Sunday, January 25, 2009

Manic Michael meets Bertolt Brecht

Maybe it's just that it's January and it feels this way - but I don't think I've ever been busier. Much of it is good stuff, I'm please to say - not least the news that the Arts Council has agreed to fund the Origins festival. For which, watch the web... we're also getting our website re-designed, with the Festival as the first micro-site in the new form.

Origins is going to be an exciting new departure for us, hosting a selection of companies, performances and films from First Nations. Of course - just which companies remains balanced on a knife-edge: only this week I've been constantly on the phone to Australia at 8.30 every morning, trying to see if we can count on sponsorship for a particular group (who at this stage had better be nameless). And, over the weekend, a theatre which I had thought was out of the picture has come back in again... so the negotiations go on and on. It's Sunday, and I've already done three different festival budgets today. Bananas.

Meanwhile, with the help of Rosanna Raymond, I also make contact with the wonderful Maori community organisation here, Ngati Ranana. On Wednesday night, I was at their monthly meeting in New Zealand House. I was welcomed in the traditional way, with calls, songs, dances, speeches in Maori, and food. By the end of it, I felt very welcome indeed! I told them this, and said that we would like to be able to welcome the artists in the same way - they seem very keen to take on our Opening Ceremony.

All of this mania is partly to do with knowing that I'm off to Shanghai in a couple of weeks to start developing the final part of the Trilogy. Very excited about this! The dream cast is assembled - including none other than Mahesh Dattani, who in many ways was the inspiration for the whole thing in the first place. The only concern is that Zhang Ruihong has been ill - in hospital, actually - and so won't be able to take the active part we'd wanted. But she says she'll come in and chat at the least. I exchange emails with Jin Xing, who has agreed to come in and see us for an afternoon and a dinner. Fantastic....

Meanwhile - because it's January and it was offered - I'm also directing a show at Rose Bruford. It opens two days before I fly. Mad or what? These days Nisha has the car for the school run, so I use trains to get from Enfield to Sidcup. It means I use the phone and the laptop like a lunatic from 8.30 to 10 and from 7 to 8.30.....

The show is my first stab at Brecht: "The Good Soul of Szechuan". A Chinese setting - of sorts! I'm finding it fascinating to work on, as well as vast and difficult. Much enjoying the opportunity to work extensively with masks, and to mix up a variety of theatre styles as I experiment with the students. As usual, they are teaching me a vast amount. In the second week, we did a morning of research presentations around themes to do with poverty, the credit crunch, drugs, and modern China. What was fascinating and exhilarating was the deep sense of injustice in the room. As the process has gone on, the student actors have been talking more and more about this play causing them to re-assess their own lives and career choices: what being a performer means, what it is for, what social and moral responsibilities it carries. We decide to use the Epilogue, and work to find a way in which it can shock the audience to political action. Even in a drama school.

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