A platform talk from 2012.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE – By Ria Parry
RADAR Platform, 9th November 2012
I am a 31 year old half Filipino half English woman, working in theatre. I grew up in south London. London is my home, and I love it.
My husband was born and bred in North Yorkshire.
My mum is from the Philippines; she has lived in England for 35 years. She is 66 years old and is a nurse at Wandsworth Prison. Family, food and karaoke are some of the most important things in her life.
One of my closest friends who I’ve known since childhood, Maria, lives around the corner from this theatre – raising her 2 children, balancing work and family life with her partner who has lived in Shepherds Bush his entire life. The first time they set foot inside this theatre in their neighborhood, was a few months ago, to see Mad About The Boy – I was proud and nervous to show them around, and thank god, they liked it.
The people I’ve described are close to me, but more importantly they reflect different lives, different backgrounds, different experiences. It’s a diversity which excites me, interests me, impacts on the work I choose to make and direct.
Theatre – new writing – should be for everyone.
It should be accessible.
It should be relevant.
It should have an impact on those that experience it – emotionally, viscerally. It should not leave you cold.
Plays which tell me how clever they are, stylistically, intellectually, academically, whilst only allowing a select few to understand or engage, to feel in the know, to feel part of the gang, for me – have no place in theatre.
My mum is my best tester, critic, person who I depend on to make sure that the work doesn’t become insular, self-absorbed, elite.
She comes to all my shows, and it is the night that I am the most nervous. She tells me when she’s bored; she tells me when she’s interested; if she connects to the story, the characters, she laughs or cries or nods or tuts; if it has no relevance to the world in which she lives, she will sleep. She will always ask me why I have chosen to tell a particular story, or to put on a particular show, or why I’m doing this job in the first place, when she could easily get me a job with her at Wandsworth Prion - she will ask me what the point is.
I cannot say to her – well you wouldn’t understand what I’m trying to do, because you don’t work in theatre mum – or you don’t understand the subject matter – because if she doesn’t understand, then what is the point of what I am making, and who on earth am I making it for.
It is not about dumbing down the type of work that is presented.
I think that people, audiences, communities, theatre-goers and people experiencing theatre for the first time, are all more intelligent, savvy, responsive, then they are given credit for. We all have a capacity to cope with and respond to challenging, complex stories or staging, but we must be enabled to connect in some way, to be given a route in, to find our personal link to what we are seeing.
There are universal, timeless themes and issues which will always need tackling – how we treat each other as humans, the respect we do or do not give to certain people, keeping hold of faith and hope in the face of difficulty… These stories can be told in lots of different ways, by lots of different people.
A play about events from 100 years ago can still be relevant now - IF it helps us to understand or explore or reflect on a current problem, question, relationship, event.
I am interested in intimate stories, unheard voices, unexpected subjects and tales, but on some level they must connect to something bigger, to make us think or feel about our community and society as a whole, and our place and relationships within that.
To be insular and elite on any level, is not an option.
Playwrights, literary departments, programmers must ask themselves WHAT DO I WANT TO SAY, WHY DO I WANT TO SAY IT, WHY ME, WHY NOW, WHY HERE.
It’s not just about finding good plays; it’s about finding plays, making work which has contemporary relevance. It might be a well written play, but if it was relevant 10 years ago, or something that will find its feet in the future, then now is not the time for it to be staged.
It’s about seeking out plays which must must must be seen and heard right now. Because they speak of our times, they reflect or explore our lives, our conflicts, our questions, they present characters and stories which impact on and challenge our thinking, our emotions, our lives now - in the community in which we live - in the time that we are living.