The Feather or the Hammer? by Chris Jacobs

We have lived the age of the Sledgehammer! We have become bloated to the point of torpidity on the visual extravagance of extreme violence and cupidity served up by the brotherhood of film and television ostensibly in the name of ‘creativity’ and ‘art’, but in actuality, in the causes of greed and aggrandisement.


We now live in the age of the Voyeur! And yet the Sledgehammer persists! We have become more and more desensitised to the profound, yet often fleeting, sufferings and joys experienced by individuals during the course of their day in the simple act of living, of earning a desperately needed crust. We no longer register the subtle nuances of the human psyche. All is visual… “In yer face, dude!”… “Don’t ask me to think or to empathise, just let me gorge!”

Schadenfreude Rules OK!

We are becoming more and more excited by watching from the comfort of the couch, and ensconced in the security and privacy of one’s own nest, rude mechanicals exposing their inadequacies, both as actors and as human-beings, in masturbatory exercises in socio-futility. Is it then any wonder that Theatre audiences are diminishing and decaying?

The theatrical establishment is feeling this growing decay with great acuity, and in the effort of regeneration, nay, resurrection, is committing itself to noble acts of theatrical vandalism to persuade audiences away from it’s couches and back into the theatres. Has the notion of what constitutes ‘Theatre’ been redefined? Has the face of the contemporary audience evolved to the point where traditional conservative values have lost their relevancy?

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Of course, a little conservatism is no bad thing, since it keeps certain traditions alive which have value and can be relied upon when doing Chekhov revivals or Shakespeare. But contemporary audiences, and especially the young need, to see themselves in our work so that their tastes may be expressed. Notwithstanding their tastes may be spurious, such as the need to see a handsome movie actor in a classic, on the whole the youth of today has a sharp nose and knows when to keep away. Youth’s threshold of tolerance is not as high as those for whom theatre is also a means of assuaging cultural guilt – they do not need to go to the theatre.

We in the business of making ‘Theatre’ are defined by our audience, and if audiences cannot see their own faces in our work, then perhaps we have become the anachronism. The demoralising state of much of today’s theatre is so because it is not engaged by youthful vision but by the old linear world familiar to us all.

NTU Roundtable (Photo Credits: Judith Tong)

To encourage our audiences away from their couches and back into our theatres, to see our audiences change, we must approach theatre as a constant challenge… to engage the audience by continual experiment… to put the face of the audience back into our ‘Theatre’ without succumbing to the use of the ‘sledgehammer’ and ‘noble vandalism’, and rejecting the ideology of voyeurism and schadenfreude.

Bring back the Feather!

Toss the Sledgehammer!

CJ – April 2017

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