The power of entertainment

As I am writing this I might well still be suffering with the remnants of a midweek hangover. However, despite the fact that I had peaked at 11am today, I clearly feel so strongly about this that I’d like to share it with you.

See once, in what seems a life-time ago, I wrote an essay on the efficacy and entertainment of socio-political theatre. I was reminded of this tonight as I attended another Open Arts Cafe evening with the theme of Rebellion. Naturally most of the evening’s performances/ exhibitions had a political edge but with varying success. The audience of OAC are a young group, with young I mean mostly 20somethings to 40somethings. Fairly liberal, openminded art-loving people. They are mostly nice people, they want to be supportive to the beginning artists, they want to be there on the night, they are so to speak a very willing audience. Still I felt that some performances just didn’t reach the full potential of what they were trying to or possibly could achieve.

Because surely that is the point of political art: it wants to communicate a message to the audience in order to make people think about the status quo and/or instigate social change.  L’art pour l’art this is not.

It means that when the audience switches off, the message has not come across and the performance or the piece has lost its efficiency. This why the entertainment part of political art is so essential and yet it is oh so often neglected.

Let’s be clear: entertainment is not just laughter, I would describe it as ‘being pleasurably engaged’. As an artist it is your job to consider your audience. Yes I can hear you rebels roar: but I am making a stand! I will not have to conform to the masses. That is great and you are right, you do not have to. Should you aspire to change the masses however, you might want to interact with them now and then.(Simple illustration: I wanted to change the world when I was 17, I soon realised that I didn’t know what I wanted to change because I hadn’t experienced the world yet. You cannot change what you do not know.)

Engagement/Entertainment was lacking with some of the acts tonight. Sometimes it had to do with technique: microphone technique – speak in the microphone and people might actually hear you. It also helps to be enthusiastic or charming or charismatic. Che Guevara was a good looking man and Freddie Mercury wasn’t necessarily but they both could still engage people. Speech technique – a lovely photographer tried to explain her work but went off on a rant about Tibet and how we could place bets on her pictures downstairs and the best bet could win. Speech was a little long and unstructured, leaving me a little confused on both Tibet and any bets in general. I don’t think I was the only one as there was only one name on the piece of paper which said ‘Bet’.

The poor girl also didn’t have timing on her side, the interval was already announced when they squeezed her speech; everyone was already distractedly eyeing up the drinks.

One act was an black muslim rapper from Mozambique, he was good. He has formed the first muslim/ jewish hip-hop group with a partner to rebel against their leaders. Great stuff. Now, for the actual performance he was on his own rapping with out music the lyrics of a song meant for two. It seemed a little strange. His stuff was mostly religious, which despite the event being held in a synagogue the audience didn’t have a great affinity with or so I suspected. His praise to Allah and Mohammed was commendable but seemed more for himself than an invite to join the revolution. I missed the connection, the audience could cheer for him but was reluctant to cheer for a life with God. ( If it doesn’t feel right than you are living a lie – deep but also very personal to people. People usually don’t want to get pushed to God, they like to think they can find their own way.)

Even when he had the crowd singing in his last song ( told you, they are nice supportive people) he had a whole group of mainly white non-muslims chanting: Mozambique, Mozambique! I wonder if you had given half of them a map, how many could actually point out the country. I couldn’t. The repetition line at the end of: No More War! We Want Peace! sounded so performed by the audience, with performed I mean ironically enough dispassionate/fake, that I nearly wanted him to shout something unPC as Heil Hitler just to see whether people would still repeat after him as a social experiment.

There was an act I liked, and yes I am biased as I know Broderick Chow, but still. Though his post-maxism stand-up comedy (yes really) has potential to be heavy-duty stuff, he steers it well. He is very aware of the effect of his material on his audience. He knows when he is leading us into the abyss of dark and deep material and he addresses this during his performance and by acknowledging it he let’s the audience know:’ hey its ok, i know it is a bit serious right now but stick with me because I will need this for the set up for the punchline.’ He also has a nice amount light and frilly easy digestible and understandable stuff which has great laughs. By using ‘light entertainment’ he places his philosophical points in an understandable context, connecting with the audience and at the same time his philosophical points strengthen the punchline of what could be a simple cheap laugh.

My message to all those political artisits: don’t forget the power of entertainment. It connects you to your audience which will encrease the chances of you fully realising the potential of your project.

There’s my argument on entertainment and efficacy in socio-political art, practically my whole MA thesis in one blog entry; no wonder my degree became such a beautiful paperhat!

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