Neoliberalism, Theatre and Performance tackles one of the most slippery but significant topics in culture and politics.
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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
1 Neoliberalism, theatre, performance, inequality, and alternatives
2 ‘What the hell is water?’ The arts festival and the free market
3 Neoliberalism and contemporary dance in Brazil
4 Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour
Neoliberalism, Theatre and Performance
Neoliberalism,Theatre and Performance tackles one of the most slippery but significant topics in culture and politics. Neoliberalism is defined by the contributors as a political-economic system, and the ideas and assumptions (individualism, market forces and globalisation) that it promotes are consequently examined. Readers will gain an insight into how neoliberalism shapes contemporary theatre, dance and performance, and how festival programmers, directors and other artists have responded. Jen Harvie gives a broad overview of neoliberalism, before examining its implications for theatre and performance and specific works that confront its grip, including Churchill’s Serious Money and Prebble’s Enron. Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink conducts a fascinating discussion with Rainer Hofmann, artistic director of the SPRING Festival in Utrecht, on ways in which performance festivals can respond to neoliberal culture. Cristina Rosa explores contemporary dance in neoliberal Brazil as a site for both commodification and challenge. Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms discuss and present excerpts from their activist satire Neoliberalism:The Break-up Tour. Slim and elegant, forceful and wide-ranging, Neoliberalism,Theatre and Performance is an accessible resource for students, practitioners and scholars interested in how neoliberalism both suffuses and is resisted by today’s contemporary performance scene. Andy Lavender is Vice Principal and Director of Production Arts at Guildhall School of Music & Drama. He writes on contemporary theatre and performance, and is the series editor of 4x45.
Series Editor: Andy Lavender
The 4x45 project introduces a new series of short video lectures from Digital Theatre+ accompanied by transcript books, addressing key topics and emerging debates in theatre and performance. Each entry in the series comprises four lectures, interviews and discussions from theatre experts, based around common themes and presented as 45-minute videos hosted on the Digital Theatre+ website. The edited companion books contain a link to this multimedia component and four written transcripts of the videos along with an introduction to the volume as a whole. 4x45 talks aim to respond quickly to emerging issues and developments in all aspects of theatre and performance, reflecting and defining the important conversations across the field.
The Theatre of Katie Mitchell Edited by Benjamin Fowler Neoliberalism, Theatre and Performance Edited by Andy Lavender Performance and Migration Edited by Emma Cox
For more information about this series, please visit: https://www. routledge.com/4x45/book-series/4x45
Neoliberalism, Theatre and Performance
Edited by Andy Lavender
First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 selection and editorial matter, Andy Lavender; individual chapters, the contributors. The right of Andy Lavender to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-0-367-19042-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-19043-9 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-19997-4 (ebk) DOI: 10.4324/9780429199974 Typeset in Bembo by codeMantra
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance, inequality, and alternatives
‘What the hell is water?’ The arts festival and the free market
RAINER HOFMANN IN CONVERSATION WITH LIESBETH GROOT NIBBELINK
Neoliberalism and contemporary dance in Brazil CRISTINA ROSA
4 Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour SARAH WOODS AND ANDREW SIMMS
Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink is an assistant professor in Theatre and Performance Studies at Utrecht University, where she also coordinates the Master’s programme in Contemporary Theatre, Dance and Dramaturgy. Her research interests include dramaturgy and scenography, spatial theory, performance ecologies and new materialism, and performance philosophy. She is the author of Nomadic Theatre: Mobilizing Theory and Practice on the European Stage (Bloomsbury 2019) and has contributed to (among others) Contemporary Theatre Review, Performance Research and the volumes Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (Bloomsbury 2019), Staging Spectators in Immersive Performances (Routledge 2019), Intermedial Performance and Politics in the Public Sphere (Routledge 2018) and Mapping Intermediality in Theatre and Performance (AUP 2010). Jen Harvie is Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London. Her research explores the cultural politics of performance. Recent publications include a special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review on
feminisms; Scottee: I Made It; The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver; and Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. She co-edits the book series Theatre & and interviews performance makers on her podcast Stage Left (see soundcloud.com/stage_left). Rainer Hofmann has been the artistic director of SPRING Performing Arts Festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands, from 2013 to 2021. He is the leading Dramaturg (Leitender Dramaturg) at the Kunstfestspiele Herrenhausen in H annover, Germany (September 2021 onwards). He has worked as artistic director, programmer, producer and dramaturg in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Austria and the UK. He has been dramaturg for Theaterhaus Gessnerallee Zürich,Theater Neumarkt Zürich, Schauspiel Köln and Stadttheater Bern. In 2008 he was artistic director of the 7. Festival Politik im Freien Theater (‘Politics in Off Theatre’) in Cologne. In addition he has worked for organisations including Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Theater der Zeit and Kölner Stadtrevue and held positions on several committees, boards and juries. Andy Lavender is Vice Principal and Director of Production Arts, and Professor of Theatre & Performance at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. His writing includes the monograph Performance in the Twenty-First Century: Theatres of Engagement (Routledge 2016), and a number of chapters and articles on contemporary theatre, performance and intermedial production in publications including Theatre Journal, Contemporary Theatre Review, Performance Research and Studies in Theatre & Performance.Work as co-editor includes the special issue Encountering the Digital in Performance: Deployment | Engagement | Trace, Contemporary Theatre Review (27:3, 2017). He is series editor of
4x45, published by Digital Theatre+ (online videos) and Routledge (print volumes). Cristina Rosa is a senior lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of Dance, where she engages with both theory and practice articulations. Her current research focuses on connection between movement practices and theories of sustainability. She has previously taught at a number of higher education institutions in the United States, including UC Riverside,Tufts University, Reed College, and Florida State University in Tallahassee. She was a research fellow at Freie Universität Berlin’s International Research Center ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ (Germany, 2012–13). She was awarded her PhD by the University of California, Los Angeles. Andrew Simms is an author, political economist and campaigner. He is co-director of the NewWeather Institute, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, a research associate at the University of Sussex, and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation where he was policy director for many years. Andrew devised ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, marking when in the year we start living beyond our ecological means, and coined the term ‘Clone Towns’ describing the homogenisation of high streets caused by chain stores. New Scientist magazine called him a ‘master at joined up progressive thinking’. His books include Cancel the Apocalypse, Ecological Debt, and recently Economics: A Crash Course. He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk. Sarah Woods is an award-winning writer, activist and teacher, writing for theatre, screen, radio and opera. Sarah has campaigned with organisations including the Centre for Alternative
Technology, the Fabian Society and Global Action Plan; and is currently working on the Ashden Climate Change Co-Benefits Project. Sarah is co-director of The New Weather Institute and Associate Professor at The Denmark National School of Performing Arts.
Introduction Andy Lavender
What is neoliberalism, and why does it matter to theatre and performance? In brief, some of the key principles of neoliberalism are to do with the predominance of the ‘market’ and the activities of entrepreneurs and corporations within it; increased globalisation (to do variously with materials, manufacture, distribution and consumption); government actions that reduce, on the one hand, regulations concerning (for example) trade and employment, and on the other, welfare provision; and a dependence upon the notion of the individual as someone free to choose between many options. We’ll come to what this means for performance, but we should start by unpacking neoliberalism as a phenomenon. This is a story of the political-economic system that has come to define how we live – if we live in the post-industrial West, but also in parts of the world that provide goods and services for those in richer countries. You might say that any political or economic system would be defining – no mode of human living is innocent of the structures of exchange that underpin it. One difference with neoliberalism lies in what its critics describe as its pernicious and darkly ironic effects – it DOI: 10.4324/9780429199974
2 Andy Lavender
depends upon ideas of freedom, while it produces realities of subjugation and disprivilege. Neoliberalism also probably defines how we think. Its importance lies in part in its pervasiveness. We swim in its sea, we speak its language, we model its assumptions. Unless, that is, we resist in some way. More of that later. Peck, Brenner and Theodore describe neoliberalism as ‘a normalized commonsense, or practical hegemony’ (2018, 4) – that’s to say, a system that dominates us while we think it’s simply the way of things. Other writers reverberate this theme. Wendy Brown, for example, suggests that ‘Neoliberalism governs as sophisticated common sense, a reality principle remaking institutions and human beings everywhere it settles, nestles, and gains affirmation’ (2015, 35; see also Harvey 2005, 3; and Gilbert 2013, 15). Jim McGuigan discusses neoliberalism in light of Raymond Williams’ celebrated notion of structures of feeling. ‘The neoliberal structure of feeling is not just a matter of ideas and emotions’, McGuigan argues. ‘It is inscribed into habitual modes of conduct and routine practices governing everyday life in a largely unexamined and semi-conscious manner’ (2016, 23). McGuigan examines how neoliberalism suffuses cultural practices. Theatre and performance, no less than fashion, film and music, are structured by the principles and procedures of neoliberalism. However, as vehicles for representation they can also examine its operations, and offer different methods for producing, disseminating and participating (up to a point). We will come to this, too, later. First, to look behind us. What follows is a brief outline of what’s become an orthodox account of neoliberalism’s history. It is worth reprising here, not least because it indicates the close relation between ideas, ideology and sociopolitical
arrangements: how these move across macro national and global contexts as well as micro-situations of individual lived experience; and how they consolidate and change over time. We can situate neoliberalism within a long history of liberal capitalism that reaches back to the imperialist trade excursions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and settles into the political economies of the nineteenth century, where nation states trade freely with each other while industrialists develop companies and businesses to take advantage of commercial opportunities. It speaks of a laissez-faire paradigm – transactions across borders in pursuit of a flow of commodities and the circulation of capital. If this provides the substrate, the more recent history of neoliberalism can be traced through a series of phases since the 1930s. Indeed, the term ‘neoliberalism’ was introduced by Alexander Rüstow at the Walter Lippmann Colloquium in Paris in 1938, a gathering of economists and political philosophers who debated issues such as political contexts for economic decisions, and the basis for economic intervention by governments (see, for example, Stedman Jones 2012, 6, 30). The colloquium included thinkers such as the Austrian political philosopher Friedrich von Hayek and the AustrianAmerican liberal economist Ludwig von Mises, who went on to become co-founders in 1947 of the Mont Pelerin Society (named after the Swiss spa that hosted its inaugural meeting). The Society, which championed ‘freedom of thought and expression’, still exists and still sees ‘danger in the expansion of government, not least in state welfare, in the power of trade unions and business monopoly, and in the continuing threat and reality of inflation’.1 The Society’s first members were an international group of socio-economic critics operating in the wake of the Second World War and assuming the intellectual
4 Andy Lavender
labour of imagining a new post-war society. In context, neoliberalism took shape in reaction to Nazi totalitarianism and a fear of state collectivism (not least as represented by the Soviet Union). Its early apostles were sceptical of pre-war models represented by the interventionist principles of Keynesian economics (which entailed spending by government) and the New Deal in the United States (President Roosevelt’s package of public works and social enablement). Instead, they argued for a need to unshackle economic constraints in service of wider individual, social and political liberties. This provided an intellectual underpinning for a dynamic account of relations between economic activity and political determination. Such initial ideas were codified in the 1950s–1970s (in particular by the Chicago School of Economics and its advocacy for monetarism, and more widely through a plethora of think tanks that helped this thinking reach into governments). Neoliberalism’s more recent manifestation can be dated from the end of the 1970s. Indeed, the cultural geographer David Harvey suggests that the years 1978–80 mark ‘a revolutionary turning-point in the world’s social and economic history’ (2005, 1), given Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization of China’s economy towards a capitalist model from 1978; Paul Volcker’s anti-inflationary shift in US monetary policy from 1979 (Volcker was head of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States); and the elections of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in that year and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1980. Thatcher and Reagan pursued vigorous monetarist policies, ushering in an era of financial liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation and outsourcing that has significantly defined socio-economic assumptions and relations in the West ever since.
Neoliberalism has been extended and embedded more sinuously over the subsequent four decades, and can justifiably be seen, as Matthew Eagleton-Pierce suggests, as our prevailing zeitgeist (2016, xv) – albeit one that is also bitterly contested. The rapid globalisation of economic activity was enabled by developments in transport and communications infrastructures, along with supportive deregulation (removing inhibitions provided by, for example, employment law or tariff arrangements). Materials, manufacturing processes and labour markets could be accessed where they were cheapest, goods transported readily and sold where they could make the largest profit, and services delivered from the most economically viable location. ‘Developed’ countries deindustrialised, and capital was recycled through different territories, not least as a consequence of the debt rescheduling insisted upon by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as the price for poorer nations to sit at the foot of the table of global market transactions. Critics of neoliberalism point out that such practices have led to monopolisation, the centralisation of profits, and the concentration of greater amounts of wealth in the hands of a diminishing number of people, who for their own part find it easier to move across borders and own property and portfolios in many different countries. This isn’t the place to dwell on the phenomenon of twentyfirst-century populism, as evidenced in 2016 in the election of Trump in the United States and the outcome of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, as well as in other plebiscitary outcomes elsewhere. Suffice to say here that one of the ironies of neoliberalism is that its globalising drive provided an impulse for people to re-engage with matters of sovereignty
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and nationhood. Dispersal, disempowerment and disruption are met with cries to reassert boundary and identity. The narrative that explains how this happened has become clearer in the wake of these neo-populist victories. We know that groups that had previously enjoyed cultural capital (white working-class males, for instance) felt – indeed were – left out in a swathe of adjustments to labour markets. There were perceived threats to national integrity, sovereign identity and (arguably) individual identity in the face of the increased mobility of peoples. This mobility is typically (and structurally, within the European Union) of finance, services and trade, as well as people. It contrasts with the fixedness of particular groups affected by neoliberalism – so a form of stasis is accompanied by perceptions of being left behind. A dissipated public sphere facilitates segmented communities of emotional engagement (including the notorious echo-chamber effect of social media, in which demarcated groups reverberate concerns and perspectives only among themselves). The status quo (depicted as a situation of elites) is blamed. Meanwhile, the content of political argument cannot be properly adjudicated in the public sphere, since the mediation of messages is variously over-determined (Twitter rants, post-truth facts) and undermined (mainstream media outlets are maligned or themselves unreliable). What a febrile environment for contemporary theatre, dance and performance to inhabit. We can think of neoliberalism’s relationship to performance in three main ways. First, it provides the socio-economic context in which artists work, venues operate and productions are made. (Not least, as Lara D. Nielsen suggests, the artist is ‘the service economy entrepreneur extraordinaire’ [2015, 5].) Second, it both shapes and erodes the assumptions by
which cultural production takes place. That is to say, neoliberalism circulates values to do with self-sufficiency and consumerism while, as Wendy Brown puts it, ‘quietly undoing … habits of citizenship, practices of rule, and above all, democratic imaginaries’ (2015, 17). Unless – and this is the third aspect of performance’s relationship to neoliberalism – the latter are the very things that theatre, dance and performance restate and celebrate. Specific productions might present images and narratives that are different from, or critical of, neoliberal norms; and arise from modes of production that are (for instance) communal and collaborative rather than individualistic and competitive. They might perform their resistance. The four contributions to this volume variously cover all the above. In Chapter 1, Jen Harvie identifies a shift from an earlier democratising tendency in liberalism to the sharper emphasis on independent market activity implied in ‘laissez-faire’ economics. She explores how ideas and practices of individual liberty, market supremacy and competition help contribute to inequality (for example, in relation to class, race and gender) and erode notions of social responsibility. She discusses how these themes are presented in plays such as Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money (1987) and Lucy Prebble’s Enron (2009). If neoliberalism is figured in the content of specific shows, it also inflects processes of production and spectatorship. Harvie examines theatre and performance culture by way of a growth of ‘audience competition’ within the aesthetic fabric of certain productions; precarity amongst theatre workers within a gig economy; the attrition of state support for theatre and the arts; and trends towards gentrification that have a direct bearing on diversity of opportunity and representation. In opposition to these tendencies Harvie turns to an array of
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work, including that of Berlin-based performance company Rimini Protokoll and Glasgow-based performance-maker Nic Green, that models alternatives to a neoliberal paradigm. In Chapter 2, Dutch academic Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink discusses various aspects of arts programming in neoliberal culture with Rainer Hofmann, the artistic director of SPRING Performing Arts Festival in Utrecht. They explore what Hofmann describes as the vocabulary of neoliberalism, which spreads into discourses concerning art and social value; and its ‘soft power’ – which steers artists clear of work that might be construed as risky or unpopular. They discuss globalisation in a festival context. Hofmann describes how he attempts to resist the ‘international festival bubble’ that can remove performances from their contexts of production and presentation; and argues for the positive value of sharing diverse perspectives and modes of performance (the kind of window on the world that arts festivals are able to provide). The pair discuss artists whose work presents the ‘local’ in captivating ways in SPRING’s international festival, such as Eko Supriyanto, artistic director of EkosDance Company, based in Indonesia; Singaporean artist and writer Ho Rui An; and Julian Hetzel, a German performance maker based in Utrecht. In Chapter 3, Cristina Rosa examines neoliberalism in relation to dance as a discipline of embodied practice; and in a Brazilian context, where the neoliberal project has been accelerated during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro (who took up office on 1 January 2019). Rosa situates neoliberalism in a longer trajectory of modernity and coloniality.This provides a backdrop for her discussion of contemporary dance in Brazil, and she unpacks complex intersections between racial, national and European reference points, to explore instances of countercultural expression in dance practice within a cultural
field shaped by trends towards commodification. She considers the financing of arts and culture by large corporations (particularly the petro-chemical company Petrobras). She follows ‘the money trail’ to examine the impacts of this funding ecosystem on contemporary dance in particular, whilst also finding instances where dance companies, arts organisations and universities mobilise dance as a field of critical inquiry. In Chapter 4, Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms present an account of, and excerpts from, their performance Neoliberalism:The Break-up Tour, first presented in 2017.The production itself is a scabrous and lively account of the features and effects of neoliberalism. It includes double-act repartee, audience interaction, puppet performance and a series of imagined game scenarios (for instance ‘The “Perfect Markets under Perfect Competition” Quiz’) to unpack the key characteristics of neoliberalism as a socio-economic force. Weaving economic theory, a reflection upon theatre as a medium, and a series of excerpts from their performance, Woods and Simms suggest a way of revealing and challenging the norms of neoliberalism. Appropriately, perhaps, they conclude this volume with a performance lecture, embodying the premise of all four chapters that performance itself can help deconstruct the sway of neoliberal assumptions and model some alternatives. One final point. I write this amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has posed such an extraordinary challenge to global economies and ways of life. It’s worth pointing out that the contributions to this volume were all initially presented before the pandemic struck in the West. That doesn’t make them any less pertinent – as we have seen, neoliberalism has a long history and continues to shape our circumstances, even as governments and societies find ways to navigate current challenges to individual and national health and wellbeing.
That said, the pandemic has changed many things, and in political-economic terms the sands may also be shifting. In a post on none other than the International Monetary Fund’s blog site, Kristalina Georgieva argues for widespread public spending to help end the health crisis;‘further fiscal support … to protect the most vulnerable’; and ‘a synchronized infrastructure investment push’ in the public sector. Further, she calls for ‘a green investment push’, ‘increased investment in training, re-skilling, and high-quality education’, and ‘continued efforts to strengthen rules-based trade, foster an international system of taxation where everyone pays their fair share, and bolster the global financial safety net’ (2020, np). This sounds not a million miles away from the kinds of state intervention and programme of public works that the apostles of neoliberalism found so discomfiting. New road maps are emerging. Some of them are envisioned in the contributions in this volume.
