Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Cultural Management

I'd never heard of cultural management until I met a charming Slovenian who has come to London to study it and he was kind enough to spend some time trying to tell me what it is. I mention it because it seems a natural topic for a blog about cultural moments. However, my attempts at definition: "Is that like 'arts management' but a bit broader, then?" have so far proved inadequate. Cultural management? It conjures up images of unruly hair in need of taming: the kind that conditioner comes in to sort out on TV ads. I'm not sure that a culture can be untangled in the same fashion as a bad hair day; although smoothing pesky cuticles would be no bad thing. I will attempt to learn more and return.

Meanwhile, I was witness to a wonderful moment of backstage coming out of the wings this weekend at the last performance of In Extremis at the Globe Theatre. The story of Heloise and Abelard has intrigued me since I realised they actually existed and then failed to find their tombs in the Pere Lachaise graveyard in Paris (I shall try again in a couple of weeks.) But once I knew the play was about the battle of Aristolean ideas meeting the medieval world of uncritical belief, I was determined to catch it before it finished. It was clever, funny, fully engaging and tugged at eternals like one would hope: love, power, the meaning of the world. Elegant music, rich but simple clothing, no set to speak of. Central to it is the castration of the man whose rhetoric won the king and alienated Benedict of the subsequent Benedictine order. As Heloise brandishes a modern copy of the lovers' letters - sent over their 20 years in separate abbeys - in Benedict's face, the point that you cannot cut down either feeling or reason as easily as flesh was wittily made.

Anyway, as if basking in such glorious sentiments wasn't enough, new artistic director Dominic Dromgoole popped up at the end of the show for a burst of serious luvvy-ness. Author Howard Brenton was pointed at and thanked. Then, the director. Then the whole production team. Then some of the non-affiliated Globe staff. Flowers were thrown and much clapping was heard. And it was noted that this was risky new theatre playing to full audiences. Not as risky as an unknown author, but nonetheless, its fifteen performances were sprinkled through a summer of traditional Shakespeare fare where only production values could be original. And didn't we just love it. And we enjoyed the intimation that we were broadminded and clever for coming to see it. It wasn't quite Romans in Britain, but, subtly perhaps, it was more important in an age of increasing fundamentalism.

As I don't know what cultural management is yet, I can't say how this combination of great theatre and great openness on the part of the team behind it relates to it. But if it's the blend of policy and production that it should be, then I say: this is the kind of daring we need. Let it fill the theatres and open places of Britain, and let us all love it and love the people doing it and learn something.


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