Two very powerful words. Words representing concepts we are all very likely to encounter in our lives, particularly if, like yours truly, you have chosen to head into the Performing Arts as a profession. However, I am not preaching to the converted with this post. My driving aim here is to explain to the rest of you, the non-initiated folk of humankind, some of the things that we, the performers of tomorrow, have to deal with on a daily basis. Below are just a few examples:
Now, I am a peace-loving individual who believes we should all be nice to each other and, generally speaking, my terroristic tendencies begin and end with the zapping of the occasional mosquito that may happen to cross my line of sight on a generic summer day. I don’t set out to hunt mosquitoes as a pastime; it’s not something I particularly enjoy doing either. I zap the buggers because they have the indecency to think they’ve got the right to suck out my blood. And that’s something I cannot tolerate. But that’s as far as my criminal instincts go.
Then there are the people who plan for disasters like they are bound to happen every second. While it’s understandable that most Health & Safety rules have their use, and that they saved more lives than we might think, you must admit they are not without their absurdities. What would John Lennon think, for instance, if he were alive today and he would see the trouble my band had to go through in order to get 10 kids from LIPA 4:19 to perform on “Happy Xmas – War Is Over” with us. That we had to go through so many offices and speak to so many people, in order to arrive at the absurd compromise that the kids would be legally viewed as “members of the audience spontaneously breaking into song in front of the stage”. But they are not members of the audience spontaneously breaking into song in front of the stage. They are performers on the track, as John Lennon wrote it. They rehearsed for weeks, with glimmers of excitement in their eyes, and their appearance on our song brought such a smile on their parents’ faces. Why should we belittle that? Did Lennon have the same trouble getting those kids to sing on the recording, I wonder? For the love of God, have we become so afraid that we spend more time making sure a venue is safe than we do rehearsing and planning the actual show?
And if, by some infinitessimally minute chance, a fire (or World War 3) does indeed break out during the show… surely, in a theatre that can only hold 100 people, with two exits marked so clearly that anyone could spot them… surely, there’s no need for all that trouble. I’m sure we can all make a run for it before the house falls down. Surely all we need to do is breathe in, and remember that life is not just a race to make sure accidents don’t happen. Because I believe the line should be drawn at the point where Health & Safety begins to interfere with creativity. Otherwise, we might as well all pack up and go home, and lead safer lives.
Plus, if World War 3 does happen to break out during the show, it sure as hell won’t make any difference whether you’ve got 3 stewards in the theatre, or 4. Would it? The place would be blown to smithereens before the stewards could even begin to shepherd the audience out in an orderly manner. And if it’s all that dangerous to be in a theatre nowadays, then maybe I should refuse to go onstage myself. Why should I want to risk my neck in such a house of perils anymore than the audience might?
Bottom line is, I get it. Health & Safety is there to ensure I don’t catch fire while on the premises of a theatre. But it begs the following question: How much are we willing to restrict a show creatively, just to make sure all these norms are met? Where is the limit between common-sense prevention, and draconian paranoia?
PS. I am aware this post has created some controversy at my university. I have edited the harsher bits out and restored the post on my blog. Last I checked, freedom of speech was a still a staple of democracy – and if certain readers read too much into my meaningless quotidian ramblings, well, that’s their problem more than it is mine. It is very flattering to see people are reading my blog, though 🙂