BIG (For Tom Hanks)


BIG (For Tom Hanks)

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

So I made a wish to be big! That is what I’m trying to tell you! I changed into a grown up but I’m really just a kid! (Tom Hanks, Big)

In the Tom Hanks film Big
The child who will become Tom Hanks
Makes a wish on something
Called the Zoltar machine
That looks a little like a heavily goateed Timothy Dalton dressed up as the Prince of Persia
He makes a wish to be big
And when he wakes up in the morning
He has overnight
Turned from a thirteen year old boy
Into Tom Hanks

In the adult world
Child Tom Hanks
Gets a job designing toys
And he’s really good at it
(He also
In more problematic territory
Gets a girlfriend
But that is not totally relevant for now)
He is really good at his job designing toys
Not because he is big
But because he is still little

He is not burdened by the things that adults need to consider
By the obligations and responsibilities
By the social conventions
By taste
By reputation
And when he realises that this is what being an adult
Seemingly entails
He decides he needs to be a kid again

My friend Debbie and I
Have run Forest Fringe for around five years now
We put on a festival in Edinburgh each summer
And each summer
We are asked if we will be back again next year
Bigger & Better
As if the ampersand between those two words
Is actually a pair of handcuffs

The Edinburgh Fringe
More than almost any other festival
Is prone to considering itself in these reductive terms
Every year it declares itself bigger and better
As if the two are the same thing.
More companies
More shows
More tickets sold

It articulates absolutely the same faith in the possibility of unlimited growth
That was the downfall
Of it’s lead sponsor
The Royal Bank of Scotland

Why does live performance remain so woozily enamoured with size and scale?
Especially when bigness in theatre is so often such a fiction?
Fewer people will attend a National Theatre production in a whole year
Including NT Live and the touring version of War Horse
Than have watched this clip
Of a mariachi band singing to a Beluga whale

We are not big
And when we try to be
Like Tom Hanks
We are prone to forget what it is that might make us so good.

Forest Fringe
recently had the chance to work with a big artist
On a big project
It was not our project
We were merely involved
But being so
Being as it were
Both outside and inside the project
Was a revealing experience
The big artist in question
Despite his name being on every piece of publicity for the project
Spent less than two days working on the show
And didn’t even see the completed piece
He got paid an astronomical fee
Whilst the majority of the volunteers performing the show
Recent graduates
Local people
Artists interested in the work
Were paid absolutely nothing
The audience knew none of this
And neither did the press
Both of whom were full of praise
For the artist in question
At the launch event for the show
These volunteers were told not to eat the canapés
As they were for invited guests only

This is not the kind of dream I want to be living in
I think we can do better
Than to rehearse the kind of privileges
And hierarchies
That we are already living under
And yet in striving for scale
And prestige
These values reassert themselves

Becoming the biggest arts festival in the world hasn’t made Edinburgh the best
In its prohibitive costs
Its control by a small cadre of little-seen and barely accountable venue heads
In the proscriptions it tacitly demands of the shows and artists that perform there
In all of this
Edinburgh has simply become the mirror of the society that produced it

And the place that we might go to imagine a life
And live it
Is only spitting back at us the life we’re already subjected to.


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