Participation and qualification
At the end of my second year in theatre school, inspired by the ‘mature’ couple who began working in the field in their first year, I decided to go out on a limb. I started a weekly cabaret series. This was pretty rag tag. It was largely improvised. It was sloppy. Best of all? It was a lot of fun for those who created and those who showed up to watch.
It wasn’t however ‘real theatre’.
Real theatre took place on a raised stage with a proscenium arch.
Real theatre had a costume designer.
Real theatre had a lighting designer.
Real theatre had real actors.
Real actors belonged to the actors union.
They had credits.
I could go to the real theatre to see stories that didn’t relate to me, performed by actors who marginally cared about the story, while sitting in a room full of people who looked like my grandmother.
It’s funny that I dedicated so much of my time studying an art form where the standard, mainstream practices filled me with such contempt. Nonetheless, I persisted. Advertisements for the weekly event proudly bragged that our cabaret was 100% free from the trappings of the regular kind of theatre.
One critic pointed out that the claim was true. We were 100% different. The ‘normal’ kind was professional. The ‘normal’ kind was of high quality. This cabaret, in their opinion was neither and was basically panned from the start.
Was it real theatre? It certainly wasn’t the normal kind. Was it professional? Well, we weren’t getting paid. It wasn’t am-dram. We treated it like a job. Was it quality work? The work had a certain reckless, scrappy, punk rock DIY quality and aesthetic that I always loved.
It was really quite fun however.
I tasked myself with inventing weekly monologues. We had a serial play running. There were special guests, musical guests, entrances through windows, beer and dance parties. It was a space for connection. It was a space to tell stories.
And back then?
It wasn’t ‘real theatre’.
As I read these words their absurdity is blindingly obvious. There was (and likely still is) a point of view that what we were doing back then wasn’t ‘real’ or valid. There was no board of directors. We received no grants from government agencies. We were not ‘picked’.
And yet people showed up.
Despite our lack of qualifications and validations, we were making theatre. People came. We decided to make something. People decided to participate. Yet somehow, this wasn’t real, regular, valuable or professional.
In choosing ourselves, our status was seen as less than.
Back in the early nineties, in order to be valid, it seemed that someone had to tell you that you were.
Have any of you experienced anything like this? Have you ever had others with seemingly higher status attempt to discount your upstart ambitions?
How have those with perceived status attempted to invalidate your work?
How do you invalidate yourself?
How did you deal?
Once I started choosing myself in this way, I couldn’t stop. I kept producing work.
Keep reading. In the next couple of posts, I’ll explore more about living a life in the liminal space of participating despite lacking qualifications.