Note 1 See www.montpelerin.org (accessed 29 November 2020).
References Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, New York: Zone Books. Eagleton-Pierce, Matthew. 2016. Neoliberalism: The Key Concepts, Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Gilbert, Jeremy. 2013. ‘What Kind of Thing Is “Neoliberalism”?’, in Jeremy Gilbert (ed.), Neoliberal Culture (Special Issue), New Formations, 80/81, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 7–22. Georgieva, Kristalina. 2020. ‘Continued Strong Policy Action to Combat Uncertainty’, IMFBlog, 19 November. Available at: https://blogs.imf.org/2020/11/19/continued-strong-policyaction-to-combat-uncertainty/ (accessed 29 November 2020).
Introduction 11 Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. McGuigan, Jim. 2016. Neoliberal Culture, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Nielsen, Lara D. 2015 . ‘Introduction: Heterotopic Transformations,The (Il)liberal Neoliberal’, in Lara D. Nielsen and Patricia Ybarra (eds), Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1–24. Peck, Jamie, Neil Brenner and Nik Theodore. 2018. ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism’, in Damien Cahill, Melinda Cooper, Martijn Konings and David Primrose (eds), The Sage Handbook of Neoliberalism, London, New Delhi, Singapore, and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 3–15. Stedman Jones, Daniel. 2012. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance, inequality, and alternatives Jen Harvie
Edited transcript of a lecture | 26 March 2018 | Lyric Hammersmith, London Link | www.digitaltheatreplus.com/education/collections/ digital-theatre/neoliberalism-theatre-and-performancea-lecture-by-jen-harvie In this lecture on neoliberalism, theatre, and performance, I start by outlining what neoliberalism is and why it has been widely criticised as socially detrimental, especially for the ways it widens and deepens inequality. I then consider why neoliberalism is important to think about in relation to theatre and performance, exploring how they have been damaged by neoliberalism’s priorities, and how plays, performances, and theatre workers have countered some of its worst effects. My core concern is with the social problems neoliberalism has been seen to cultivate, especially problems of inequality, an apparently inevitable consequence of neoliberalism’s blinkered commitment to free market competition. I argue that theatre and performance are important sites for both highlighting neoliberalism’s problems and challenging them, especially through modelling alternative practices of social DOI: 10.4324/9780429199974-1
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance 13
engagement that draw less on competition and more on collaboration and solidarity.
Neoliberalism First, what is neoliberalism? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED 2015) defines neoliberalism as ‘a modified [or new] form of liberalism tending to favour free-market capitalism’. That definition relies on understanding what liberalism is; so, what is liberalism? There are many definitions of the word ‘liberal’, several of them radically different, all with the Latin root ‘liber’, meaning ‘free’. I will focus only on the meaning of ‘liberal’ that ‘neoliberal’ draws on. This meaning operates in political and economic contexts and describes an attitude that favours ‘individual liberty [and] free trade’ (OED 2015). The emphasis on individual liberty means liberalism advocates for the freedom of individuals to do what they want. The emphasis on free trade means that economic markets should be unrestrained by state intervention, state ownership, and state regulations such as tariffs, taxes, and laws, allowing individuals and their businesses to do what they want. This understanding of liberalism enjoyed popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Its emphasis on individual liberty supported movements which advocated for the popular dispersal of power and for taking power away from the state and other authorities of the times, including monarchies, monarchical monopolies, state religions, and class systems built on hereditary and aristocratic privilege. This liberalism informed anti-monarchy, pro-republic revolutions in Britain in the late seventeenth century, and in the United States and France in the eighteenth century. In many ways, this liberalism had an importantly democratising effect,
14 Jen Harvie
diminishing the power held by ruling elites and distributing it more broadly among more people, enhancing equality. So if neoliberalism is often accused of exacerbating inequality, what changed between that democratising liberalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the neoliberalism that operates today? Where those earlier incarnations had emphasised the ‘individual liberty’ element of liberalism, nineteenth-century liberalism was especially associated with free market or laissez-faire economics.‘Laissez-faire’ means ‘let do’ in French and, in this context, it suggests letting markets, businesses, and business people do what they want without government interference in the form of trade tariffs, taxation, state ownership, and other forms of regulation. Neoliberalism is generally understood to affiliate less with the socially democratising tendencies of liberalism’s earlier versions and more with the emphasis on laissez-faire economics of the nineteenth century; what’s ‘neo’ or new about it is that it takes free market economics further by very actively supporting them.1 This form of neoliberal capitalism really began to take hold in the 1980s, under many global neoliberal stewardships, across South America, in Australia, and famously through Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and President Ronald Reagan in the United States, both of whom were strong advocates of capitalism in a Cold War context that pitted capitalism against communism and socialism. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘capitalism’ is ‘an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state’. In neoliberal capitalism, often referred to simply as neoliberalism, the emphasis is especially on the liberty of capitalists
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance 15
and capitalism to seek the most profit. Its defendants would say it is not intrinsically an unjust system since it is designed: • • •
to stimulate competition, making it efficient; to generate profit, jobs, and increased demand as more workers earn money; and to serve not only the captains of industry but all its workers, who enjoy its trickle-down benefits.
(I will come back to the arguments of its detractors.) Neoliberalism is both an economic approach and an ideology or way of understanding the world. It organises state policy, and it also radically affects people’s daily lives, because it has become an organising principle that influences not only governments and markets but also such things as schooling, work, and law – possibly all aspects of our lives.2
Neoliberalism’s social implications That’s what neoliberalism means technically, but what are its social implications, how do we see them affecting theatre and performance, and how do theatre and performance respond? I address this by focusing on some key ideas: first, individual liberty, and second, market dominance and competition. Individual liberty While the emphasis on individual liberty has historically helped to disperse power and enhance democracy, it is now seen by many as damaging to democracy because neoliberalism’s approach to it reinforces elitism, enhancing inequality.
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It does this because neoliberal governments and societies do not ensure that the conditions in which people exercise their ‘individual liberty’ are equally free or fair for everyone. Instead, neoliberals tend to promote meritocracy, where power or liberty goes to those with the most merit. A meritocratic approach is supposed to ensure what’s called ‘social mobility’, enabling all people to ‘climb a ladder of success’, no matter what their origins, provided they try hard enough. Ideas of meritocracy resonate in the American Dream but are powerfully held in many predominantly capitalist societies, including the United Kingdom at least since Thatcher’s time. On the surface, meritocracy might seem to be a fair and even desirable approach to social organisation; however, there are a number of problems with it. First, who decides what ‘merit’ is? If it includes, for example, charisma and the ability to self-promote, it will likely prefer people who have been socially trained to be confident over those socially trained to see themselves as second-class citizens. In other words, implicit ideas of merit in meritocracies are often exclusive, reproducing and reinforcing hierarchies run by a ruling elite rather than dismantling them. I am thinking here of hierarchies of, for example, class, gender, race, disability, age, sexuality, and more. A second, related, problem with meritocracies is the issue of who has the best opportunities to achieve and demonstrate their merit. In the unregulated markets of neoliberalism, the people most likely to achieve and demonstrate their merit will be those with the best access to both excellent education and helpful social connections, or what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called ‘social capital’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, 119). In other words, meritocracies tend to favour people born into structures of economic and social privilege. Despite
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highly publicised exceptions, it is not as easy to be a self-made person as neoliberals would have us believe. Hierarchies of advantage and disadvantage are structural; it’s not that an individual doesn’t try hard enough to succeed; it’s that some people live in social, material, economic, educational, and other structures that disadvantage them more than other people. So, an important critique of neoliberalism is that while it claims to support everyone’s individual liberty, it actually supports the liberty of those best placed to succeed; it doesn’t expand democratic power or social mobility, it contracts them; it doesn’t spread resources amongst more people but concentrates power, privilege, and resources in the hands of a few who are already privileged. Neoliberalism’s advocacy of meritocracy exacerbates inequality, it reinforces elitism, and it damages diversity.You might ask: if it’s so awful, why on earth is it still dominant? It persists because its myth or dream that everyone has a chance at success is so powerfully cherished by so many. American cultural critic Lauren Berlant (2011) describes this as a condition of ‘cruel optimism’, ‘when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing’ (1). The dream of neoliberal success is desirable for many; but believing in it reinforces neoliberalism, which actually exacerbates inequality. Reproducing privilege in theatre and f ilm Neoliberalism’s effect of privilege reproducing privilege is very familiar in theatre, film, and television in debates around representation. In the film industry, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was started in 2015 by social activist April Reign in response to the paltry number of Academy Award nominations for people of colour. Reign argued, ‘It’s not because there’s a lack
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of quality films that star or feature people of color’ (in Murphy 2015). She noted that those who vote on Oscar awards ‘are 94 percent white, 76 percent male, and the average age is 63 years old … and they might not be as interested in seeing Selma’ (Selma is a 2014 film about the American black civil rights movement directed by African-American Ava DuVernay and starring black British actor David Oyelowo). Reign’s point is that those in power in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tend to reproduce their own power, whether consciously or unconsciously. Similar criticisms have been made about gender, class, and other aspects of identity and representation in film, television, and theatre. Recent work by sociologists in the UK (Friedman, O’Brien, and Laurison 2017) has shown that actors from working-class backgrounds are significantly underrepresented in the profession, and this is not for lack of effort: it’s structural. The greatest roles and rewards continue to go to actors with class privilege, thanks to the advantages of family money and social networks, directors’ entrenched tendencies to typecast, and attitudes which privilege particular accents, especially Received Pronunciation. To play the devil’s advocate, I might ask: how is the economic approach of neoliberalism producing these social problems? I have tried to show how neoliberalism’s particular ways of supporting individual liberty are based on ideas of meritocracy and that meritocracy is inherently unfair because it doesn’t interrogate its own values, rules, privileges, or structures. Furthermore, neoliberal capitalism favours industries that are unregulated. An unregulated neoliberal capitalist theatre industry is likely to keep making casting and award decisions that are unequal, unfair, and, for many, less interesting because fairness is not its core concern; profit is. By contrast,
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a theatre market within a social democratic tradition – which combines capitalism with state intervention to promote social justice (Miller 2005) – might do some things that are more socially just. It might insist on quotas for fair and diverse representation. It might offer additional training to those who haven’t had the opportunities the social elite have had. It might work fundamentally to revise ideas about what we recognise as being of merit, valuable, good, or important. I’ll expand on this idea from a slightly different angle at the end of this lecture. Market dominance and competition Alongside neoliberal capitalism’s emphasis on individual liberty, a second area that critics identify as socially damaging is its emphasis on the supremacy of both the market and competition. American political theorist Wendy Brown is a powerful critic of neoliberalism. In her 2015 book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, she argues that neoliberalism is killing democracy because its all-powerful market overshadows rule by the people. She enumerates many ways this happens. One way is through neoliberalism’s celebration of competition replacing the emphasis in earlier economic models on mere exchange. For New York-based journalist Stephen Metcalf (2017), neoliberalism has normalised the idea that ‘competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity’. For Wendy Brown, competition relies on and therefore reinforces inequality; there have to be winners and losers and, as Metcalf observes, the neoliberal ‘free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers’. In this vein we might remember that the economic crisis of 2008 has been attributed to neoliberalism, and that
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while many enormous, powerful banks were bailed out by governments in that crisis, many middle- and working-class individuals and families lost their jobs, savings, and homes; between September 2008 and January 2015 in the United States, reportedly 5.5 million homes were lost to mortgage loan foreclosures (Carlyle 2015).3 Wendy Brown concludes that under neoliberalism, ‘some will triumph and some will die … as a matter of social and political principle’ (2015, 65, ellipsis original). Neoliberalism treats ever increasing numbers of people as ‘ever more disposable’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2000, 301). Competitive market-dominance and deregulation mean that very little was done for the people who lost homes, jobs, and savings in the 2008 economic crisis. A social democratic approach might have penalised the banks more in order to fund support for workers who lost out; a social democratic approach would not have allowed private companies such leeway to gamble with citizens’ livelihoods in the first place. The triumph of the market in neoliberalism again reinforces inequality; it also sacrifices society and social responsibility. As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously foretold in 1987, ‘There is no such thing as society’ (quoted in Keay 1987). In practical terms, this means that neoliberal capitalist nations continue to dismantle structural features of social democracy and social welfare, such as financial support for people during periods of unemployment, but also funding for education and the arts. In human terms, neoliberalism’s sacrifice of society and its cavalier attitude that, as Wendy Brown put it, ‘some will die’, mean that we are all set up to be more competitive with each other and potentially a lot less caring of each other and the planet we live on.
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Competition and market dominance in Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money and Lucy Prebble’s Enron Two very successful British plays are famous for depicting the kind of market-dominated, highly competitive, winner-takesall, and exhilarating neoliberal capitalist world that Wendy Brown and others criticise. One is Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money:A City Comedy, first produced at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1987, directed by Max Stafford-Clark.4 Serious Money is a black comedy, satirising the greed of traders in the London International Financial Futures Exchange – or LIFFE (pronounced ‘life’) – after the 1986 deregulation of the financial markets known as the ‘Big Bang’. When young, aristocratic City trader Jake dies in mysterious circumstances, his sister Scilla, who is also a trader, goes in search of the killer. When she discovers that Jake was involved in insider trading, she wants his money more than she wants to know who killed him. Ostensibly a whodunit, Serious Money is really a story about how elusive accountability is in a market-obsessed system that condones and supports both the burying of culpability and the suppression of ethical and moral behaviour in competitive pursuit of profit. The play cuts back and forth in quick-fire and often overlapping scenes from Scilla’s present enquiries to past scenes showing what Jake and his fellow conspirators were up to. It is mostly delivered in rhyming couplets, with raucous, expletive-filled musical interludes. It is intensely dynamic and exhilarating, simultaneously demonstrating the adrenalin-rush of the City traders’ lives while critiquing the devastating consequences of their self-interested attitudes and behaviours.
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Again and again, Serious Money shows the triumph of a market fixated on capital, over people committed to honesty and decency let alone legality. Jake says success ‘probably means you have to fight dirty’ (Churchill 1987, 21). ‘It’s like Darwin says’, observes the banker Zac, ‘survival of the fit’ (25). Describing her brother as ‘charming, clever, idle’, Scilla says, He won, he lost, he cheated a bit, he treated it all as a game. Can you really imagine him killing himself for shame? (He didn’t know what honour meant.) (32) ‘What does it matter if Jake was a baddy?’, she asks her father rhetorically, continuing, What was he up to, Daddy? If it was just insider dealing, It’s not a proper crime like stealing. They say it’s a crime without a victim. (35) Her father concurs: ‘Dammit, why should he die for something that’s not a crime? (It’s not illegal in America, Switzerland, Japan, it’s only been illegal here the last few years.)’ (35). We know that corporate greed does have victims, but characters like Scilla wishfully think it isn’t so, and Jake reportedly doesn’t care. Corporate raider Billy Corman says of Jake, ‘he’d have reckoned […] that matters of life and death came a poor second’ to winning in the market (52). Jake’s attitudes are widely shared by the elite global rich. Peruvian businesswoman Jacinta Condor, for example, says that although her
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government insists ‘we help [Peru] in [its mining] crisis, I do not want to help, I want to be rich, I close my mines and sell my copper on the London Metal Exchange’ (63). In the midst of all this cut-throat competition, the neoliberal market does offer some social mobility. The highly successful gilt trader Grimes – originally played by Gary Oldman – is Cockney and was kicked out of school, but is now commanding ‘a transfer fee like a footballer’ (22). However, although he earns more than he might have in an era with a different socio-economic system, and although he personally has climbed some ladder of success, Britain’s old class structures remain fundamentally unchallenged, with access to patronage and insider support still the privilege of the aristocracy. Trader Durkfeld, for example, says to banker Merrison, I don’t have the same alternatives A guy like you does.You say Henry Where I say Kissinger. (24) As the play closes, a chorus of traders heralds another five years of neoliberal ‘liberty’ under a continuing Conservative government. With lyrics playing on ‘God Save the Queen’ to highlight state complicity with neoliberalism and its worst effects, the chorus sings, We’re crossing forbidden frontiers for five more glorious years pissed and promiscuous, the money’s ridiculous send her victorious for five fucking morious five more glorious years.
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Well … neoliberalism would endure for many more than five years. Just over twenty years after Churchill’s Serious Money, and about one year into the global financial crisis, Lucy Prebble’s play Enron picked up where Churchill’s left off, showing the deepening hold of neoliberal ideology and the spread of its consequences. Co-produced in 2009 by Headlong, Chichester Festival, and Royal Court theatres in England and directed by Rupert Goold, Enron tells the story of the real American company Enron, its dramatic rise in the 1990s, and its catastrophic collapse in bankruptcy in 2001. It opened at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre on 11 July 2009 (Prebble 2016, vii). A 2010 LA Theatre Works production of Enron is available to listen to on the Digital Theatre site. Enron focuses on the megalomania, lawlessness, and apparent impunity of company President Jeffrey Skilling, who is described as ‘messiah-like’ and is treated by colleagues ‘like a movie star’ (Prebble 2016, 103, italics original). Like Serious Money, Enron is highly dynamic, with scenes of champagne-fuelled parties and frenetic trading, projected snippets of television and news from the time, and projected stock prices and graphs. It is mostly presented as recognisable realism, but there are also elements of what I would call magic realism, allowing Prebble to theatrically animate various abstract and dishonest financial practices as, for example, a small, glowing red cube, and scuttling monster-like characters called Raptors. Like Serious Money, Enron too shows the adrenalin rush of the financial markets but also their enormous deceitfulness and collateral damage. It also focuses more fully on the fetishisation, impunity, and danger of companies within neoliberal capitalism. An Enron employee explains directly to the audience that, in the 1990s,
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It feels, genuinely, like the most exciting time to do business in the history of the world. There’s a feeling that the people who are gonna change things aren’t in parliaments or palaces, but in corporate boardrooms all over the United States of America. (58) Power has been shifted from government, but it has not been effectively democratised. Enron Chairman Ken Lay shares the employee’s feeling. What is Enron, he asks? In the past, folks thought that the basic unit of society would be the state, or the church or lord help us, the political party. But we now know it’s The Company. And the family. And those two things should be the same. A place where a group of like-minded individuals work for the betterment of themselves and for those they love. I believe in God, I believe in democracy and I believe in the Company. (63) Lay seems initially to have a social conscience, acknowledging that one of the ‘basic unit[s] of society’ is not just the individual or the company but also ‘the family’. However, this vision of society allows him to care about only those in his immediate blood pool, not those beyond it. As the play’s ending makes clear, Enron employees were hardly treated as family; they were the ‘losers’ in the compulsory and biased competition of neoliberalism. As in Serious Money, Enron’s characters are motivated by competition and they do not play clean. Skilling says, ‘Doesn’t matter how you win – as long as you win!’ (114).
