Interview: Jeremy Goldstein on Truth to Power Café
We caught up with producer-activist Jeremy Goldstein to talk about the upcoming London edition of the pioneering platform event which aims to speak truth to those with power.
Main picture: Sarah Hickson
Tell us about Truth to Power Café at Conway Hall as part of Bloomsbury Festival. What can an audience expect?
Truth to Power Café is raw emotional truth telling in a dream-like performance event combining memoir, image, poetry, music and live testimony from participants rising up in response to the question ‘who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?’
I’m also cast as a participant. I talk of the power my father Mick Goldstein had power over me. He was a member of the Hackney Gang – a group of six friends that included the Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter, and the actor and poet Henry Woolf, with whom I’ve co-created the show.
Henry, Harold and Mick met in 1947 and remained the best of friends for sixty years. In 1955 the three of the them saw the first performances of Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London, and in 1957 Henry directed Harold’s first play The Room. At the same time Harold wrote his one and only novel The Dwarfs which was later adapted for the stage and filmed for BBC4. Len, the lead character in The Dwarfs is based on my father Mick.
Conway Hall is home of the London Ethical Society and a hub for independent thought since 1929. The Hackney Gang hung out there in the 1950’s and Harold himself spoke from the stage on numerous occasions. When I enter the Hall and stand on that stage, I feel the ghosts of my father and his Hackney Gang.
Inscribed above the stage are the words:
‘To thine own self be true’
On Sunday ten extraordinary souls who we’ve cast in advance will speak up to those words.
What do you hope the project achieves in the long run?
Closer to home, I had a very difficult relationship with my father. When he died, we were estranged and not speaking, but as time went on, I discovered the dead live on inside of us, and that I was able to reconcile our relationship even in death. It is this reconciliation which set me free, and led to this show.
The performance itself has become a reflection of the passions, interests and concerns of local communities expressing themselves in response to the question about power. Unlike verbatim theatre, the stories we hear in the show are totally real from people who are experts in their own lives, who believe like me, that our stories are as important to you, as they are to us.
The show is cathartic, and life changing for some.
It fulfils our primal urge to be heard.
Who or what inspires you to produce this kind of work?
It comes from my own lived experience.
I am the son of the Hackney Gang, who for sixty years were on the side of the disempowered, the occupied, and their allies. It is those people we invite to appear in the show.
As an arts producer I’m known for political theatre and my work with Penny Arcade over many years including Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! which I brought to London in 2012, and Longing Lasts Longer which is still running in New York.
I’m a long time HIV+ activist with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). ACT UP are one of the most successful campaign groups of all time, proving beyond doubt that community activism and direct action works. People really do have the power.
Truth to Power Café is where these worlds converge.
The project has toured all over the world. Tell us about some recent speakers and what we can learn from them.
So far over 250 people have taken part in four countries and in five languages. Everyone taking part has their own unique story to tell.
In Australia Gregory of Waanyi and Jaru spoke of his belief in a higher power for indigenous peoples globally, and Robbie spoke of his HIV for the first time with his family in the audience.
In Croatia, the director of Queer Zagreb, Zvonomir spoke of his power to make people happy.
In The Netherlands Regina spoke of the power her late son Jim had over her. She said ‘the greatest gift he gave me is the power to be me.’
At National Theatre of Scotland, Ryan spoke of the power of words – ‘I have a story to write, a world to build. I must catch that ship beneath the moonless sky.’
Last Saturday we took the project to Touchstones in Rochdale. A number of first time participants took part including Asma who is a survivor of domestic abuse, and Debbie whose story about organised crime had to be told. Asma and Debbie spoke alongside established artists like Nathaniel Hall and Julie Ward, the Labour MEP for North West England. It was one of the most moving events we’ve ever staged.
What advice would you give to people trying to produce socially conscious work?
We live in the age of the demagogue so if you’re going to tell the truth prepare yourself for the backlash. Build up a survival kit of fact, friendship, and allies. Make sure you’re on solid ground and work with people you can trust. I lucked out with theatre director Jen Heyes, photographer Sarah Hickson, and banner maker Ed Hall.
Read Dictatorship to Democracy – A Conceptual Framework for Liberation by Gene Sharp which includes 198 Methods of Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion. There is always something we can do.
What are you favourite London haunts?
I live in Archway close to Highgate and Hampstead, which I love.
Despite what’s going on in this country, I do think that on balance, London retains its position as a haven for freedom and individuality. Even though I have to work twice as hard as anywhere else to survive, I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from living in this city and that makes it all worth-while.
I love London lock, stock and barrel.