It looks like in the next few years all of us who believe in human rights and peace will need to do a lot of protesting. We will need to fight for what we believe in. But when the other side speaks its mind in the most direct, violent and careless way possible, can you win the fight if you constantly maintain a peaceful approach?
I am currently in rehearsals for Bucket List, a show I directed and wrote, which will be London premiering at Battersea Arts Centre in Feb and then touring around the UK. In Bucket List we follow the story of Milagros, an orphan in a Northern Mexican boarder town. Milagros' mum gets shot in the head for protesting government and corporate corruption -just like thousands of other people who have non-violently fought for what they believed in, and for justice. The plight of her mother leaves Milagros, and us, faced with the uncomfortable question - in order to stop violence, is peaceful protest enough or do you need to fight fire with fire?
I believe that the arts must be at the forefront of the fight against fascism. As artists we need to be putting forward pieces of resistance so that together with our audiences we can at least keep talking about it and keep considering our levels of political and social engagement, if not to inspire ourselves to take action. We need to make art that holds governments, corporations and ourselves to account and ask: where is our role in this extreme right-wing story unfolding in front of our eyes like a car crash in slow-motion?
Now more than ever, art needs to play its socio-political part and provide not only a good-night-out, but also a smack in the face for all of us to make sure we are fully conscious as we march like a herd into a bleak future.
As I am writing this I can hear a voice in my head telling me to be careful of preaching. What am I? A Priest? A rabbi? An Imam? Why do I feel I know better than anyone else what art should or shouldn't do in these mad times? Well, I don't.
Bucket List asks its audience - 'can we achieve socio-political change using non-violent democratic tools?' - and in rehearsal I found myself thinking that too often as artists we are afraid of being too direct, of being distasteful or sounding like we have a clear and simple opinion or a question to ask. I guess this goes against the 'liberal instinct' we were brought up in the light of - there's no right and wrong, two opinions can co-exist and by challenging each other they develop and grow. The so-called liberal elite is constantly looking for complexity and depth. But politically this only works when everyone is playing the same game. If one of the participants has broken the rules we can't keep playing with them as if we have a level playing field.
In Bucket List, years after her mother dies and she sees no way of holding people responsible for the series of injustices that has become her life, Milagros decides to take matters to her own hands and achieve justice for herself and her loved ones. She murders a series of politicians and CEO's. The play is constructed so that we feel for Milagros. So that when she stabs the police officer raping and abusing her best friend for months we delight in her achievement. But things get more complicated when she murders the president of the US. What is Milagros - a fighter for justice; a murderer; a terrorist? Has she become as bad as those she is claiming to fight against? What were her other options?
We watched as the Leave side made simplified, racist, untrue and overemotional claims here in the UK during the Brexit referendum while Remain was using facts and experts. We lost - Britain is leaving. We then watch a similar campaign unraveling in the US. I am NOT propagating violence and murder as a way forward but I do believe that in order to progress we should have clear ideas and a passionate way of expressing them. Be it in theatre or just as we go about the everyday business of having a political debate.
Bucket List is on at Battersea Arts Centre from 13th February to 4th March before touring nationally (including BSL interpreted performances). For full details please visit www.theatreadinfinitum.co.uk