Monday, May 04, 2020

GIFT and Manifestos

Song Ru Hui in RE-ORIENTATIONS - 2010
Whenever there is an obstacle, theatre makers find ways to make theatre.  The most obvious shift at the moment is to work happening online - and we're part of that process ourselves with our streaming offer and THE LOCKDOWN DIALOGUES.  A big part of the conversation is going to be about how the form itself can adapt, so that we move beyond streaming recordings of existing performances, and start to make work that is actually intended to happen online.  If, as seems possible, the theatres don't re-open until 2021, then this is going to be essential.

GIFT is a festival that has already started experimenting with online work, and I was a participant in the piece they presented with Rosanna Irvine, MANIFESTOS from times of CRISIS last week.  The piece was an online meeting to work out, at first in "break out groups, and then as a full group of twelve attendees, what we wanted to say and do in the time of coronavirus.  The final manifestos make interesting reading: you can guess which one I worked on....

Before we met to create our manifestos, we were asked to reflect on some questions.  The process turned out not to involve any sharing of our responses, so I thought I would post them here as a few thoughts in the time of the virus.  Responses are very welcome - we need to start working through these things together.
  • What is happening?
We are retreating.  The virus is sending us all into contained, private spaces - but even before the virus we were retreating.  Brexit is a retreat.  The rejection of refugees is a retreat. Nationalism is a retreat.  And - sorry to say this but…  there are ways in which even some forms of identity politics are a retreat.  We are all saying “Keep away from me.  I will keep close only those who are mine.  I reject the other.”
  • What do you want to be happening?
I want us to meet again.  Not in a Zoom room or some weird virtual reality but physically present, in the same room.  I want to be able to hug my friends and to feel our common humanity.  I want to be aware of living (and mortal) bodies passing before me in real, unredeemable time.
  • What do you not want to be happening?
"We’ve done really well and we’re past the peak.  We have to keep it all in place because it’s too early to stop being scared but we want people not to be scared so let’s all wear masks because it really boosts people’s confidence if they can’t see our faces.  You aren’t allowed out unless you have to go to work in which case you can go out.  We all have to keep indoors except on Thursday evenings when we all go out and stand with our neighbours and clap all the immigrants who work in the NHS who we intend to deport after the lockdown is over.  That doctor was an Italian you know.  Amazing thing was, he was quite good."
  • What are you remembering?
The last few weeks before it all really kicked in.  Performing our show across London.  The laughter in the audiences.  The energy on the stage.
  • What are you hoping?
The end of the retreat - the end of fear.  A realisation that things can’t go back to normal because normal was the problem.  The return of ceremony, the recognition of common purpose.  A meaningful rite at the burial of the dead - our lives recognised as having a value beyond the statistical.
  • What kind of a world do you want?
A world that retains its global connections but combines that with a local sensibility.  A new sense of place, a loyalty to the land.  A world in which travel happens because it is necessary, and where the traveller is not regarded as a dangerous interloper but as a welcome guest.

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