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Q&A: Jeremy Goldstein on the Truth to Power Cafe

Theatre producer and writer Jeremy Goldstein is the founder of London Artists Projects and has commissioned and produced many award winning shows with celebrated artists over the years. His work has been described as 'an evocative theatrical wonderland'. For the past few years Jeremy has been working with Penny Arcade, and his new project, the Truth to Power Cafe, runs in tandem with her Fringe First award winning Longing Lasts Longer at Soho Theatre. The cafe is looking for participants to join in and speak their truth to power. I asked Jeremy more about it, as well as finding out what else he has up his sleeve this year.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Jeremy. You’re opening up the Truth To Power Café soon; could you explain what Truth To Power means?

Jeremy Goldstein: I’ve been fascinated by the phrase for some time now, particularly when applied in the context of art and theatre, as let’s face it - witnessing the truth in theatre is rarely uninteresting. As far as I can tell its origins date back to the 18th century, but these days it is widely accepted to be a phrase which was coined by the Quakers in the 1950’s as part of their search for an Alternative to Violence. It’s meaning for me at least lies in the anti-war movement, and in simple terms saying something that those in authority or positions of trust don’t want to hear. In politics, life, love etc., it’s about taking a stand and speaking up for what you believe in.

Eli: What sort of thing do you hope people will bring to the floor during their five minutes of speech?

Jeremy: What is true to one person is false to another, and what we think we know to be true today can change at the drop of a hat. Oscar Wilde once said ‘if you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you’ so - is what you have to say confrontational? Is it funny? Is it something you’ve been dying to get off your chest? Will it bring us together or tear us apart? The choice is yours.

At the Café, you will have up to five minutes to speak, which in practical terms is about five hundred words but if you want to speak for less than that, that’s fine too. By all means, turn up with something you’ve written yourself, or tell us a story or read a poem or short monologue, or even an extract from a novel or speech, or newspaper article which has inspired you. When people hear the phrase Speak Truth to Power for the first time, they often, like I did, relate it to politics or to those people in power who control our lives, and who we think of as untouchable. Direct your words at them if you like, but the phrase works just as well in a domestic situation, which is why I’m also keen to hear from people of all ages who want to speak to a parent, sibling, lover, best friend or neighbour. If you want to talk to one of these people, remember, you don’t have to disclose their identity, or maybe you will. Feel free to use your moment as a rehearsal or dry run for when you do. Once again, the choice is yours. I’m there as your host and facilitator so my role is to make you and the audience feel comfortable.

My aim is to build trust in the room and create a relaxed vibe. There is no stage so you won’t have to perform. I will have a roving mic and move through the audience so people can speak from where they are in the audience. It’s as simple as that.

Eli: You’ve been working with Penny Arcade since 2012, what do you think is special about her?

Jeremy: Penny Arcade is totally unique. There is no one else like her. She has a career spanning almost 50 years, from Warhol Superstar to contemporary of Debbie Harry and Patti Smith. I’ve said this before but her history, lineage and ability as a live performer is simply unsurpassable. I produced her latest show ‘Longing Lasts Longer’ for its world-premiere at Edinburgh Fringe last year with Soho Theatre where it scooped a Fringe First and Herald Angel. We’ve been on a world tour ever since. This August ‘Longing Lasts Longer’ is back at Edinburgh Fringe and we will also visit Holland and Slovenia. In September we have a week at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin followed by what may be our last week at Soho Theatre so if you haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance! 

I asked Penny what speaking truth to power means to her, and she said that ‘to speak truth to power puts one at tremendous risk as the basic rule in life is don’t rock the boat’. She referred me to the Greek concept of Parrhesia, the basis of Michel Foucault’s famous talk Fearless Speech. Parrhesia describes the freedom to speak honestly, but also the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk. Perhaps the Chilcot Report is a good example of this. It’s just a shame it took them over ten years to write it, but the truth will always come out in the end.

Penny says that ‘to speak truth to power is to risk our personal comfort zone for what we believe in’, and that’s Penny to a tee.

SUMMER/FALL TOUR 2016: Excerpt from Penny Arcade's Longing Lasts Longer from Steve Zehentner on Vimeo.

