DIY Music and DIY theatre

So I wrote this thing for my mate’s punk and comics webzine. It’s about DIY punk, and DIY theatre. And mostly how we can learn from each other. You should go and read it, it’s over here. Go on. What are you waiting for? It has swear words and lots of semicolons. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT. Clicky. Also, when I was writing it, James of ace performance duo Action Hero sent me some of his own thoughts on being ‘DIY’ in theatre. Just after I sent my finished article off, but I’m reposting them here, with his permission, because they say a quite similar but still really useful thing.

“I think a comparison between DIY music and DIY theatre is long overdue. Not least because theatre suffers so much from an identity crisis and I think it could benefit from the association!

I would identify the work that Gemma and I do as Action hero very much as DIY but there’s an important distinction to made between two ways of using that terminology. There is much talk in theatre of a ‘DIY aesthetic’ and its a phrase often used to describe our work (I think we even use it to describe ourselves on our website) but the DIY element of our work is not ‘an aesthetic’ it comes from a genuine do it yourself approach. We sometimes do make decisions to deliberately use things that are lo-fi because of the way it changes the relationship an audience has with the work but more often than not its a genuine response to trying to make something with very few resources. So not an aesthetic choice as such. What interests me more is the punk use of the term DIY which doesn’t mean ‘ooh look their set is made from cardboard’ but is about an approach and a way of working that deliberately avoids mainstream modes of production.

So in the same way punk bands avoid signing to record labels so they can have more of a say over the work they are producing (and consequently have less money and end up doing more of the producing, marketing etc themselves) we too have always wanted to avoid trapping oursleves into conventional modes of production in theatre. i.e a set, lighting, cast and crew that requires significant investment from venues or funders. If we control the means of production ourselves it means we’re more flexible, mobile and responsive with the work we make which is how we like it. It also means we have less money because we don’t get huge marketing budgets of venues etc but we prefer it that way. We’ve always done absolutely everything ourselves and only very recently have we worked with anyone else and only then because we couldn’t physically do it ourselves because of a lack of time and it caused us great distress! I think what is important is that its seen as a deliberate decision that, like punk bands, isn’t to do with a lack of ambition, and its not because we subscribe to Dave’s big society but because we want to maintain control and we want to work in this way.

When we made our first show and we were so inspired by the way the relationship changes between an audience and an artist when there is more for the audience to do to complete the work, when they have to buy into what you’re doing and help make it happen. Seeing what happens when an audeince sees you genuinely trying to make something empowers the artist and the audience in a way that we think is actually quite political and I think similar to the ideologies of DIY music.

All that said, we could never have made anything we’ve made without funding support from the Arts Council and massive amounts of support from subsidised organisations such as IBT [In Between Time], Theatre Bristol etc. So we’re not like DIY music in that way. We can’t just pick up a guitar and start generating our own income because theatre is less commodifiable, less popular and way more expensive to make because it takes so long to make a show that is decent quality.”

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