July 30, 2008

The ‘Conversations’ at BATS

John Smythe      posted 30 Jul 2008, 08:32 AM

Following the recent ‘Conversation’ at BATS with Simon Ferry, facilitated by Christian Penny, (on the last Monday of each month) I was moved to email the producer, Briar Monro, with a question. Her response concluded: “This question re questions is probably a one that has come for others within the Conversation format so maybe we should stick this up on the forums? I’m very happy for you to cut and paste this up there.” So here is this ‘conversation’ (so far):

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Hi Briar

I am intrigued by Christian’s imposition of a veto on questions, especially when they arise quite naturally out of the ‘conversation’ and the guest’s professional experience is especially relevant. While I appreciate the sharing of experiences and opinions is a valuable progression from straight Q&A, it seems to me inevitable that the process will lead to questions or problems coming into focus that the gathered community can productively explore. So why is it decreed this may not be so?

The question of localism versus universality is germane to the problem of how to grow audiences and it’s a shame Simon and I were obliged to explore it further in isolation.

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Hi John

It is not so much as a veto on questions – these are a natural part of most conversations especially when between enquiring individuals. BUT we are trying to find a different way of facilitating these discussions so that they are come from a true exploration of our personal purpose with making this work, of our roles within the theatre/arts sector.

The question answer format often does very little for building stronger dialogue around our work. This is what we are aiming to grow.

So this is why Christian is asking that people share from this place [the place where the guests comments ‘speak’ to us about our work/purpose/exploration] rather than distancing the enquiry from ourselves by just launching into the question/answer.

One of the things I do notice is that in the question/answer forum format people are often wanting to say something about themselves to the ‘audience’ through the questions they pose. The question is really an ‘I’ statement rather than being a true enquiry. This format aims to cut to the chase, to get people clear and articulate about what they are pursuing with their own work and entering the conversation from that starting point.

Does this make sense to you?

I could say ‘Simon, is it your opinion that there is a need to articulate how theatre can act as an agent of social cohesion’?

Or I could say ‘One of the things I’m grappling with is how to articulate the value of the arts to the people who are making policy decisions about how our rates/taxes are spent and our communities are developed. My hunch is that the future of theatre will be as an agent of social change. Your comments, Simon, about how much fuss [or not] the public might make about the loss of public arts funding really rings true for me – I feel we need to find a way to better articulate the value of the arts’.

Simon then might have something to add. Or better still someone else in the ‘audience’ might have something to add. So the conversation about the things we feel committed to grows.

It’s great to have you coming along to Conversations. And I really value your commitment to building a place and an audience for NZ work. I would love to hear you talk about that commitment and about what motivates you.

This question re questions is probably a one that has come for others … (etc, as above)

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