As Desperate Men plan for our 30th birthday bash (The Festival of Desperation in Bristol on the 15th, 16th and 17th October 2010) it seems appropriate that we be given some space to spout on a bit and figure out how the hell we have managed to keep going for so flippin’ long………….
We were desperate to be heard above the noise of mediocre, greed based consumer bollocks. That was back in 1982 (and not a lot has changed) when we returned to the UK from our artistic and teeth cutting roots of Amsterdam. Here – fun, freedom, sex and drugs and rock and roll were all the rage and, it has to be admitted, we supped deeply of that heady broth, but being twisted, politically savvy Brits – it was never enough, and we returned to the UK in 1982 to fight the good fight and join the dreamed of revolution that would get rid of Thatcher. Well, she went in the end, and perhaps our longevity has something to do with that anti right-wing struggle.
Its always been about stuff y’see – we do a couple of things that could be described as not about stuff, but even those are actually about stuff. Stuff like the demise of manned lighthouses, capitalism, the apocalypse, blokes getting older, chat lines, organ transplants, the legacy of the Empire, friends, chlamydia, evolution, migrants, the arms trade, rubbish, the thin lines between perceived reality and the communication of that reality – there are shows for all these topics. It is never enough to merely entertain. (In many of the myriad incarnations of company publicity, as part of the Manifesto Desperado we state “We will never, juggle, ride unicycles or eat fire”) There are major projects worked up into Arts Council applications that never saw the light of day – The History of Hemp, or Washing Up, for example, that were simply ahead of their time – but still about stuff.
We reckon that working on the street, as we have done for a lot of our time, brings qualities to an actor and the process of creating work which is streets ahead (no pun intended) of what goes on indoors. Out there, there is no hiding place. If you can produce a show that can engage an audience that can walk away at any moment during your performance – but they don’t, then we reckon that takes a skill more refined, more exacting than anything that goes on in the controlled, safe, traditional ‘proscenium arched’ theatre.
We defy any actor who has only ever worked indoors to a paying audience to step outside with us onto the streets of Manchester, or Glasgow, or Lisbon, or Athens and hold an audience with the power, charisma, chutzpah and sheer love of life that is required to connect with a totally random, mixed, weird, drunk bunch of folks who just happen to be passing by. Add to that the vagaries of the weather, the fact that every show is in a different place, you are changing in a car park and you are paid peanuts, well, we take our hats off to us.
It ain’t easy, and you got to have a bee in your bonnet about something – to even contemplate such a desperate act. But the rewards are priceless. The feedback is immediate. The satisfaction is immense. And, of course, these are some of the reasons why we do it.
And, or but, or because of …..or whatever, we now spend a lot of our time working as producers and co-ordinators helping other folks do stuff outside. The Severn Project in 2007, 2008 and 2009 involved working with local authorities up and down the length of the river, liaising with arts groups, dance companies, firework companies, musicians and community groups of all hues. Working with Creative Partnerships on projects with head teachers, going into schools and science museums with shows about biodiversity, getting commissions from groups who want to publicise the new smoking legislation, local authorities want us to highlight how to avoid STD’s for young people, or want to publicise their latest fines for littering. Town councils have worked with us to extract their inhabitants views on what they really think, cities have hired us to create pieces to encourage more re-cycling. All of these opportunities have come about, I believe, because we have developed a style which embraces stuff , we love the research, the context, the impact on the unsuspecting public – and, at the risk of repeating myself – when we get it right (and, mange tout, there ain’t no time for ‘try outs’) its brilliant stuff.
As we enter our second thirty years, we want to celebrate our dealings with stuff. The Festival of Desperation will not only give opportunities for young, emerging talent from Bristol to discover their own senses of engaging with stuff, and a platform for new work about desperation from established professionals, but will also host debates and discussions about the true nature of desperation.
What is desperation?
Have you ever, truly, been desperate?
Do we live in desperate times?
Are you a Desperate Man or Woman?
Is desperation really ‘the raw material of drastic change’? (William Burroughs)
See you at the Festival of Desperation (and stuff is happening indoors too……..)