Monday, April 05, 2021

Indigenous Enterprise: Preserve, Perform, Progress

Indigenous Enterprise Dancer

2021 is going to see a series of online events under the ORIGINS banner, several in partnership with our friends at BEYOND THE SPECTACLE. One of these was a film presentation of dance styles and discussion with the Native American dance troupe INDIGENOUS ENTERPRISE, who had already started the year impressively through their participation in President Biden's virtual Inauguration Parade. Here are some of the ideas put forward by MC Prophecy as part of the discussion that followed the film.

As Chief Arvol Looking Horse says whenever he's called forward, any time you find Native people under attack, you will find that the land is under attack, because Native people are the stewards of the land. The recent resistance movements, for example Standing Rock, are environmental movements and they are also youth-led movements. That's why organisations like Indigenous Enterprise work with forms like hip-hop as well as more traditional music and dance - it's a way "to light the fire, to spark the flame".

The Covid-19 pandemic gives us an opportunity to see how Indigenous culture points towards social change. "Sit down, sit still, think about what's going on in the world." It's showing that we have to put the self aside for the good of the community and of the planet. His own moniker as MC Prophecy is taken from the 7 Fires Prophecy of a choice between two paths: one well-worn and scorched, the other new and green. 

"We need to change.  As a species on the planet, we need to change."

MC Prophecy
Like Standing Rock, the American Indian Movement of the 1970s started as an environmental movement, with the resistance to the drilling for uranium that broke a treaty with the Lakota people over control of the land. The drilling led to radioactive water: and Standing Rock also reflects an attack on water.  

These youth-led movements complement the teachings of Elders. Mutual teaching and exchange is at the heart of Native culture. Even enemies should sit down and talk together before they resort to conflict. But isolating people on reservations doesn't allow for this kind of interaction. When there is real interaction, then there should be a proper exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people: "we have to think about ourselves as a species." It's fine to be inspired by other cultures: he was himself inspired by a Japanese village that has managed to reach a point where it has no waste.  

"But we have a group of people who can't think that way....  Are we going to live with the Earth, or try to be masters of it?"

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Seun Shote


Seun Shote as Ato in THE DILEMMA OF A GHOST, with Shonel Jackson

Everyone involved with Border Crossings will be deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Seun Shote, at the age of only 47.  There is a very full and warm obituary in The Guardian, so this blog post is specifically about the time he worked with us, playing the leading role of Ato in our production of The Dilemma of a Ghost by Ama Ata Aidoo, back in 2007. Seun was at the centre of a rich and challenging casting mix, with four performers from the National Theatre of Ghana, and two young Black British women straight out of drama school.  This meant he was the most experienced cast member with regard to UK theatre, and it was very beautiful to see how carefully and tactfully he took on a mentoring role towards Shonel Jackson and Anniwaa Buachie, without ever assuming any higher status. At the same time, he offered a cultural bridge for the Ghanaian performers, making their first foray into Europe: as a British man with Nigerian heritage, he was deeply sensitive to their West African culture and expectations. He made my job as director a whole lot easier.  

Seun's warmth and good humour made the tour of that production the most joyful and carefree I can remember. Touring is exhausting, potentially stressful and often challenging - you need a cast who understand how to look after one another, and Seun did that in spades.  

His performance as Ato drew off his understanding of African and Western cultures with great sensitivity. Ato is the "One Scholar" who has returned to Ghana after studying in the States, carrying the hopes and expectations of his family. Watching him negotiate the complexities of that dilemma was an object lesson in the complex performance of the globalised moment. He was also incredibly funny - the great scene in which Ato breaks to his family the news that he has married an American woman was guaranteed to set the audience roaring with laughter, as Seun sat with a huge forced grin on his face in response to the demonstrative expressions of horror erupting all around him.

He was a fine actor and a precious soul, whose unexpected death at such a young age is a cause for great sorrow. With the ancestors.  


A donations page has been set up in Seun's memory, as he leaves a young family.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Deb Haaland

Deb Haaland

To mark Monday's historic confirmation of Deb Haaland as the first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior, we wanted to re-publish here the powerful Afterword that she contributed to our programme for ORIGINS 2019.  Huge congratulations to her, and to the Indigenous people of the Americas and the world.
The Indigenous history of the United States and so many other countries is often overlooked. Having voices like mine in the halls of power provides an important perspective, and shines light on blind spots that have existed due to the nature of who traditionally is elected. With a new movement of Indigenous people across the globe working to protect the planet and our sacred places, we have found our voice. 

