Ben Mellor, who will perform his show “Everything We Need” at the Royal Exchange Theatre on Thursday 28th, Friday 29th and Saturday 30th of June, talks to MCFly writer Roisin Weintraub about myth, art and activism.
Tell us a little about your upcoming show ‘Everything We Need’ and how it came about and the inspiration behind it
The show takes seven mythological characters or stories (The Garden of Eden, The Flood, Prometheus, Medea, Gaia, Themis, Revelations) and uses them as the inspiration for a series of spoken word monologues from contemporary characters.
The concept was inspired by an interview with Mike Hulme on ABC’s All in the Mind about his book Why We Disagree About Climate Change in which he uses the four stories of Eden, Apocalypse, Prometheus and Themis (he changed these last two to Babel and Jubilee in the book) as stories that
respectively symbolise four human responses to Climate Change (his caps); nostalgia/lamentation, apocalypse, hubris and justice.
From my own research and ideas I have added Gaia, Medea and The Flood, which represent nurture/power, despair/vengeance and retribution/salvation, respectively.
I became interested in exploring how the mythic elements of these stories can be translated into a modern idiom and used to reflect, to paraphrase John Ashton, who we are, not merely what we should do.
I developed the show during two separate short residencies at Dartington Arts last year, before completing it here in Manchester this year with the support of the Royal Exchange.
In the show you have tried to address the issues in a interpersonal fashion, Do you think it is an inability to communicate effectively on any level that causes all of people’s problems?
I wouldn’t say that ill communication causes all of peoples’ problems, but it’s certainly a factor. But it’s not just miscommunication between people that I’m trying to dramatise in this piece, it’s also the personal struggles, weaknesses and dilemmas that people encounter which inform the actions they take, or sometimes hinder them from living in the way they believe they should. This is inspired by observations of myself as much as of other people. I think that the political and personal are inextricably linked, and I’m fascinated by the role that myth and story can play in helping us to understand our motivations.
I am personally very shy of titles, but do do you consider yourself an activist?
I’m also wary of labels, and I find the ‘activist’ moniker a particulary thorny one to lay claim to. I have been on actions and demos in the past but I haven’t been very active recently. I’ve personally become disenchanted with large scale ‘anti’ demos and direct actions (though I have great respect for people who do them) and more in favour of positive, localised, community building work like the Transition Movement. That said, I think that standing up for what we’re against needs to go hand in hand with working towards what we’re for. But paradoxically I’ve found that making artistic work about these issues has meant that often I’ve been too busy writing or rehearsing to take more of an ‘activist’ role. Then there is the question of whether art is a form of activism in itself, a question I’m still debating but haven’t yet found a definitive answer to. I think the problem with labels is that as soon as you apply them to yourself, if you find yourself not doing that particular thing at any time you can become too self-critical and start negating your worth as a person because you have tied your sense of worth to that label. I don’t generally describe myself as an activist, as I feel that there are people out there working far more tirelessly and who are far more committed and self-sacrificing to certain causes than I am. But as I’ve said, those unfavourable comparisons can become damaging, and I’d like to think that a diversity of tactics and approaches should mean that people are free to chart their own course and find their own definitions for what it means to take action.
A review of “Everything We Need” will appear on this site on the evening of Thursday 28th June.
Everything We Need, runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre 28 June – 30 June 2012
Written & Performed by Ben Mellor
Directed by Cheryl Martin
Designed by Sumit Sakar
Lighting Design by Jack Dale
Sound Design & Music by Dan Steele & Leonie Higgins
£10 Adults / £7 Concessions