Fighting out of the Fringes: a good news story for the arts, youth and playwriting at the National Theatre.
Surely now that the claims made by papers like The Telegraph that thermal imaging cameras have proved the “Occupy London Stock Exchange” protest camp is largely empty at night have been solidly debunked we can return to the image of people protesting about what they believe in. Agree with it or don’t agree with it, it’s fantastic to see people with opinions. On a sunny yet crisp lunch break during induction to the National Theatre’s “New Views” programme I strolled (quickly – lunch was only an hour and those of you with London geographical knowledge will note that although close, Waterloo is not next door to St. Paul’s) to the protest and was struck by the fact that what they were doing was similar to what students lucky enough to be part of the programme will be asked to do. Now I want to make it clear that in no way is the NT asking the country’s youth to occupy areas in front of large monuments to make a point about a system that privatises the profits but nationalises the loses of the banks but they are asking them to make their point, firmly, in the form of half-hour long plays. And this programme is very much for real: one play will be chosen to be performed in Westminster Hall, a structure that since its erection in 1099 has had no recorded play staged there. Obama spoke there, the Pope spoke there, but no play as yet. At the end of the process of “New Views” one UK student, however, will be given that staggeringly historic opportunity. Plays matter and both the NT and the Houses of Parliament recognise that, which is something to do back flips about, if that’s your sort of thing.
The teachers charged with delivering the project to students squinted at Sebastian Born’s silhouette in the Olivier stalls foyer because of the piercing sun bouncing off the monumental scenery of Waterloo behind him. Being addressed, albeit in uncomfortable chiaroscuro, by the associate director (literary) of the NT gives “New Views” a feeling of grandeur and seriousness. Blinding clarity, however, is paramount in the course itself and the NT have worked incredibly hard to produce a route through playwriting that both takes into account the novice nature of those students involved and the need for those students to be treated as young professionals. It’s wonderfully clear yet never patronising: a difficult line to tread, especially when “selling” this idea to young people in schools. With units on story, people, plot, speech, scenes, style and metaphor this is a course that even David Edgar and Stephen Jeffries (those great bastions of modern playwriting teaching) would surely encourage young people to be part of. And anyone can access it at any time, online. So, I can return to my students with a fantastically well-put-together course that could lead to a truly amazing performance for one writer: more back flips. This is wonderfully positive and it’s aimed at that group of the populous that the media can sometimes demonise (when they’re not dealing with tent-watch): da yuuf.
So let’s keep our minds open and not leap to simplistic conclusions, unlike The Telegraph. We may look at this country’s youth thinking “the tents are out but no one’s home” but if we use the right tools for looking, as the NT very much seem to have done here, then we’ll be surprised by the genuine strength of passion lying within. Although the “Occupy London Stock Exchange” protestors (much older than the playwrights on the whole) will never have their protest moved down the road and into Westminster Hall, one young playwright with a new view will and that is nothing short of outstanding. Thank you National Theatre and thank you Houses of Parliament for believing in young playwrights.Tagged in: Fighting out of the Fringes, national theatre, St Pauls
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