It is a peril of writing that you are going to at points deeply offend people, and very possibly yourself.
Often, when searching for a response to something deeply offensive I find myself laying out that offensive and repugnant thing. Sometimes it stays on the page for a very long time indeed. Burning away at me. Whilst it’s there burning me up, and enraging me, my response to it becomes deeper and my conception of what is to be done about it becomes crystallised.
Of course, some offensive things can be dismissed by your core ethics without any stretch at all, but they persist in the world around you. To be aware of this is important. It’s a peril as well, a dangerous thing, you can imbue that thing with more credence than it deserves, that is the peril. Creon takes on a very persuasive countenance if the chorus is made up of orphaned children, and life is complicated. That’s why we have a theatre.
On the other hand, you can also go deeper into why you are offended. Why do certain tropes repeatedly play out and go around and around? They may not exclusively be your own beliefs, and yet you face them either first hand or second hand continually. It gets the point where you start to have to examine these beliefs and you have to examine your own poetics. Then you have to decide what action to take. I’m a writer and that’s how I take action. I also vote. Yet I am at a place now where this is not enough, for me, and I am considering how to take further action.
When you are called a racist in a notes meeting you can simply dismiss it with ‘no I’m anti’. But yes, you see the note has been given for a reason. If you dismiss a black woman in your play with the words ‘it’s not made for you’ you are indeed treading a thin line between critique and perpetuating. I explicitly trust the people who gave me this note, I consider them to be watchdogs. If I am being slippery, or vacillating, they are there to call me out. Good, that’s what we need.We all need somebody to call us out if we are failing.
And yet time and time again when we play out the same arguments, we satisfy ourselves with picking a side and consoling ourselves with our liberal and enlightened point of view. We all want to sleep well at night, safe in the knowledge we have done no harm.
And those arguments play out time and time again. It is not enough to say ‘I don’t subscribe’ because we can to try to show a better world. You can do this by showing the love, or you can do it by showing what happens when the love is missing – or a combination. You often see plays described as being about what is missing – what is missing is just as pertinent as what is shown.
As I said I’m anti – so it would be incorrect to simply starkly delineate the problem and leave it to be represented in that way, without the counter.
I have always considered the theatre to be a very clear distillation of the world. What I see on a stage has in the past, and shall continue, to inspire me to take up a position on the themes it surveys.
That is why I asked in the notes session for the dramaturg to consider where the character in question ends up – and it was here I knew the answer would be ‘you must decide’. I am asking the audience to decide on the destination, it’s an open ending full of the possibility of a better world.
It is within our power to grant freedoms to each other, it is within our power to bestow kindness on each other, we are all capable of releasing each other from the concerns of our egos. A place we trap other people like insects in resin, fixed, and incapable of changing.
We have the ability to bestow freedom on other people, to grant them the freedom they deserve. Perhaps we should consider this an important responsibility and bestow it on ourselves. There are of course many reasons to be afraid to do so, and being labelled racist is one of them. But I am hopeful of change, for the better, and for us all.