An Open Letter to Get in the Back of the Van

Dear Get in the Back of the Van,

I’m typing up the notes I made during your show last night. I may as well say straight out that I didn’t like the show. I don’t know if these notes can be of any use to you in future performances but I do want to articulate a response.

I realised I was unlikely to enjoy the show early on. Around the time it became clear that you were playing nervous.

I think this is a defensive attitude. It prevented me encountering you as people. It made me question my goodwill in welcoming you to the stage. Irony sows a seed of doubt. It inhibits trust.

There was some stage violence – punches pulled but nonetheless pretty graphic – combined with sexual posturing. Is this an experiment in what effect this has on an audience?

Reading your programme notes I see you are concerned with popular culture. I am too. I too have an ambivalent attitude towards ‘pop’. I think technology is part of the problem. One of the things I think about is that popular culture couldn’t have emerged as we know it today without a series of technological developments which have totally altered the way we encounter culture. I heard a theatre director talk about the ‘corrupting’ effect of the screen. The difference between something ‘done to’ and something ‘done with’ an audience. One of the things I believe that theatre can do is put us back in touch with our basic human connectedness. The theatre event brings people together in time and space to share experience. I feel there is an alternative tradition of popular culture that’s been eclipsed by the technological, one that needs to be rediscovered in folk tradition and the rich history of theatrical performance. Is this something you think about? What about story? What about character? Have you read David Foster Wallace’s essay ‘E Unibus Pluram’ on Television and irony? I recommend it. You can find it here

Just for the record I’d like to say that sex can be a totally healthy expression of – in our society usually two – people’s affection for one another.

The section on pain felt to me like the thematic cornerstone of the show. “This is what my pain feels like” L says, “we’re here and you’re there” – well for me the divide between us the audience and you the performers can be plotted back to the very start as I say…

It all started in Paris apparently. What happened in that cafe in Paris?

Don’t laugh this is a serious question:

Whatever happened in Paris. The pain. Is this something you would be better off exploring in a therapeutic context rather than exhibiting in performance? As an artist I value my wellbeing so that I can be confident that the stuff I’m putting out isn’t an expression of some unresolved personal issue. You seemed to be revelling in past misery.

I care about theatre. I want to make theatre that celebrates life. My feeling is that it’s not enough to be clever – that a clever critique isn’t enough on its own – that sometimes it’s more important to celebrate what is good. The story I always tell is about the genesis of the permaculture movement. Two activists exhausted themselves – physically and spiritually – protesting against deforestation in New Zealand. Burnout. As they recuperated they decided that they wanted – and for their own good needed – to focus on the positive, to find a creative way to express their ideals rather than railing against the injustice of the world. This led them to develop the principles of permaculture.

There is so much inspiration to be found elsewhere. What about the textures and rhythms of everyday life? What about the things we all need to do to survive. Eating, drinking, good healthy sensual pleasures, community, growing things…

I hope to see your work develop in a more wholesome direction.

Best wishes,



About hughchapmansblog

Poet and performance maker based in Cambridge and London

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