Friday, July 15, 2016

LIFT 2016

I've been meaning to write about LIFT for a few weeks.  Brexit rather took my attention elsewhere.  Or rather, it made me write in a more direct way about some of the things that constantly preoccupy us as an organisation and as artists working around international exchange.  As in previous years, LIFT was full of work generated through the meetings of artists from different countries, different cultures, different spaces.  It enabled this diverse country to be galvanised and inspired by encountering the results - a ripple effect of "things could be different".  And, of course, all of that is now under threat.  The first piece I want to talk about was funded directly out of the European Union.  The second was itself European.  The third drew powerful resonance when I sent some guests on our European Playmaking Laboratory to experience it.  Their visits were, of course, funded by the European Union.

At LIFT 2014, I'd loved Lola Arias' piece The Year I was Born.  For this year, LIFT had joined forces with other European organisations to commission her new production, Minefield - a meeting between British and Argentine veterans of the Falklands conflict.  In some ways, the idea behind this is close to our own model - bring together performers from different cultures, and see what results.  Except that Lola's actors were not performers - or they had not been before this show.  They had a range of professions: I particularly remember one of them being a Special Needs teacher.  What brought them together was their status as veterans of a war I remember from my late teens...  and it was very striking for me personally that the Argentine men were about my age.  One English soldier said how, when they finally arrived in Port Stanley, they noticed how young the Argentine soldiers were.  One of them told how he survived the sinking of the General Belgrano.

Minefield was defined by honesty.  I was about to say it didn't take sides, but that's not entirely true.  Margaret Thatcher and General Galtieri both came in for some pretty hefty and totally justified satire.  The point is rather that there was no sense of right and wrong in the warfare itself, although the men on stage continued to disagree about the issues behind it.  What mattered was that these former "enemies", men who had been in a position where they could easily have killed one another, were able to come together in art, and to find out more about themselves by understanding the common experience they shared.  It was a perfect example of theatre's capacity to place you in another person's shoes.  To see things through another person's eyes.

The Hamilton Complex
I don't know if Mark planned it this way - but that sense of looking through the eyes of an Other felt central to this year's festival.  Perhaps it was just Brexit making me feel that way...  In The Hamilton Complex, a group of 13 year old girls helped us to see the world as they did - with an anarchic humour, a healthy lack of respect, and a deep, touching sweetness.  Matt Trueman has written superbly about this play, and I won't repeat him: I'll just point out how the production not only provoked the audience to see the world through the eyes of these girls, but also to question our own eyes - to think about why we look at young girls and mature women in the way we do, to recognise the political structures underlying these preconceptions.

It's all about empathy.  And my other highlight of this year's LIFT was Clare Patey's extraordinary Empathy Museum on the Greenwich Peninsula.  It sounds the simplest thing in the world to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes, while listening to their recorded voice on headphones.  For everyone who did it - it was profoundly moving.  Almost everyone felt that there was some strange coincidence to their choice - that the experience of the person whose shoes they wore was particularly close to their own, particularly specific to them.  One of our European guests had suffered a recent bereavement similar to that of the person whose shoes she wore.  Another felt the migration story he heard reflected his own.  A young German found herself in dialogue with a survivor of the Holocaust.  The truth, I suppose, is that all of these specifics are part of our common humanity, that is too often suppressed and enclosed.  The job of art is to find the connections.

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