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All the World's a Stage - Alex Fradera

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



In the beginning, there are no stages. In families and tribes, we express ourselves together through movement, song and story. There is no division between artist and audience and filling leisure time is a major occupation of each day.

Things change.

Now, division of labour generates an artist caste, of storytellers, poets, painters, minstrels. Still, you are likely to meet these people, to share directly in experiences. And more, you come together with your family, your village, to sing, to weave, share tales, for dances, raucous festivities. Art happens 'in the world' much more than on a stage.

Further change.

To music. Recorded, now a product, distributed - not shared - by brokers. Controlling who is heard, it suits them to limit this number: suits their channels to market, suits their advertising strategies. A form of mass culture develops to seize territory from both exploratory truth-seekers and deeply embedded folk practises. Art happens on a stage, and 'production values' mediate what we even see as proper entertainment, proper culture.


A horizon rises into view: one where the artist slot is now stuffed with pre-designed brands, assembled by an owner class to prevent genuine autonomy and expression, to deny economic independence. Corrosive systems, from ossified IP law to energy-hungry infrastructure, tend the fires. The stage itself is hollowed out, even as we stand clamouring for it to deliver to us.

To visual art, a similar story. To fiction, to all. Spontaneous joyful interaction whittled down to alcoholised time spent in sanctioned leisure zones. A long, dispiriting journey from our species' beginnings as creatures of overwhelming leisure. Barred from our own feast, we are forced to buy back scraps.

The horizon rises upon us.

And then recedes.

We are reclaiming our birthright to create. The reasons are manifold: the long tail, allowing creators to thrive by aiming away from the mainstream and towards their distinctive vision. Access to knowledge, examples, peers and teachers online. A culture of user-created content. Affordable tools that emulate or innovate away from professional production values. Many of these things owe themselves to the web, altering our reach in terms of audience, collaborators, learning and tools - and long may it continue. Can we also see a real world embodiment of these principles?

I believe the Future We Deserve restores art to its proper space in the everyday. Where we appreciate our access to global music but also support our local minstrels, recognising that they sing our own predicaments back to us. Where we plug ourselves into Die Woorden, and then plug out to the local stream to discover who is bashing their guitar right now, and at which street corner. Where public space is not just a place for commerce, but a playpen for people to parade and perform.

I'm confident for this because we can see many signs of this autonomous artmaking already. A roleplaying scene continues to burgeon, forking via LARP and Jeepform as more embodied forms. Cosplay circles the globe and the dressing up box becomes a staple of childless households. Site-specific theatre from the supermarkets to back alleys sees the pros playing similar games, further blurring the lines. A culture of festival-making and spontaneous gigging. Capoeira in the park. Situationist tactics adopted by resistance movements and protests worldwide (not to mention their ubiquitous samba rhythms). Pervasive gaming. Beatboxing on the buses. Free running. Street Training. Mass gaming. Improv Everywhere. More and more, a culture of 'join in and do' is accelerating, flouting the idea of 'leaving it to the professionals'.

This is happening in a time of still copious energy and hence great wealth; scarcity and austerity could choke off these movements. This would be a disaster. We need more, much more. The philosopher John Dewey described art as "a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity": these qualities we will gravely need. We need to make art together: collaborating, sharing, turn-taking, we quickly build trust, genuine safety and creative faculty. Countless cultures that demonstrate strong cohesion owe this to their mass expressive practises, both ritualised and improvised. We can be like them, and, in the words of thinker John Zerzan, untap "a creative energy sufficient to utterly refashion the conditions of human existence".

In this future, we don't hurry in a bee-line from one planned transaction to another. We disbelieve in destination and celebrate being out and about, simply because the public spaces are immeasurably rich: rich in sociality, rich in spontaneity, rich because the gift of artistic, playful expression rewards both receiver and giver.

We would find it difficult to go back to a world without stages. But we can play together as if all the world's a stage.