I’m writing this from the perspective as a fan of the arts. By arts I mean exhibitions, performances and theatre, but not the theatre of big shows and musicals – they leave me feeling a bit empty inside.
This short article is about events – and how important it is to go to them. And when I use the word ‘events’, I mean art and photography exhibitions, live-art performances, contemporary theatre, stand-up comedy, processions and festivals. And I also mean kids play groups, bonfire nights, Christmas festivals, street theatre days or anything you can take your family to, except those god-damn awful fun days in pub car parks where parents get slowly p*ss*d and subconsciously show their kids that alcohol is an acceptable form of addiction.
Why am I writing this? And why do I feel the need to say this?
Most of our lives shuttle along at 100mph without any time to stop and think. If you’re a parent that speed will regularly hit 120mph, or until you’re engine overheats and you have a nervous breakdown (this is similar to doing a phd but you don’t get a job with a university once you’ve recovered). What this means in real terms is that we all have our daily and weekly structures in terms of the things we do, the things we have to do and the things we enjoy doing. And often this does not include going to events like the theatre (adult or children’s) or similar events. For some people, a free festival in a nearby town or a weird little performance in the back of a pub is just not on the radar.
I know this because that was me. I went a dozen years without seeing any type of theatre performance, save for the occasional panto with my kids. Live-art performance festivals, fringe festivals, comedy festivals – it’s not that they weren’t on my radar, I didn’t even know they existed. I was doing other stuff. Like watching television. And drinking.
But here’s the thing. Live events, like those described above, offer something to us as humans mentally that we don’t quite understand. Academics sometimes refer to the effect of art and culture on people as wellbeing. But that does not do justice to the experiences involved.
The best way I can describe it, which most people get, is comparing watching a football match on TV compared to being at an actual stadium. At Old Trafford or Anfield or Holker Street, Barrow (delete as appropriate), there is the extra, intangible ingredient of atmosphere and sense of thrill that can only be experienced in a crowd, as part of a crowd. It’s this feeling that comes from watching events in person that I am talking about.
And it’s this feeling – along with other invisible benefits like nourishment for the soul, mental stimulation, feeling good – which makes going to events of any type hugely important to our wellbeing.
If we’re talking about theatre, there’s two main obstacles here (I could actually come up with six but it gets too complicated talking about social issues and the inaccessibility of some subject matters to a non-traditional theatre audience). The two obstacles are: people thinking theatre is too posh for them; and people (who do go out a lot) preferring to spend their time binge drinking. I can accept that drinking is an experience – and quite a fun one – but when you sit there scratching your blotchy red alcohol-soaked skin, looking back over those nights on the lash stretched across three decades, all those memories merge blur into one. It’s the extraordinary nights which stand out.
And extraordinary nights usually mean seeing Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange, experiencing the anarchy of spoof magic show Peter and Bambi Heaven at Edinburgh Fringe, learning about social protests at a Mark Thomas gig or spending two hours laughing at Daniel Kitson (he’s the best stand-up comedian in Britain by a mile but does go on the telly so you might not have heard of him. I’d recommend you get seek him out, get on his mailing list and see him live).
But live experience does not end there. There’s also a myriad of processions, dances and performances at festivals up and down the country which can trigger feelings of joy some of you reading this did not even know existed.
The effect of art and culture on the mind is immeasurable. And believe me, I’ve read some reports which have tried to measure it. It’s immeasurable because you can’t measure how someone feels. But what you can do is ask people about their experiences and question your own – and the answer is always the same: art and culture makes us feel good. And that’s why experiencing stuff like this so crucial, especially to those of us a bit worn down by life. The effect could be as quick as the flick of a lightbulb, or it could be a more gentle, slower provocation of thought and feeling. But it will always be good and always be worth it.
There is actually of lot of theatre and performance out there – and a huge amount of it is totally free (both indoor and outdoor events). I’ve seen my fair share of weird sh*t – and you could too. So do yourself a favour, give yourself some memories. Go and see some theatre, or enjoy some live art where, for example, a naked man cellotapes his cock up his backside. Yes, you too could have memories like mine.
There will be some amazing experiences at Lancashire Fringe Festival in Preston, between May 15 and 24. Some of the shows, in my opinion, are by the absolute best performers currently working in Britain today. Can’t quite believe they will be in Preston. And you know what? I’ve organised it all so that it is free to attend. This is your wake-up call – it’s time for you to make some changes in your life.