Can theatre provide the wake-up call for complacency that our media fails to?

“But we can get married now, there’s nothing left to fight for.”

These were the words from a lesbian actress who upon reading my new play Invisible Scapegoats, decided that the issue of the ongoing fight for LGBT rights contained within the story was no longer relevant. Now that she was planning to legally marry her girlfriend in the UK, she was happy to kick back, relax and be complacent in enjoying the fruits of LGBT equality that we fought so hard and for so long to achieve. Time to shut up shop on the struggle, victory is ours at last, let’s talk about something else.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, on the very same day, a grandmother was photographed giving a Nazi salute at a rally for Donald Trump, the fascist figure and potent role model for bigots, the powerful and extremely wealthy businessman whose inexplicable rise towards the US presidency is detailed in all its horror to us on a rolling 24/7 basis. The same man whose manifesto contains a solid promise to reverse equal marriage as soon as he gets into power. All that hard work achieved by our LGBT cousins across the pond to be cruelly undone just because one powerful man doesn’t like it.

But hey, it couldn’t happen here! Not in the UK.

Right?

Then, in the ensuing weeks, hateful anti-LGBT discrimination laws were being hurriedly rubber-stamped in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi, a tide of unyielding bigotry that exposes the downside of equality in the US, the ironic effect of its citizens having equal marriage increasing anti-LGBT rhetoric and homophobia exponentially as a result. The battle for equality is fought against hatred and yet it now seems that equality is causing more hatred.

But really, it still will never happen here.

Could it?

complacency might feel comforting but nevertheless it can be a fleeting moment of relaxation in urgent need of a wake-up call

It’s evidently clear in our society that the powerful tools of fear and hatred are used to brainwash the uneducated and the easily impressionable. Fear the migrants! Fear the refugees! Fear the Muslims! Or in the case of the current situation across many US states - Fear the Gays! Those that rule always needs a group of people to scapegoat and divert attention from their own misdeeds. Who will we be told to fear next?

This is the nightmarish potential reality that is explored with Invisible Scapegoats, which details a near-future UK where a fascist dictator has swept to power using the potent tools of hate and fear-mongering and has recriminalized homosexuality.

But this is fiction, right? It could never happen in real life? Not here in the UK? Well, it certainly looks like it could happen in the US and you know the saying… when the US catches a cold, or in this case a deadly virus of bigotry and hatred, well what exactly will the UK catch?

For the LGBT community in particular, complacency might feel comforting but nevertheless it can be a fleeting moment of relaxation in urgent need of a wake-up call. And as we discovering more and more every day, we can’t rely on mainstream media to give that jolt of reality. Truth from a press that has morphed from being free to being a propaganda mouthpiece for those in power and the tax-avoiding elite who bankroll them? We shrug our shoulders, sign our online petitions as a form of protest and ultimately just let them get away with it, our complacency sending us hurtling down a slippery slope. But what lies below when we have slid all the way to the bottom? But in times of such misinformation and unreliable narratives, we still have theatre. An art form that does not have to pander to the masses, to propagate a government agenda, to give watered down and sanitized views. The stage is a spotlight, illuminating issues and injustices that the media fails to highlight for us. With theatre, we can question, we can criticise, and we can take risks and deliver harsh truths and those aforementioned sharp jolts of reality to audiences: we can depict potential futures that just might come to fruition if we let our complacency render us weak.

For me as a writer and theatre maker, the best kind of theatre is the one that delivers the messages that we would prefer not to hear, see or be confronted with. Invisible Scapegoats will be uncomfortable viewing but it’s meant to be. Wake-up calls via theatre do not reek of comfort, they are brutal, visceral, visual forms of hard-hitting journalism, the type that has been lost to us for a while now as the media morphs into full on dumbed-down banality and shameless propaganda.

have a think about whether you can truly rely on your daily newspaper for the truth. Because you’ll find it instead at the theatre

I’m sure the actress who is planning to marry her girlfriend must be thankful she doesn’t live in Russia, or North Carolina, Mississippi, the Middle East, or Africa, China, India, or any of the dozens of Commonwealth countries that still brutally oppress and criminalise the gay community. We have nothing to worry about here in the UK. Right?

As that actress and countless other LGBT people now legally walk up many aisles across the UK, let’s just hope that the rise of fascism in the US and other parts of the world is just nothing more than a temporary blip and that it will not morph until something far more terrifying or that something similar will never happen here. In the meantime, have a think about whether you can truly rely on your daily newspaper for the truth. Because you’ll find it instead at the theatre. You might not like it, it might make you shift uncomfortably in your seat, or force you to walk out at the interval so you can instead turn a blind eye to what is really going on in this world and return to the latest comforting Twitter feed about the wardrobes and sex lives of celebrities or cat pictures on Facebook. But what theatre does have is the power to wake you up, open your eyes and mind and make you realise that no matter what good we might have achieved, we are forever close to a precipice of the good times being undone in an instant.

Theatre is freedom of speech, to question what we are told and what we think we believe. And that is far more powerful and influential than anything we read in the mainstream media.

Dylan Costello’s play Invisible Scapegoats opens in London in January 2017. Find out more at www.giantcherryproductions.com

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