“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
I’m a reader. I read for pleasure, for money and sometimes out of pure nosiness. It’s the snooping instinct that’s got me involved with a company with a reputation for finding and developing some of the more interesting and acclaimed new plays in America.
The programme I’m engaged with is responsible for reading hundreds of play submissions and whittling them down to a small handful that are then read aloud for the consideration of an interested public.
To make the process is as fair as possible, the readers consider the plays in light of specific and well-defined criteria. The criterion that interests me the most is that the play expresses a new, vital or unheard ‘voice’.
What ‘voice’ means is a bit like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” threshold for obscenity, but one of the obfuscating factors may be the word itself. Voice suggests a sound that emanates from an individual, but the plays that get me and my fellow readers most excited do so not because they tell a story that is unique and interior but because they seem to perfectly capture the sound, feeling and concerns of a specific community. Often what we describe as a ‘new voice’ will actually be a writer who has managed to galvanise into a community groups or people we have either not heard about, or not recognised as a coherent or interesting bunch of people before.
Running interference with this hunger for insights into groups of people is a prevailing wisdom that each of us is best placed to ‘speak for ourselves’ and that it’s incautious and inappropriate to speak on behalf of others. The classic example of this is the ongoing argument about whether male writers have a right to depict female characters or authors from one race to describe characters from another. The discussion is academic, and because of this most aspiring writers are exposed to it at length within the college and post-graduate institutions that have become a right of passage. The breezily touted antidote is the invocation for aspiring artists to seek refuge in themselves; to find out who they are, and speak to that, and pretty soon the word ‘voice’ gets brought up, usually preceded by ‘your’. I’d be telling people to examine what communities they are a part of, and encouraging them to try to understand and express those.
So to quibble with Barak, one voice can’t change a room, so much as galvanise it to a shared cause. Martin Luther King Jr epitomises this in his “I have a dream” motif. I had a dream last night in which I got upset about spilling melted ice-cream on a hamburger that I didn’t even want. MLK’s dream will live longer in the popular consciousness not because it was idiosyncratic, but because the voice he was speaking in, like the dream he described, was a collective one.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.
The tower beside my bed that I seriously intend to demolish. (Feb 2016)
Me & Robert McKee
by Greg McGee
Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan MacMillan