Welcome to my new blog site. As part of the process of moving my blog from its old home on MySpace (www.myspace.com/paulcareyjones/blog), I’ve been re-reading some of the old posts; I was going to start here by writing something about the role of the arts in the current economic and political climate, but I’m actually going to reproduce a blog I first posted on in December 2008, since it seems just as relevant now.
Thanks for visiting, please feel free to leave comments, and keep watching this space.
CREDIT CRUNCH (first posted 11th December 2008)
The atmosphere in the opera industry, as in most other businesses, is pretty chilly at the moment. The responses to the first sign of a change of economic weather – after so many years of sunshine – have been telling. There are many whose first assumption has been that we must cancel everything, that there is no place for theatre – especially a cost-intensive form of theatre such as opera – when times are hard and people are having to make financial sacrifices.
I say telling, because to me this is an incomprehensible response. Are we really saying that what we do is only relevant to people when they are happy, carefree, untroubled? We all pay lip service these days to the truism that opera is not only for rich people; if we truly believe that, then why are we manning the lifeboats at the first sign of there being fewer rich people about?
As in any other industry, a downturn will provide many challenges, and those whose forward planning relied on boom times going on for ever will be – are already – in trouble. (In fairness, I seem to recall that we were told repeatedly by the highest financial authorities that they would indeed go on for ever.) All of us will face challenges, hardships and stressful uncertainties – and this in a business which is stressfully uncertain even at the very best of times.
But it’s also an excellent opportunity for us all to question our precise motivations for being in the business in the first place. I’ll be honest: looking back at my early years of training, I think we all knew and accepted that many of us would never fulfil our ambition of being full-time professional performers. What we didn’t know was that even those of us that did would find it so difficult financially.
There’s an assumption that, because opera is expensive, everybody working in opera must be earning a lot of money. Well, opera is expensive because an operatic production has to employ a lot – literally hundreds in most cases – of people. Not many of them get paid particularly well, and that includes the vast majority of the singers.
So if we are playing the game for the promise or hope of vast riches, we need to re-evaluate that ambition; and now would be a good time to do so, since it’s much easier to be honest and rational with onesself in harder times.
The Daily Telegraph’s theatre critic Charles Spencer writes : “My hunch is that theatre won’t just survive the recession, it will actually help us to endure it, by offering that special sense of community of a theatre audience, and a temporary escape into other worlds and other lives.”
As I say, this is no career to pursue as a business venture. As an artist, it can often be equally frustrating and unfruitful. But every now and then, you get to be part of something special, magical, a small cog in a huge and miraculous creative machine, of which the audience is also an equal part. And if this is our true motivation for being here and doing this, then there is no reason to despair.
It’s no coincidence that great artists have often produced their best work when under pressure, when the parameters and constraints have been at their tightest. No author ever suffered writer’s block when he had the choice of writing or starving.
For all of us who are, or who would like to be thought of as, artists, the test of that is our response to new challenges. And so our challenge now is to re-examine why we are doing what we do, and how it is relevant to our audience. If we succeed in doing so, we stand a chance not merely of survival, but of becoming more valuable to our society, and, in some small way, helping to provide people with a way through seemingly very dark hours.