This article from Tiago Rodrigues has been translated with his permission by ETC. A French version is also available on France Culture.
We are simultaneously facing an exceptional crisis and a deeper shift that will inevitably be part of our lives from now on. I believe that we are living in a historical moment that inaugurates a new phase of social organisation, politics, thought and human action.
I have the feeling that we are living, if not the premiere, at least a dress rehearsal of something that I cannot help but relate to the great upheavals ahead in adapting to climate change. We may not yet have the new tools to cope with this changing world, but we have a very old tool that can help us: solidarity.
Solidarity with our neighbours and loved ones, cross-border solidarity between peoples, solidarity between continents must help us to face the exceptional crisis we are going through but also the profound changes we will experience. We are living in a moment that requires immoderate solidarity, when it has hitherto had to be mitigated by standards and above all by market rules. We now realise that solidarity must be sovereign in the face of the market and that it is perhaps the only tool that will help us to relaunch a new economy.
In Portugal, the social support measures taken by the government are already a sign that politicians are becoming aware that we are living in a time when democratic principles must be asserted without hesitation. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that has, for example, taken the decision to temporarily regularise all immigrants awaiting a residence permit. At the Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II, we decided to honour the financial commitments made with our employees but also with the hundreds of independent - and therefore precarious - artists and technicians who were supposed to work on the cancelled productions. Paying these professionals who would have had no other economic support was one way of making this crisis a collective one. It makes it the budgetary crisis of a national theatre, not a series of individual crises of workers who could not meet their basic needs because of losing their salaries. Fortunately, the National Assembly then passed a law requiring all public institutions to do so. This is a very important victory for the performing arts because it is a question of solidarity, but it is also a guarantee that there will be an artistic future. We are supporting artists today so that tomorrow there will be artists ready to imagine what we do not yet know.
What is very special is to live a common experience that is not shared. It is a second violence after the one that weighs on our health. Because despite the communication tools we have at our disposal to keep a link with our loved ones, we are unable to be together. For the first time, the future of all of us is completely uncertain. It forces us to forget our calendars, our plans, and everything that used to control our time. We must accept that tomorrow is now an exercise in imagination.
As an artist, I am touched by the profusion of offers - especially digital ones - that have blossomed thanks to the solidarity and generosity of artists and cultural institutions. It is an exceptional response to exceptional times, because a minimum of artistic expression must continue to exist. I know many visual artists, for example, who produce enormous work, with an energy, a bulimic impulse, faced with the impossibility of being with the others. It is also an act of solidarity, although it is felt as an emergency, an individual impulse, a desire. I don't know what is going to change in our way of doing or seeing theatre but I have a very strong intuition that the possibility of being together again in a theatre will allow us to regain a vital force. And in order to conquer this force, it is very important to remain active in solidarity on the promise of our meeting, of future sharing. There are very mainstream ways of being together such as applause or singing at the windows, but there will also be all those things that will be invented in three, six, twelve days and that will show that we are alive and that we want to be together.
What is interesting is not the ability to adapt to the confinement, it is the fighting spirit in the face of the confinement. We must not see this gesture as primarily artistic, political or philosophical, but as primarily a gesture of solidarity. It is a way of being with others that will help us when we can meet again.
There is, of course, the danger of a very violent moment in terms of public funding for culture, as the health crisis becomes, above all, an economic crisis. But I think that there is a difference between the current situation and the situation we experienced during the 2008 crisis, which in Portugal resulted in a very violent austerity, especially for culture and the arts. Today, we are living in a time when the lack of sharing and the impossibility of being together underlines the importance of cultural and artistic life. Many citizens feel that their democratic right of access to the arts is being stolen from them by this pandemic. There is an awareness among the general public but also among political decision-makers that culture and artistic creation play an essential role in the bond that unites us with each other and in the functioning of our democracy. Similarly, exchanges between European cultural institutions and artists are extremely important. We must keep in touch, think together and beyond our borders. There are nationalist resurgences that can emerge with this crisis. There is therefore an opportunity for Europe to rethink and reinvent itself. I am betting on a beautiful explosion of artistic creations as soon as we can be together again. There will be such a desire for access to culture that we may be able to free ourselves from the barriers and standards set by institutions and traditional forms of distribution.
The river of artistic creation will overflow its banks, and we will have to be careful not to miss the celebration of this return to life.
Artistic Director, Teatro Nacional D. Maria II (Lisbon/Portugal)
Tiago Rodrigues is the artistic director of the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II. He is an actor, playwright and director whose subversive and poetic theatre has made him one of Portugal’s leading artists. His work has been presented in some of the most important theaters and festivals all over the world. In 2018 he was awarded XV Europe Prize Theatrical Realities. In the same year, he was distinguished by the French Republique with the title Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
About This Article
Prior to the ETC International Theatre Conference on 10 to 12 June, ETC and its members have prepared readings and videos to inspire and spark the participants' thoughts on the topic of "Reopening European Theatres".
Top picture: By Heart ©Magda Bizarro
Profile: Tiago Rodrigues @Filipe Ferreira