Part of my job as one of the first Native American women serving in Congress is to ensure my colleagues know just how important our land is. We can convey to our colleagues what it feels like to have a very long bond with the land, and why it's important that we protect those spaces. It’s about understanding our past and talking about our future. It’s going to save our planet. 

It’s also the key to ensure that no matter what a person’s background is, they too can run for office. Everyone deserves to identify with the governments that represent us. It's not only reserved for other folks. It belongs to all of us. Those of us who want to lead. We should be fierce and lead, because our lived experiences are invaluable to the public discourse. 

 - Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Representing New Mexico.
Confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, 15th March 2021.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Environmental Policy

Hivshu - Magnetic North - photo: Gayla Morell

Border Crossings recently updated its Environmental Policy.  As the policy is, in many ways, a public statement, it seemed important to place it in the public domain.  

Friday, March 12, 2021

Alastair Niven


Alastair Niven at ORIGINS 2015

Until 2013, Border Crossings didn't even have a Chair of the Board.  We rotated the role from meeting to meeting, with the aim of being egalitarian.  When Alastair Niven became our first Chair, we soon discovered that leadership is not the opposite of equality: indeed, it can be the way to facilitate better equality, as a good Chair makes sure that every voice in the room is given equal weight and validation, encouraging the more reticent to speak up and politely silencing anyone who might attempt to dominate.  I shouldn't have been surprised - these are, after all, the qualities needed of the director in rehearsals - but I will confess that it was an unexpected and very pleasing discovery.

During the time he has been Chair, Alastair has shown unstinting dedication to the mission and values of Border Crossings.  He has done far more than run board meetings with characteristic tact and amiability.  He has often spoken at our events: the photo above shows him taking on the role of our Elder, welcoming visiting Indigenous artists to the 2015 ORIGINS Festival.  In the spirit of Indigenous cultures, Alastair has always understood the centrality of hospitality to any productive enterprise, and has several times hosted board dinners at his house in Kennington.  He has even travelled with the company, joining us for an Erasmus + meeting in Malmo during 2019, where we managed to find an Italian restaurant that looked out across the sea, and a very fine bottle of Chianti.  

Well connected and eloquent in his advocacy, Alastair has also been a terrific ambassador for the company, helping us to make many new connections and to forge new partnerships.  He was only able to do this because he understands in such depth the field of interculturalism.  As Director of the Africa Centre, as Literature Director of both the Arts Council and the British Council, and as Principal of Cumberland Lodge, Alastair spent his working life steeped in the diverse arts and cultures of the planet, and was crucial to the changes that have happened in recent decades, as the imperial and imperious monolith of "great art" has been dismantled, and a multiplicity of voices from "the margins" have started to be heard.  It's very pleasing that Alastair saw his role at Border Crossings as a continuation of that journey.  

His memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, has just been published, and is full of extraordinary insights and revelations.  Alastair writes in the same way that he talks - so the memoir is very good company.  Border Crossings has a brief but warm mention - appearing on page 245 of a 250 page book!  We always knew that we were quite a small, though pleasingly significant, part of his story - but he has been a huge part of ours.  Alastair chaired his last board meeting yesterday, passing on the role into the very capable, and doubtless very different hands of Jatinder Verma.  We will miss his presence at our meetings, but we know he will still be coming to our events, and will always be a part of the Border Crossings family.  

So this blog post isn't a goodbye - but it is a thank you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Write Theatre is Back!

 Guest blog by Brian Woolland, who wrote THIS FLESH IS MINE, WHEN NOBODY RETURNS and DOUBLE TONGUE for Border Crossings.  With Rib Davis, Brian runs the playwriting course WRITE THEATRE, held at the Cockpit in association with Border Crossings.

Well these last 12 months have been a slog, haven’t they?

This time last year, Rib wrote in a blog piece for Lane’s List:  ‘Write Theatre courses are one of the highlights of my year, every year. Stimulating, fun, challenging,  exciting – and exhausting. That’s how I find them. The writer-participants seem to feel the same, and the actors too.’ And he merrily went on to give the dates of the next course, as May of last year. 

Little did we know…

But at least in 2020 we managed to run one online course, and it was fun. Zoom may not be ideal for theatre, but it’s something. The writers seemed to benefit from the course and – as ever – so did we, but I can’t pretend it was the same. 

