Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

Graham Vick at the Barber

Ian Francis
Tuesday 27th April, 2010 Posted by Ian Francis

If you've ever been to a Birmingham Opera production in a warehouse or burnt-out ice-rink and wondered how they got such a thing off the ground, spend an hour listening to Graham Vick and it all starts to make a bit more sense. This is quite a special man. Sharp-eyed, passionate, with a very clear idea of what he wants to do and say while remaining bracingly honest about the doubts and contradictions of being an opera-director. He clearly loves his job, and his enthusiasm is hard to resist. 'I want you to be part of what I believe' was one of the many lines that stood out from his lunchtime talk at the Barber Institute today. By blogging my scribbled notes below I probably run the risk of making him sound like a luvvie or a demagogue, but he is a long way from either.

Working in the performing arts means giving birth every time. My job is to provide a context within which the audience will receive a work of art. A creative role, not an interpretive one.

It’s a Faustian job. Being a director requires arrogance. No one tells you as a child that you’re going to be a director, you have to decide on it for yourself and then convince everyone else. A duality of self-love and self-loathing – the desire to make something better than ourselves, wrapped up with the urge to destroy.

When someone offers you thousands of Euros and hundreds of people to help you build a world it's a responsibility and an opportunity. The temptation to play God is enormous, but it must be resisted. Build the world with those people, and give the audience maximum responsibility to enter and respond to the work.

Without an audience, a work of art is nothing. You can have the most perfect dress rehearsal, but if only the director is there to witness it then it hasn’t really happened. The perception amplifies the work. Everyone understands his own response to the work; you contribute to the living thing. You don’t need an education or programme notes in order to receive a work of art, you just need to encounter it.

The arts in the UK are blighted with fearfulness, conservatism, reactionary ordinariness. Our job is to build a more exciting, bolder future than the past has been. There is no such thing as tradition. The earth never stops moving. Stasis is a delusion. Be open to changeability.

Ivory tower syndrome. Opera companies and universities alike can become sealed units. Get a life, get out more. Too often community outreach happens in a separate sphere, with no impact on the work. The art itself is sealed off.

The hijacking of art for prestige. Take pride in our people, not our institutions. Rather than devoting our resources to consultants and PR and bid-writing, lets put that effort into making life in this city worthwhile. This constant desire for approval is cheapening.

Hand over the future, don’t hang onto the past.

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