening in the context of other personal struggles.
The struggle against the heart disease that made me collapse on stage in Belo Horizonte.
The struggle to recover and learn to walk again with my new hip.
The struggle against all the self-doubt and self-hatred, amongst so much else, standing in the way of my “Eve”. That I will perform next August, in the Traverse, for the National Theatre of Scotland.
The struggle to keep hope in the face of so much folly and greed and cruelty.
This year I’ve been called a “demon” and “a source of justified offence” and who knows what else besides.
But what’s far more important are the kind words, and the warm words, and the encouraging and the loving words I’ve received from so many people.
From family, from my new sisters, from colleagues and from friends and from perfect strangers.
“Remember kindness”, someone says in one of my plays, “It’s kindness that drives away all fear.”
Happy New Year.
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