Dear 14/48…

Dear 14/48,
Oh hey, we should have been hanging out this weekend. Well ok that’s not quite true, I had to pull out because of the totally awesome reason of a new job. I was a bit heartbroken about that to be honest, having only just found the best theatre community in the world, to miss it. And then some big stinking, and frankly RUDE pandemic came and stole all the fun. Except it didn’t quite, because you guys are far more resourceful, creative and downright clever than that. And it seemed right, as a writer about theatre, to dedicate a little blog to just how awesome you are.
Over the last year you’ve become my ‘theatre family’ the irony in the given situation is that it’s been largely online. You all exist in this weird digital social media space, while I wait it out until I get myself in a room to make theatre with you again. Even before…you know…all this nonsense. The thing is though, the 14/48 crew never feel that far away. I can always rely on you as my cheerleaders. I can always rely on your ridiculous comments to cheer me up. I can always rely on your memes, your terrible jokes. I might not have been part of 14/48 long enough to know all the in-jokes. I haven’t even met loads of you. But that never stopped any of you making me feel welcome.
When I brought my first play ‘home’ to Wolverhampton last year, I knew some of you would be there. I had more faith in you lot turning out than I did in my hometown. I also knew that you’d know exactly what to say (even if you hated it). I also knew I could spend some of that night literally using you as a shoulder to cry on.
I’ve never had a theatre community before. And though I’m new to your community, I know I’m part of it, whatever form it takes and in these uncertain times, that means more than ever. The whole point of theatre is community surely, and at last, I feel like there’s this whole web of people I could shout ‘hey I’ve got a crazy idea…’ at and they would respond. (Case in point one of us is currently trying to edit a thing I suggested as a crazy idea while helping with this 14/48 crazy nonsense…to which I say…I owe you a beer?) 
All of that is why it’s been so heart-warming to see the 14/48 community respond to lockdown. There’s been 6 weeks- 6 whole weeks- of online theatre, without fail, through tech difficulties, in spite of everything everyone has going on in their lives. And you’ve all made new work. In all that. How brilliant are you?
And you’ve done it in the spirit of collaboration, support, and welcoming that shouldn’t be an exception to the rule but really is. New people have come on board. They’ve been welcomed, cheered for and supported the same as if they’d been there since the first festival. And it’s brilliant that none of you see that as exceptional, you just see it as what you do. I pulled my name out of the writer’s hat for a couple of weeks. Lockdown had given my mental health a battering and I knew I just couldn’t do it. Any other group, organisation I’d have feared for my ‘place’ at the table asking to drop out. At 14/48 I was just met by understanding, and a ‘come and play when you’re ready’.
And it’s that lack of pressure, in a weirdly pressurized situation that makes the 14/48 way of making so special. Ok replace pressurized for occasionally \’batshit crazy…but you know win a good way\’ …Yes we’re all scrambling to make the best thing ever in the shortest of times, under weird circumstances. But there’s also an understanding that if it goes horribly wrong that’s ok. We tried. We made something, we worked together…we dared to do something ambitious. And that’s why 14/48 is perfectly suited to this new digital world…trying to do the impossible on ridiculous timescales with limitations is what you’ve all be training for. And already you’ve delivered on the weekly slots. And that’s why this first digital festival is going to be awesome. Because it already is, you’ve already made it awesome by daring to try. By having faith in the artists, by trusting in what they do best…and by giving them the space to do it. And I can’t wait to see what you do.
I might not have written a single word for this new 14/48 (yet) I might be a new member of the ‘family’…but I’m a really proud one. To sit back and go ‘look at what people can do together, even when they’re apart’. To realise nobody’s ambition stops just because of practicalities shifting. Just because pushing the tech until it breaks now also means crashing your street’s internet connection…just because we can’t all dance together on stage at the end…none of that will stop any of you and it makes me so proud to know each person involved- including those joining in the virtual audience. We are, as they say, all 14/48.
Am I desperately wishing for a time we can all get in a room and make theatre together (and yes, drink beer together?), am I wishing I could be sat in the dark cheering for friends, not sitting on my sofa? Am I wishing I could hug a sweaty actor or two? Of course. But for now, I’ll cheer from my sofa, share all the plays, and cheer you all virtually.

I can\’t quite communicate to anyone reading this why I love 14/48 so much. I promise it\’s not a cult (it\’s not a cult). But if you\’re curious, I say maybe watch one of these plays this weekend…see what these brilliant people can do. 

Dear 14/48 you\’re awesome, and I\’m proud to be part of your community. I\’m so proud of what you\’ll do this weekend. Thanks for inviting me to play a year ago. And for everything you\’ve done since. I might not still be fighting the good theatre fight without you…  my theatre home. Here\’s to making those plays again soon. 
You can watch the 14/48 festival via the 14/48 Leicester Facebook page this Friday and Saturday (and check out the existing ones on there) https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=869426653538088&ref=notif&notif_id=1589528741586458&notif_t=live_video_explicit

By Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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