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As working-class Peruvian miners suffered the consequences of Jacinta Condor’s selfish dealings in Serious Money, innocent Americans including thousands of Enron employees suffer as a result of Skilling and Enron’s grandiose experiments in rigged trading. For example, after California deregulates its energy markets in 1996, Enron rushes in to speculate, leading to the California Electricity Crisis of the turn of the millennium. News reporters Gayle and Elise announce, (Another day another death in the story of California’s blackouts. The driver of a station wagon was killed early Friday when she collided with a transit bus at an Oakland intersection where the traffic lights were down.This after surgeons were left without operating lights in San Pablo forcing patients to be air-lifted out of state.) Enron’s traders respond with ‘Laughter’ (123, italics original). Skilling argues, ‘we didn’t do anything illegal in California’. His lawyer replies, ‘That’s a matter of opinion […] If it wasn’t illegal, it was stupid’ (126).The play’s epilogue tallies the ‘winners and losers’: BOARD : When Enron was declared bankrupt, they were over 30 billion dollars in debt. SECURITY OFFICER : Days before employees were told to leave, the latest round of bonus cheques was handed out to Enron executives, more than 55 million dollars. EMPLOYEE : That week alone, 20,000 employees lost their jobs. SENATOR: The financial practices pioneered at Enron are now widespread throughout the business world.
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance 27 BUSINESS ANALYST (ELISE) : Over the last two years, the US Government has pumped over ten trillion dollars into the financial system to try and keep it from collapse. (150)
Both Serious Money and Enron acknowledge the exhilarations and enormous rewards – for some – of playing the neoliberal market. However, the plays also emphasise the kinds of social risks and damages normalised under neoliberalism. In this context, where ‘The Company’ is king, many financial specialist individuals believe their liberty places them outside the law, outside social accountability, and outside morality. For them, competition is ‘the only legitimate organising principle for human activity’ (Metcalf 2017).5 Despite competition’s often-deadly consequences, they treat it like a game, ‘a cross between roulette and space invaders’ in Serious Money (Churchill 1987, 54) and a Star Wars light-saber battle in Enron (Clements 2016a, 41). Democracy’s rule by the people is replaced by neoliberalism’s rule by the market. Social democracy’s care for everyone is replaced by neoliberalism’s self-interest for the individual. The social consequences can be devastating, and often have been, as in the case of Enron’s collapse and the 2008 financial crisis. Inequalities are worsened, both within nations, and globally.
How else can we see the damaging consequences of neoliberalism in theatre and performance? I’m going to come back to other ways that theatre and performance challenge some of neoliberalism’s malignant effects.
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But first I want to turn again to reflecting on how we can see some of the damaging consequences of neoliberalism not just in finance capitalism and broadly in society, as represented in Serious Money and Enron, but specifically in theatre and performance as industries. I want to show that neoliberalism operates not only in big finance companies like Enron or financial markets like that in Serious Money, but across business, work, and life cultures. I have already noted that neoliberalism’s structural inequality is visible in the continuing underrepresentation of diversity in acting. Neoliberalism also contributes to many other aspects of theatre and performance cultures. Four areas I’ll focus on briefly are: • • • •
the expansion of theatre forms that value and reward audience competition; the precarity of work for many in theatre and performance; reduced state funding support to the arts, with direct repercussions for the diversity and innovation of theatre work; and urban gentrification in patterns that also threaten theatre diversity.
Competitive audiences Immersive theatre is a form of practice that is growing, for example in the work of major companies such as Shunt, dreamthinkspeak, and Punchdrunk, founded in the United Kingdom, but with major productions in the United States and China. An important researcher of immersive theatre, Adam Alston (2013), defines it as ‘theatre that surrounds audiences within an aesthetic space in which they are frequently, but not always, free to move and/or participate’ (128).6
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Audiences can usually explore the performance space, following particular performers, or other audience members, or their own whims. Immersive theatre appeals to and satisfies audience members’ narcissistic desire because, as Alston puts it, ‘the experience is all about you, the participant’ doing what you want, seeking what you want (2013, 120). Theatre scholar Keren Zaiontz (2014) has called this ‘narcissistic spectatorship’. For Alston, this individual liberty for immersive theatre’s audiences to pleasure-seek means it ‘shares particular values with neoliberalism’, especially entrepreneurialism.7 We can see its audience members as entrepreneurs because their experience of the show is self-made; everyone will see a different show depending on where they go and what they do. In this respect, immersive theatre cultivates its audience members as neoliberal subjects by provoking them to act in self-serving or even selfishly competitive ways and rewarding them when they do so, for example, with access to otherwise hidden scenes such as a moment of one-on-one performance within the bigger show. Like neoliberalism, immersive theatre exacerbates inequality, as audience members have wildly different experiences depending on their ‘entrepreneurialism’. As neoliberal practice, which cultivates audiences’ competitive spirit and reinforces the idea that competition is, here, the necessary ‘organising principle for human activity’ (Metcalf 2017), immersive theatre further embeds neoliberalism in its audiences’ daily lives. Precarious labour A second damaging consequence of neoliberalism in theatre and performance is its contribution to precarious labour. There is an oversupply of eager people who want to work in theatre and performance. In a competitive neoliberal market,
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this means the industry can get away with exploiting the labour of those keen workers while underpaying them or paying them nothing at all.Workers often accept these conditions because they trust in the deferred reward, that today’s unpaid work will help them secure paid work in future; or they are seduced by the dream, that today’s unpaid work will lead to a life of stardom and luxury. This exploitative underemployment is known as worker precarity or precariousness. The conditions of work are bad: workers have no secure job and no secure income, which in turn can destabilise their housing, their ability to feed and clothe themselves, and their health. The cultural workers’ advocacy organisation Carrot Workers Collective (now known as the Precarious Workers Brigade) recently noted that eight out of ten interns in the UK cultural sector are unpaid (n.d. , 36). Furthermore, the conditions of participation are elitist and exclusive: people who cannot draw on outside resources such as family money to work for free in theatre are driven out. Again, neoliberalism’s rule of competition reproduces inequality. By contrast, a social democratic approach to employment in the arts would insist that all work is paid work, genuinely making participation in the industry more viable for many. Reduced state funding to the arts A third damaging consequence of neoliberalism is reduced state funding to the arts. Neoliberalism’s championing of a free market often brings with it a wider rollback of apparatuses of the state, often called austerity economics. As laws restricting trade shrink, so too does state income from taxation and so too, therefore, does state funding for social services and structures. Some of the immediate repercussions of
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this rollback include reduced funding for structures of social welfare support such as social housing, education, and healthcare. Another frequent casualty is funding to the arts. After the UK’s 2010 election, for example, David Cameron’s Conservative-led government almost immediately withdrew over 30 per cent of the budget of Arts Council England, the organisation responsible for distributing a large portion of state funding to the arts in England. This cut in Arts Council funding directly diminished England’s arts ecology.8 This is partly because some arts companies were forced to close, but it’s also because: • • •
some remaining companies avoided experimentation and risk in the hope of retaining funding; more companies were compelled to rely more on unpaid labour and therefore on a smaller, more elite, workforce; and the alternative funding strategies promoted by the government, especially for arts organisations to seek philanthropic donations, tended to work best for organisations that were already the biggest and best established.
Neoliberalism’s shrunken, austere state infrastructure meant a shrunken, less diverse, more homogenised, generally less innovative theatre. Urban gentrif ication potentially displacing ‘minority’ theatres A fourth and final consequence of neoliberalism is that its commitments to competition and markets mean it often contributes to urban gentrification in ways that diminish cities’ arts ecologies as well. Gentrification is the regeneration of an urban district in ways that raise its property prices and
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drive out its less wealthy residents, residents who are often working-class and/or ethnic minority groups. African American theatre academic and artist Macelle Mahala (2016) has written powerfully about how the theatre ecologies of cities such as San Francisco and St Paul have been affected by gentrification. San Francisco, for example, became the United States’ most expensive city in around 2014 and has seen its black population dramatically shrink through economic displacement, from 13 per cent in 1970 to 6 per cent in 2013.9 In Mahala’s account, gentrification has also put in jeopardy San Francisco’s black theatres including one of its oldest, the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, founded in 1981. This theatre lost its downtown home when the building it was housed in was sold in 2007 to a for-profit educational institution, which evicted the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (Mahala 2016, 4). Since then, the theatre has endured ongoing precarity. Mahala celebrates the ingenuity and diversification of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s practices that have allowed it to sustain the work it does for its audiences despite its precarious conditions. I agree this work is impressive, but it is also important to note how difficult the conditions of neoliberal, free market competition can be for organisations with the least resources, and how tenuous their futures become in conditions of significant instability. Here, neoliberalism’s free market property speculation has displaced the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s core audiences and lost it the security of a home, making its future work uncertain, however willing and innovative the company may be. In an alternative social democratic context, city governments might operate rent controls to help prevent residents’ displacement, and they might broker preferential rental conditions for theatre to help sustain diverse cultural and theatrical activity.10
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Across these four examples and many more we might turn to, I have indicated the damaging effects that neoliberalism’s unrestrained competition has on theatre and its workers. I have also tried to show how an alternative socio-economic approach, one of limited social democratic state intervention, might prevent or at least mitigate some of the worst effects.11
Theatre and performance resisting neoliberalism For the final portion of this lecture, I’ll turn again to how theatre and performance are themselves trying to challenge neoliberalism’s worst social effects. Using Serious Money and Enron, I have already discussed plays that explicitly show and critique neoliberalism’s individualism, greed, competitiveness, and structural inequalities. Other plays that do this kind of work include Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money from 2006 and David Hare’s The Power of Yes from 2009, both from England.12 Some American examples might include feminist company Split Britches’ Upwardly Mobile Home from 1984 (Margolin, Shaw, and Weaver 1996),13 and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog from 2001. There is also a very healthy body of theatre and performance work that is not so much critiquing neoliberalism’s faults as modelling better, fairer, more just social alternatives. I’m going to look briefly at three areas where we can see this happening. These are: •
theatre and performance art that explores and advocates for, not competition, but collaboration, and which promotes not inequality, but greater equality;
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advocacy by activists and workers in theatre and performance industries for better working conditions; and performative activism that campaigns against neoliberal inequality and models solidarity.
Theatres of collaboration not competition There are many theatre and performance artists and companies that are committed to challenging the inequalities that neoliberalism produces, apparently justifies, and secures. I’ll discuss two briefly. Rimini Protokoll is a Berlin-based company whose performance work routinely explores social and economic structures that condition people’s lives. Since 2008, the company has presented its adaptable show 100% City in over thirty cities around the world, including Berlin, London,Vancouver, Gwangju, and São Paulo. In each city, the company works with local organisers to recruit 100 local performers representative of the demographic of the city by gender, age, ethnic background, and region of the city and type of household they come from (Rimini Protokoll n.d.). The performers are recruited by chain reaction: the first selected performer must recruit a second within a day, and so on. Formally, therefore, even the making of the show attempts to function through practices of equality, dispersed power, and collaboration; it also attempts to make visible structural urban inequalities, such as how some neighbourhoods are much more densely populated than others. In the show itself, the 100 performers are asked a lot of questions; in response, they both tell personal stories and move around the stage to form human pie charts demonstrating the statistical response of the group. The questions are not census-like. In London in 2012, for example,
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they included, ‘Have you ever shoplifted? Done something you’d rather forget? Saved a life?’ (quoted in Love 2012). It is a different performance in every city, but repeatedly one that humanises society, making it less of an abstract mass that neoliberalism can then abstractly exploit or treat as disposable. It also demonstrably enacts collaboration, as the 100 performers negotiate their shared stage space, many helping others to do so. It is an experiment in not competition but social collaboration. Cock and Bull is a performance made by Glasgow-based artist Nic Green with collaborators Laura Bradshaw and Rosana Cade in 2015 on the eve of a UK general election (Green 2016; Stage Left with Jen Harvie 2017). The show sampled rhetorical language and gestures from the 2014 Conservative Party Conference, then broke them down in a precisely scored and choreographed exorcism towards a hoped-for new future. It started with the three female performers in black suits, black ties, and white shirts, with hands and mouths completely and immaculately painted a luminous, sparkling gold. The performers repeated phrases such as ‘hard-working people’, which initially suggests politicians’ respect for their populace, until the phrase corrupted into ‘work hard’, which reveals the commands, and even threats of punishment, that are implicit in Conservative-led neoliberal economies that tantalise with fantasies of success and rely on workers’ complicity in their own exploitation. As the physically demanding performance proceeded, the gold paint rubbed off the performers’ mouths and hands and smudged their clothes, simultaneously indexing the hard-sweating labour of the workers while suggesting the superficiality and falseness of the selfinterested politicians. The show ended with the three performers almost naked, embracing, and intoning, in their own
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voices not those of the sampled Conservative speeches, ‘Good luck everyone’. It was a show that critiqued the self-interest of neoliberal politicians while ultimately modelling an incipient alternative based on collaboration, solidarity, and even love. Activist and industry advocacy for better working conditions Alongside theatre shows and performances that model alternatives to neoliberalism’s competitiveness and greed, there are also theatre and performance workers actively advocating for better working conditions. I have already mentioned the Carrot Workers Collective (or Precarious Workers Brigade) and their efforts to reduce the exploitation of interns and other cultural workers. Another example of this kind of industry activism is the advocacy work that has arisen in response to the many charges of sexual harassment in film and theatre that have come out, especially since the autumn of 2017. One might ask: what does sexual harassment have to do with neoliberalism? My short answer is that neoliberalism’s cultivation of conditions of competition and inequality has laid the ground for sexual exploitation. In film and theatre, an oversupply of actresses and actors compete to secure work controlled by a small handful of powerful people, mostly men (Harvie 2019). Popular responses to the problems have included both the #MeToo campaign, which encourages people to speak out about their own experiences of sexual harassment in these industries in particular, and the Time’s Up movement, which has been led by a defence fund in the United States to support people to pursue legal action in response to sexual harassment and exploitation. In London, the Royal Court Theatre, directed by Vicky Featherstone, held a day of action titled No Grey Area on 28 October 2017 to
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share experiences and ideas about how to prevent harassment. Within a week, the Royal Court released a Code of Behaviour on ‘Preventing Sexual Harassment and Abuses of Power’ (Royal Court Theatre 2017). Activities like #MeToo, Time’s Up, and No Grey Area demonstrate the power of collective action to call to account the inequality that is structural to neoliberalism and, however gradually, to change it. Performative activism for equality and solidarity My third and final example of resistance to neoliberalism is also performative activism for equality and solidarity, but not specifically in theatre. It is Occupy. Occupy was ultimately a global socio-political movement that began in September 2011 specifically in response to the global economic crisis. It involved occupation of urban spaces by protesters, in many places, over many months. Protestors claimed, ‘We are the 99%’ (Pickerill and Krinsky 2012, 281), referring to the grossly unequal distribution of wealth within neoliberalism so that 99 per cent of wealth is amassed in the hands of 1 per cent of the population while 99 per cent of the population share the remaining 1 per cent of wealth. The Occupiers reclaimed urban space that is increasingly privatised under neoliberalism. They often set up alternative social welfare models, for example, infrastructures for education such as teach-ins. Their commitments to participatory democracy meant decisions were taken through assembly meetings and consensus. Many of their techniques can be seen to draw directly on theatre and performance, not least their creation of multiple global urban scenographies of occupation and solidarity. The profile they achieved in 2011 and 2012 gradually diminished. They did not dismantle global neoliberalism. But they did powerfully demonstrate the scale and breadth of resistance
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to it and its inequalities. And they developed performative strategies of resistance that persist and are frequently revived.
Conclusions In this lecture, I have been concerned with neoliberalism’s ethical, social, and material effects, on society broadly and on theatre specifically, and I have been concerned with the critical and creative responses theatre and performance make to show up and challenge some of neoliberalism’s worst effects. I have argued that neoliberalism poses fundamental problems for social justice by: • • • •
promoting individualism that is inherently selfish; championing competition in a world where the conditions of competition are grossly unfair; denigrating and diminishing systems of social welfare; and ultimately expanding inequality, with the worst effects often experienced by those with the least power.
I have shown how, in the face of neoliberalism’s apparently ongoing global expansion and entrenchment, neoliberalism’s critics – including theatre artists and workers – have advocated instead for alternative values: • • •
less individualism and more collective political subjectivity, society, and social responsibility; less competition and more collaboration, to protect the interests of the least powerful and explore more of the benefits of working together, not in opposition; and fundamentally, more attention to promoting and protecting equality.
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance
I have demonstrated how theatre and performance are working to show some of the most damaging effects of neoliberalism and to propose alternative ways of being, working, and living. Ultimately, I’ve argued for theatre and performance as exemplary tools for both critiquing neoliberalism and modelling alternative practices that explore possible strategies for increasing equality, and as tools that at least demonstrate some of the values and pleasures of practising collaboration and solidarity.
Productions Serious Money (21 March 1987), Royal Court Theatre, London. Enron (11 July 2009), Minerva Theatre, Chichester. 100% City (1 February 2008), HAU 1, Berlin (100% Berlin). Cock and Bull (6 May 2015), The Arches, Glasgow.
Notes 1 See, for example, Brown (2015, 63). Note, therefore, that neoliberalism is not unregulated; its regulations actively support private companies. 2 For more on neoliberalism’s pervasive effects across people’s lives, see Brown (2015). For more on the rise of neoliberalism specifically in the UK, see Harvie (2013, 12–16). 3 For a powerful exploration of this economic crisis in a history of capitalism, see Michael Moore’s 2009 documentary film, Capitalism: A Love Story. 4 The play opened on 21 March 1987 and was set across 1986–7 (Wyndham’s Theatre, n.d. ). See also Naismith (2006, vii). 5 Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of natural selection, is cited admiringly by characters in both plays (Churchill 1987, 25; Prebble 2016, 75). Skilling also recommends Richard
8 9 10 11
Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene in Enron (Prebble 2016, 75). A small selection of other important writings on immersive theatre includes: Alston (2016); Machon (2013); White (2013). Alston (2013, 128). I explore entrepreneurialism’s links with art, theatre, and performance within neoliberal governance in chapter two of Fair Play, ‘The “Artrepreneur”: Artists and Entrepreneurialism’ (Harvie 2013, 62–107). For more detail, see Harvie (2015); and chapter four of Fair Play, ‘Public/Private Capital: Arts Funding Cuts and Mixed Economies’ (Harvie 2013, 150–91). Mahala (2016, 4). Mahala cites the San Francisco Bay Area’s Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, see www.antievictionmap. com/about/. For an exploration of how this operates to some degree in Toronto, Canada, see McKinnie (2017). For more international examples of neoliberalism’s effects on theatre and performance and their responses, see Diamond, Varney, and Amich (2017); Nielsen and Ybarra (2012); and Wickstrom (2012). For more examples, see Clements (2016b). A video of a 1986 performance of Upwardly Mobile Home is available from the Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Library, see http://hidvl.nyu.edu/video/000539235.html (accessed 19 February 2018).