It wasn’t. Not only were we not in the same physical room with the writers, but, more importantly, for the first time we had no actors involved. And having actors involved is really central to what we do at Write Theatre.  So while we’re pleased with what we achieved, we can’t wait to get back to the in-person course. 
And now it’s starting to seem possible – we are really hoping to get back to our original model which we love so much: one weekend working with the writers (2 tutors and no more than 8 writers) on various aspects of the creation of scripts for the stage, and developing their ideas with them; then a few weeks when the writers go home and write scenes, which they send to us for comment; and then a second weekend, and this is where it really takes off, as we employ excellent professional actors to workshop the scenes that the writers have written. 

This is what suddenly – and often astonishingly – brings the scripts to life, and of course the actors interrogate those scripts, just as happens in a professional production.  It is this part of the process, every time, that the writers tell us they gain from most of all. 

So, with our fingers firmly crossed, we have a new course scheduled for May and June of this year, with real people in a real room.  We’re hoping to get our usual diverse mix of writers: some with experience of writing plays, but wanting to become excellent; some with writing experience in a different field (journalists, poets, novelists, copy-writers); some not so experienced (and perhaps having been put off in the past); and some absolute beginners. 

The mix is stimulating, and everyone benefits from the supportive atmosphere. But, as ever, we don’t accept everyone onto the course, and it’s not simply a matter of experience – we still demand that participants should love theatre, go to theatre regularly (when that’s possible – oh heady days!), and read playscripts. 

We, Brian and Rib, have both had difficult years. We have used the enforced time at home to write, as you’d expect, but like everyone else we have sorely missed the face-to-face human contact, which is possibly more important in theatre than in any other kind of writing.

So we are hugely looking forward to getting back to the Cockpit in Marylebone, and diving into the workshops on dialogue, characterisation, structure, getting started and the rest, getting to know the writer-participants over lunch or in the café by the street market round the corner, and then exploring and developing their writing. 

We’re hoping, too, that as in the past some of our students will go on to have their plays produced. That’s what we’re helping them to work towards. 

Our next in-person course is scheduled to run over the 2 weekends of May 22-23 and June 12-13.
Cost of complete 2-weekend course £400.

And for once, ‘small print’ that’s not so small you can’t read it, and is in your favour: 

Given the continuing uncertainty about the pandemic, we are making a small change to our terms and conditions. The £50 deposit that participants pay at the time of booking a place is normally not refundable unless we have to cancel or postpone the course. Knowing how difficult it is for people to plan ahead in these times, we have decided that anyone who books a place on the course and wishes to cancel (for whatever reason) up to two weeks before the first weekend will receive a FULL refund of ALL fees paid , including the deposit.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us:

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Year Ending

Tony Guilfoyle, David Furlong, Tobi King Bakare

2020 was Border Crossings' 25th anniversary year. It would be fair to say that this didn't really make as big a splash as we might have wished - although there was a nod to it in Centre Stage and there will be a very full article looking back over the company's work in New Theatre Quarterly next year, so our landmark won't be passing entirely unnoticed through the fog of Covid. As the year ends, it's also worth remembering that our devised play THE GREAT EXPERIMENT was actually produced in 2020: we rehearsed in January and performed throughout February, our tour ending just before theatre came to such a drastic stop. It was a landmark production for us, representing several years of development, and we were very lucky that we were able to present it just in time. It had been a difficult piece to place in venues - many of whom had thought it too "niche" or obscure - who would want to see a play about the indentured labour migrations to Mauritius? We were therefore doubly delighted to see our theatres and museum venues packed out night after night, particularly with people from the Mauritian and Guyanese communities, and to see those same communities engaging in post-show discussions and in our Collection Day at the National Maritime Museum. This wasn't just a skin-deep engagement, either. The play was complex, many-layered and politically provocative, plunging into the controversies over post-colonial legacies and contemporary inequalities and injustices without offering any simplistic solutions. My greatest pride in the production was that the audiences, many of whom were not regular theatre-goers, went along with this on every level. 2020 was not only about coronavirus: it was also, crucially, the year when the Black Lives Matter movement came to a head. Just a few months before Edward Colston's statue was torn down in Bristol, THE GREAT EXPERIMENT was confronting the way in which slavery and its legacy continue to shape the social and economic structures of the contemporary world. 
Nisha Dassyne, Hannah Douglas, David Furlong

