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Should artists keep their politics separate from their art?

In response to our article about actors in Sydney asking audiences to support the arts at today’s election, reader Steven comments:

“I attended three performances in Sydney over the past two weeks, at which actors gave impassioned speeches on this issue, immediately after the curtain call. The cause is undoubtedly a good one, probably supported by the vast majority of the audience, including me. However, I resented how my cathartic release (especially at the end of the extremely powerful ‘All My Sons’) was so quickly shattered by the actor’s party political speech. It’s rather like a surgeon giving you a little speech, as you emerge groggy from the anaesthetic, about cuts to Medicare – the timing is simply wrong. Can’t we keep the stage, and the theatre itself, as a sacred space solely for the performance, with political issues kept outside, if only for a short time?”

Image from the STC production of All My Sons by Zan Wimberley

3 responses to “Should artists keep their politics separate from their art?

  1. As a professional actor I can understand an audience member being somewhat startled when a performer breaks “the fourth wall” to speak directly to them. Actors do not enjoy doing this at all. However actors all over Australia are well aware of the unprecedented impact of the recent funding cuts to all sections of the arts especially the smaller and medium sized theatre companies. Without these smaller companies where nearly all of us actors began our careers and where so many theatre workers are employed, the pool of actors that the film, television and theatre industry relies on will have dwindled or gone elsewhere and so inevitably the standard and diversity of performances will decline. For an arts industry to function well there is a critical mass of talent needed for it to survive. By then the damage will have been done and the comfort in which you once enjoyed theatre of the standard of “All My Sons”will be obviously missing.

    I have been working in this industry as an actor since 1970 when there were hardly any Australian plays on our stages, no film industry and many actors working as part timers or amateurs. The Australian cultural cringe was rampant. It has taken decades to develop such a celebrated, talented, creative and yet still precarious industry. The only way we have got this far is because of the battles we have had to fight to establish at least a respectable level of recognition. At any given time 90% of actors are out of work but we all are deeply bonded by the belief that we need each other and what we are doing is worthwhile. I believe that to shock an audience out of the reverie that a performance may have created is worth the disruption if it is to maintain the future of your pleasure.

  2. Arthur Miller was a deeply “political” playwright so I doubt he would agree with your cozy, sappy middle class keep Theater as a “sacred space solely for the performance, with political issues kept outside”.

    Just look upon what you saw as a new “interpretation” of All My Sons, a moment specific one rarely to be repeated. The actor was expressing a largely held fear that there would be NO Theater left for your “sacred” yearnings.

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