References Alston, Adam. 2013. ‘Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre’. Performance Research 18 (2): 128–38. Alston, Adam. 2016. Beyond Immersive Theatre. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loïc J. D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance 41 Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books. Carlyle, Erin. 2015. ‘2014 Foreclosure Filings Hit Lowest Level Since 2006, RealtyTrac Says’. Forbes, 15 January. Available at: www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2015/01/15/foreclosurefilings-drop-by-18-in-2014-hit-lowest-level-since-2006realtytrac-says/#350ff8c748e5 Carrot Workers Collective. n.d. . Surviving Internships: A Counter Guide to Surviving Free Labour in the Arts. Available at: https://carrotworkers.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/cw_web. pdf (accessed 16 February 2018). Churchill, Caryl. 1987. Serious Money: A City Comedy. London; Methuen, in association with the Royal Court, The Royal Court Writers Series. Clements, Rachel. 2016a. ‘Production History’. In Lucy Prebble, Enron, edited by Rachel Clements. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 39–41. Clements, Rachel. 2016b. ‘Theatre Context: Plays and Capitalism’. In Lucy Prebble, Enron, edited by Rachel Clements. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 5–12. Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff. 2000. ‘Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming’. Public Culture 12 (2): 291–343. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-12-2-291 Diamond, Elin, Denise Varney, and Candice Amich, eds. 2017. Performance, Feminism and Affect in Neoliberal Times. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Friedman, Sam, Dave O’Brien, and Daniel Laurison. 2017. ‘“Like Skydiving without a Parachute”: How Class Origin Shapes Occupational Trajectories in British Acting’. Sociology 51 (5) (first published online 28 February 2016): 992–1010. doi: http:// journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0038038516629917 Green, Nic. 2016. ‘Cock and Bull: How We Turned Tory Party Speeches into Theatre’. Guardian, 17 May. Available at: www. theguardian.com/stage/2016/may/17/cock-and-bull-politicalslogans-rosana-cade-laura-bradshaw-nic-green Hare, David. 2009. The Power of Yes. London: Faber & Faber. Harvie, Jen. 2013. Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
42 Jen Harvie Harvie, Jen. 2015. ‘Funding, Philanthropy, Structural Inequality and Decline in England’s Theatre Ecology’. Cultural Trends 24 (1): 56–61. doi: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/ 09548963.2014.1000586 Harvie, Jen. 2019. ‘The Power of Abuse’. In The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, edited by Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan. Oxon: Routledge. Keay, Douglas. 1987. ‘Aids, Education and the Year 2000!’ Woman’s Own, 31 October: 8–10. A transcript of this interview with Margaret Thatcher is available on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website. Available at: www.margaretthatcher.org/ document/106689 (accessed 19 February 2018). Kelly, Dennis. 2006. Love and Money. London: Oberon. Love, Catherine. 2012. ‘100% London, Hackney Empire’. Fourth Wall Magazine, 1 July. Available at: www.rimini-protokoll.de/website/ en/text/100-london-hackney-empire Machon, Josephine. 2013. Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Mahala, Macelle. 2016. ‘Neoliberalism, Gentrification, and Black Theatre in San Francisco and St. Paul’. Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama,Theatre and Performance 3 (1): 1–15. Margolin, Deb, Peggy Shaw, and Lois Weaver [Split Britches]. 1996. Upwardly Mobile Home. In Split Britches: Lesbian Practice/Feminist Performance, edited by Sue-Ellen Case: 87–118. London: Routledge. McKinnie, Michael. 2017. ‘Institutional Frameworks: Theatre, State, and Market in Modern Urban Performance’. In A Cultural History of Theatre in The Modern Age, edited by Kim Solga: 17–33. London: Bloomsbury. Metcalf, Stephen. 2017. ‘Neoliberalism: The Idea that Swallowed the World’. Guardian, 18 August. Available at: www. theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-ideathat-changed-the-world Miller, David. 2005. ‘Social Democracy’. In The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward Craig: 963. London: Routledge. Moore, Michael. 2009. Capitalism: A Love Story. Dog Eat Dog Films and the Weinstein Company. Murphy, Shaunna. 2015. ‘Yes, The Oscars Are So White, And Here’s Why That Matters’. MTV News, 15 January. Available at:
Neoliberalism, theatre, performance 43 http://www.mtv.com/news/2050617/2015-oscar-nominationsselma-snubbed/ Naismith, Bill (2006) ‘Commentary’, in Caryl Churchill, Serious Money, edited by Bill Naismith. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. Nielsen, Lara D., and Patricia Ybarra, eds. 2012. Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. OED (Oxford English Dictionary). 2015. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: www. oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.library.qmul.ac.uk/view/10.1093/ acref/9780199571123.001.0001/m_en_gb0000576?rskey= T63FOq&result=1 Parks, Suzan-Lori. 2001. Topdog/Underdog. New York: Theatre Communications Group. Pickerill, Jenny, and John Krinsky. 2012.‘Why Does Occupy Matter?’ Social Movement Studies 11 (3–4): 279–87. Prebble, Lucy. 2016. Enron. Edited by Rachel Clements. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. Rimini Protokoll. n.d. 100% City. Available at: www.riminiprotokoll.de/website/en/projects/100-stadt-7-1 (accessed 19 February 2018). Royal Court Theatre. 2017. ‘Preventing Sexual Harassment and Abuses of Power. An Offering, a Provocation, a Hope for Culture Change. A Code of Behaviour’. 3 November. Available at: https:// d 1 9 l f j g 8 h l u h f w. c l o u d f ro n t . n e t / w p - c o n t e n t / u p l o a d s / 2017/11/03162749/A-Code-of-Behaviour-final-version.pdf Stage Left with Jen Harvie.2017.‘Episode 3:Nic Green and Rosana Cade: Cock and Bull’. April. Podcast. Available at: https://soundcloud. com/stage_left/episode-3-nic-green-and-rosana-cade-cock-andbull (accessed 15 May 2019). White, Gareth. 2013. Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Wickstrom, Maurya. 2012. Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism:Thinking the Political Anew. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Wyndham’s Theatre. n.d. . Programme for Serious Money: A City Comedy. London. Zaiontz, Keren. 2014. ‘Narcissistic Spectatorship in Immersive and One-on-one Performance’. Theatre Journal 66 (3): 405–25.
‘What the hell is water?’ The arts festival and the free market Rainer Hofmann in conversation with Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink Edited transcript of conversation | 24 May 2017 | Utrecht University Link | https://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/education/ collections/digital-theatre/what-the-hell-is-water-the-artsfestival-and-the-free-market
Introduction: on neo/liberalism Thanks Rainer, for taking the time to do this interview, especially since we are in the middle of the SPRING festival right now. Could you tell a bit about this festival, what kind of festival is SPRING? RAINER HOFMANN: SPRING is an international performing arts festival. We show mostly new work coming from dance, performance and cross-over formats between different genres; the kind of cutting-edge work which otherwise you wouldn’t see in the city. LGN: Each year, you start the festival with an opening speech. In this year’s speech you cited David Foster Wallace, and LIESBETH GROOT NIBBELINK:
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since his observations nicely reverberate with our current theme of theatre and neoliberalism, I think it is worth requoting them here: ‘There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says: “Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says:“What the hell is water?”’ In the speech, you used the anecdote to indicate that artists query what this water is, and in doing so, help us understand it.This water relates to the world at large, and might also relate to neoliberalism, I would say, as a context that is all around us and that affects us all, whether you work at a university, an arts festival or in a hospital, whether you are a student or belong to the elderly. How does this neoliberal context impact your work as a director of an arts festival? RH: The water metaphor describes the environment, the habitat we are living in and that we are not aware of. Neoliberalism is precisely that: it is all around us, and it acts like it is self-evident. During the last fifty years or so, it has invaded all parts of our life and society.The vocabulary of neoliberalism determines how we talk about art, but also how we talk about care, how we talk about family, about social issues, and so on. It is everywhere around us, like the water. As a festival, you are in this environment, you cannot ignore it; you have to relate to that environment because this is the water you are swimming in. I mean, you can decide to ignore it, but then you have to be aware of the fact that you ignore it. Of course, there are other influences next to neoliberalism, but it surely has permeated all parts of society, I think.
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Before we move on, lets briefly look at the term ‘neoliberalism’, to establish a shared understanding of the concept. What is neoliberalism for you? RH: For me it is an ideology which disguises itself as pragmatism. It presents itself as the best of all options, relying on the well-known acronym ‘TINA’: There Is No Alternative. So, it looks like it is a natural, self-evident thing, but of course, everything is a result of certain choices that are made. Politics is all about making choices – and not making choices is giving up on politics. In this case, the choice has been to accept the primacy of the economic worldview. The economy and the market as providing the one basic rule for everything: I think that is neoliberalism, basically. LGN: And what about the ‘neo’ in neoliberalism: what is ‘neo’ about neoliberalism? RH: I guess the ‘neo’ also relates to the economy. Liberalism, traditionally, is connected to a worldview of laissez-faire, of openness and tolerance. It used to be a very positive word. Currently, the term primarily has to do with deregulation and with leaving things to the market. Which leads to a lot of bureaucracy. Of course, we need a market, but how many rules do you need and who sets the rules? LGN: This economy-driven approach to freedom is also a little ironic, perhaps. Liberalism is related to freedom: to freedom of speech, press and religion, amongst others. Now this has been replaced by the idea of the free market. Alongside this idea comes the myth that the market will govern itself, that competition leads to an increasing quality of products and services, and that governments should intervene as little as possible. So, there is the idea of the free market, meanwhile there are lots of rules and LGN:
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bureaucracy, as you say. Can you give a concrete example of how you encounter this neoliberalism in your daily work as a festival director? RH: There are many aspects to mention. It has an impact on finding financial support, for instance.You need to write more and more applications, and address very different sources, to get the funding for a festival like ours. The criteria are more and more quantitative and less qualitative; it is more about figures and numbers rather than arguments of content. When reporting afterwards, the emphasis is more on accountability, so those who fund you can explain to others why they gave money to you. In such cases, it is always easier to work with numbers and figures, and not with ‘soft criteria’. For me, neoliberalism is also the age of accountability. You need to be accountable for everything, to politicians, for instance. Politicians, in turn, need to be accountable to the voters, and the easier you explain things, the happier everyone is. Of course, there is also an artistic side to it, and I do look for performances, or try to produce performances, that deal with these issues. To give an example, three years ago we produced a piece by Julian Hetzel, a theatre maker and a visual artist, called STILL – The Economy of Waiting. While our economy is based on productivity, basically, on working, on doing and ambition, he made a performance installation, consisting of a tour through five containers which were all related to the concept of waiting, to not being active. It was a very strong performance, also because audience members themselves were put in a position of waiting, of being inactive. This way, rather than talking about the topic, Hetzel communicated the idea through the form: he created a specific situation
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for the audience, and in doing so offered a counterconcept to this productivity-based society.
Speeches: on the role of art and culture in a globalised world As I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, each year you start the festival with an opening speech. I took a look at the speeches from the past years. What I like about them is that they actually provide insightful reflections on large-scale societal developments and on how art and art festivals could respond or relate to these issues. I selected a few remarks from these speeches and would like you to elaborate a little on them, if that is okay. RH: Yes, that’s fine. LGN: One issue that you mentioned in 2016, for instance, was the idea of Europe – and that this European idea is crumbling. Europe used to be a peace and welfare project but now it has been reduced to an economic convenience. At the time, the Netherlands were in charge of the half-year presidency of the EU and you argued that Mark Rutte, our prime minister, sort of missed the chance to really address what the EU is about. So, what did he miss, exactly? RH: I think he should have addressed that Europe is a set of values. These values are not exclusively European, but I think they provide a common ground. It is also a cultural field, and of course there is the question of what a European identity is. However, I think that more and more, Europe became an economic identity.You can see everywhere that in connection with an economised society, people have a strong need to know who they are and LGN:
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where they live. I think this explains the rise of populism and nationalism. Many certainties have been taken away, due to globalisation. When you live in a globalised, kind of anonymous world which is run by figures and economic values, who are you then? LGN: So, this search for (national) identity particularly responds to the close connection between neoliberalism and globalisation, you feel? RH: Yes. It is kind of absurd, then, that we are an international festival, bringing productions from all over the world.We are part of that globalised society. I do understand that people want to go back to how things were before. But you cannot. So, for me it is also about making this world understood. Maybe we should not regard globalisation and identity differences as a problem, but as a kind of given which you have to deal with. LGN: You mentioned in various speeches that art may have this function of reflecting on how to deal with these issues. This was also implicated in the fishes-in-thewater anecdote: artists might help to think about ‘what is water?’ However, in this 2016 speech you also said that art, and in particular culture, has been contaminated by identity politics. RH: I think the term ‘culture’ has been very much occupied by right-wing parties, by conservative, populist, nationalist people who wish to celebrate folk-culture. It has become a problematic term.That does not mean we should give it up, instead, we should fight for it. Culture is a communicative act and not a closing act. It is not made for shielding ourselves but for communication and understanding. I do not want to promote a kind of kitschy worldview, where we watch each other’s performances
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and we dance together and then the world is good. That is not at all the case of course. But we can try to acknowledge the differences between people. That is also what culture can do, if you do not use it in an excluding way. LGN: From here on, let’s move to the 2017 edition. SPRING1 always presents an international programme, but this year you particularly focused on performances from outside Europe. Is this a token of globalisation or did you have other reasons for programming non-European work? RH: It surely has to do with globalisation. We know that money travels, people travel, technology travels, and I think that artistic views should travel as well. I want to present perspectives from other sides of the world. I also try to make sure that these works are not presented as exotic productions. We often have a problematic gaze, of course, when dealing with different artistic codes. The programme is a reaction to a globalised society; if you would show only Dutch or European work, you would ignore that society. And that is not the task of a festival. A festival should be about openness, about showing work from all over the world. LGN: Let’s focus on a concrete work in this year’s SPRING edition for a moment: Balabala by Ekosdance Company. It is a dance performance performed by five female teenagers and choreographed by Eko Supriyanto. You told me the dancers come from East-Indonesia, and they never left the area where they grew up before touring with this performance.2 RH: They come from one of the Moluccan Islands.They went on a plane for the first time for the premiere in Jakarta. LG: So they come from a small isolated area, premiered in a big city like Jakarta and now they are here, in Utrecht. This sounds quite exotic …
The arts festival and the free market 51 RH: Yes,
but it is much more interesting to look at the creation process preceding these events. Eko Supriyanto is not from the Moluccan Islands, he is from Java. He was invited to work with these girls. He agreed, but on the condition that he could do a year’s research. He said, I do not want to bring my Javanese culture and Javanese dance and teach it there; first I want to learn about the (dance) culture of the performers. Which meant he started to learn about their war dances and martial arts, whereas he is trained in traditional and contemporary dance. He did not impose a kind of Javanese colonialism on the Moluccan girls. In the SPRING festival, we had an after-talk where he asked the question ‘do you think I am a colonialist?’ I think that is very interesting. It is also a lesson to learn, to not impose your view and culture but to try to understand, instead, where the work comes from. This is a big challenge when presenting international work, especially if it uses forms that we are not used to, if it uses dance codes that are maybe very self-evident there but strange for us. If we are able to look at the work in the same way as he approached the girls, then a lot is won, I think. In the end, he beautifully combines traditional and contemporary forms. He said it himself as well: ‘I do not know anymore what is traditional and contemporary, it has gotten so mixed.’ It is also worth mentioning that while we look at the girls, the girls look back at the audience. So you are also confronted with their gaze. I think it is really this mixing of things, of the gaze and the return of the gaze, of the traditional and the contemporary, that makes the beauty of the production. LGN: Indeed, the performance shifted between various movement vocabularies and, in doing so, it also seemed to
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guide the audience in reading these movements, taking them along. RH: For me it is important that the performances that we show have a clear starting point, that they are rooted somewhere. They should not be made only for the international festival circuit but instead made for a certain place. Such works look at the world from that place and then it is up to us to relate to these perspectives, once it is shown here. That is what I would like to show, basically: how do artists from non-European areas and contexts look at the world? The issues or questions they address may be very universal, but approached from a specific, other point of view. To take up that position, as an audience, is already something you could achieve with a performance. LGN: This is also an apt characterisation of another show in SPRING. I am referring now to Solar: A Meltdown, by Ho Rui An, an artist based in Singapore. It is a lectureperformance on representations of colonialism in popular culture, which equally presents a situated perspective, I think.3 RH: Yes, Ho Rui An takes Western representations from colonial times: paintings, statues, films, or musicals that are set somewhere in the ‘tropics’ and ‘tropic countries’. He analyses how Western people always look like teachers, how they educate, entertain and civilise the people that live in the tropics. And he does so in a very funny, intelligent and also ironic way. He uses the metaphor of the sun during the whole show, starting with observing the sweaty back of a colonialist, then moving on to how there was a whole industry producing shadow, and focusing our attention on the punkawala, a servant who manually
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operated a ventilator – since there was no electricity – so the white people would have wind and shadow. Next, he makes way towards all kinds of reflections on solar energy. Throughout the show, it is a story about the white Western colonialist who, instead of being in control or powerful, is melting away in the tropical sun.
