It’s show time for Universally Speaking! Opening night is tomorrow at the Bread & Roses Theatre, Clapham, and it runs each night until Saturday (7.30 – 9pm). The actors have learnt their lines, the final props have been bought (including a 6 pack of ready salted and three mini primroses) and the tickets are selling. I’ve been doing my bit as producer and I can safely say that the process has been utter chaos. Yup, complete anarchy of the best variety…here’s why.
Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842 – 1921), a famous activist, philosopher and geographer defined anarchism as “a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional…for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being” (and if you’re interested in etymology it’s roots stem from the Greek anarkhos, from an- ‘without’ + arkhos ‘chief, ruler’).
No boss, a lack of hierarchy and lots of good will: yup, that sums up the production process for Universally Speaking. Whilst we’ve taken on different roles: Simon Jay directing, me co-producing, the actors acting, technicians teching, the writers writing and so on, there hasn’t been a ‘top dog’ telling us all what to do. We’ve taken responsibility for our own roles and brought our expertise to the table. We’ve formed an “interwoven network” and worked together to bring a piece of theatre to life. Kropotkin likens anarchistic organisations to organic life, “harmony would result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitudes of forces and influences”. And so the show has organically developed, often taking on quite a surprising life of its own (you’ll have to see for yourself).
Now, in an ideal anarchistic state (little ‘s’) there would be no money but sadly we haven’t managed to be that savvy. Instead, over 50 people donated to our indiegogo fundraising campaign and we raised £920. This is testimony to how great and generous people are. Kropotkin talks of mutual aid – “a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit” – and its a nice counterbalance to Darwin’s relentlessly selfish natural selection predicated on greed and constant competition (not that Darwin really described it like that). And the level of support we’ve had putting together the play has been heartblowing. Alongside the financial aid we’ve had people offer to promote the play and help with the lighting and sound. Meanwhile, the cast and director have given so much of their time just so they can make new theatre and the writers have waived their fees from their pieces. However, because we don’t yet live in Anartopia of the £920 raised £100 will go to each actor and to the technician (the rest will cover marketing costs and props) as an exceptionally small thank you for their hard work. We’re splitting tickets sales 50/50 with the theatre and any profits we make will go to charity – the UNHCR and Mind, the mental health charity. As for The Bread & Roses, they’ve been great and it’s fantastic to have theatres so supportive of new writing.
Another important guiding principle of anarchy is love. And that’s why we’ve all been working so hard to ensure Universally Speaking is a great night out. We all love the arts and the different elements of theatre – acting, directing, producing, writing, teching, staging – and are under no illusions that we’ll be quitting our day jobs any time soon. As for the final piece of the jigsaw, it’s you – the culture hungry audience members who have already bought a load of tickets! It’s only £10 for an incredibly fun night (cheaper if you book online). So I do hope you’ll come along to enjoy this theatrical slice of anarchy and unlike in a competitive, hierarchical capitalist system this really can be a win-win for all. Prince Kropotkin might just be proud. See you there!