A theatrical focus on drones

Dear Editor,

I feel I should respond on behalf of Small World Theatre to recent items and letters in the Tivyside. The drones event at Small World Theatre, with a capacity audience, fulfilled the brief of getting the community to focus on and debate the issue that we felt was not really being addressed in a community that is under the flight path of the drones. I say flight path but this is not just a linear take off and landing scenario because these UAVs circle and follow targets as they are guided and controlled. (By Who?)

People on the ground say they have been at the centre of a circling drone or deliberately followed while cycling for instance. The perception from the ground is that of being “target acquired”, traced and tracked, after all, this is what drones do and this is indisputably a large part of the nature of a drone’s very existence.

As for the letter in the Tivyside asserting that the audience were not informed that cameras would be relaying the event to an online audience. It was stated on every poster, A5, A4, A3, and the big A2. It was also on 2 websites, Twitter and Facebook. There were SIX bi-lingual signs posted around the lobby area and occasional verbal announcements were made too. Additionally to this level of information it was also mentioned by one of the cast 10 mins into the performance and there was no way to conceal two tall camerapersons as people entered.

This was a modern multi-platformed event not a candid camera exercise. The complaint led to National Theatre Wales assembly director Gavin Porter taking the record of the event offline thus curtailing an even larger audience engaging with this important issue. However we are very pleased that Area 43’s radio station declared it their most popular show.

The call from National Theatre Wales (NTW) was for a subject that had local, national and international significance. We felt after 14 years of reading Tivyside press cuttings “Who controls the drones in my sky” was a legitimate and timely question. Winning the vote for us to work with National Theatre Wales gave a sort of mandate and wider legitimacy,(some votes from the USA, Australia and Europe) to ask the question “Who controls the drones in my sky?”

Looking at the Tivyside cuttings over the last 14 years there are questions raised that are not satisfactorily answered. Questions remain about drones creating 1500 local jobs, 100 apprentices. There were promises of a hotel and commercial flights to Dublin and Paris. What is the relationship of a civilian airport to a defence contractor and their relationship to the MOD. Complaints of noise and nuisance answered as if from a cold war MOD department or just an answerphone sometimes left on. Nothing clear, nothing taking our enquiries seriously. There is a press office with a micro thin veneer of gloss with no depth of concern or real responsibility to confront the specific or the wider issues with any “content” This is the 21st century, we are not content with your content.

The larger question concerning drones use in war is without question, a legitimate subject to discuss in our society. In this global “war on terror” that takes Britain to places like Afghanistan and away again, remote killing drones are a fair target for discussion too. If we separate the bullet and the siting scope from the gun have you made any single component not still part of a weapon? The overwhelming majority of people testing their drones in my sky are from the worlds’ military. Hey lets face it they are the ones who can afford this service Aberporth provides.

In the debates around the tables many views were expressed including those from people who saw the lifesaving value of drones even in the battlefield but the ethical points of a new generation of weaponised drones and the possible advent of autonomous drones acquiring their own targets based on computer algorithms without even the need for a ground-based pilot should be open for even more discussion. In fact the disturbing news that Blaenannerch local airfield has just got a contract to “test” more drones in a “ move to develop larger and even more capable unmanned systems in the future” is deeply worrying. For “larger” possibly read noisier and “capable” maybe read armed or autonomously controlled eg. drone controlling itself. How will we ever know what is really floating above our heads? Or if they are even operated by human hand.

In a self defeating faux pass West Wales Airport also say in the Tivyside they are the only airport in the World to be licensed and authorised by a civil aviation authority to enable UAS flights beyond visual line of sight” Why here? If it is so rare to get a licence anywhere else on this planet this must be because it is so dangerous.

But for now at least two councillors are holding some form of debate in the local press. The issue has been raised and a continuation project for this community has been given £500 by National Theatre Wales as seed money.

Theatre is there to entertain, inform, stimulate, pose questions, point to answers and rehearse reality. We feel “Who controls the drones in my sky” hit these benchmarks.

Bill Hamblett, Small World Theatre, Cardigan.

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