Monday, May 26, 2008

The Audience is Different

I had coffee at the National Gallery with Yvette Vaughan-Jones from Visiting Arts. Before this organisation was re-structured, they had funded us a couple of times in the past; but now the Arts Council has clawed back the grants they used to offer into its own remit. Yvette, as a result, is changing what Visiting Arts is all about, and making its remit more specific. Some of this is to do with training and the facilitation of exchange on a managerial level (a bit like the British Council’s Connections Through Culture Programme), and some of it is much closer to a form of commissioning. I was very intrigued by her ideas for a web-based project around mapping, which would deal with small localities and yet be global.

We talked a lot about the specificity of performance: the fact that it exists only in the particular time and place. To Yvette’s mind, this is how performance can and should justify its existence in the 21st century (because it’s doing something at a community level which film and TV can never do), but also suggests that some of the old structures won’t work any more – indeed, that they are “colonial”. And she challenges me about the idea of touring The Orientations Trilogy.

This has been much on my mind recently: partly because it looks as if it will happen in Shanghai this autumn, and partly because I’m also marking lots of essays about different audience responses to various pieces of work, including Bravely Fought the Queen and Robert’s Seven Streams of the River Ota. In each case, the students quite rightly point out how the same show can mean totally different things to different audiences: how a play about westernised Indians is a different play when presented in Leicester, London or Mumbai; how a Quebecois response to Japan is very different in Japan, and London, and Montreal.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the Trilogy has to remain fluid, and shift according to where we are. Thinking about Dis-Orientations, the most obvious point is Song’s narration in the second half. In China, it would seem right to let Song speak for herself, in Chinese, as the main narrative voice. She does not require the translation / mediation which we used in London. And maybe the comic scene about language learning should not be about a Chinese person learning English, but an English person learning Chinese. Maybe it should be Alex, not Song, who is the victim of the oldest joke in the book……

I phone Radhakrishna to check whether he’s up for the workshop this autumn. “I am in my village” he says. In the background, I can hear the bells and the tabla of a Yakshagana performance, in its traditional context. Now, how on earth will that read in Shanghai?

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