 

Eli: Soho has changed (and been gentrified) over the years, but where can you find the best vestiges of its queer history?

Jeremy: In its people of course, so it’s important to capture their memory before it's too late and lost forever. It’s more difficult than it sounds though, as from what I can make out there are several disparate routes to preserving its history but no real co-ordinated effort. Perhaps Soho Theatre should take it on, or work in partnership with people like Gay’s The Word and Heritage Lottery Fund. I know people like Ben Walters have been instrumental in preserving venues like Vauxhall Tavern so maybe Soho needs its own Ben now!?

Eli: You’ve recently written a play, can you tell us more about that?

Jeremy: The play is called ‘Mick’s Friend’. It’s actually my late father Mick’s play, which I’ve adapted with his oldest friend, the actor and poet Henry Woolf who is now 86. Henry and Mick grew up in Hackney and were evacuated from London together during the war. After the war they met their other great friend, the playwright Harold Pinter, who together with three other mates knocked around Hackney in the 1950’s and became known as the Hackney Gang. Harold said of the Gang they were ‘all of independent mind and not one of us adhered without question to any given, to any state of affairs or system of thought.’ Harold wrote about the Gang in his one and only novel ‘The Dwarfs’ which was later turned into a BBC Film. The protagonist Len was based on my father Mick.

‘Mick’s Friend’ contains Mick’s memories of Harold, Henry and the Gang, memories which I grew up with, and carry with me to this day. Henry, Mick and Harold appear in the play too. Recently we did a workshop reading of it in the Barbican Pit. Henry played himself and Mark Rice-Oxley played Mick and Adam Levy was Harold. Only live theatre can reunite the living and the dead in this way, so to see the three of them on stage together was very powerful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I’m in it too as the son of the Hackney Gang. I play a DJ mixing a soundtrack live on stage, and I have a few lines as a member of the chorus of angels. The play is a love letter to old times, family and friendship. It’s totally unique and utterly authentic and I’m really proud of it. I hope to mount a production of it next year.

Eli: Who is the Truth to Power Angel?

Jeremy: The idea for the Truth to Power Angel came from the work I’ve been doing on ‘Mick’s Friend’. This angel is an extension of that, and part of a character I’m developing for myself and for that of the chorus as a whole. As a boy I was always fascinated by angels and as I grew up I became more and more interested in their use in popular culture. Two obvious examples where angels play their part are in ‘Angels in America’ by Tony Kushner and ‘Wings of Desire’ by Wim Wenders. For The Truth to Power Café I’ve asked Ed Hall - the UK’s leading banner maker for the trade union movement - to make a Truth to Power banner which will feature his impression of the Truth to Power Angel. Ed works a lot with Jeremy Deller and he was commissioned by The National Theatre to make a banner for Caryl Churchil’s ‘Light Shining in Buckinghamshire’. I’ve been lucky to have commissioned two banners from Ed in the past – one for Penny Arcade in 2012, and last year Ed made us the ACT UP banner which has been seen all over London now. There’s a protest scene in ‘Mick’s Friend’ and I want Ed to design the banners. Step by step we’re getting there.

Eli: What plans do you have for the future of the Truth To Power Café?

Jeremy: It’s the theatre of the Café which excites me to no end, so I’d like to repeat it in a range of different contexts and venues. I’m in New York for six weeks from November so I hope to do it there too. First things first though, I have to find 24 people willing to share their truth to power at Soho Theatre so I hope people will join in and help us make it a big success. Let’s do this!

Eli: Finally how can we incorporate the Truth To Power ethos into our lives?

Jeremy: George Orwell once said that ‘In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act’. In a nutshell, I think being able to live your life in a way, where you can speak truth to power, day in day out can take you to a higher level of consciousness. I feel it’s something we should aspire too – and why not. After all – ‘a life lived in fear is a life half lived’!

 

The Truth to Power Cafe runs from the 21st to the 24th of September at Soho Theatre

Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer runs from the 19th to the 24th of September at Soho Theatre

Jeremy is looking for people to speak their own Truth to Power at the Cafe.

Find out more here, or email Jeremy 100 words or less about you and what you have to say at jeremy@londonartistsprojects.co.uk with the subject heading TRUTH TO POWER CAFE.