Paradoxes: producing art in a neoliberal context Within the current neoliberal context, it is sometimes hard to find support for art, especially when this art is rather innovative, experimental or non-mainstream.4 How do you do that, as an artistic director, how do you find a place for this kind of challenging work? Especially since we have seen quite drastic budget cuts in the arts, over the past few years, as neoliberalism also set foot in the Netherlands. How do you manage to realise a festival that focuses so very much on contemporary dance and performance, works that are ‘not easy’ and do not promise ‘entertainment’ in advance – which does not mean that they are not entertaining of course. RH: We have to acknowledge that we are part of a market, and that we are part of an entertainment industry, competing with other things that are on offer for the evening entertainment. We cannot ignore that. On the other hand, I think that art is a little bit more independent than many other parts of society, be it universities who are now working together with businesses, be it the economy itself, be it the media that are increasingly under the influence of bigger companies; television is almost exclusively on set formats, for instance. These forms are LGN:
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all very much standardised, and I think the chance of art is to be, I would not say independent, but a little more independent than those other things. I like to use the idea that we can look at the world through the arts, and therefore we may have a bit more of an independent look at the world than many other fields of society. LGN: And how do you get this work across to an audience? RH: I think one should always acknowledge the local context. We are based in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, so our first audience is the local audience that is there. Of course, it is also nice when people come from other cities or from abroad, but first we need to find a position in the city. For me a festival is also the exception to the daily routine, so we always attend to the ‘fest’ in the festival.We are not there to bring something that is there anyway. Subsequently, you might want to ask, or we should ask, why should people come? Because of course, there is an amount of people who feel entertained by what they know already. I am a bit like that myself when it comes to music probably. Therefore, I also understand it when an audience member says, ‘oh I don’t know, why should I go there?’ as I do in other arts fields. But we try to make the adventure, the unknown, or ‘the unknown as the adventure’ the reason for coming. I don’t like lying on the same beach or going on the same hiking trail every holiday; I like to explore a new beach or a new hiking trail. Similarly, we offer something which you don’t know about and maybe that’s the reason for coming. Of course, the unknown has its limits as well: if you show something that is completely enigmatic and hermetic then you also exclude people. I think it is always a mix of seduction and confrontation. You need to seduce audiences and then
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you can confront them again. It is always a play with the known things and unknown things, with the familiar things and the strange things. LGN: This idea of selling newness as a kind of adventure … This brings me to one of two paradoxes in international art festivals that I would like to discuss with you.The first paradox precisely has to do with the relation between a festival and the art market. We are very much acquainted, nowadays, with the idea of cultural entrepreneurship in the arts, that is, the idea that one has to position oneself in the art market – also a token of neoliberalism, of course. One has to find a niche in that market by presenting one’s work as innovative, provocative, challenging, as new or distinct from others, and so on. A festival like SPRING on the one hand presents work that moves against the grain of this or addresses these issues critically. On the other hand, the festival has precisely the same characteristics; it also presents itself as new, innovative, distinct, surprising, internationally oriented, etc. The festival seems to operate within the terms of the (art) market, then. So, how do these things relate? RH: Yes, it is a complete paradox. We need to acknowledge that we also need artists in our programme that are well known to the audience here. But that does not necessarily mean that they produce work that is well known. People like Dries Verhoeven, for instance, who is based in Utrecht and has been working here for many years, are important for our programme. But he always gives you something that you do not really know.5 So, people would come for him and expect to be surprised. That is also the image we try to build up for SPRING, to build up trust that we will surprise the audience. That is
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a genuine project, but of course I cannot deny that we need something that brings people in. I cannot show fifteen shows like Ho Rui An’s, or the next fifteen Ho Rui Ans. It is a beautiful performance, but that does not make a festival, of course. LGN: So somehow, surprise, to say it critically, becomes a sort of commodity? RH: Well, yes, if we would stick to marketing terms, but to take it a bit broader: it is also about specificity. LGN: What do you mean by that? RH: I think it is important to do something specific, with which you are identifiable. A small water, to get back to the metaphor that we started with, is easier to recognise than a big vast ocean. Sometimes, a small rushing water is easier to recognise, maybe, than a big mass of water where you don’t see the left hand and the right hand. LGN: Yes, I see, you mean that a festival needs to have an identity, a kind of recognisable profile? RH: Yes. It is interesting: we started with identity as a political term and we talk now about identity as a marketing term. LGN: Following up on the issue of identity, this brings me to a second paradox in the international festival circuit, this time related to relations between the local and the global. Also due to economic circumstances, festivals often work together in networks. I know that SPRING participates, in fact, in several of them. Such festival networks often function as co-production partners, where festival organisations jointly facilitate the creation of new work, and programmers also exchange knowledge and expertise about artists and works. Consequently, some artists are shown within several networks and travel to lots of different festivals. This can even lead to the weird situation
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that some artists are stars in the international festival circuit but are hardly known in their own country. I am not necessarily addressing SPRING here, because I know you also programme local makers and early-career artists. But more generally you could say that there is this risk of a particular ‘international festival bubble’ in which everyone within the bubble knows each other but it is relatively disconnected from the festival’s actual location. In such cases, one may wonder whether it makes a difference whether you perform in Brussels or Graz, or in Iceland, or Latvia. Do you recognise this phenomenon? It is a kind of serialisation of theatre and performance? Serialisation as a characteristic of neoliberal globalisation, leading to products that you can ‘sell’ everywhere? RH: Yes, for sure I recognise the phenomenon, I call it the international Esperanto of performing arts. However, this mainly works in the metropoles, because then you can work largely for your peer group. In a city like Utrecht, which has a very small art scene – because it is close to Amsterdam, and most artists live in Amsterdam anyway – that is not really possible. We need to find an audience that does not consist of colleagues only. Apart from that, I am also not very interested in work that is only produced for the international festival circuit, I think it needs to be rooted somewhere. Of course, it is difficult to establish where a work is rooted exactly, or how it is rooted, but maybe I should give an example. I am thinking of Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek, who regularly present work in our festival. Their last show, Schönheitsabend, was produced in Ghent, it had residencies in several places, it premiered in Vienna, the artists live in Amsterdam and the Dutch premiere was in Utrecht. So,
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this was really an international co-production. On the other hand, these makers have been in Utrecht several times, they have built up an audience in this city. I think it is also important to bring people back, so they can develop this relationship with the audience. Apart from this, they refer to dance and ballet traditions and also to club culture, so they have some roots in a large European dance tradition as well as in the club scene. Even if that is an international club scene, they have some roots there, so it is very clear what they refer to. I think that makes it rooted, although it is an international co-production. LGN: So, when you select work or certain artists, would you say that, with hindsight, this rootedness – and this can be in a variety of contexts – is valuable for you, as a director? RH: Yes. And one can be rooted in many things indeed. It can be something local, or, in this case, it can be ballet traditions, part of a European – well, not only European – culture.
Countermoves: appropriating the neoliberal format Previously you mentioned that you like artists to return to the festival, so they can build up a relationship with an audience. One of these regular artists is Julian Hetzel – we already mentioned his performance STILL – The Economy of Waiting. This year, he presents Schuldfabrik, which is quite interesting in the context of our conversation, I think, since it actively addresses neoliberal formats. Schuldfabrik, meaning ‘guilt factory’, deals with guilt, as it says, with the Western guilt complex and also the idea of a guilt industry.
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add to this, the German word Schuld not only means ‘guilt’ but also ‘debt’. The performance deals with moral guilt and financial debt. So, the title brings together the economic and the moral side. The work deals with postcolonialism and with the shift from development aid to economic relations. That has also to do with neoliberalism, and with a Chinese influence, I think, because the Chinese invest a lot in third-world countries. And now the West is afraid of losing a market … LGN: Schuldfabrik is presented in a shop, which is the model of the free market, of course; it is about the guilt industry and the economisation of development aid; it uses the language of neoliberalism, but it also criticises this.6 RH: Yes. It is a soap shop, where the soap is produced by using human fat. Usually, soap is made from pig fat, if it is not vegetarian, yet here it is made from human fat, which comes from liposuction. Fat is taken as a sign of affluence. As part of the performance, the audience gets a tour through the factory, where they see how the soap is produced and the business model is explained. The business model is that you can buy the soap, and the money goes to a development aid project in Malawi where a water-well is being built. So, we buy ourselves out of our guilt, in the end. That is where guilt and debt come together. It is a project about greenwashing, or whitewashing, from colonial guilt: using the economy to get rid of our moral guilt, that is the core of the production. And it is nice that it is a shop, that it is presented in an economical context, not in an arts context. LGN: Indeed, Julian Hetzel also uses the strategies of economic transfer to address the audience, approaching them as customers and relying on their need, probably, to RH: To
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wash away guilt. Here in Utrecht, the shop was located in a shopping mall in Kanaleneiland, which is an off-centre neighbourhood with many cultural identities and also with many low-income families. Why did you choose to situate this work in that place? Perhaps the answer is a little disappointing, but this was mainly for practical reasons. We needed an empty shop, and it had to be a shop that could accommodate seven rooms for the tour to take place. It is quite hard to find such a place in an economically successful city like Utrecht. In the centre there are no empty shops, whereas Kanaleneiland had quite a few. It was interesting, though, that the benefit was on both sides. We were really welcomed by the big Moroccan community living there. It is an economically problematic area; the shopping mall has many rather cheap shops, so they used us also to offer something interesting or different, to fill up the empty space and give it an additional value, while we could get a shop there. As I said, it was mainly a pragmatic choice. I don’t think that we really reach the passers-by, the people who shop there, because they are not very close to the kind of performing arts that we present. It is always a wish of local politicians, ‘do something in the poor neighbourhoods’, but you need to be very much aware of what you do. Or you need to acknowledge, like in this case, that you will put it there and bring our audience there.Which is also very interesting because then you see how divided the city actually is. Utrecht has basically two areas with a strong migrant community, whereas you do not see them in the centre. In turn, many people living in the centre have never been in Kanaleneiland. So maybe it is not only about bringing a Moroccan community to
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the theatre, but also about bringing a theatre audience to the Moroccan community, and to show that Kanaleneiland is part of the city, part of our reality. We also did another production there, Corbeaux by Bouchra Ouizgen, if I may address it here. LGN: Yes, go ahead. RH: Bouchra Ouizgen is a Moroccan choreographer and she made a production in public space in Morocco. She re-created the performance here, with ten women from Morocco and ten women from Utrecht, chosen by means of local workshops. In Corbeaux, the women wear white traditional scarfs and black dresses, so it has somehow a connotation with Muslim women. But then you see also blond women wearing this, and not all the hair is covered by the scarfs; the scarfs neither cover the ears – these are all elements that you would not see in stricter Muslim religions. We showed the work both in the city centre and in the shopping mall in Kanaleneiland. With this project we really reached the passers-by, you did not need to buy a ticket, it was just there, as an encounter. It raised a lot of reactions, from people moved to tears to rather violent and xenophobic reactions. It was not a traditional performance, it was clearly contemporary; it used some elements of traditional dance but blurred the boundaries as well. This also led to comments, like a woman who said: ‘this is not Moroccan, I come from Morocco, and this is not Moroccan.’ I find this remarkable: why does everything coming from a non-Western country have to be traditional? There is also contemporary art in Morocco. And that is the interesting thing: this is Moroccan art, but it is not traditional Moroccan.
62 Rainer Hofmann and Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink LGN: Thanks for bringing in this example, next to Schuldfabrik,
since these are important nuances, indeed, regarding the use of public space and how this relates to how you want to address an audience.
Neoliberalism: burden or challenge? LGN: To
bring this conversation to an end, we have discussed the relation between theatre and neoliberalism in different ways, also in connection to identity, situated perspectives, rootedness, and globalization. Neoliberalism is a large topic, of course, but speaking in general terms, would you say that art is restrained by neoliberalism or is this also a context that might give certain impulses to art, somehow? Is it something that one needs to resist or is it also a context that provides a ‘productive’ dynamic? RH: It needs to be acknowledged, first of all. Of course, neoliberalism is very much a restraining force because there have been heavy budget cuts five years ago, and much more for contemporary art than for traditional art of more established art forms. But the true problem is, I think, that neoliberalism works through a kind of a soft power. It is not a censorship, where the bad dictator says, ‘you may not do that’. Instead, through the economic pressure on artists, a kind of self-censorship starts: ‘oh I need to bring in more audience, because I need to have more audience income, so I rather play safe’. Very often that is unconsciously done, it is the result of economic pressure and then you get restrained. And that is hard to fight, because there is no bad guy somewhere. LGN: Particularly if it is done unconsciously.
The arts festival and the free market 63 RH: That goes for artists and also for festivals of course. It seeps
in. I think it is very hard to be aware of something that seeps in. If a hammer hits you, that is pretty easy to recognise, but something that is seeping through your skin is very difficult to address and I think that is the struggle. The water enters the fish, if you want to put it that way. LGN: So that is the restricting side. And what about the other side, could it be something positive as well? RH: Yes of course it is a challenge. That is why I like artists like Julian Hetzel, who address the topic itself, and who find an appropriate form: he does not make a representational piece where actors play the bad world of neoliberal economy, but he puts us as an audience into a situation where we are part of an environment, and we have to relate to it; we could ask questions when a performer addresses us. He makes us part of the performance – he does not keep us outside, but he puts us in. That is the kind of form I am interested in, it is a way of activating the audience. LGN: Yes, he makes us accomplices in the event, creating a situation where we cannot stay at a distance. In that sense neoliberalism also provides strategies, formats or thinking models which artists use to, well, to put us back into the water, perhaps. RH: Yes, but first we really need to understand what this water is. Apart from right-wing neoliberalism, there is also a demand coming from the left. At least in Western Europe, there are more and more demands from a left-wing side, related to all kinds of social problematics, like how to deal with terrorism, for instance, or with refugees, or integration. We have gotten requests from left-wing politicians:
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help with integration. I completely understand the requests, but it is also a functionalising of art which I find as dangerous. LGN: Such requests equally emphasise the use value of art, indeed. RH: Which is fine, which can be done, but then we should acknowledge that.We should make clear whether we make a social project, which uses art, or whether we create an art project. Everything in-between is fine, as long as we know what we are doing. LGN: That again confirms that, whether right-wing or leftwing, it is still neoliberal water that we swim in, probably. RH: Yes. LGN: Thank you very much for this conversation and thoughtful remarks. I wish you lots of success with the remaining days of the festival! RH: Thanks very much.
Acknowledgements Thanks to Eko Supriyanto / Ekosdance Company, Ho Rui An and Julian Hetzel for permission to include excerpts of their work in the video (online) version of this interview.
Productions Balabala by Ekosdance Company/Eko Supriyanto, Sydney 2017. See www.ekosdance.company/#balabala (accessed 15 September 2020). Corbeaux by Compagnie O/Bouchra Ouizgen, Marrakech 2014. See www.kfda.be/en/program/corbeaux-2 (accessed 15 September 2020).
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Schönheitsabend by Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek, Vienna 2015. See www.campo.nu/en/production/1727/ schnheitsabend (accessed 15 September 2020). Schuldfabrik by Julian Hetzel, Graz (Steirischer Herbst) 2016. See http://julian-hetzel.com/projects/schuldfabrik/ (accessed 15 September 2020). Solar: A Meltdown by Ho Rui An, 2014. See http://horuian. com/solar-a-meltdown STILL – The Economy of Waiting by Julian Hetzel, Utrecht (SPRING Festival) 2014. See http://julian-hetzel.com/ projects/still/ (accessed 15 September 2020).
Notes 1 SPRING Performing Arts Festival takes place annually in Utrecht and presents both international as well as local crossover work in theatre, dance, performance and visual arts. The festival actively engages with societal themes such as globalisation, robotics, AI or climate change, yet foregrounds the advanced, innovative and thought-provoking artistic strategies through which artists address these issues. Rainer Hofmann has been the artistic director since the start of SPRING, in 2013, when a new festival was created out of a fusion between Springdance and Festival aan de Werf. The 2017 edition specifically targeted artistic work with a connection to post-orientalism (addressing and challenging former ‘East’ and ‘West’ distinctions); bodies and resistance; contemporary rituals; and religion. See the festival’s website, at https:// springutrecht.nl/ (accessed 15 September 2020). 2 The excerpt of Balabala presented in the video of this interview, to accompany the discussion, shows three brief scenes. The five female teenage dancers perform movement material derived from war dances and martial arts (which traditionally are only performed by male dancers), mixed with ritual gestures and contemporary (pop culture) dance forms.
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The movements are accompanied by an energetic, rhythmic score, sometimes with additional singing and/or chanting. In the excerpt of Solar: A Meltdown that accompanies the video of this interview, the lecture-performance takes off from the sweaty back of the anthropologist Charles le Roux, exposed in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. From this image launches a series of investigations getting to the ‘behinds’ of Empire and, more crucially, the merciless sun behind it, beating down on the imperial back. Regarding government support, it is interesting to see when something is called subsidy, and when it is called investment. We could easily say that governments provide subsidies for motorways and that they invest in art, but that is, unfortunately, not the standard rhetoric. For more information about Dries Verhoeven, visit his website at https://driesverhoeven.com/en/ (accessed 15 September 2020). The excerpt of Schuldfabrik in the video accompanying this discussion shows the SELF shop, a trendy concept store, where a gentle shop assistant explains that the shop sells soap made out of human adipose tissue (human fat). Next, the audience is taken on a tour through various rooms which show the back side of the ‘factory’ and introduces the visitor both to the creation process of the soap, as well as to the vision statement of the company. This vision centers around the concept of upcycling guilt, of turning something negative (guilt, human fat) into positive value (soap, energy, profits used for development aid).
Neoliberalism and contemporary dance in Brazil Cristina Rosa
Edited transcript of presentation | 3 May 2019 | University of Roehampton, London Link | https://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/education/ collections/digital-theatre/neoliberalism-and-contemporarydance-in-brazil-cristina-rosa This lecture is concerned with the direct implications of neoliberalism for the production and dissemination of contemporary dance in Brazil. As I will demonstrate, Brazil is a productive case study with which to examine neoliberalism beyond the Global North. It is the eighth-largest economy in the world and a powerful contributor to global growth, with one of the strongest emerging markets. It has a territory almost the same size as the United States, and the fifth largest population in the world. Brazil was also the last country to abolish slavery (doing so in 1888), and today has the largest Black population outside Africa, with the majority self-identifying as Afro-Brazilian or mulatto.1 By contrast, the field of contemporary dance in Brazil remains disproportionately white and its creations have historically followed Eurocentric regimens of training and means of production.2 DOI: 10.4324/9780429199974-3
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This talk was originally delivered in 2017 and, since then, much has happened in the socio-economic and political configuration of Brazil. I will gesture to these changes in my concluding remarks.
Neoliberalism, modernity and coloniality By way of introduction, it’s worthwhile defining neoliberalism, addressing where this ideology comes from and where it has led us. The term ‘neoliberalism’ was first coined in the late 1930s, yet today it is more widely associated with a series of economic practices that gained traction at the end of the twentieth century in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Moving away from the nation-building and protectionism of the post-war period, neoliberalism supports the expansion of financial liberalism, including deregulation, the minimisation of trade unions, and robust free trade. It also favours tax exemption; the reduction of state intervention and government spending; and the privatisation of public goods and services such as water. Contrary to this view, there are a growing number of scholars who have argued that neoliberalism is, in fact, nothing but the latest expression of an ongoing capitalist mode of civilisation set in motion at the dawn of Western modernity (see Quijano 1991; Grosfoguel 2009; Lugones 2007; Maese-Cohen 2010; Dastile and Ndlovu-Gastheni 2013; Figueroa Helland and Lindgren 2016). Here is a short explanation of their complex argument. Briefly, when European nations began to colonise the rest of the world in the sixteenth century, they adopted a new social classification of the world’s population, whereby their so-called ‘White’ race was considered (ontologically)
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superior to everyone else. All African populations, now reduced to the ‘Negro’ race, occupied the bottom of this scale, followed by indigenous populations of the Americas, Oceania and Asia. Hence, Europe’s expansion via colonialism, and later imperialism, gave rise to the first global world system, based on this ‘modern’ idea of race. Portugal and Spain were the first to implement this hierarchical way of thinking about other populations in opposition to themselves, and it was later perfected by the British, French and Dutch empires and their transcontinental trade. In addition to the subjugation and enslavement of nonwhite peoples, the appropriation of their lands, and the exploitation of both, this ‘modern’ idea of race led to the rationality of Eurocentrism. In other words, it imagined Europe (and white Europeans) as the centre of this New World system. Their way of thinking and acting was expanded into the world as the ‘universal truth’. All other knowledges and ways of knowing were deemed inferior, suspicious, or otherwise made invisible. Hence, rather than the ‘discovery’ of New Worlds, European expansion might be better understood as the imposition of its narrow field of knowledge production, or epistemology, onto its colonised lands and subjects. This brutal scenario is at the heart of what post-colonial scholar Spivak terms ‘epistemic violence’ (1988; 1999). This underlying world-system grounded on Eurocentrism and a modern idea of race, upon which all stages of capitalism will thrive, is what the philosopher Enrique Quijano calls ‘coloniality of power’ (1991). Like the two sides of a single coin, coloniality is the underside of modernity. The colonial conquest, catholic missions, land exploitation, human trafficking and enslavement, imperialism, and so on, all gave rise, to a hegemonic and globalised matrix of power rooted in Western
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civilisation (Figueroa Helland and Lindgren 2016, 432). Over time, this modernity/coloniality world-system came to control every sphere of social existence, especially in colonised countries, from labour relations and knowledge production to morality, sexuality, authority and so on. Perhaps by now you might be wondering about the difference between coloniality and colonialism. In a nutshell, colonialism and imperialism are historical periods that ended when colonies became independent. However, coloniality scholars argue that this underlying system of oppression hasn’t vanished (see, for example, Quijano 1991; Mignolo 2002).We are still living inside the Western matrix of power, knowledge and being. After political emancipation, for instance, the ruling elites in emerging economies of the Global South, including India, South Africa and Brazil, continued to emulate the ‘reality’ imposed by the Global North in every aspect of their socio-cultural and economic lives.
