DM's DIY Philosophy (text from DIY THEATRE)
“I don’t like theatre, but I like this!” - Audience member after DMT’s Yerma Rough Classics Workshop.
We’ve always defined ourselves as DIY - out of necessity at first, then as an aesthetic choice - our shows definitely have a homemade feel to them.
“Dirty Market” - the nickname for a big junk market Georgina grew up close to in Scotland, where the flotsam and jetsam of people’s lives washed up. A trip to the Dirty Market meant entering an alternative world, stumbling through piles of clothes and furniture, discovering oddities... and sometimes treasure. You’d step in and out of imagined stories, the detritus of people’s lives piled together randomly, creating new narratives.
There’s another market, in Varanasi, India, where mountains of discarded electronic goods are taken apart and sorted into piles and then expertly rebuilt into ‘new’ items by tinkerers, craftsman - bricoleurs.
DIY is not just about making theatre on the cheap (though it can be a lot cheaper). With DIY theatre you get the opportunity to harness everyone’s creative energies, getting the best answers from surprising places - (What? Actors have ideas worth listening to? My God! The Stage Manager is sitting silently on the answer to my thorny problem? Ouch...).
Sometimes it’s a bit chaotic and the answers don’t come as quickly as usual when employing those tried-and-tested “well-made play” methodologies. But those old methods usually guarantee a certain sameness, a one-size-fits-all theatre.
The audience gets the theatre they expect, which is fine of course.
But throwing away the old rule book creates space. And that’s space for more than just new work. It has the potential to be a place where new healthier attitudes towards each other can take root, where everyone - audience included - can uncover and develop new abilities and talents, and where everyone has the opportunity to become one of the ‘creatives’.
PART OF AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN DIY THEATRE (ed.) ROBERT DANIELS
DM's DIY Philosophy(text from DIY TOO)
The first DIY book was a stimulating read and, for us, a provocation.
The following response is an attempt to address a particular issue that it brought to the surface...
Is it that we’re making DIY theatre because we are unable to get into a position where we can make theatre ‘properly’, or is there another, healthier motivation?
‘Properly’ in this instance means being paid to do the job full-time, and in any other industry, this would be the mark of the professional. The truth is, we do not earn a living solely by making theatre (though other work is all connected). Dirty Market has been commissioned by NPOs, received project funding and critical success but still, a large part of our creative and producing process, we do for free. Despite our formal training, vocational commitment and years of experience, doesn’t this financial situation bring us closer to being passionate hobbyists.. dare we say, amateurs?
Amateurs. Biased and clichéd images of town hall dramatics spring to mind, or poorly conceived vanity projects: a whole host of seemingly undesirable associations.
To be fair though, the professional world also carries some undesirable associations: a tendency to create a barrier between one group and another, even within a company - an exclusivity that infects everything. The professional is a member of a club which carefully selects new members. This choosing process has an odd outcome: it sets up a passive mentality where professionals wait to be selected, they wait to be validated and wait to make work. This state of waiting is not the greatest place to find yourself when you finally need to creatively engage.
And when the work is made, it has to be the right kind of work (what this means is up for grabs but one thing’s for sure, the parameters can be very narrow.) This is usually policed by critics (inner as well as outer). The critics may be wonderful writers, filled with a great love for and knowledge of theatre, holding the interests of their readership close to their hearts, but think of the process of policing, or of being examined and critiqued. Compare this with playing when no-one’s watching or when you know you have an unconditional audience watching… The quality and content of amateur work may patchy but, one component is consistent: it is very, very LIVELY!
So, it is possible to think about amateurism in a different way: amateur, after all, comes from the Latin for lover.
The amateur just gets on and does it, because they love it. There are no boundaries in the amateur scene; its a lot more punk in this respect. Rough, involved, messy.. and alive. Amateurism actively calls for participation: everyone can be involved. In fact, everyone should be involved!
There was a time (perhaps a mythical time) when everyone was at some stage in their lives, involved in the performing arts: it was seen as a vital part of personal and social development. Artists did emerge from this populist culturalism - and all participants, whatever their ability, were the richer for it. This is a scary prospect perhaps : if everyone’s putting on shows, who’s going to be watching them? Will the shows be any good? And who’s going to be paying?
Whatever the benefits might be of a populist/professional mash-up or sharing culture, professionals will fight to keep some sense of separation - after all, the rarer the commodity, the higher the asking price. Why should we go on pilgrimages to the ‘cathedrals of theatre’ to see 'the greatest actress of a generation’ if there is potential greatness in every town? Actually, acting ability is not as rare a gift as the ‘professional system’ would have us believe. But, when the audience are trained in the constant accumulation of cultural experience, a kind of cultural points system, it can be difficult to see worth in non-branded work.
Sharing knowledge and insight into how new work is made, getting people involved in that making, owning their own work etc.. might help audiences forge a deeper connection with theatre. Developing a taste for D.I.Y. could in turn, change the playing field - who’s telling the stories, what are those stories about, who’s listening? It might also provide welcome relief from constant cultural consumption.
So we say… Be local – get a band mentality – build a local fan base – cherish them - provide great evenings and encourage others to do the same – get everyone involved - start a movement. If you’re a graduate, try to break free from the idea you do the free stuff to invite the ‘right’ people to; people who might allow you to join the professional club. Forget about the industry and its hierarchies - Do It Yourself! Share your resources with other local arts initiatives - sustain each other and create opportunities for new and inexperienced people to come and join. Innovation tends to happens outside the mainstream…
In fact, most of the great innovations in the theatre were made by amateurs: those who experiment and work without the pressures and confines of commercial needs. DIY theatre is a call for participation: everyone can DIY. When we do, the experience of engaging with each other’s work will be more profound, considered and fruitful.
After all, being an amateur is all about love.
PART OF AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN DIY TOO (ed.)Robert Daniels