Thursday, 6 August 2015

Theatre & Privilege (mine)

[998 words]


In November 2013 Bryony Kimmings wrote one of the most important blogs on the subject of the money in the arts that I’ve read. It’s called You Show Me Yours. The reason it’s so important, is that it names amounts.

And, unsurprisingly, not many people have felt especially keen to write reciprocal follow-ups.

However, since I’m here banging on about public ownership, theatre and communism, it feels like I should be absolutely honest about my own level of privilege.

[It also serves as my depressing answer to the question “How Do You Make A Living Out of Theatre Criticism,” which I occasionally get asked. The spoiler version is: I don’t, I’m very lucky in that I don’t need to.]

I am nearly 40, white, male, heterosexual, and from a Protestant-Christian background. I am middle-middle class. (If you really need to know: my dad’s parents are northern and working class (fireman and factory worker) and my mum’s dad was quite posh (Clifton College and Cambridge; became a minister of religion) and my mum’s mum is from a Welsh working class background. Both my parents went to university in London (UCL and QMUL/RHUL, I think). I went to a state grammar school, got kicked out, went to two Further Education Colleges, and then a private crammer in Birmingham (for a nominal fee) for two years. I had a full grant when I went to Leeds University and my degree was also free.

For almost the whole of the 00s, what little bits of theatre criticism I did, I did outside my “day job” (although from 2003-2008 that “day job” was a strange week-on, week-off, night-shift job reading newspapers for a cuttings service. Which was either: “Really interesting and not a bad job” or “Hell” depending on when you asked me).

By the end of the 00s all the members of my extended family had died (all four grandparents and my uncle). My brother (who works as a maths teacher in Wakefield) had already bought a house (or rather, had already got a mortgage and was paying it off pretty fast; maths teachers’ salaries apparently go quite a long way in the Leeds housing market). My parents had a house and had retired. So, I ended up getting £195,000 to buy a flat near Caledonian Road tube station (with the proviso that my brother would inherit my parent’s house). I am aware this is an enormous privilege. Ironically, not long after I ended up moving to Berlin, and so I sub-letted (?) the flat. After I came back from Berlin, I kept on renting it out because in 2012 the amount of paid work for theatre critics was suddenly at a pretty low ebb, so I was in the slightly silly situation of owning a flat in London, but needing the rent from it to live on, and to live in a succession of cheaper sub-lets. Obviously, all that is still an enormous privilege too. I am aware of that.

By the end of last year, I’d concluded that it was a bit silly to own a flat I couldn’t afford to live in. We got the flat valued and apparently it had risen in price to over £300,000. And so, to cut a long story short, I sold it and bought two flats in Manchester. One for £145,000 to live in, and one for £130,000 to rent out.

The upshot of this is, I now get £100 a week to live on, plus anything I get paid for writing. And I have a place to live.

So there you go. It’s not a secret.

But, it does all put me in a slightly weird place from which to inveigh against the evils of capitalism. It also puts me in a very difficult place when it comes to arguments for volunteering, versus demanding living wages for all workers. And it puts me in an entirely stupid place when it comes to arguing about refusing paid work on principle (in my case from, say, The Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Express, or the Evening Standard. And I think, after that election front cover, the Independent. Not that any of them have asked (and why would they?). But it’s nice to know I will always be able to tell them to fuck off if they do). But I would say that, I can afford my principles. And can afford them in a way that sort of makes a nonsense of them. I am aware of that.

As I said in yesterday’s piece, Theatre & Privatization, “the most practical way of fighting [the Conservative Party’s] decisions appears to be becoming as successful within their ideology as possible and buying your way out of [their decisions]”.

And that is unfortunately what I’ve done.  I put the above information on the table largely so no one can accuse me of hiding it. If it invalidates anything I think or say, you’ve got all the information you need to call me on it.

I remain committed to increasing equality, increasing opportunities, and trying to popularise “difficult” art, as best I can.  And I blame having two ministers for parents for this tendency I have for “considering the lillies”. (Matthew 6:24).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It doesn't invalidate your beliefs but it does put your admonishments to artists - ie money shouldn't be our first priority (as if that was the actual issue) - in an unflattering light. Try putting a roof over your head, putting food on the table, having a family while performing in London. Ah, but you don't have to.

There are too many of us, fact. Of course you're right about that. Maybe the state should decide who gets to be an artist, a la Germany? Well, we are here and not in Germany because we can make new work here, but also because the vaunted German economy functions on the expectation that women over 30 will leave the work force. It's literally impossible to hold down many jobs while raising children in Germany. This status quo reproduces itself in every field, including theatre. It's a convenient and orderly system - for men. Between these "opportunities" and the messy, open English scene I'll take London any day. If it gets too expensive I can always move to Manchester and drive up the rents there - a win win for you.