Dance and power ‘Great’, you might say, ‘but what that got to do with dance?’ As I argue here, moving bodies are at the centre of these negotiations of power relations. Non-white people were not only enslaved and colonised. Their objectification meant they could no longer be regarded as thinking agents or producers of knowledge. And what’s more, this matrix of oppression has continued to shape aesthetic and philosophical knowledges in the field of dance (both its theorisation and praxis) to this day. Eurocentrism ensured that movement systems first cultivated in the Global North (for example ballet, and later on, modern and postmodern techniques) were regarded as the ‘proper way’ of dancing worldwide. It has also led to the hierarchical
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valorisation of particular aesthetic values and ways of organising the body to articulate ideas. Despite the cultural diversity in Latin America, for instance, movement qualities such as upward linearity, geometric precision, and weightlessness have been not only applauded but also systematically financed and commercialised as the foundation of theatrical dance. For example, during the first part of the twentieth century in Brazil, high art venues such as Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theatre praised and safeguarded this Western way of dancing almost exclusively. One of the crucial points supported at the Municipal Theatre’s school of dance, and carried over across the country, was the belief that ballet technique was the only way to produce civilised dancing bodies and honourable narratives about the Brazilian nation, even for those working in modern and contemporary productions. For the dance scholar Helena Katz, in Brazil ballet has functioned as a ‘benchmark of colonial power’ (Katz 1995, 23). In practical terms, suffice it to say that until the 1990s dance companies and schools grounded in this Eurocentric regimen of training were, with few exceptions, the only institutions to receive financial support from the Brazilian state. By contrast, movement systems connected to African heritage in Brazil such as samba and capoeira, which clearly disrupted the Eurocentric way of moving, have been systematically neglected in terms of (physical) space and (financial) resources. In the case of dances connected to religious practices, such as dance rituals of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, practitioners continue to be condemned by mainstream society and persecuted by Christian institutions. So, whether in Rio de Janeiro, New York or London, this modern/colonial geopolitics of dancing knowledges clearly illustrates what the economist Boaventura de Sousa Santos
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calls a ‘modern abyssal line’ (2007). As he explains, this imaginary line divides the social reality into two camps, where the ‘Western’ side of this abyssal thinking is ruled by regulation and emancipation (2007). Meanwhile, peoples, ideas and skills on the ‘other side of the line’ are rendered invisible, incomprehensible or irrelevant. Otherness is only acknowledged or made visible through appropriation and representation, often in violent or distorting ways. On the one hand, a classic example of appropriation is Elvis Presley’s use of African American rhythms and moves as part of his artistic ‘innovations’. On the other, the exoticism with which traditional forms from China, India and Egypt have been staged by Western choreographers, from Marius Petipa’s Nutcracker (1892) to Ruth St. Denis’ Radha (1906) are clear examples of coloniality’s distortions in dance representation.
The Brazilian context With this information in hand, we can now consider how this matrix of power continues to affect the field of contemporary dance in Brazil. For that, let’s first take a closer look at the historical context from which neoliberalism grew in that country. For starters, it is good to note that from 1964 to 1985 Brazil was under a severe military dictatorship. Public figures who opposed the regime, such as left-wing artists and intellectuals, were violently repressed, arrested, tortured and/or forced into exile. The military regime also strangled all embryonic attempts to expand and diversify the country’s education system beyond Western/Eurocentric models of knowledge production. It crushed empowerment initiatives such as Paulo Freire’s adult literacy programme that championed critical thinking, later known as the pedagogy of the
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oppressed; closed down theatre organisations; and reduced university art programmes to ‘art appreciation’. But here’s the thing: while this cultural violence was taking place, central government invested in the development of a unifying infrastructure of telecommunications managed by state-owned companies (from telephone to TV and film industries). Following an industrial/capitalist logic, these newly created companies offered the authoritarian state a centralised control of the production and dissemination of information and entertainment. In sum, while civil rights movements erupted in the United States and parts of Europe, individuals in Brazilian society felt the violation of their civil liberties and the suppression of their cultural diversity at the bodily level. Meanwhile, Brazil’s growing industry of masscommunication and entertainment continued to reproduce the same old matrix of power, celebrating Eurocentric ideas and white-looking protagonists. In the end, despite the cultural diversity of the society and its history of racial inequality, on TV Brazil was (portrayed as) a tropical Europe or an exotic paradise where all races lived in harmony. This is all to say that in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were revamping economic liberalism, Brazil was going through ‘growing pains’ of transitioning from a military dictatorship into a democratic society.Yet the rise of neoliberal ideals in the Global North had a direct influence in the reshaping of that emerging economy, including a new set of public policies in the area of arts and culture. As I will demonstrate below, in the span of two decades Brazil’s cultural and artistic productions went from the iron-fist control of a totalitarian regime to the ruthless manipulation of the so-called ‘free market’ led by large corporations. This radical shift was later magnified by the socio-economic boom the
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country experienced in the first decade of the twenty-first century, during the administration of President Lula da Silva (2003–10).
Neoliberalism and the creative economy in Brazil Now that I have painted a broad picture, let’s go back to the 1980s to unpack: (a) how neoliberalism emerged in Brazil; (b) the role that this new set of public policies (detailed below) has played in the development of the country’s creative economy, in general; and, in particular, (c) the effects neoliberalism produced in the field of contemporary dance in the country. In 1985, President José Sarney’s administration inaugurated a new era in the country. First, it founded an independent Ministry of Culture (1986), followed by a number of state organisations designed to promote diversity and civil rights, such as Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage.3 It also promoted the gradual expansion of higher education, creating new programmes in education, production and management of the arts. Hence, if from the 1950s to the 1980s there was only one dance programme in the country (at the Universidade Federal da Bahia [UFBA], in Salvador), by 1999 that number had increased to ten programmes. At the same time, the state stepped aside and implemented a new piece of legislation that gave ‘the people’ the right to intervene in the production of arts and culture in Brazil. It abolished all forms of censorship and positioned itself simply as a ‘facilitator’ of cultural enterprises. More importantly, this so-called ‘Sarney Law’ established a fiscal incentive to anyone investing in culture, from individual citizens to multinational corporations. Since then, mechanisms of tax deductions and
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waivers have dominated the cultural agenda of Brazil. Here is an example: in 1989 the oil company Shell offered a threeyear contract to Grupo Corpo, then an emerging contemporary dance company known for its unique combination of neo-classical ballet technique with themes and gestures associated with local Brazilian culture.4 The dance company used the financial support to produce a new evening-length performance each year. In return, Shell Brazil received tax deductions and connected its brand to a local cultural product highly regarded by its target costumers: the Europeanaspiring elites who owned cars, attended the theatre, and admired ballet. President Collor’s short presidency, which ran from 1990 to 1992, corresponded with the first phase of neoliberalism in Brazil. During this mandate, the Ministry of Culture was downgraded to a department led by the secretary Sérgio Rouanet. To make a long story short, Rouanet used the Sarney Law to develop a wider Cultural Incentive Law, later known simply as the ‘Rouanet Law’. This incentive law encouraged citizens and corporations to invest up to 6 per cent of their taxable revenues in cultural projects approved by the government. Similar to the Sarney Law, under the Rouanet Law censorship was off the table and feasibility was the only criterion involved in the approval of projects. Hence, artists, production companies, and cultural institutions had total autonomy over the content of their projects. By the same token, taxpayers (both individuals and companies) had the right to choose where, when, and how their taxes were spent. And what’s more, in the case of historically under-funded sectors, such as classical music and contemporary dance, the law granted 100 per cent tax exemption for their matching investments.
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The second phase of neoliberalism was implemented during President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, from 1994 to 2002. Across his two mandates, the original Rouanet Law went through a series of transformations. Towards the end of Cardoso’s second mandate, the revised piece of legislation extended the 100 per cent tax deduction arrangement to a wide range of cultural products and services, including performing arts productions; classical or instrumental music; major visual art exhibitions; artistic, literary, or humanistic books; donations to public libraries; museum projects; film and audio-visual collections; and the preservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritages. There are several pressing factors associated with this neoliberal approach to cultural production that, over the years, have sparked a number of heated discussions and political mobilisations in the public arena, from newspapers articles written by scholars and activists to assemblies organised by artists’ unions and petitions signed by citizens and submitted to the congress. Here are some of the crucial points of their arguments, which finally led to a new revision of the law in 2010. First, when the Brazilian government implemented the tax incentives in the 1990s, it sold the idea of investing in culture to the private sector as a communication and marketing strategy; a means to improve the image of their brand names. Instead of the democratisation of cultural processes, this neoliberal approach transferred to the market the responsibility for managing the production and dissemination of cultural products, thus contributing to the commodification of culture (Abdalla 2011). Arts and culture projects were accepted and funded in as much as they appealed to the targeted consumers of brands that generated larger revenues. Through their marketdriven selection, the private sector imposed a different type of
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censorship, which sought to please the segments of the population with a higher purchasing power, i.e. the elites. Second, this reductionist understanding of culture as a commodity that may add kudos to the branding of corporations tends to valorise products connected to the industry of entertainment rather than projects that might be created by conscious citizens and/or offer critical reflections or a questioning of their reality. Third, this neoliberal normalisation of full exemption anchoring these cultural incentive laws meant that they could no longer be viewed simply as a ‘fiscal incentive’ (Abdalla 2011; Katz 2013). In short, legal mechanisms granting 100 per cent tax deduction simply gave the private sector the legal rights to manage the public money that could, or should, be allocated to arts and culture. It is important to note that this series of fiscal incentives allocated to the creative sector represents a very small percentage of the total amount of incentives that Brazil subsidises, especially when compared to similar laws that benefit sectors such as agriculture and sports. However, by 2014, Brazil’s Cultural Incentive Law was responsible for 95 per cent of the total amount invested in the arts and culture in Brazil (Sá-Earp et al. 2016). In practice, it meant that a select group of marketing directors of large corporations such as energy companies and banks became legally in charge of deciding what may qualify as arts and culture worthy of production, dissemination and/or preservation, using state funding to promote their brands; instead of their citizens. Above all, this neoliberal system removed from the table these corporations’ responsibility to pour their own dividends into cultural projects (Abdalla 2011). In practice, the private sector invests no more than 5 per cent in arts and culture (Sá-Earp et al. 2016).
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Lastly, this neoliberal approach radically changed the conditions under which, and the reasons why, arts and culture were produced in Brazil. As one might suspect, Brazilian artists became hostage to the private sector’s marketing departments and cultural institutions. Hence, instead of focusing on the symbolic meaning of their artistic creations, the quality of their craft, or their impact in society, most artists became trapped in a technocratic cycle of writing projects, capitalising resources, and executing them as planned to avoid having to return the original investment. Subsequently, they had to turn around and start all over again, in order to remain afloat (i.e. pay rent, buy food, and pay for health care for their artists). Any down-time or extra resource ended up reinvested into learning to write better projects or producing accounting reports explaining how the money was spent. In the end, despite the increase in the overall quantity of artistic projects, their quality often remained below expectations. As mentioned before, the economic growth of the country during Lula’s administration (2003–10) led to an even wider explosion of cultural projects, many of which were disproportionally large in scale.Yet before 2010, when the Rouanet Law was revised, there were no mechanisms in place to regulate the artistic merit or cultural relevance of the investments in the sector.
Cultural investment, cultural production and the situation of contemporary dance To better understand how this system works in practice, let’s examine how Petrobras, Brazil’s oil company, interacted with the Rouanet Law. Petrobras has historically invested more than $1.6 billion Reais (almost half a billion pounds sterling)
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in culture, surpassing by three times the second investor, the mining company Vale S/A (Ministério da Cultura 2017). In the first decade of the twenty-first century, when Petrobras was regarded as the most profitable company in the country, it came to directly manage nearly 20 per cent of Brazil’s investments in arts and culture.5 Like all corporations, the oil company tended to support mainstream projects that appealed to mainstream tastes, improving its public image with its consumer market. However, prior to the accusations of corruption that Petrobras suffered in recent years, its taxable revenue was so large that even areas that do not normally appeal to the masses, such as experimental dance productions and workshops for disabled dancers, received benefits from these initiatives. Thanks to the contributions by large corporations like Petrobras, the landscape of contemporary dance in Brazil saw a boom of organisations since the 1990s, from stable groups and companies to pliable collectives and transient collaborations. One of its flagship initiatives was the maintenance scheme for dance companies, such as the internationally acclaimed Grupo Corpo and Deborah Colker. It’s not a coincidence that these two dance companies were the only ones to have ever received this type of premium sponsorship. Despite their choreographic innovations, both of them have consistently hired ballet-trained dancers to perform their creative works. Following the example of choreographers such as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe, the works supported by this state-funded incentive continued to value ballet technique as the foundational regimen of training. In addition, the oil company has ‘facilitated’ the production of smaller dance projects, from classical to cutting-edge genres, of between two to three years each.6 Since 2005, Petrobras
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has also redirected funds to international dance festivals, such as Rio de Janeiro’s Festival Panorama de Dança (founded in 1991),7 Belo Horizonte’s Fórum Internacional de Dança (founded in 1996), and Fortaleza’s Bienal de Dança (founded in 1997). Through the Rouanet Law, Brazil’s oil company has also funded the production and dissemination of knowledge about dance, via specialised publications, periodicals, blogs, archives, documentaries and virtual platforms, which is the case of idança.8 Now, in order to analyse how the market has regulated and shaped up the cultural production in the country, let’s follow the money trail. As the Ministry of Culture’s report of 2010 concluded, since its creation in the early 1990s, 80 per cent of all incentives were poured into the Southeast region of Brazil. The states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo alone received 50 per cent of that entire sum. By contrast, the Northeast region, comprising former colonial plantations – today with a larger concentration of Afro-Brazilians – received only 5.5 per cent of investments. At the same time, the Ministry of Culture’s report recognises that nearly 80 per cent of Brazilians have never attended a dance concert and more than 90 per cent never went to a museum or attended art exhibitions. Most Brazilian towns do not even have a museum, a theatre or a cinema (Ministério da Cultura 2010). Zooming in a little closer, we find that nearly half of all public investments via the Rouanet Law have been allocated to four particular areas: classical music; books; performing arts (theatre and dance); and the integrated arts, an umbrella term that encompasses projects combining theatre, dance, circus, music and visual arts. Hence, the market has privileged the creation and circulation of cultural products connected to entertainment, for instance art books, music CDs and DVDs,
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theatrical performances, dance concerts and so forth, usually accomplished within one fiscal year. By contrast, long-term cultural research and processes, whose results may or may not lead to tangible commodities, have received minimal support. With the exception of Petrobras’ maintenance support of Grupo Corpo and Deborah Colker, all other dance companies have received small annual allowances.9 Hence, in reality, if one considers that a professional dance company should offer a formal contract to all its working artists and staff, the investment is insufficient (Katz 2013). As a result, most companies in the country maintained an ‘informal’ hiring policy, where dancers were invariably penalised or put at risk without basic work rights (such as unemployment, health insurance, sick pay or worker’s compensation in the event of injury). On the other side of the spectrum, a pool of thirty ‘minor segments’ have collectively received only 14 per cent of all tax-break incentives (Ministério da Cultura 2010).10 They range from photography, libraries and opera, to circus, folklore, popular culture, Afro-Brazilian culture and Indigenous culture. Beyond the private sector’s unequal reallocation of public funds, I find it particularly intriguing that ‘AfroBrazilian culture’ and ‘Indigenous culture’ are accounted for, and thus understood, outside broad categories of art production such as theatre, dance, music and integrated arts (and even popular culture and folklore), as if these products and processes cannot be measured or qualified under standardised (i.e. Western/colonial) art forms. In the end, one must ask: what are the underpinnings of this set of arbitrary categories set up by the state? What kinds of biopolitics inform these discriminatory agglutinations and segregations? What effects do they generate and how can they be overcome?
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Once we step back and zoom out, we notice that today there are two distinct clusters in Brazil; that is, two different ways of promoting or celebrating cultural goods. On one side there are the (capitalised) Arts and Culture, whose (commoditised) products fit within Western/Eurocentric forms, processes, and concerns, and whose work (and effort) is often shaped by: (a) authorship; (b) formalised knowledge and training; and/or (c) the (perceived) ability to ‘evolve’ and ‘innovate’. Coincidently or not, the categories that most benefited from the Cultural Incentive Law – performing, and integrated arts, music, and art books – all fulfil that description. On the other side, categories such as ‘Afro-Brazilian culture’, ‘Indigenous culture’, ‘popular culture’ and ‘folklore’ have historically been valued for their social role rather than their artistic merit or aesthetic value. Also, contrary to the ‘classical’ or ‘innovative’ commodities outlined above, these so-called ‘traditional’ forms of expression are cultivated in a community setting rather than ‘invented’ by a person or company. More often than not, they are maintained through informal training, centred on (master-disciple) guild systems and on oral tradition. As the statistics in the Ministry of Culture’s reports confirm, these ‘traditional’ practices, religious celebrations and trades have presented little appeal to the market and thus have received almost no financial support to date. By contrast, the Rouanet Law has strongly supported the entertainment industry and the means of mass communication, some of the biggest enemies of these marginalised cultural heritages. Responding to Unesco recommendations, in 2000 the Brazilian congress approved the Intangible Cultural Heritage Law (Lei 3.551/00) under which to properly catalogue and safeguard ‘endangered’ cultures – that is, knowledges, forms of expressions, and ceremonies not valued under neoliberal
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globalisation, such as Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian cultural heritages. Brazil’s National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional – IPHAN) has developed ground-breaking research and has published dossiers with the intention to archive the relevance of Brazil’s diverse cultural influences.11 However, contrary to the Rouanet Law, the Intangible Cultural Heritage Law does not provide any financial support, nor does it help cultural agents and organisations to mobilise funds to sustain and safeguard their cultural enterprises. Furthermore, while the archived description of these ‘immaterial cultures’ recognises the role of the cultural agents as ‘vessels of knowledge’, they make no provision to give these human beings the means to keep their practices alive. Masters of samba and capoeira constitute some of the figures associated most frequently with AfroBrazilian ‘roots’, both nationally and internationally. However, since these artistic professions are not regulated by the state, these citizens are yet to receive any tangible benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans connected to that labour. Lula’s administration from 2003 to 2010 was characterised by a shift from neoliberal policies towards a wider governmental participation and investments in essential areas such housing, health and education, as well as a preoccupation with cultural diversity. During his tenure, congress approved Law 10.639, which mandates the inclusion of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in primary and secondary school teachings. Along with affirmative action policies, this piece of legislation has not only promoted a massive questioning of the curricula of Brazilian primary and secondary schools (especially in relation to performing arts and literature), but has also generated a demand for courses and programmes in higher education that may produce and prepare
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educators to fulfil such demands. However, primary and secondary school teachers, especially those hired under the public-school system, faced a number of structural difficulties in implementing a diverse curriculum that also included African and Afro-Brazilian arts and culture. During Lula’s administration, the state also injected money in the creation of new university programmes in the areas of art production, education, and management, including visual arts, theatre, music, and dance, expanding their staff and resources (in association with affirmative action policies). Today there are approximately forty bachelor programmes in dance spread across more than thirty institutions and one MA programme in dance studies at UFBA. Beyond these ‘official’ dance programmes, other institutions developed interdisciplinary programmes that have nonetheless resulted in projects related to the field of critical dance studies. A good example is the undergraduate programme in Communication of Bodily Arts (Comunicação das Artes do Corpo) created in 1999 at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP), a private university in São Paulo. Over the past decades, these higher education programmes have produced a growing ‘army’ of artists-citizens who are both critical of their creative work and conscious of their civil rights, many of whom self-identify as People of Colour. As a result, today dance is not only considered an artistic discipline but also a field of critical inquiry and political action. According to a survey developed through the project Itaú Rumos Cultural in 2009, there are forty-five organisations concerned with dance in sixteen states of Brazil. Of these, thirty-two are actively concerned with public policies and have mobilised to improve the conditions of their members: thirteen are trade unions; eighteen are associations; and two are research associations (Carvalho 2018, 2–3).
