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Review: Towards A Civic Theatre, Dan Hutton (Salamander Street Publishing)

The absolute legends over at Salamander Street were kind enough to send out a copy of Dan Hutton's book Towards A Civic Theatre last month, so I gave it a little read. Here are my thoughts!

‘It would be easy to blame the difficulties theatre now faces on the longest shutdown of stages since the mid-seventeenth century. But these problems began some time before a global pandemic.’

Dan Hutton, writer, theatre-maker, facilitator and dramaturg has penned Towards A Civic Theatre around the argument that ‘A theatre which isn‘t civic in outlook is not worth fighting for.’ and after 158 pages of passionate and well-researched provocations, I wholeheartedly agree.

The first chapter in the book - A Civic(s) Lesson - explores the etymology of Civic, a word I’d not paid much attention to until reading this book, and the history of funding/philanthropy within theatre. Huttons takes us back to ancient Greece and how theatre was previously part-funded by wealthy individuals; positioned as a wealth tax but seen as an expected civic duty. Hutton's best section within the book is A Way Forward, a chapter exploring how, although it won’t be an ‘easy process, there are methods in which all artists, and cultural gatekeepers can create a progressively civic theatre industry and ‘...that’s where the truly creative work can happen.’ It is clear to see that as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continuing to see the same (overpriced) productions revived and programmed again and again whilst ticket prices remain sky-high.

It’s wonderful to read Hutton's passionate appreciation for the buildings and artists that are progressive and know that without radical policy change, the industry runs the risk of continuing in an ecosystem that enables the rich to keep getting richer and the same un-civic work being repeated; Slung Low and Battersea Arts Centre as two gleaming examples where community, affordability and inclusivity inherently benefit artistic work and community outreach.

Hutton provides too many fantastic provocations, tasks and tools to list them all in this review but my advice is clear - read this book. It has changed my perspective on an industry in which I am guilty of sometimes losing hope, but Hutton allows you to feel this anger - he feels it right alongside you - and asks you to help him create a brighter future. Towards A Civic Theatre is a perfectly-timed, brilliantly-bold and scintillating battle-cry; one that passionately proposes we rebuild the theatre industry from the ground up with civic ideas and community at the heart of it all.

You can purchase Dan's wonderful manifesto/book here from Salamander Street.

Fancy winning a free copy? Head over to our Twitter page here and follow the instructions in the tweet!

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