Glasgow playwright reflects on lockdown

Michael John O'Neill gave us a really illuminating account of his work during lockdown, and some reflections on the world of theatre production that had real resonance for other communities, perhaps even the church.

He explained that, as someone who only works in “the field of newness”, he was actually working in the field of risk. He was not offering people predicable reliable experiences within familiar structures, but asking them to try new things, in the hope that it might be something they “could fall deeply in love with”. It was easy to see a connection there with the call to discipleship, and with our tendency to rely on the familiar instead of taking the necessary risks.

He described the tensions in new theatre production, an area that is close to being for ‘public good’, and subsidised but still reliant on trying to make profits. His concerns were for workers that were not valued, and ticket prices that were rising and creating elitism or alienating audiences. All these problems were already making things difficult before lockdown, so that when a crisis hit there was no buffer, no opportunity  to take that downtime to reflect and regroup, but instead an urgency to create digital material.

However, this digital material is in ways challenging elitism and reaching new people. O Neill’s own project for the SNT’s Scenes for Survival series, entitled Sore Afraid, is a beautifully moving portrayal of a woman who seems to be projecting her own grief onto a neighbour. The title was inspired in part by what O Neill described as the ecstasy/terror of the annunciation, the “supernatural rooted in the body”.

There was an overall sense of the precariousness and fragility of the world in which O Neill was working, and a need for proper support and funding to keep theatre accessible to younger audiences, and collective action to combat alienation.

Next week's speaker is Dane Lam. See below.