Managing in Uncertain Times

By Charlotte Jones Chief Executive of ITC

In the lead up to our ITC Conference on 22nd February I have been doing a lot of thinking about uncertainty and how we cope with it. The conclusion I have arrived at this week is that there is only one thing worse than uncertainty and that is certainty! I am finding the ‘certainty’ that we will definitely be leaving the European Union under some form of ‘Hard Brexit’ (since Theresa May’s ‘clarifying speech’) very unpalatable. I am really struggling with the fact that despite the Supreme Court ruling confirming parliamentary sovereignty over the decision to activate Article 50 only a handful of MPs are prepared to vote against it! I am deeply fed up with the oft repeated, apparently inviolable ‘certainty’ that the ‘British Public has spoken’ through the Referendum, which so many politicians are using as an excuse for refusing to exercise their judgement on this desperately important issue. I am finding the ‘certainty’ that Donald Trump now has the power and authority to commit all manner of atrocious acts in the name of ‘America First’ very hard to take. The lethal combination of vacuous and dangerous, which characterised his inauspicious inauguration speech on Friday, left me feeling seriously concerned about the world.


So in the face of these depressing certainties I took to the streets on Saturday for the Women’s March on London. I am so glad that I did. I still believe strongly in taking to the streets to register resistance to things that are so obviously wrong and to stand up for the rights of people who are under attack. It can be a far more potent way of ‘speaking’ than voting unthinkingly in an ill-conceived referendum.


100,000 people gathered outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square this weekend and marched to Trafalgar Square. I used to spend quite a lot of time protesting in Grosvenor Square and I realised that for the past eight years I haven’t had to. Obama gave us a welcome rest from fear of American imperialism - I had even stopped boycotting their rice. It’s back with a vengeance though now. The Voice of America is now firmly re-established as the spoilt, ignorant, hate-peddling bully of the world.


Saturday’s March on London was part of a massive global movement involving millions of people in over 600 towns and cities across the globe – solidarity beyond our wildest dreams. What was truly moving was the strong sense of articulating and standing up for good human values. This wasn’t just a march against Trump and all the hideous prejudices and aggression that he stands for; it was a march for decency where ideas were expressed with humour and creativity. Hand-made banners combined wit and some very nice art work: ‘Keep your tiny hands to yourself Trump’, ‘Free Melania’, ‘Free Ivanka’, ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries’, ‘We shall over comb’, ‘Misogyny is for Dicks’, ‘Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights’, ‘men of quality do not fear equality’, ‘grab them by the patriarchy’ - even ‘Down with this sort of thing!’ hit the spot for me.


What Saturday’s march helped me with was the recognition that in times of great uncertainty (or worse – certain negativity) there is one certainty that we can hang on to. No – not God! I’m not that desperate …yet! The certainty I rediscovered on the march was the strength of these values – equality, diversity, non-violence, people before profit, care of the planet. Like Groucho Marx ‘Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…..well, I have others.’ When these core values are under threat we have to wake up and stand up for humanity.


Artists have a role to play in reminding us what a civilised society should look like - lest we forget!
We have to start taking seriously the fact we all inhabit a relatively small planet with finite resources. I thought most people had got that idea by now but obviously not! We have to act as One World to solve the world’s problems. This is not the time for individual countries to declare ‘splendid isolation’ and act with gross selfishness. Brexit and ‘America First’ make the world a much more dangerous place.


So why am I ranting on about global issues when I should be worrying about the state of independent theatre? Well fortunately I think ITC members will understand why. Theatre is not a side order or the icing on the cake. It has an important part to play in bringing people together, offering meaning and shedding light in dark times. Creativity, imagination and the thoughtful articulation of complex ideas are powerful tools in resisting the forces bigotry and ‘alternative facts’.


We know that our sector faces tough times ahead (hence the focus on uncertainty in our conference next month). As I write many organisations are putting the final touches to their NPO (National Portfolio Arts Council England) bids in the slim hope of achieving some core support for their work. ACE is unlikely to introduce a raft of new smaller organisations into the portfolio or make major changes to the large organisations that they currently fund. The arts sector is in a kind of lock down at the moment – even the companies who are not applying for NPO seem to be in that limbo. People’s plans are on hold.


I am hoping that ACE will make some good decisions that will strengthen the arts. The ACE portfolio is not the be all and end all but it does have a significant impact right across the UK. Good support and recognition is needed for the arts sector so that it can build on its important work of reaching people, giving them food for thought, encouraging creativity and battling the forces of ignorance, prejudice and division in this terrifying ‘post truth’ society.


Whatever the outcome of the ACE portfolio review we have to remain flexible, adaptable and, above all, mobile. The best way to cope with uncertainty is never to expect certainty and to be ready to respond with creativity and resilience.

The world is changing fast and we have to keep moving and keep thinking._ ‘A truly living being cannot remain neutral’_ - Nadine Gordimer


Good luck to everyone working in independent theatre – your energy and vision are necessary to the world.