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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

How to Deal with the Fear of Creating Something No One Will See

Terror of one's own absurdity ...

The stage is empty. The field is cold. The city is a silent buzz of conflicting nothings and you are alone ... As the Ancient Mariner suggested: "alone, alone, all, all alone on a wide wide sea ..."

Metaphor within metaphor and the terror of being alone with one's own impulses that no one, literally no one else, is in anyway interested! The inertia ... ohhhhh ... the INERTIA of public acceptance and absolutism! The terror of attack from one's closest allies in art as the conflicting neurotics of public discourse converge in an avalanche of certainties like swarms of bees disturbed from their habitats of convenience and sanctimony! And then you write something down on a shit of toilet paper a final draft for performance ... you rehearse and you hope that someone will see, listen or observe! But what if NO ONE could give a shit and you are the lone worrier standing on a marshmallow sea of quicksand possibilities! What then? How do you feel about that isolation and confrontation with your own absurdity that just perhaps what you feel and think and create is of no significance or value to anyone else? And this is of particular relevance in theatre where the very concept is relational! It isn't a journal for personal reflection! It isn't a poetic output that in time others may find and read. It is a here-and-now creative form that requires a viewer and a performer at a given time in a given space.

The Rhino and the Seagull and Absurdism

Ionesco's Rhinoceros is alive and kicking. Many writers would generally prefer to be a Rhino than a wallowing and hopeless Konstantin Treplyov from Chekhov's "The Seagull". Pleasing and getting plaudits from official playwriting colleagues and organisations has a real appeal to anyone wanting to climb the ladder of acceptance in a field that has limited reach. One can predict the likely subjects awarded in any arena. Prizes given by the sanctioned few who appeased the dominant cultural /social milieux are predictable and the subjects of such awarded talent are obvious regardless of the actual work!

Art as affirmation of particular religions, world views, social movements or ideologies has a powerful tradition. You can probably see this on the walls of the Lascaux Caves let alone on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! Ancient cave drawings and paintings going back up to more than 40,000 years suggest the importance given to creative presentation and representation through art. Only in more recent times has art been seen as a window to less obvious affirmations of the dominant values and consents of the supreme culturally framed artistic endeavour. It might even attack the very things you feel are most significant!

A curious feature of much ancient art is its placement in inaccessible locations; in some cases, almost no one other than the artist could see it! Art works in in the jungles of Borneo suggested that the inaccessibility of the works was a deliberate act. Just as the stream-of-consciousness writer might create for their own purposes, the ancient artist was creating for some higher purpose that we can only surmise!

Since World War Two, there has been an emergence of Absurdism. Most Absurdist writers concluded that no matter how sincere the intention or the effort, the likely result of any human activity is likely to be severely flawed; even eventuating in the opposite of its intent. The revolutionary person merely mirrors the tyranny of their opponent. The ideals of Modernist intent and post-modern semantics in power of any kind results in theatre and art that reflects the Rhino in all of us! The fragile and more vulnerability within artistic, philosophical and social reflection is too often stamped upon by the Rhinos of artistic and social agendas.

Salmon Rushdie and the Denial of the Obvious

In August 2022 Salmon Rushdie was attacked by a Muslim man with a knife; he lost an eye as a result and nearly died from at least ten stab wounds received while giving a lecture.

"Mr Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed in 2022 while preparing to deliver a lecture on free speech in New York. The vicious stabbing put the author in the hospital for six weeks and left him blind in one eye. The attack came after an assassination order was placed on Mr Rushdie — called a “fatwa” — in 1989 because of his novel, The Satanic Verses. His 1988 novel generated massive controversy and Iran’s former Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared it blasphemous because of its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. While the fatwa was later lifted, Mr Rushdie went into hiding for a period before rejoining public life." ( accessed 15 April 2024)

Did you hear about this? Was it headline news that a 75 year old man who had death threats made by the head of a Nation against him for writing a novel nearly forty years ago was now attacked and nearly killed?

How unpopular would it be to do a play about Salmon Rushdie! Think about this. And think about how unpopular it would be to do a play about the employees of Charlie Hebdo murdered by Islamic extremists in 2015 or the massacres in Baga in Nigeria at around the same time.

It would take a Steven Berkoff or someone with the same audacious attitude towards all his theatre colleagues, competitors and critics to take on such projects. Others would likely be ostracised or cancelled before beginning.

And think about why it would be so unpopular! I am not going to answer the question. Though I feel the answer is obvious. Such works would be against the current flow of narratives that select appropriate material. Arts practitioners know the signs and if they want to be successful and choices are made accordingly; just as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni knew how to conform and affirm the masters of his art! There is nothing new. Yet there is a compulsion on some of us to create from the swamps and cracks in cultural perceptions. Condemned to arts cockroaches one can only appear and disappear as fast as possible.

Theatre in a Car and the Audience of Three

A 1995 Toyota Celica is possibly not the most obvious venue for a theatre show. But four 12 minute performances in each hour for four hours meant that up to 48 people might see a production in an evening. Small audiences, sixteen performances and the risk of no one showing up created its own anxiety. But between 2009 and 2014, Theatre in a Car was a regular performance at The National Multicultural Festival in Canberra. Initially the brainchild of Jorian Gardiner and with the final presentation assisted by Creative Producer, Amy Dunham, Shadow House PITS writer and director, Joe Woodward, wrote and directed theatre works designed for the small venue; later hiring larger vehicles and finally one with air conditioning. Apart from Woodward, actors in the productions included Lloyd Alison-Young, Hanna Cormick and Lucy Boon.

The point in discussing Theatre in a Car was simply to suggest that there is a possibility for small scale theatre that can even pay its way if there is creative producer-ship and innovative practice. Yes! Theatre in a Car was a gimmick. But it created curiosity and had audiences cueing up to get into the vehicle. There was an element of danger and sense of daring for both actors and audience. But it happened in the normally staid Canberra.

Without huge access to funding and to the affirmative aspects of theatre that indulges dominant frameworks of thinking, those dominant ideologies that attract the disciples of whatever mode is socially prioritised, theatre needs to find those cracks in the tables of cultural nourishment.

When I was child in the 1950s, a man would come to our house with his wife and baby child and would perform hillbilly songs with his guitar. My family provided a meal and a cosy atmosphere and a small fee. We all rugged up to listen to his stories and songs. There were six of us including my baby sister, the man and his wife and baby. It took place in Chester Road, Annerley in Brisbane.

So much theatre and theatre practice might do well to think of itself as cockroach theatre. And yes, it doesn't do much for the ego! However, it won't hurt to realise the honour in one's commitment wherever that might be. It also means that there is scope to step outside of the dominant rhino of cultural and artistic acceptance!

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