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These conscious citizens have systematically pressed for changes in legislation, both at the municipal and national levels, and are gradually achieving milestones. Since 2006, for instance, the state of São Paulo has had in place an additional programme that funds dance projects beyond the existing tax incentives. The citizens were also fundamental to the revision of Rouanet Law, which took place in 2010. Briefly, this revision reduced the tax break to no more than 80 per cent of the amount invested and introduced a new criterion by which to select projects, covering three dimensions: symbolic, economic and social. Additionally, in 2010 the Ministry of Culture established a general National Plan of Culture and other sectorial schemes, such as the National Plan of Dance. These ‘plans’ present a series of long-term public policy strategies and measures, which take into consideration: (a) the role of the state in assisting the production of arts and culture and the participation of society in these decisions; (b) the protection and promotion of diversity; (c) access to cultural goods; and (d) socio-economic development and sustainability. Nonetheless, the issues are far from being resolved.
Conclusion Despite all the positive outcomes these tax incentives have generated, Brazil’s current policies towards the arts continue to: (a) perceive and treat arts and culture projects as commodities; (b) disproportionately favour initiatives within the Southwest region, especially within the Rio–São Paulo axis; and (c) align with, or start from,Western/Eurocentric aesthetics and means of production. Since 2013, Brazil’s economic crisis has also led to a gradual reduction of the total amount invested in the sector. Since the coup d’état, which removed
president Dilma Roussef from power and saw the election of alt-right president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, this scenario has accelerated to unimaginable realms. As noted in the introduction, much has changed in Brazil since I first drafted this talk. In particular, Bolsonaro’s rise to power, supported by coalitions with the evangelical movement, the agrobusiness and pro-gun supporters, created an environment in which it is okay to express intolerance of feminism or homosexuality. Similarly to Brazil’s experience during its previous dictatorship, one of the first acts of Bolsonaro’s mandate was to dissolve the Ministry of Culture and, more recently, cut all funding to philosophy and sociology programmes in higher education, and fire professors who have protested against his numerous arbitrary sanctions. At the same time, it is worthwhile noting that there are a growing number of dissenting artists who continue strategically to articulate means of resistance, both on and off stage. Though it is hard to predict what will happen next, in these times of austerity, repression and negligence, it is safe to assume that we will see a number of (uncanny) rebellious bodies take on more politically overt roles, squaring up to an era of right-wing populism with a celebration of different ways of thinking about and expressing resistance. But this is the subject for another talk.
Notes 1 While the middle class fills more than half of Brazil’s population, poverty and income inequality levels remain high. Blacks and Amerindians, especially women, are disproportionately affected. 2 See Quijano (1991), Grosfoguel (2009), Lugones (2007), Maese-Cohen (2010), Dastile and Ndlovu-Gastheni (2013) and Figueroa Helland and Lindgren (2016).
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3 Fundação Palmares and Instituto Geledes, both created in 1988. 4 The contract was later extended for ten years. 5 In 2010, for instance, the oil company spent more than two million Reais of its owed taxes (public money) on cultural initiatives. 6 In both cases, these federal funds have enabled the company to finance the production and circulation of theatrical productions, the salaries of artistic and technical staff, and educational projects. New productions circulate both nationally and internationally, both within the circuit of festivals and through commercial touring. 7 Festival Panorama de Dança is regarded as the largest festival of contemporary dance in Latin America. 8 Created in 2003 and ‘sponsored’ by Petrobras since 2006, the online magazine idança (www.issuu.com/www.idanca. net) was one of the most widely read sources of information about dance in the Portuguese language. 9 Contributions ranged between 500,000 and 600,000 Brazilian Reais for a maximum of three years. 10 In the 2017 report, several of these categories were grouped under the label ‘cultural heritage’ (Ministério da Cultura 2017). 11 From the catalogued and safeguarded practices centred on the Afro-Brazilian heritage, it is worthwhile noting the following movement and music practices: the samba de roda, from Bahia’s countryside (2004); jongo, from the Southeast region (2005); tambor de crioula, from Maranhão (2007); frevo, from Pernanbuco (2007); and the capoeira circles and the trade of capoeira masters across Brazil (2008).
References Abdalla, Antonio Carlos (ed.). 2011. Lei rouanet – Percurso e relatos, Brasil: Vale. Available at: www.atitudebrasil.com/site/wpcontent/ uploads/2011/10/rouanet_web.pdf (accessed 5 March 2016). Carvalho, Marcella Sousa. 2018. ‘Organização política na área da Dança: uma análise da participação social na construção de políticas públicas de cultura’, Políticas para as Artes, Salvador: EDUFBA.
88 Cristina Rosa Dastile, Nontyatyambo P. and Savbelo J. Ndlovu-Gastheni. 2013. ‘Power, Knowledge and Being’, Alternation 20:1, 105–34. Figueroa Helland, L. E. and T. Lindgren. 2016. ‘What Goes Around Comes Around: From the Coloniality of Power to the Crisis of Civilization’, Journal of World-Systems Research 22:2, 430–62. Grosfoguel, Ramon. 2009. ‘A Decolonial Approach to PoliticalEconomy’, Kult 6, 10–38. Katz, Helena. 1995. Grupo Corpo: Brazilian Dance Theatre, Rio de Janeiro: Salamandra. Katz, Helena. 2013. Personal communication with the author, 23 August. Lugones, Maria. 2007. ‘Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System’, Hypatia 22:1, 186–209. Maese-Cohen, Marcelle. 2010. ‘Toward Planetary Decolonial Feminisms’, Qui Parle 18:2, 3–27. Mignolo, Walter. 2002. ‘The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference’, South Atlantic Quarterly 101:1, 57–96. Ministério da Cultura. 2010. Cultura em três dimensões. Material informativo: as políticas do Ministério da Cultura de 2003 a 2010, Brasília: MinC. Ministério da Cultura. 2017. Relatório de Políticas e Programas de Governo, Brasília: MinC. Available at: https://portal.tcu.gov.br/ relatorio-de-politicas/2018/lei-rouanet.htm. Quijano, Anibal. 1991. ‘Colonialidad y Modernidad/Racionalidad’, Perú Indígena 29, 11–21. Sá-Earp, Fábio, George Kornis, Luiz Manoel Estrella and Perla Sobrino Joffe. 2016. ‘Dois estudos sobre a Lei Rouanet’, IE-UFRJ Discussion Paper, 025. Available at: www.ie.ufrj.br/images/IE/ TDS/2016/TD_IE_025_2016_SA-EARP%20et%20al.pdf (accessed 15 January 2017). Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2007. ‘Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledges’, Review 30:1, 45–89. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Neoliberalism The Break-up Tour Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms
Edited transcript of presentation | 17 December 2019 | 01zero-one studio, London Link | https://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/education/ collections/digital-theatre/neoliberalism-the-breakup-toursarah-woods-andrew-simms My name’s Andrew Simms, and I’m one of the co-directors of a think tank called the New Weather Institute.1 I also coordinate a movement called the Rapid Transition Alliance, and work with a group of scientists called Scientists for Global Responsibility. I’m a Research Associate at Sussex University and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation where I was Policy Director for many years. SARAH WOODS: I’m Sarah Woods, and I’m also part of the New Weather Institute. I work with story across a wide spectrum that starts with doing librettos. I’m working with Welsh National Opera at the moment, I’m writing a musical, and I’m also writing stuff for Radio 4. In the middle of that spectrum is the work I do more directly with communities, companies like Cardboard Citizens ANDREW SIMMS:
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who work with homeless and ex-homeless people creating theatre with and for them. At the other end of the spectrum I work with Andrew on the creative campaigning side of things, community engagement, and using story to tell the campaign stories that we need to tell. I’m also an Associate Professor at the Denmark National School for Performing Arts, where I run a specialisation that looks at the effects that story has on our lives. AS: We’re both part of the think tank and co-operative the New Weather Institute, which I set up with some colleagues a couple of years ago. Based in London, we are interdisciplinary in our approach, we include artists, writers, earth scientists, radical economists and community organisers and we’re working together to try and build the alternative precisely to the neoliberal economy – in order that we can make the transition to a truly fair economy that means everyone can thrive within planetary boundaries. SW: We were commissioned by Artsadmin to make Neoliberalism:The Break-up Tour, a live, interactive performance, for Artsadmin’s 2 Degrees Festival in 2017. We had this idea to characterise neoliberalism as a band, a band whose tunes we all know, a band that’s been travelling round the world, playing to packed out houses for the last few decades. (We see a slide showing the original band line-up of the founders of neoliberalism.) AS: From the original line-up we have Friedrich Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom, on lead vocals. SW: We have Milton Friedman, the band’s strategist, on rhythm guitar. AS: Milton’s brother-in-law Aaron Director on the trumpet –
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And on drums, Ludwig von Mises, who was so conservative he called the others socialists. AS: And on guitar, Arthur Seldon. (We see a slide showing some more recent neoliberal architects, including Emmanuel Macron and Gordon Brown.) SW: The piece follows their progress as they start to be taken more seriously as the band line-up changes – to people we might be more familiar with today. AS: We developed this from idea to being on the stage in just about three weeks. We were both excited to have the opportunity to crystallise the story of neoliberalism, how it fell apart ideologically and what’s going to replace it. To come up with a piece of theatre that can communicate that, in hopefully an engaging and even exciting way. SW: We’re going to focus on three sections from the piece and use them as a lens through which we’ll discuss some elements of it. We’ll move between scripted sections and conversations between Andrew and I. This next section of the script looks at how ridiculous some of the underlying principles of neoliberalism are, in order that we might begin to see how it works in our society and how it affects our lives more clearly. SW:
Part 1: invisible ideas (Excerpt from the script of Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour) AS:
Imagine it’s Sunday morning. You have two choices. (A) Jump in the car to go to an industrial estate to buy a patio heater, getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way, or –
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(B) Go for a walk in the dappled sunlight of your nearest woodland. Lie on your back and stare at the clouds. Which do you think will make you happiest? AS: Economics tells us that you’re happier doing A. Because money has changed hands, but the price signal, so important since Adam Smith, doesn’t contain all the information you need. Because some very important things don’t have a price. SW: We’re going to play ‘The “Perfect Markets under Perfect Competition” Quiz’. AS: Ladies and Gentlemen, how well do you know your market? SW: (aside) Then we’d invite people up from the audience to take part in the quiz. AS: Two hundred years of economic theory has led us to believe that debt-fuelled over-consumption is the shortest path to happiness. Jeremy Bentham’s idea was that we are utility maximisers – trying to maximise our satisfaction in life. Where economics is concerned, we maximise our satisfaction by buying stuff – it’s the only way economists think you can measure it. Now, enter Simon Kuznets: the inventor of National Income Accounting, known to you and me as GDP, gross domestic product. As soon as politicians had this easy way to measure the size of the economy, size became everything. Put together a bunch of utility maximisers and politicians who are obsessed with the size of their economy, and economics has created a situation with very odd consequences. In the late nineteenth century Leon Walras created a field of economics called General Equilibrium Theory. It’s built on Adam Smith’s ideas about how markets operate, and is another reason why, at some deep level, politicians think SW:
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that unregulated markets are a good thing. It’s moved on a bit since Leon Walras’ time.2 SW: Now a whole bunch of assumptions sit invisibly in the foundations of the belief of efficient, competitive markets. Let’s look at some of them. AS: Know your market: The Product. Britain’s most popular fruit is the banana. Question 1 – How many bananas are there in this room? SW: (aside) And our contestants have a think … AS: I’m going to need an answer. SW: (aside) And they say ‘two’ or ‘twenty’ or ‘fifty’. AS: Is that a guess? SW: (aside) They say ‘yes’. AS: You don’t know? Of course you know – you do know, because the Theory says you have perfect information. Which means you know everything there is to know about the product. SW: Two. Know your market: Competitors. How many competitors does Tesco have? AS: (aside) They give an answer – SW: Sorry – that’s wrong. The Theory says that Tesco has an infinite number of competitors. AS: Three. Know your market: Logistics. What barriers do you have to overcome to set up in competition with Tesco? SW: (aside) And they come up with some. AS: Wrong – the Theory says there are no barriers to setting up in competition with Tesco. SW: Four: Know your consequences. What would happen if you ate thirty bananas? AS: (aside) Most people say you’d feel pretty ill –
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Nothing would happen because, the Theory says, there are no externalities resulting from production or consumption. There are no consequences. AS: Quick-fire round! Anyone can answer. Know your Market: Product, again. SW: (aside) We show an image of an apple. AS: What is this? SW: (aside) Lots of guesses. AS: It is, of course, a banana. Because, as the Theory says: any product can stand in for another. SW: (aside) We show an image of a banana. AS: What’s this? SW: (aside) They answer. AS: No – it is a washing machine. But it is also a banana. SW: (aside) And then we did the same with images of a boat, a ball, a shoe – and it becomes very chaotic as people shout all sorts of things out, until we say: ‘Have we got a winner?’ AS: In Theory – SW: The Theory of Perfect Markets Under Perfect Competition? AS: Yes. It looks as though everyone’s a winner. So what’s our prize, Sarah? SW: And we show an image of the yacht called The Eclipse, which has kindly been donated by Roman Abramovich, and is the second largest private yacht in the world. The seventy crew members will ensure your guests – who arrive on your two helipads and stay in your twenty-four guest cabins – are well looked after, and they’ll also operate your two swimming pools, your disco hall, and your aquarium – SW:
Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour 95 AS: You wouldn’t think you’d need that, would you? SW: The only drawback is that The Eclipse is also available
for charter, through SuperYachtsMonaco – AS: No – SW: So there will be times when you can’t use it – AS: No – it’s listed as available for charter, but it’s just a tax thing, because charter yachts are exempt from property tax. SW: Oh – great news! You’ve got year-round access and no property tax – AS: Plus a mini-submarine, bullet-proof windows and your own missile detection system. SW: Put your hands together over and over again for The Eclipse. (aside) And then we give our contestants bananas. And everyone goes back to their seats. AS: The process, in this massive simplification of the last two hundred years that we’ve just whipped through, has led to the world into being reshaped in two very dramatic ways: First – a huge expansion of the global economy. And second – a dramatic divergence between the rich and poor. SW: This has pushed us to the edge environmentally and created dehumanising and corrosive social inequality. AS: It’s why some people are left to starve – because not letting them starve doesn’t fit the economic playbook. And it’s why the planet is allowed to fry – because action to stop it doesn’t fit the theory. SW: When you build a model, it’s okay to have some simplifying assumptions – but in this case they’re so extreme as to distort reality beyond recognition.
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Conversation 1 SW:
What puzzles me is that, nearly fifty years after Donella Meadows and others wrote their Limits to Growth report (1972), and even though we live on a finite planet, we still seem to think that continual economic growth is not just possible, but a good thing. Very recently there’s been a birth of interest in the so-called ‘degrowth movement’, as if it’s a new thing. Its champions are seen as being very radical and marginal – but it’s now over fifty years ago that Bobby Kennedy made his famous speech denouncing growth and GDP, in which he said that the problem with GDP is that it measures everything apart from that which makes life worthwhile. So we’ve known these things, we had the famous Club of Rome report.3 And there was an economist called E. J. Mishan who once, when challenged on talking about limits to growth, said it was a little bit like talking to people in the mainstream – it’s as if they’ve just jumped off the top of a hundred-storey block of flats, and they’re supremely confident on the way down, their confidence reaches its peak at the ninety-ninth floor they pass, before they hit the ground. It’s really hard for people to get their heads around the idea that there are real, genuine limits. But what we know now from the climate science is that, especially for countries – advanced industrial countries, rich countries – the figures indicate that we’re going to need to be cutting our greenhouse gas emissions by above 10 per cent, year on year. Beyond anything that’s happened, we’re still in the grip of economic ideas that emphasise growth: there’s not a single major economy that has rejected growth as its sort of major principle. And within that, it’s driven by this almost folk
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notion (for all the sophistication of economics as an academic discipline), at the point of decisions being made we’re driven by this folk notion that markets are good, and growth is good, and the public sphere and the public sector is somehow less efficient – and that somehow there’s something wrong with learning how we must live within planetary boundaries. Financialised capitalism has this hardwired intuition both in its ownership models and its expectations on returns. What’s forgotten, I think, and what I love, are the words of John Maynard Keynes who said: ‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.’ And this is where he made the famous observation that, ‘Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist’ (Keynes 1936, 383). So, it’s been normalised really, hasn’t it, neoliberalism, through repetition and authority? Which is really how dominant narratives gain their ground, and they become so normalised that we stop questioning them and we even stop seeing them. We end up with these invisible stories that influence our lives, our actions and our world. So what we set out to do was to enable us at least to see this one a little bit more clearly. Because seeing them a bit more clearly can help us first to identify them and then to question them. And in making something visible, we’re able to see it as something outside of ourselves – a paradigm, you could say – rather than something that we’re inextricably part of.
