When I was asked by the creators of this community to contribute to its birth, I was surprised, honoured and baffled. Surprised because Anna knows how obnoxious I can be and yet she has given me a rather large audience to annoy – she, and by extension, you may live to regret this choice.
Honoured that she thinks my voice is worthy of being heard and then baffled as to why people would be interested in reading the wafflings of my mind without copious amounts of alcohol involved. As such, I struggled with what to write. I simultaneously lacked and was overwhelmed with inspiration and didn’t know where to start.
When I finally turned off the TV after weeks of procrastination, I sat down at my laptop with the intent to start writing.
I opened an empty document and then proceeded to check Facebook on my phone. What can I say, I am Queen of Procrastination. As I meander through the superficial jungles of social media, I come across Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech and suddenly I am inspired.
As I listen to Ms Streep speak so eloquently, I find myself joining many of the audience members with tears in my eyes. I also find myself thinking back over the tumultuous year that was 2016 and recalling a repeated refrain that vexes me greatly:
What gives performers the right to voice their opinions? What would they know anyway?
Firstly, what gives them the right to an opinion is their existence as a human being. Every single one of us is entitled to an opinion, be it right, wrong or insane. In many countries around the world, so long as we are not slanderous or criminally hateful in that opinion, we all have the right to voice it.
Likewise, we all have the right to choose to disagree or just not listen to those opinions. Why would it be any different for a person who chooses to work in the Performing Arts? True, people in the Arts have a unique platform that, depending on the profile of the performer in question, could reach anywhere between a few dozen to a few million people. While once, this was a valid argument, in current times, anyone with a computer and a webcam has access to the same platform. Social media gives us the opportunity to get our voice out there and be heard.
As to what they would know – they would know as much or as little as anyone else in the world. Not all opinions are informed. In fact, many opinions are completely uninformed and lacking in credible supporting evidence. That doesn’t stop people from repeatedly stating those opinions on YouTube channels, on Twitter, on Facebook on any platform that they can get their lips and fingertips wrapped around.
It has been my experience that many people in the Arts are extremely well informed and well read. They generally know the subject matters of which they speak because of the simple fact that they care.
The Arts world is full of people who care deeply and passionately for their community and for the world around them.
Finally, I truly believe that we as industry professionals not only have the right to use that platform to voice an opinion, we have a responsibility to.
Many civilians (non-arts people) have this mistaken notion that art – in all its forms, from performance through painting and sculpture – is purely a frivolous medium meant to entertain and beautify. While the arts does both of these things, true art also commands thought, encourages introspection and inspires change. We weave our story on our chosen canvas and we hope that the journey we take our audiences on encourages them to grow, to venture outside of their personal bubbles and experience something new. This – now more than ever, I feel – is a vitally important part of our jobs. In a world where people are increasingly caught in the echo chambers of social media and only hearing what they want to hear, choosing what they want to believe as truth, we as artists need to find a way to challenge people’s minds and opinions and jolt society out of their stagnating pools of discontent.
Anytime the art we create makes a person think outside of their comfort zone, we have done our job successfully.