Finding the power of theatre in politics

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The thing I like most about being involved in politics is working together with people towards a common goal. For me it’s a throwback to my student theatre days: from 1995-2000 I was involved in over 20 student-theatre productions, as an actor, writer, director, publicist, lighting designer, stage manager and producer.

Working collaboratively can be fabulous. Everyone experiences this in some way, whether it’s through competitive things like sports, debates, or board games. You can find it in book clubs and families and weekends away with friends. Doing things with other like-minded people is simply the best.

There are of course challenges involved in collaborating successfully. In theatre, the problem is when the people at the top, whether it’s the director, a lead actor or (highly unlikely) the writer, thinks that it’s all about themselves.

A key challenge in politics is when the attention is focussed in a single person. In elections, at any level, a victory means the investiture of power and the resources to exercise it, most often in an individual.

Parliaments, council-chambers and committee meeting rooms are silos that can disconnect an elected representative from the people and values that they care about.

Those with power can become possessive of it, closing themselves from criticism as they hold on to their “precious”. When we treat something like a unique ring of power, is there any wonder the lengths some will go to in order to get it?

We can’t avoid power. They are essential parts of any enterprise. It’s why organisations put structures in place to ensure that power is delegated, not absolute, and that it comes with responsibilities.

Co-operative theatre projects see profits shared among participants in a manner agreed before the production begins. Truly democratic unions and political parties ensure that all power, regardless of what structures of delegated authority are in place, is at the end of the day completely in the hands of the members.

I personally find power struggles boring. I hate that essential public estates like government and the media are infested with them. I could play the game. I could exit the field. But surely it’s more fun to subvert these structures by doing things differently? By working collaboratively and openly with people who share my goals?

That’s what I think anyway. If you do too, in the immortal words of Lesley Knope, “find your team and get to work.”

Originally published in ‘GreenMail’, the Members’ Publication of The Greens NSW, June 2015. 

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