Friday, 12 February 2010

Interview with Zac Goldsmith

Get in there quick girls, he's loaded and good looking, but you will have to put up with him banging on about the environment at any given opportunity. I like him, a lot, but he has the politician's tendency to manipulate a question to give an answer which best suits his cause. I still believe there is some gold within this interview. As i asked with the Billington interview, I would thoroughly appreciate your comments and advice on how I can maximize the publicity potential of this interview.

Just why is Community so important, particularly for Ham?
Strong communities are this country’s best hedge against economic, social and environmental instability. All authoritarian regimes, like that of Mao or Stalin, have known this, which is why they have actively sought to undermine communities in order to create dependence on the state. We should do everything we can – nationally and locally – to support and nurture our communities.

What challenges do you face in reinstalling a sense of community in the residents of Ham?
Ham, like many of the villages in Richmond Borough, is already a proper community. Where there is a threat – the removal of an important service, or the spectre of overdevelopment, people rally together and are well placed to defeat it. That’s a great sign of life in a community. Politics is a big deal, even if people are put off by it. But we need to try to ensure that it is less remote, which is why I have held countless public meetings in Ham, and am always amazed by the turnout. Given a chance, people want to be heard, and to have their say.

What role can Ham House play, not just on the 23rd of May, but in the continual development of a self-sufficient community in Ham?
Ham House is a major attraction, but sometimes when these treasures are on our doorstep, it’s easy for us to ignore them. I would love to see more people visit the house. I think its emphasis on allotments and working with schools is also key, and I hope the plans will be continued and expanded upon. Getting involved in growing food is perhaps the best way for people, particularly children, to reconnect with the natural world.

Ham encompasses the entire class spectrum, with some of the most lavish houses in London mere walking distance away from some of the most challenging estates. Growing up in Ham, what were your experiences of both?
Ham is considered to be very affluent, and for those who don’t fit that category, it can be more difficult than it would be living elsewhere. There are pockets of real deprivation in the area, and because they are surrounded by affluence, they can be overlooked by the authorities, particularly when it comes to funding. I have spent time in people’s homes and have seen living conditions that wouldn’t be right anywhere. There are also too many cases of antisocial behaviour. I have been helping an elderly lady who has had years of problems with an unpleasant and violent neighbour. Her pleas for help had been ignored, and by making a lot of noise, we managed to change that. She may now enjoy some peace in her old age.

Playwright David Hare believes has been quoted as, “you cannot, in England, begin to imagine the number of people who are simply never given the means to dream of any other life than the one to which they appear to be condemned by circumstance.” How can a socially integrated community, and specifically community projects like ours inspire young people to break this monotony?
A lot of people in Ham are starting at the bottom. And there’s no point pretending their chances of success are as good as those starting out at the top. But Ham is also a vibrant and strong community. Greycourt school is increasingly the school that every community yearns for. And through its success, pupils will have opportunities available to them that weren’t available to their predecessors when the school was less successful. The more the community works together, the more the barriers will come down, and through so many inspiring projects and initiatives, I believe that can happen.

How can the performing arts and participatory events build community?
I don’t know if it fits the category, but the dirt bike track in Ham, near the Loch, is truly inspiring. Every year, up to 40 young people build an extraordinary, brilliant earth track for their bikes. Despite no Council involvement (or possibly because the Council keeps away) there is an organised anarchy that works for all ages. Finally the project has been recognised and the Loch Dirt Bike Group has secured a grant of £7,000 from Central Government. We need to learn from and replicate these sorts of projects.

What makes Ham a suitable place for a project like this to be successful?
In short, Ham is a strong and vibrant place. Unlike so many places in and around London where community no longer exists, Ham is still a village. That means anything is possible.

What changes would you like to see implemented in Ham which would improve the sense of community for everybody who lives there?

Ham House has had wonderful allotment schemes and I would like to see that extended greatly. I think we should also do more to improve and support our local shops. Small independent shops define the community, and they are under threat because of the recession, awkward parking arrangements, lack of investment and exorbitant rates. We need to come together to support them and to push the Council to follow our lead.

I think he has done extremely well to answer some of these questions, I especially like the input about the dirt track which is built once a year. If we can find out about this, then we should have people on their mountain bikes and bmx's tearing down the precession! This would be fantastic!


Second Interview with Michael Billington.

Despite arriving twenty minutes late, and keeping me waiting in the cold, Michael Billington was once again a true gentleman, who eloquently answered all questions without even slight hesitation. He is a walking theatrical encyclopedia, and even though some of the questions regarded drama, rather than the performance in a theatre, his answers were still insightful and will hopefully serve as good publicity for the event.
There are a few comments specifically about our project, and i believe the advice he offers towards the end of the interview is particularly worthy of note. We can install a sense of pride among the people of Ham.

Why is Community so Important?

Well, for obvious democratic reasons. It encourages involvement, which can only ever be a good thing. There has been a recent upsurge in community work, In fact. I can’t for the life of me think of her name, but she used to work at the National Theatre and then moved to Dorset, Dorchester to be correct and she missed theatre. She began creating community theatre, including a play called Angelica. The events were based on local history. I know that successful writers like David Edgar wrote for it. It was a successful promenade production that ended at the National Theatre. It was directed by Peter Hall and had Judi Dench in I believe. Howard Barker did one too, I think it’s important because its good for both the community and the writer.

What do you think the writer’s aim would be? What would he want his audience to experience through his play?

The virtue of these plays is that they are forced to examine the history of their community. There is always a story to be told, it can reinstate a sense of pride among the people who live there.

What, if anything, do you believe participatory theatre can do to highlight social inequalities and inspire social change?

