By Beth Steel
But who decides?
Well, we all do.
Sure, but there must be someone.
But there isn’t.
A few people that everyone goes along with?
Why do you say that?
Because that’s what happens.
This dialogue is from Friday night. I was asked how Freelancers Make Theatre Work make decisions, which I couldn’t answer in a straightforward way because we don’t have a system, one approach, one voice. But I found the question interesting…
I love Homer. I remember first reading The Iliad and finding it shocking and harrowing; nothing to do with cinema’s offerings of ripped men with golden tresses swanning about in shiny armour. Here was filth, despair, elation, terror, love, and deep moral ambivalence. That was my first encounter, my second was googling who exactly Homer was. And for different reasons, I was equally stunned: Homer is not one person but many. How could that be?
Homer’s epic poems were composed orally – The Iliad alone coming in at fifteen hours – before the development of writing in Greece. They were passed from bard to bard, with every passing mutating, over hundreds of years, before finally being written down. What we have is not the result of one mind but of many: a multiple mind.
I was completely thrown by that identity. On paper I understood it, in my bones I didn’t. The idea of a collaborative and collective process of creativity goes against what I know. My own character aside, I have grown up in a society that worships the success of the individual and is, I would say, suspicious of the collective. The latter is often deemed inefficient, ineffective, intolerant of different views. I can see all those dangers – personally, nothing fills me with more dread than group think – and yet we have avoided them, or faced and passed through them.
One of the things I love about the Iliad is its absence of authority, how it doesn’t just tell the story of one fighting side, the Greeks, but also the Trojans; how its many central characters share the poem with hundreds of foot soldiers, each given their own moment in the sun before slipping into darkness. I believe the brilliance of the form comes from the fact that different selves, minds, experiences, shaped it.
A collective imagination, a different approach to authority, a building of things together; as Homer proves, none of this is new. And yet, for me, it is. And conversations like mine on Friday remind me how radical it is.