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Features Essays Published 6 November 2015

Laura Jane Dean: “Give me a reason not to leave.”

Dear Theatre - a performer contemplates breaking up with the object of her affection and frustration.
Laura Jane Dean
Laura Jane Dean: This Room

Laura Jane Dean: This Room

Dear Theatre

I think I am done. I am tired. This is too hard. You win. (Actually it doesn’t really feel like you win, given the general state of things, but you catch my drift.)

I am sat at my kitchen table. It is a Thursday. A dreary, wet yet mild (the worst kind of weather) Thursday. I’ve just returned from three weeks away in which I moved house and got married, and frankly, thought very little about you. It was lovely. Now I am back, sat at my laptop, digging around for bits of my “pre-holiday-must-remember” to do list which unhelpfully I kept in my head, rather than on something more reliable. The general gist of it though is, carry on booking a tour, apply for various things and Write New Show.

I’ve been waiting on replies to various emails, mostly venues about whether or not they want my show in their programme next year. I am waiting on one in particular, from a venue I have had some good, promising conversations with. A venue I would really love to take the show to. Ha, here it is, a reply. Just now. Maybe the timing is too narratively perfect to be believable, but believe me, it’s true… I had thought earlier, optimistically, as I started writing this letter how it would be a lovely twist in the tale if I received a “yes, we would love your show to come here” email in the midst of my ending things with you, forcing me to rethink as I thought, well, this isn’t so hard after all. But, alas, the reply is here and it is a no. A very lovely no, as no’s go, but a no nonetheless. And so for the second time today, I resign myself to resignation. To the end, theatre, of me and you.

Perhaps unavoidable, but my aim for this is not to come across as indulgently woeful, like a teenage break-up letter, or a “why is my life so hard” rant. My life isn’t hard, sometimes it has tough bits in it, just like everyone else but on the whole, things are good and I don’t really have much to moan about. Over the past ten years, I’ve been lucky. I’ve made shows, I’ve worked with brilliant people, I’ve been funded, I’ve had support from venues, my work has been seen by people. I have been able to write, and make and perform. Yes, sometimes with little or no money or time or support (and for the most part with having some form of other work/employment to pay the bills) but it has happened. I have been able to do what I love doing.

Here’s the sticking point though. At some point I thought it would get easier. I thought there would probably be a point where it would become easier to get work made, get shows funded, get a tour together, get press, get audiences. Naïve, right? I’m not sure whether the naivety is my fault, or the industry’s fault or just one too many dreary afternoons procrastinating on social media thinking that everyone is doing better at this than I am. A bit of all of that, I guess. Anyway, that’s what I thought. When I took my first solo show to Edinburgh and a producer from BAC came to see it and loved it, I thought that would be the turning point. I thought that when I did my show at BAC and people came to see it, that would be the turning point. I thought that when I got funding from the Wellcome Trust for This Room, that would be the turning point. In retrospect, there were all significant (and meant that I could carry on making work), just in much smaller ways than I had anticipated. Me and you, theatre, it’s a been slog. We’ve made it work so far, just about, but it’s been hard, exhausting, forever uphill, a massive fucking labour of love.

And now as I sit, switching my gaze from the pouring rain to my inbox, and see the various “no” emails from venues alongside the tiny amount of “yes” emails, the same questions float around my head that have been there for the past few days.

Why am I doing this? What is it all for? Who is it all for? Why should I carry on?

For me, the crux, the reason, the importance of it all, of the writing and making and performing, is to have a connection with an audience, to make something for them and experience something with them. But at times like this, when an audience seems so unattainable, why carry on? Why carry on waiting for that moment when it all just gets a little bit easier? Why carry on trying to put together a tour? Why make a new show to go through this all over again?

Because there is nothing else I would rather do? Because I can’t not do it? Because some of the best, most significant and most moving moments I’ve had are with an audience of just two? Because refusing to give up, to not stop telling stories and asking questions, no matter how few people hear and see, is the best thing I can do?

This relationship with you is hard for us all. For all of us trying to make work, get it seen, connect with an audience. It’s hard and it is getting harder. I know theatre companies who have been making work for twenty years who had regular funding and were touring to 100 venues. Now, they are without funding and lucky to get to take a show to ten venues. It is likely that it just won’t get any easier. This is it. This is how it is. I have written and then deleted various paragraphs trying to unpick why things are how they are. But they are messy and unclear and I am struggling to make sense of it all, to find much (if any) clarity. Problems with us, with venues, with funding, with audiences, with resources, with society, with the government, with capitalism, with the fucking world.

Oh theatre, I want you and need you to be the place where I can make something for other people, where we can say something out loud together that feels important enough to be heard and listened to and thought about and questioned. You have my heart, so, go on, give me a reason not to leave.

Yours always (inevitably),

Laura

Disclaimer: I am not actually breaking up with theatre. I am not quitting or stopping. I just wrote the letter, I didn’t send it.

This letter first appeared on Laura Jane Dean’s website. 

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Laura Jane Dean is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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