Looking forward, moving forward

Andy Smith, a theatre-maker based in Lancaster reflects on ideas of possibility and hope in practice, considers the season ahead at Lancaster Arts, and reveals some of the thinking behind his new show A CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY, being performed in The Nuffield theatre on Wednesday the 21st of February. 

Posted on 11th Jan, 2024

During 40/40, a joyful, entertaining, and thought-provoking work by Two Destination Language that appeared at Lancaster Arts in the autumn of 2023, Katherina Radeva looked at the audience and (in my memory) we heard her say something like this: ‘This won’t change anything. Let’s face it. This doesn’t change anything’.  

It was a striking and challenging moment for me. A stark questioning of the purpose and reason for being there. A bold statement that – for me at least – had the effect of opening up the space and responding to the challenge. It offered us (or at least me) something like the reason that she – and we – should be doing it anyway. 

Again, it might be just me, but rather than be light-hearted or optimistic, the lists and articles complied to fill the newspapers and the airwaves over the new year seemed to focus and reflect a lot on the challenges we all face in the year ahead: increasing division and populism in politics, more than one ongoing war, economic instability and the cost of living crisis. Things seem to look and feel increasingly difficult. 

Though I appreciate these are difficult times, I want to encourage you to maybe think about using some of your precious time and money to come up to Lancaster Arts this spring. Of course I want to do this partly because I have a work in it (more of that in a minute), but also because I think and hope that in all of these in person, in the room art activities – whether it is concert or exhibition or performance – we the audience might be able to find more moments like the one I found in 40/40, however fleeting they may be.  

These spaces are – I think – spaces of possibility. Moments of a necessary hope. Of a potential activity, perhaps even activism. They are spaces for reflection where we can consider where we are and what we are up to. Spaces where we can perhaps find ways to continue to be in the world and keep going in the year and years ahead and carry on however difficult and complex things might get.  

I think this is something that the activity of – the engagement in and reception of art – can do. Or at least I think that it can make the attempt. I think it can do it in different ways in different forms, whether they are visual, musical, or performative. And I think these things can be beautiful, provoking, funny, dramatic, confusing, boring, engaging, enriching, and challenging. While Katherina might be right in saying that her art (and by association many other examples) doesn’t change anything by itself or directly, through a performance like 40/40 she did (and all these forms can) make a space where the possibility of it appeared; where we can take stock, consider things a bit, and consider that what might be possible. That’s good enough for me. 

A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY, which will appear at Lancaster Arts on the 21st of February at 7.30pm, grapples with some of these ideas in its own way. The work is a play. It tells a story about a meeting – the assembly of the title. A story where some people have met to discuss the climate crisis, or climate emergency. This is – in my mind at least – the biggest challenge that is facing us in the years ahead, and – in my mind at least – is connected in some way to all the other challenges that were appearing on those ends of the year/start of the year lists. 

The play is the latest (and perhaps most ambitious) work in a series of works that I call ‘plays for the people’. Plays which ask the audience to engage directly with the ideas and questions that themes such as this raise. And through this act of collective play and imagination the work asks this audience (which I hope might include you) to grapple with all these ideas too.  

The characters in the play – the people who are gathering and meeting in the room in the story – are played by the people gathering and meeting in the theatre in which it is being performed. In this instance this will be the Nuffield theatre, the audience that are in it, and so potentially you. The form as well as the theme is shared and explored by spectators and characters. Everyone is invited to present different opinions and ideas about this emergency, and what how we might do something about it all. They talk it through and argue it out, an aim being to present and understand or at least appreciate some difference. Perhaps drive some empathy. Let’s see. 

I’m aware this might be putting you off. Don’t worry. Not everyone has to read. But I hope someone will, that they do, and that however you might respond you feel invited to participate in the ideas and the themes presented and the space I am trying to create. I want this work to allow us to play and think together a bit about these things in the way that – for me at least – only theatre and performance can: working together in a room in and towards moments. Moments that can be fleeting and that we can’t get back, but that only we can make and consider when we are together in the way that the form of theatre and performance can encourage. 

Yes of course, this is all very romantic, but that’s alright by me. I hope that you might think about coming up to engage with A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY and some of the other work on at Lancaster Arts this season. Whether this play, a concert or the work in the gallery, we all need you the audience or viewer or listener: in person, in the room, with the work, in the work, making the work with the people who have made the work, making these spaces together.  

I hope to see you there. 

Andy Smith is an acclaimed theatre-maker based in Lancaster. Along with Karl James, he co-directed Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel by Tim Crouch, which appeared at Lancaster Arts in Autumn 2023. He will be performing (hopefully with you) in A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY at Lancaster Arts on 21st February at 7.30pm. Details here.