The first thing it can do to inspire social change is to deal with what is happening around us. I think the examples over the last period would be things like documentary drama. We have plays that have been based on specific injustices, inequities. You don’t cause a shift in legislation, but what you do cause is a shift in opinion. There is the famous of example of a play called the Colour of Justice, shown at the Tricycle. It’s about the Metropolitan Police and their failure to pursue the case of the black boy who was killed at an Eton bus stop. The police singularly failed to make an enquiry, documents went missing. There was an inquiry into this after a play was staged, and as a result of this enquiry the spotlight was thrown on the metropolitan police. More to the point, the police themselves now use the television film of the Colour of Justice as a sort of warning to new recruits. By putting on a play, you actually cause people to examine their own profession and improve their training. That’s a very specific example. I mean, more generally I think what theatre does is rearrange consciousness. You are not aware when you are watching a play, but, long after you may find that your attitudes to race, gender, whatever, have changed. Last night for example I was watching Peter Brook’s 11 & 12. Its all about a west African village in the 1930s and you may think its not relevant, but what comes across in the play is the importance of tolerating other people’s views and beliefs. There is something absurd about people going to war over ludicrous arguments. It’s relevant obviously to today, to centuries of history. What interests me is it deals with public issues, but I think it makes you as an individual more aware of your own intolerance and your own dogmatism. It causes you to re-examine yourself. That’s what theatre does.

You mentioned the Tricycle Theatre. Do you think that this theatre is the centre of a community? Is it a successful example?

Well, yes and no. You’re absolutely right, because of where it’s situated, Kilburn, it has a sort of built in constituency doesn’t it. It has a strong Irish population and a strong black Asian population, as far as I know, I think they play to those strengths. Nicholas Kent has done a brilliant job, encouraging British Black Writers. He is doing an Irish play now; it is the centre of a community. It is not exclusively community; people can come from West London to see it. I think you have a point, a lot of good theatre in London, particularly as you get further out has more of a communal purpose. Stratford East is the famous example. There is an extraordinary vibrant young black audience. I go a lot to the Orange Tree in Richmond, which because of where it is situated has a very elderly, sedate cast audience. They love that theatre, and the plays address that constituency, that audience. I think it’s very difficult; a West End theatre has no constituency. It just has to draw from wherever. I like theatre to have identity and audience. Regional playhouses become community art centres. Local amateurs often have a take on the theatre. They act as a community focus at a time when city centres are very lifeless. They only two things they have are clubs and theatres, it’s out of the latter and into the former I find.

In Some reviews, you have come across as quite bemused at participatory theatre, like Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, but I was wondering if you can see a specific role for such theatre?

I must give this theatre credit because it is hugely popular. Masque sold out and could have run forever. Their show in Manchester this year, which I didn’t like, also sold out. It would be arrogant of me to say there is no role for it because they have found an audience which gets involved in a kind of physical level. It may just be a generational thing, I believe in a theatre where you participate emotionally rather than physically. I don’t want to go to a theatre where I have to walk around all evening, or where I am chased down corridors with men wielding chainsaws. I find that less engaging. I think, a play by Chekov is just as participatory as a promenade performance. I mustn’t be categorical because some promenade performances, I like. Several of the shows in Dorchester used that technique. It has its validity; it certainly has its audience.

As you were saying about the generation gap, maybe it is participatory theatre which can encourage the next generation into the theatre. Maybe they can realise its potential?

I think younger people enjoy the physicality, they like to be actively involved. I do think they quite like the social aspect of it, the staying around afterwards. There is a bar within the performance, you meet people, you pick people up I guess, I don’t know. You become more part of the evening out. I was brought up in a time where you paid for a seat and I cannot quite shake that off. I think participatory theatre can be quite good. Masque was rather extraordinary and imaginative but then I saw the one in Manchester and it felt like, well, it was rather exploitative and it was merely trying to terrify its audience. Like anything else, there are positives.

The amateur dramatics scene you mentioned, amateur is associated with poor, it doesn’t seem to get any kind of look in a far as important theatre is concerned, do you see a place for it, even though it is amateur by definition?

I don’t see much of it but it’s a vital part of British life, actually. We do more of it than any other country. Every town always has its amateur drama society. In my school days, it’s what made me interested in theatre. At its highest level it is completely astonishing. Many actors are amateur but no doubt better than professionals. They just choose not to pursue the profession. I have the highest respect for it. It can range from very established companies, like the Tower Theatre and a company in Ealing. They are exemplary, that’s the high end, right down to a ten minute performance in the village hall. It includes even university groups. I like amateur theatre when it is adventurous and I think what it should do is find plays which aren’t often explored, and to attack new styles. Amateur dramatics can have large casts, which bigger theatres can’t. It needs to be very explorative, and then push professional theatre forward. The audiences are reliable and they have the facilities. It is vital to this country; a lot of good people have come out of it.

Finally, do you think it’s possible, with what we are trying to do, to use drama to unite a community, to make a lasting effect upon it?

Yes, I think you can because of the very nature of the event means that, in a sense the bulk of people will be participating. There will be very few people spectating, therefore, everyone has a commitment to the event. My only advice, for what its worth would be, someway, tap into the local history. Obviously Ham House has a rich past, I think you should use what you can from the house, because I think you can just have a jolly knees up or you can use the local past and just find stories and anecdotes, historical events that have happened in and around Ham House and assign stories to specific groups. This would intensify the sense of local pride.

Thanks guys, let me know what you think, sum this interview up for me and then I can start to think about how to turn this into an article, which angel to approach it from, how to gain the most publicity. See you monday.