Free speech, today, comes at a cost. Guest blog by K. D. Phillips

If we freely speak we must also freely listen… and freely discuss and debate.

We can’t get to the root of any social problem by refusing to engage on an intellectual level. And so the issue of free speech comes from the good citizens who literally believe, “Shhh, you can’t say that!”

Do you see the issue with that?

We have a moral obligation, not just to allow free speech, but to listen to that voice… especially if we disagree. We can’t tackle a problem by ignoring, silencing, or belittling it. And listening does not mean softening, or pandering to something that is clearly wrong.

Certain individuals honestly believe that male opinion on sexism is not valid… “because men could’t possibly understand sexism, and therefore their opinions are moot.” This is a form of censorship working against free speech. ‘The Shut-Down Mentality’.

So, this all sounds like hippie-dippie stuff, right?

Wrong!

It’s called democracy.

And this is the first major failure of free speech… we’ve forgotten what democracy is. People seem to think their opinion matters while the opinions of others don’t. This is a step towards dictatorship.

The second major failure is society itself. We don’t realise that, in most cases, we live in a segregated community. Of course people gravitate towards what is familiar, but this is further enhanced by the way both the corporate and creative industries treat us.

Have you ever filled out an equal opportunities form?

If it’s equality, then why does it matter what you fill in?

Why do you have to have these labels? (Though we seem to be making steps with this in terms of ‘non-gender specific’). 

Let me illustrate this point better… how many times have you seen a theatre company put out a submission call for LGBTQ, BAME, women, and working class writers?

On the surface it seems progressive, but in reality it’s pigeonhole-ing. Who wants to be the best writer of their minority? Shouldn’t it be the best writer [Full Stop]? Don’t all of these pigeonholes fall into working class anyway?

How about the cyclical nature of theatre highlighting a single minority’s voice because it’s national ‘whatever-it-is’ day, or because it’s a hot topic in the news that month?

The point here regarding free speech is that this encourages singular opinion, and no discourse.

Theatre and democracy were born in the same city. The early framework for democratic politics was far from perfect, and theatre changed that for the better. It allowed two opposing opinions to speak their mind without argument because it was staged/scripted, and the audience would sit and passively listen to the debate.

Modern theatre is guilty of failing the people as much as modern politics. We see remnants of classical theatre in terms of drama. But these days drama has to be present in every scene… building tension is more important than expressing societal problems. “Is it dramatic enough?” Bah!

And this is without mentioning the overwrought political messages in modern theatre. “The Tories are bad!”… “Government bad!”… “Trump bad!”

Not only is this stating the obvious, but it solves nothing. It drives the same wedge between free speech and open discussion.

I hear so many people say, “Oh, wasn’t that poet/play political?”

No!

No, nothing of it was political. It was reporting the news.

“So, Mr Smartypants, not heard you present a solution.” I hear you say.

Well, the solution is easy. It’s right in front of us.

How do we show a community that their opinion doesn’t just simply matter, but can make a difference… and that other opinions are just as vital, that similar opinions build bridges, and opposing opinions build barriers… and that understanding, not condemning, barriers is the key to better bridges?

It’s not about dictating an opinion because it’s morally correct, it’s about finding why the wrong opinion is there in the first place.

With the help of Touchstone and their UChoose program, I will be spearheading a social experiment.

Community theatre attracts a certain type of person who wants to act, and therefore misses the true target… the community at large.

Highlighting a single minority voice gives people a moment, but there’s no community interaction between other minorities. So how do we hybridise these concepts?

I propose this…

Phase one: a collection of interviews from each individual minority. Interaction to gain understanding of what they believe, and why they believe it. What they hope and fear. How they feel in today’s society/community. Not just generalizing, but finding out the individual stories and beliefs of each person… to humanize them, not catagorise them. And build an audio drama around this. (Nothing new here… standard stuff)

Phase two: once the interviews have been condensed, and turned into an audio drama, the members of that community voice act the words for an audio drama that highlights life as that minority. Audio because physical acting is hard, but reading is not. Especially since these people have real voices… say it, don’t act it. It’s their words, best to say it their way. This is a minority voice performing their own words. (Still nothing new here, and it is still keeping everyone separate)

Phase three: correlation between each minority’s audio drama to find similarities and differences in opinions and beliefs, and create a wider audio drama that allows these voices to exchange and enter debate. Then have members from each minority come together to act their voices as before… only now it’s between other minorities. They enter discourse through scripted dialogue, allowing points to be expressed and heard that normally wouldn’t. Subversively these people are better understanding each other and creating better community relationships for themselves and a wider audience.

And all through the guise of theatre. Community creating something to be proud of via an audio drama, and via better connection to each other.

Could this fail?

Sure.

But it’s a start. An attempt to open conversation between minorities and the wider community is what free speech should truly be about.

I challenge all creatives to attempt this, or get involved with me to try and facilitate a community to come together.

If you can’t do that… go to your local residents meeting and engage with local councillors and the local community to work together on tackling localised issues. Most of these meetings are desolate. So many creative individuals in this industry talk a political game, but base everything they know from the media. Go listen to the people’s voices, and if there are none… be one.

Feel free to voice your opposing opinions on this article, it’s your right. But get involved locally too… 

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