But whether you’re a Roundhead or a Royalist, a much more democratic type of discourse between the faithful and dissatisfied is about to hit the UK this month with the Devoted and Disgruntled Roadshow.
Since 2005 London based theatre company Improbable have been gathering the great, good and grumbly of the theatre world at Devoted and Disgruntled (D&D). Using Open Space as a model (basically getting people in a room, letting them call sessions and then have a wander both intellectually and physically), D&D was born out of artistic director Phelim McDermott’s frustration that the theatrical agenda was not being set by the people that mattered.
The first D&D was a “collaborative conference, a chance to check in with the theatre community, share the news about what we were doing well, talk about what we could be doing better and take action on how to improve things.”
From humble beginnings D&D has now grown into a three day event which inspires, frustrates, invigorates, provokes, infuriates and challenges scores of theatre enthusiasts each year.
Now as part of the Cultural Olympiad it is embarking on a 12-week UK tour taking in 20 cities including Newcastle Under Lyme, Bangor and Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.
As a regular attendee my relationship with D&D has developed from nervous trepidation to questioning critique. Open Space technology is a concept that converts people or infuriates them beyond belief.
For some this free form conference is wishy washy; a place where conversations go round and round and nothing gets done. Others feel it creates communities and results in new collaborations. For these believers the Law of Two Feet (i.e. if you’re not engaged move on to another thing) means that the success of the experience is up to you. D&D is what you make of it.
I have felt both the frustration of cyclical discussions (if a variant on the ‘role of the critic’ comes up again I may punch someone) and the joy of new meetings which have led to new projects.
Proof of this was a session this year titled ‘What new dialogue can we set up between people who write about theatre and people who make it?’. It was here that convenor Maddy Costa and group member Jake Orr first met and realised a kinship regarding a new form of embedded criticism that both were investigating.
This meeting of minds has led to collaborations with other writers and a website attempting to get a handle on horizontal criticism called Dialogue. Exciting terrain is being practically explored because of a D&D discussion; that’ll teach me to get sniffy about sessions questioning the ‘role of the critic’.
If you search deep enough you see that this is one example of many with support networks popping up all over the UK; companies pooling resources and wisdom and moving the reach of their work forward.
All of which is more than enough to push through my reservations at the touchy feely nature of the event and believe that for all the hot air that keeps such conferences afloat, D&D does make things happen. It does give voices a platform and now these voices don’t even have to travel to London to be heard.
So if you’re a devoted, disgruntled theatre maker, writer, fan, teacher, audience member, obsessive, talker, listener, doer or thinker then D&D is for you. And now thanks to the Olympics (savour that sentence - you won’t hear it often) it’s going local; why not jump on the bandwagon and put the theatrical world to rights. You never know, it might just listen.