• Matt Powell

PROGRAMME NOTE: American Idiot (July 2019)

Green Day’s music has constantly channelled the rage and anger towards political and societal issues. American Idiot was inspired by Armstrong’s dismay at the then upcoming 2004 Presidential Election. He noticed America’s consumption of propaganda, its fear mongering commercialism and division in the perception of its identity. Similarly, bassist Mike Dirnst realised after watching Political Artist Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 “You don’t have to analyse every bit of information in order to know that something’s not fucking right, and it’s time to make a change”. The album’s initial plot expressed the dissent of a generation shaped by events such as the Iraq War and 9/11. Armstrong hoped the album would remain ‘timeless’ and become more of an overarching statement on confusion. He expressed: “Everybody just sorta feels like they don’t know where their future is heading right now, ya know?”

Fast forward to 2016: politics became an over-consuming monster through our social media and news channels. Britain voted for Brexit. Donald Trump, a media giant and ‘billionaire’, became the 45th President of the United States. Green Day released Bang, Bang: a song about “the culture of mass shooting that happens in America mixed with narcissistic social media. The anger raised by Armstrong repeated itself. Michael Moore released Fahrenheit 11/9: a parallel documentary: “a provocative and comedic look at the times in which we live”.

A repetition emerged.

Moving to London in 2017, I became engrossed and obsessed by this notion that our anger and frustrations, felt so long ago, were resurfacing. Lee Hall and Ivo Van Hove’s stage adaptation of Lumet and Chayefsky’s 1976 satire Network came to the National’s stage at the same time as moving. The work, a perfectly outrageous dark satire examining the power of television and news broadcasting, left a younger and naiver Matt thinking:

“How can theatre spur change. Did I leave that theatre wanting to scream this and act against the world? Absolutely. It had me inspired to consider how we can take a piece of theatre and make it relevant today in ways that encourage people to think, talk and act up. There was an article in the programme which discussed the world at present in comparison to that of Network, which was a very interesting read. It addressed how as a world we have become just as brainwashed by social media and the black mirrors of our phones as our previous generations were with TV screens. This spurred me to create art that explores the repetitions of contemporary issues that also affected past generations.”

The show sparked inside of me urgency and rage to make a difference and this resulted in a piece of performance art that examined the discoursed structure of political speeches.It took the form of a satirical political campaign embedded in a news broadcast. But I wasn’t quite done. I couldn’t ignore that politics has become reality TV, news reals force us to feel empathetic towards moments which we inevitably forget about, and that our world is repeating the same scandal day in and day out. This brings us to this show.

The parallels of Green Day’s American Idiot and the condition of our world today made it the perfect work to reimagine. My vision is to create snapshots of rage and love across generations. The production aims to make us collectively reflect on our past and current rages and loves, and maybe have us consider how we can bring them back.

Our cast are encouraged to hold these feelings throughout the show to create an image of diverse protest. The busyness of this image represents how complicated our world currently is. Our rage and passions are forgotten in media narratives and propaganda. We invite you to this space of expression, attempting to navigate our voice through the complex maze of existence.

We are all fuelled by different forms of anger. Our voices become lost in a symphony of noise and we have to find ways of navigating it. The protest of the production is busy and lacks a clear political viewpoint. I feel it represents that as a world, we are overwhelmed by a system that forces us to see things from a censored perspective. The final image of the show is made up of the individual protests of each cast member. This moment encourages us to pause, breathe, come together and share our stories and experiences. I want this to empower you to go out there, use your voice and stand up for what you believe in.

My hope with this production is that we capture a snapshot of multiple generations’ frustration against the pandemonium of media chaos and allow our voices, rages and loves to be heard. The recent drama by Russel T Davies’ Years and Years summarised how important it is for us to speak up and be present. This was reflected in the Nan’s speech declaring that the fate of the world is our responsibility. Those ‘men, the jokers and the tricksters and the clowns, they will laugh us into hell.’ We can see them coming, they are part of us. As one group is silenced, another begins to rise. As the show demonstrates, a single moment of bravery can spark and inspire change.

Today, we share our rage. We share our love. And we invite you to remember.