Artists can play many roles in our society and have, throughout history, been thought of to exist between high priest and prostitute.
When we look to cultures past, attempting to understand their values, their thinking, often we look at their art for insight.
Artists, unequivocally, play an valuable function in society, one that often achieves the test of time and promotes change and cultural identity.
Some artists don’t give a second thought as to what specific role they are playing or what impact their work might be having. Many do not know, specifically, who the audience is that they are trying to reach, to speak to and serve.
Here are some questions I encourage you to ask of yourself:
What role are you playing?
• Are you serving to aide your audience to experience escapism? Do you help them to forget their troubles and be transported to fantasyland, to the realm of the imagination?
• Do you serve as an agitator, to cause people to think, to stir up preconceptions?
• Are you politically oriented, attempting to promote change?
• Do you serve as educator?
• Are you a conscience to your society, serving as a mirror, holding up what you see and reflecting it back to your audience?
This list is by no means exclusive. There are a wide range of options.
In fact, one can play many roles, simultaneously.
In Bali, Indonesia, a culture I have had the privilege to spend a good amount of time in, the Topeng dancer serves as a literal conduit for the gods. The Balinese believe this dancer serves as a channel, through which, spiritual forces enter and exit, blessing the community in the process (this is a theatre of necessity). But these village rituals are not just spiritual ceremonies, but are entertainment as well. Like Shakespeare would craftily do, they speak to many audiences, simultaneously—from the educated higher castes to the peasant lower cast. These dances can, in the course of one evening, go from trance-induced performance of ancient ritual to bawdy genital humor. It serves a spiritual function AND as escapism. These ancient dances, repeated for literally thousands of years, give a sense of cultural identity to youth. It teaches them about who they are as a people and gives them a sense of communal pride and inter connectivity.
If you are not already doing so, I encourage you to be specific about what role or roles you would like to play. You do not have to wear the same hat each and every time you create. You can wear a different hat for each collaboration that you take part in.
Here are some more questions:
How might you like to be remembered, should your work stand the test of time?
What impact on your audience, culture, society, nation, and world would you like to have?
Do you have any interest in your work standing the test of time? Though that is something that we can never personally control, here is a clue in how to increase the likelihood of your work lasting some time: Speak via universal themes. Open your message to humanity. Speak to the human condition. Appeal to that which is universal to the human animal.
Do you have a message?
Do you have a voice?
What role will you play?
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.