In the classic Scottish play The Steamie the characters compare the experience of the community gathering on the green to dry their washing to the prospect of having your own washing machines in your own house. The young character is looking forward to having her own machine – as she would never have to leave her house, whilst the others lament the passing of the idea of “community”, illustrated by everyone gathering on the green.
To me theatre and in particular touring theatre is essential to create and nurture that sense of community and its sense of community that we desperately need in this increasingly fractured world. We live in a world where arguably people spend more time on their phones than engaging directly with each other, and in a world where people feel isolated and that they have no one to relate to or engage with.
Theatre brings together a community, even just for one evening. It places complete strangers under one roof and compels them to engage, not just with each other but with the two hours traffic of the stage. It encourages them to see themselves not as individuals but as part of a bigger picture –it compels them to empathise with the emotional journey of the characters they are watching.
Taking theatre out beyond the main cities into smaller towns and villages encourages people to engage who may have been put off by the distance to or the ticket prices of the main city venues. In our next tour with Democracy you will see the same show whether you are going to the Theatre Royal in Glasgow or the Theatre Royal in Dumfries. You should have the same experience in The Kings in Edinburgh or The Village Theatre in East Kilbride --- in a sense we are ‘Democratising’ Theatre.
There is a view that touring theatre has lost its political heft and its energy since the days of the lauded 80’s and 90’s theatre companies: Wildcat, 7:84, Borderline etc. However touring theatre, I feel, is more needed now then ever, partly for the reasons above. It’s just that now, in the “Nachos and Netflix” culture, we have to work much harder to draw people away from their laptops and into the theatre.
The days of the ‘out of the back of the van, rough and ready, two planks and a passion theatre’ perhaps have given way to a theatre that has to be sophisticated but accessible, nuanced but entertaining, challenging but satisfying, intellectual but unpretentious. When people can stream the latest high quality drama to their phones or binge on box sets of classic series –we have to offer them something they wont get on their laptop; Theatre that is not just the same high quality drama they can receive on their phone, but that it has the one crucial ‘ingredient’ that a million downloads won’t have –its live and its happening now in front of them. That energy and rapture of live performance can be intoxicating and creates a sense of a community coming together and sharing the same life affirming experience.