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I mentioned Donella Meadows at the beginning of this section, and I think she’s a really brilliant teacher and writer. She also was absolutely formative in terms of Limits to Growth. She said that to change paradigms ‘you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm’ and you speak ‘with assurance from the new one’; and that you model a system ‘which takes you outside the system and forces you to see it whole’ (Meadows 1999, 18). If we’d come up with a point plan for our show, then that would’ve been it.The idea that we enable people to wrestle the demon from within them and say, ‘Okay, so that’s what it is, and that’s perhaps why I sometimes behave in the way that I do, or that’s why I desire the things that I do, or make the choices that I do’. When we see it from the outside looking in, that enables us to have a different relationship to it, and also to see new possibilities. I think that shift in perspective is something that art, and narrative art in particular, is really good at. It helps us move beyond the everyday, and beyond the entrenched positions that we all get stuck in. Sometimes in drama we get that through empathy, through drawing an audience close to a character’s life; sometimes we do it using surprise – to jolt them out; and sometimes we do it using humour.And I guess we did a bit of most of those, didn’t we? AS: Would you say this is because I come to it absorbing ideas about how the theatre works without necessarily being aware of them? Would this be one of the ways in which you get people to feel like they’re part of something, in such a way that they can actually take on board what they’re hearing? SW: Yes, and in the last section we read we use audience participation (we use it at other points as well). I think as
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soon as an audience member participates in a piece of theatre, it changes not just their relationship to the piece but all the audience members’ relationship to the piece, because they think, ‘That could be me up there’, and you then ask yourself what you would do if you were in that situation.That breaking down of the physical barrier between stage and audience also breaks the emotional barrier – so it makes us feel like we’re all part of that story.
Part 2: the Invisible Hand (Excerpt from the script of Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour) (aside) In this scene we had a puppet of the Invisible Hand.The joke being that all you can see are the strings – which, of course, are wires. We became oddly fond of it. I’ll read the stage directions as we go through the scene, so you can imagine. AS: We live in the shadow of the financial crisis – but we still treat finance like an over-indulged child whose needs get put before everyone and everything else. The very failures of the financialised economy are used to dig it in deeper – the answer to everything seems to be a bit more privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation. SW: (aside) So the Hand, which we’ve introduced in an earlier scene, wakes up. And I go over to it. I try to settle it – like you would a baby – but I can’t. AS: But when they say there’s no alternative – it’s like pretending there’s nothing behind the pantomime dame when the audience screams ‘Behind you!’ SW: (aside) I get the Hand up. And for a while it watches the scene from the box it’s been asleep in. SW:
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Research shows that most people are caring, generous, tolerant and cooperative. But we’ve been so indoctrinated by neoliberalism that when we’re asked what we think other people’s values are – we say they’re selfish, competitive and individualistic. What might happen if we give our better selves a chance and push policies for fair shares, cooperation and respect for planetary boundaries? SW: (aside) The Hand jumps down from the box. AS: In fact, that would make a nice simple policy test: will any proposal lead to a more equal sharing of economic benefits, a smaller ecological footprint and improve human well-being? Why don’t we do that? Really, why not? We can start our own bands! The songs are all around us! We just have to join in. Take Germany’s banks – not exactly a global economic backwater – they’re dominated by mutuals and cooperatives with a clear mandate to help people and the economy rather than just themselves. Or the four-day week in Holland, for a lower impact, better work–life balance. How many of us want, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’ inscribed on our headstones? Nobody puts a plaque in a shopping mall outside TK Maxx saying, ‘Great Aunt Mabel loved this spot’. SW: (aside) And the Hand tugs at Andrew’s trousers. AS: No! SW: (aside) Andrew pulls away. AS: Or community renewable energy – literally taking power back into your own hands that works for people and planet. It’s growing dramatically – 17 per cent in one nine-month spell in Scotland alone. And wind power gave the UK nearly half its electricity on one windy weekend in December 2019, so much so that households AS:
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were paid to use it. Or take the places in Latin America where they’ve banned the visual pollution of public advertising and given local people control of council budgets.We’ve heard a lot about how there’s no ‘magic money tree’ to pay for what society needs – but ask yourselves where the 445 billion pounds to bail the banks out with quantitative easing came from. The Bank of England waved its wand and created it! SW: (aside) The Hand tugs Andrew’s leg again. AS: Get off! They could just as easily have done it to pay for Britain’s low carbon transition with a Green New Deal – creating more jobs, local jobs, better housing, lower bills, cleaner air, more secure energy systems, less conflict – SW: (aside) And Andrew sits down. AS: I ask you – when was a country last invaded for its windmills? It’s all possible if we take away the excessive privilege of finance and make it subservient to real life. Money and the markets are not innate like gravity, they’re humanmade – contracts we’ve written, but we’ve let ourselves be controlled by zombie economics peddling suicide finance.4 SW: (aside) Andrew sits with his head in hands. And the Invisible Hand pats his leg. Then strokes his head. And he lets it. He lays his head on the Hand. SW: Comfy? AS: Yes. SW: (aside) And it rocks him. Gently. AS: It’s quite a big hand. SW: I know. AS: I didn’t realise the Invisible Hand was so big. SW: It wasn’t. To start with, it was the hand of a nine-year-old child carrying pottery to the Staffordshire drying room from 6am to 9pm.
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A baker’s hand, kneading dough through the night. The hand of a textile worker, taking a bobbin off the spindle and putting a bobbin on. Dissecting. Disembodying. Reducing. Capital personified. A hand puts a screw in the back of an iPhone. A hand attaches a speaker to the iPhone housing. A hand fastens the cowling on top of the iPhone camera. A hand holds a food bank permission slip. A hand holds tight the side of a boat. But a hand that is still alive with anticipation for the future. Indebted to the hand of the past. Greeting someone. Supporting someone. Making something. Handing things down. Changing things. Passing them on. AS: Whose is this hand? SW: It is our hand: reaching out. AS: For another hand. SW: The indivisible hand. AS: Holding. SW: Held.
Conversation 2 AS: Sarah, where did this idea of the puppet come from? SW: So you get a little bit of the idea of the puppet in
the scene we just read. I really like working with puppets, more often I work with object animation.
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Puppets, I think, are very good at breaking the rules. They can do things we can’t. People that create comics and graphic novels know that the less you characterise a face, the more the reader is able to project themselves on to that character – so filling the undrawn gaps with themselves. The Invisible Hand I think of as an example of that. The empty space that the Invisible Hand focuses us on creates a place for us to reflect upon the ideas that are being presented. An empty space is also a place of possibility, you know – its nothingness makes anything possible. It’s a bit like when a play starts and you’re waiting to see what’s going to fill that space. AS: One of the things that’s interesting about that, in terms of our theme, is that the triumph of neoliberalism was partly the result of a deliberate strategy to fill up space and to dominate the agenda, to win the battle of the ideas. Part of the challenge in creating change is literally to find space where different ideas can be heard and explored. SW: Another thing that’s worth saying, in relation to dominant narratives as we discussed earlier, is that they take up huge amounts of space, and they deny space to other narratives quite deliberately. At the same time as a dominant narrative says: ‘we do this’, it implicitly also says: ‘we don’t do this’. So change really does demand the opening up of spaces, deliberately, in art and life.Which is what we do when we take to the streets and we protest. AS: Creative campaigning is really about finding new ways of creating space. Facts just sort of bounce off people. As soon as you talk about economics, people switch off – so we wanted this to be entertaining, while also holding some serious content.
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The puppet of the Invisible Hand was also a symbol: first, of Adam Smith’s idea that the markets will regulate themselves for the good of society; second, for the idea of labour – of all our labour, across time and space; and finally, it’s a symbol about connection, isn’t it? About the idea that hands are what we reach out to hold one another with often. In this section of the piece, we move between the macro of the drama and the micro; from the societal (the big ideas) to the personal – (the lived experience). We move from being up close and empathically personal with the subject, to stepping back and really appraising it as a whole. And that structure invites us to move in and out of the subject: to empathise, to appraise, moving between our emotional thinking and our more rational thinking. All these are reasons to make a play about neoliberalism, rather than to write a factual pamphlet which, as you say, won’t necessarily penetrate us in the same way. Stories are good at communicating important ideas and information that might otherwise be alienating because it’s too complex, or that causes people to switch off; and they help transform difficult, complex information into something that’s not only understandable but that we can relate to. Stories are very good at allowing us to explore our cultural paradigms and how they define our reality, how they define the way that we think, the ways problems are solved, and what goals we pursue and what we value. And they really offer us ways to transcend the limits of our worldview – that idea of stepping outside a paradigm again – and rehearse new ways of being in the world. AS: And the sporadic way in which market systems fail at large scale throws up examples of how people do this in very SW:
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different ways. I’m reminded of how it was the fact that poor people in the north of England were being failed by the market in the most basic need of getting edible food onto their tables that led to the creation of the cooperative movement by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. People wanted unadulterated flour that they could trust and that they could eat. The co-ops came out of that. An explicit part of that was not just practically changing material conditions, but also, designed in, an economic self-education, so that self-education and self-provision were joined. In trying to give people some of the tools with which they can take apart this invisible system that controls them and build their own, we’re situating our project in a longer tradition of helping people to change their own circumstances. SW: And then our third section looks at the idea of creative destruction.
Part 3: creative destruction (Excerpt from the script of Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour) It turned out that financial deregulation and letting money wash around the world following its own nose was like trying to warm your home by burning it down.There is a reason that central heating systems have taps, thermostats, pipes and insulation. SW: We’re told a rising tide floats all boats. But what about the people who don’t have a yacht? Who only have a banana? Or who have nothing at all? AS: Now we’re going to play ‘The Creative Destruction Game’. AS:
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‘Creative Destruction’ was a term made up in 1942 by the economist Joseph Schumpeter. He believed that the pursuit of profit and property in a market system would unleash creative forces that constantly swept away what was before them. SW: This is a game that everyone can play, all of you sitting at home, you can just shout out the answers as we go along. First question – AS: The failure of neoliberalism has been the excuse for austerity. As a result, how many libraries in the UK closed between 2008 and 2016? SW: The answer is 340.5 In 2016 librarians warned that the same amount could close in the next five years, unless funding cuts stopped. AS: Was that an idle threat, project fear? In 2018 alone 127 public libraries closed. And how much did investment in renewable energy fall by in the UK in one year alone, in 2017, because of cuts to subsidies? SW: The answer is 56 per cent. AS: And the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector fell by one third in three years. Inequality, on the other hand – not the invisible one – has been rising for three decades, setting us on course to return to Victorian levels. How many people die every month die after being declared fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions? SW: After being declared fit for work by the DWP, the answer is that ninety people a month die. AS: Work is increasingly insecure and low paid – and five million workers are already giving the equivalent of a day’s worth of free overtime to their employers every week. How much social value are high-paid City bankers estimated to destroy for every pound they generate?
Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour 107 SW: The
answer is £7. Whereas childcare workers, hospital cleaners and waste recyclers create seven to twelve times more value than they earn. AS: In the first three years after the financial crisis, the crisis had cost the British economy up to £7.4 trillion in lost output, according to Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England. Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governor at the time, said the bank bailout had created ‘possibly the biggest moral hazard in history’.6 The problem with creative destruction is that it’s always destructive and not always very creative. SW: As John Kenneth Galbraith said: ‘The world of finance hails the invention of the wheel over and over again, often in a slightly more unstable version’ (Galbraith 1994). AS: And if we listen to that other band, still out there playing to rapidly filling village halls, it looks as though the shit’s about to hit the fan again. SW: ‘We’re going to have another financial crisis … We’re back to where we were, and that for me is really frightening’ says Ann Pettifor. AS: ‘Markets are overestimating the positives and underestimating the negatives … We don’t need more tax cuts for the rich and the corporate. That’s actually going to make the economy worse’ says Nuriel Roubini.7 SW: And they’re not the only ones playing this new tune. AS: In 2012 Kose and Prasad of the International Monetary Fund said that, and I quote, ‘[the] evidence of positive effect from liberalising finance [is] at best weak’8 – to put that into context, that’s like the Pope saying that the reasons to put your faith in God are, at best, ‘weak’.
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The Bank of England has warned of a dangerous rise in private debt, saying: ‘We are probably not going to forecast the next financial crisis, or forecast the next recession. Our models are just not that good.’ AS: So, we know the band are planning to shatter our dreams again. SW: Do we just let them? SW:
Conversation 3 SW:
And that’s really where the piece gets us to. It begins to explore what might take the place of what people call ‘zombie economics’. It also challenges the audience to seek change themselves. And, as I think we’ve already seen, as we’ve discussed, stories can change things in our lives. They can change the way we think about ourselves, the way that we think about others, the way we think about people we don’t know, about our past and our future.We see that in our own lives, and I’m sure we can all think of instances where that happens. And the stories we choose to tell, as artists and as citizens, affect the way we live as individuals – and as societies as well. One of our biggest objectives in making the piece was to find a way to give people the confidence to call out things as they are. We’ve talked about the term used by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, ‘tools for intellectual self-defence,’ to allow people to think they have permission to challenge and change the system (Herman and Chomsky 1988) – because economics, certainly in the last few decades, has almost wilfully kept broader understanding at bay. I remember once having a conversation
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with an economist who refused to say that the changes that he was proposing would lead to making farmers unemployed. Instead he said it would, and I quote, ‘increase the flexible factors of off-farm production’. Now it almost seems as though economists are trying to maintain a mystique around their subject – precisely so that that they don’t get questioned. But just look at, recently, the changing attitudes towards public spending: the way the system has failed is forcing governments, even governments that are deeply economically conservative, to bail out the markets. SW: When we see such a zealous and even, we could say, aggressive defence of the status quo, this is what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would say is revealing a fear of the freedom that change might bring (Freire 1970). That fear of change creates a more aggressive approach and defence of the status quo, which I feel we’re seeing now. AS: Absolutely, and even some of the basics about how government spending happens and even how money is created get fundamentally misreported on a daily basis. There’s a very high level of deliberate (or unaware) misinformation and ignorance around the subject. SW: It’s a bit like the three party slogans in Orwell’s 1984, which incidentally had a very successful theatre adaptation recently.9 It’s a story that we’ve come back to because we feel that it’s important for our time. The three party slogans are: ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’. AS: It’s fair to say that we have moved on. I can remember in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 we were having arguments with the Bank of England and the inquiry that was set up to look at the
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crisis, the so-called Vickers Commission. We had to have a long argument with them, just to get them to accept the way in which most new money is created and issued into the economy, when banks make loans at the point of you taking out a loan. That’s now been accepted and moved on from. So there are advances, and I think we’re going to witness more of the way in which the internal self-confidence of the model has been evacuated, and people are scrabbling around to try and make the system work whilst keeping an awareness of how it has failed – and at a very large scale. One of the big issues is where people point the finger of blame. SW: But we still think there is room for hope. AS: We certainly do. There’s certainly a lot to be done, people are learning, and there’s a great degree of self-education going on. People are organising at the local level. There are calls for a Green New Deal, for example, communities are getting themselves together, things are turning around at the level of understanding the fundamental problem. SW: And art is changing to support that. As the teacher and consultant Margaret Wheatley says, ‘Change always starts with confusion … Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where the newness lives’ (Allen et al. 2014). We can apply that statement not only to the issues that art is engaging with, but to art itself. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen a huge shift not just in what artists are seeking to communicate, but also to how we’re seeking to communicate it, as we respond creatively to the changing world around us. In addition to some of the things we’ve already talked about, like participation and the ability of story to communicate complex ideas, the
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artistic endeavours we see emerging often feature work in non-art spaces, with artists going to communities rather than expecting communities to come to us.This is holding space – creating places where people can work through ideas, sometimes through dialogue and participation. Often there’s a mix of fact and fiction, which then creates more than the sum of their parts. And we’re seeing more new collaborations and more cross-disciplinar y work. Through all of this we hope to help create new societal narratives, new stories for us to co-create and live with. We’re in the middle of a project, effectively, to dismantle a failed and corrosive and dominant way of thinking. I think what we’re doing is trying to make that a much bigger conversation, so that people have those tools to challenge it and demand something better. Without wanting to be overly dramatic, in the face of the climate emergency, succeeding in this project is not just a thought game, it’s not just about the play of ideas. It is quite literally a matter of life and death for millions of people around the world today. Even more so because we risk locking ourselves into a kind of upheaval in the biosphere which could last longer than civilization has already been around, and prove, effectively, irreversible. The stakes quite literally couldn’t be higher. In staging this bigger conversation, it’s important for us to keep experimenting with how to create mindsets that can embrace rapid transition, and the opportunities that it brings for more equal, convivial societies that can work cooperatively and in solidarity – so that everybody can thrive in our beautiful, but bounded planet.
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And the response we received from our audiences was that people did feel empowered, they did find that the show demystified neoliberalism for them. And that even being able to laugh about its absurd assumptions enabled them to imagine how to move beyond it. SW: I think it gave people permission to call out business as usual and to believe in the possibility of change. Which, when times are really tough, is crucial. AS: Hear hear to that.
Production Neoliberalism: The Break-up Tour by Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms. Commissioned by Artsadmin for the 2017 iteration of the organisation’s biennial 2 Degrees Festival. First performance 9 June 2017, Toynbee Studios, London.
Notes 1 See www.newweather.org/ (accessed 29 November 2020). 2 For more on this, see Rittenberg and Tregarthen (2009). 3 In 1972 a group of researchers published the report ‘The Limits to Growth’, commissioned by the Club of Rome (Meadows et al. 1972). The report argues that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite system. See https://clubofrome.org/publication/the-limits-to-growth/ (accessed 29 November 2020). 4 The commonly used term ‘Zombie economics’ builds on the well-used ‘Zombie Banks’ metaphor, popular in the 2000s, describing the Japanese financial system. 5 The library closure figure has subsequently been updated, with 800 closing between 2010 and the publication of new figures in December 2019.All data comes from the Chartered
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6 7 8 9
Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa): www. cipfa.org/about-cipfa/press-office/latest-press-releases/ decade-of-austerity-sees-30-drop-in-library-spending, reported in the Guardian: www.theguardian.com/books/2019/ dec/06/britain-has-closed-almost-800-libraries-since-2010figures-show (accessed 29 November 2020). See www.channel4.com/news/mervyn-king-warns-of-newfinancial-crisis (accessed 29 November 2020). See https://money.cnn.com/2017/05/02/investing/roubinidr-doom-trump-biggest-risk/index.html (accessed 29 November 2020). See www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/basics/capital.htm #author (accessed 29 November 2020). Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke’s play 1984, based on George Orwell’s novel, opened at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013. It subsequently had three West End runs and toured extensively.
References Allen, Paul, Emily Hinshelwood, Fern Smith, Rhodri Thomas and Sarah Woods. 2014. Culture Shift, Cardiff: Arts Council of Wales. Available at: https://issuu.com/artscouncilofwales/docs/cultureshift (accessed 29 November 2020). Freire, Paolo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Herder & Herder. Galbraith, J. K. 1994. A Short History of Financial Euphoria, London: Penguin Books. Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York: Pantheon Books. Keynes, J. M. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Macmillan, Duncan, and Robert Icke. 2014. 1984, London: Oberon Books. Meadows, Donella. 1999. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, Harland: The Sustainability Institute. Available at: http://
114 Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Leverage_Points.pdf (accessed 18 October 2020). Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William W. Behrens III. 1972. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, New York: Universe. Orwell, George. 1949. 1984, London: Secker & Warburg. Rittenberg, Libby, and Timothy Tregarthen. 2009. Principles of Macroeconomics, Boston: Flat World Knowledge.