The Debate hosted by the Alfred Fagon Series, Bush Theatre - review

Published: Thursday, June 25, 2015 3:18 AM | Review by: Mike Scott-Harding | Afridiziak Star Rating:
The Debate hosted by the  Alfred Fagon Series, Bush Theatre_Arti Prashar, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Michael Edwards,  Mojisola Adebayo, and Pauline Walker The Debate hosted by the Alfred Fagon Series, Bush Theatre, Arti Prashar, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Michael Edwards, Mojisola Adebayo, and Pauline Walker

Billed as “a lively forum discussing [sic] topical issues in the performing arts”, ‘The Debate’ at The Bush, West London contained a diverse discussion-panel with interesting things to say about ‘The Arts’, its place in ‘our’ society and – in the current climate of economic austerity – society’s obligation towards it.


The discussion – hosted by Pauline Walker of Alfred Fagon Awards, and chaired by Michael Edwards - was paneled by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (actor, director, producer, writer and campaigner/founding member of ‘Act for Change’), Arti Prashar (Artistic Director of Spare Tyre Theatre Company), and Mojisola Adebayo (actor, playwright, director, producer, and teacher); each had to give their thoughts on three basic topics.


[NOTE: Edwards’ couching of the three topics could have been clearer for those of us not privy to the questions beforehand]


1). ‘Will The Arts wither and die under the Tories?


Holdbrook-Smith commented that ‘there had always been economic pressure on The Arts’, and that there was nothing new in this; indeed – he suggested - without alternative means of generating diverse funding, ‘there was a danger of being held hostage to the whims and appetites of the agenda-setting one per cent ’. He went on to say that – as far as he was concerned – artistic endeavor (and by extension, ‘The Arts’) would continue in some form or other, no matter what.


Prashar’s view was that, in her experience - as people become more and more risk-averse - ‘trickle-down economics’ in times of austerity seldom trickled down. She went on to say that the argument is not just about the cutting of funds, but about how the monies get ‘divied up’, and to whom.


Mojisola made a series of impassioned comments, not least of which was her assertion - which I agree with - that the present Conservative government is not interested in The Masses creating and/or engaging with The Arts. This is because they are primarily interested in ‘conserving’ (the status quo), a pursuit at odds with art’s need to explore the wealth of social and personal ideas / possibilities.


She admitted that artists will adapt despite it all, but that the best way for black theatre practitioners to proceed dynamically was to become less insular, and to engage with other topics/groups (e.g.; homelessness, physical disabilities, N.H.S., etc.).


Topher Campbell (audience member) made the point that – now Arts Council England’s budget had been cut by 50 per cent - funding had become less about ‘art’ and more about numbers and - as a result - only certain arts companies were seen as ‘relevant’ (“less art for less people”). I guess we’d better make it count then, eh(?)


As I listened, it struck me that there seems to be a divergence between UK artists and the UK public over one question: in times of wide-ranging economic cuts, how much responsibility should the public sector have for funding The Arts and – by extension – how important, in a healthy democracy, are The Arts themselves?


As the UK Arts sector (e.g.; dance, theatre, opera, etc.) competes for less and less public monies in order to attract the same public numbers, it was agreed that being ‘fiscally creative’ - and looking further afield for financial partnerships and funding opportunities - is imperative if the UK artist is to continue making art.


The Debate hosted by the Alfred Fagon Series, Bush Theatre_Arti Prashar, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Michael Edwards,  Mojisola Adebayo, and Pauline Walker The Debate hosted by the Alfred Fagon Series, Bush Theatre, Arti Prashar, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Michael Edwards, Mojisola Adebayo, and Pauline Walker

2). The second question concerned censorship of information, and the suggestion that Ofcom could monitor programming-content before it’s broadcast.


The argument that this might give the government powers to ‘curb extremist content in broadcasting’ made for an interesting discussion about whose ‘extremist rhetoric’ was palatable, and whose was incendiary or – indeed - an incitement to terrorism. The Daily Mail (“extremist”), ‘Exhibit B.’ (“racist”), and even the recent Charleston church murders (“a terrorist act”) were all brought up as examples of the ‘language of oppression’, before Kobna made a plea for The Artist’s ‘inalienable right for self-expression’ as, to do otherwise would be to ‘exchange hierarchies with the oppressor’; it seems that the panel agreed.


3). The final topic was about the importance of ‘diversity’ in The Arts.


Prashar recounted that it was only recently that her organization was informed one of their plays (about sexual identity) would not be funded unless ‘the production excised the word ‘gay’ from the script’(!). She went on to remind us that Arts Council of Great Britain was originally created as a response to World War 2 (‘diversity’ presumably being the enemy of fascism).


Mojisola said that – in her role as a teacher over 20 years – students from a diverse (or working-class) background were becoming fewer and less capable, while Kobna offered that ‘Act for change’ was created as a response to his seeing that ‘dragons were better represented on the screen than Black people’(!)


A lively debate was brought to a close with each panel-member offering a positive final thought:


Arti’s idea was ‘to put arts scheduling in the hands of those from ‘diverse communities’ for one season’;

Mojisola’s was ‘Each one, teach one’ (i.e; whatever you do, bring someone with you);

Kobna’s final thought was that all artists need to ‘continue to interrupt the thinking that stops diversity’, until ‘diversity itself becomes the norm’.


Congratulations to Alfred Fagon Award Committee for bringing together such an interesting and diverse panel; the pity was that there were so few attendees (about 20) to share in the debate; oh well… maybe next time.



Info: The Debate – hosted by the Alfred Fagon Series was at The Bush Theatre on June 23, 2015. Find out more





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