The lockdown came in March, of course, just as Robert Lepage's SEVEN STREAMS OF THE RIVER OTA was playing at the National - the only piece of live theatre I got to see all year. For Border Crossings, as for many theatre companies, the first response to the closure of the theatres was a decision to share online recordings of past productions, so as to maintain links with our audiences, and maybe even find new ones. This season of streamed productions, which ran from April to June, didn't only represent a welcome retrospective: it also allowed us to reflect as an organisation on our work to date, and to think about how we might develop in the aftermath of the Covid crisis. Each streamed production, which was available for a week, was followed by an online discussion, and the recordings of these LOCKDOWN DIALOGUES are still available on our website. They are all valuable - but perhaps the most important of all was the last one, featuring our Patron Peter Sellars and many of the other interlocutors from earlier in the series. Peter's wisdom and optimism offered us a real sense of ways forward in such challenging times.  We also started a podcast, with Alaknanda Samarth recording Artaud's THEATRE AND THE PLAGUE with music by Dave Carey: it's obvious why we chose this piece, and the ripples from its splash are still being felt as far away as India.    

Raffaele Messina

I don't believe that online theatre is going to prove a substitute for live performance. Theatre remains the vital space where we can gather as a community to experience our togetherness, our sense of connection, and also our differences and conflicts, working towards mutual understanding and democratic exchange. Theatre is the epitome of all that has been lost to us through Covid - so when we are able to gather again, it will be at the core of humanity's renewed effort to tell and to understand the stories of our times. That said, the experience of sharing our work online, debating it online and, as the year went on, making it specifically so it could go online has opened up new lines of thinking which can only broaden our reach and enrich our practice. Even within the Lockdown Season, we released a new film online. MORE THAN WORDS had always been planned as a film - it was part of an Erasmus + project to explore different approaches to communication beyond language, including the digital. However, its release at the height of the pandemic in Europe made it seem at once very immediate and forward-looking in its form. In the opening sequence, Raffaele Messina's Clown wanders the empty streets of an ancient town. We had thought of him as a survivor of war, migrating into an alienating urban Europe - but in the context of 2020, he also seemed to emerge from our own immediate crisis, and to challenge by his silent present the ways of living that facilitated the spread of the virus. 


These ideas acquired a still sharper focus in a collaboration with the British Museum, responding to their extraordinary exhibition about the Indigenous cultures of the Arctic. The original plan had been for us to produce an evening of performances at the Museum, on the lines of our ORIGINS event for the Indigenous Australia exhibition in 2015. That was to have been in the summer. The exhibition finally opened in October - and then closed again. At the same time, we were constantly re-working the event to take into account the restrictions on travel for the artists, and the limited numbers of people who could attend any live presentation. For a time, we aimed to centre the performance on live music, with the Sámi band VASSVIK providing a constant accompaniment to performers streamed in from around the Arctic Circle, as well as live mask dance in the exhibition, and the whole streamed out to the audience. When even that basic element of liveness was ruled out by further travel restrictions and the Museum's second closure, we re-worked the show again, so that the music, mask dance and ceremony were all pre-recorded in the performers' own localities. What I found particularly exciting about this process was that, while it was at times very challenging and quite scary, it offered a route towards a streamed event that would not have been so incredibly intense and moving had it been planned as a film from the beginning. MAGNETIC NORTH (which you can watch on our site) has been acclaimed as "a profound filmic introspection addressing climate change", "an eloquent cry for what we should value in our lives", and "a must watch for any environmental activist, scientist or dare I say it, ordinary person of the people, who needs to be reminded of who and what we’re fighting for." Much of this is down to the interplay between the direct address to the audience of Taqralik Partridge, Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory, Ishmael Angaluuk Hope and Hivshu, and the location of their cultures in the Arctic landscape by cinematographers Kiliii Yuyan and Hans-Olof Utsi. It's also to do with the way the filmed materials and VASSVIK's music allowed the debate between climate activists Caitlyn Baikie and Mya-Rose Craig to acquire a grandeur, a spiritual resonance, a theatricality that took it way beyond "panel discussion". For a company that locates its theatre in the immediacy of the political moment, there is an important lesson here.

Rebecca Unsworth-Webb

MAGNETIC NORTH premiered on December 3rd, but it wasn't quite our last event in a year that had also included our first debates around our new Irish sister company, participation in a panel on Indigenous programming for the Edinburgh Fringe, and a fitful but fruitful series of workshops (at first in person, but then largely online) for our young refugee group, the Border Crossers. During the latter part of the year, Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi and I also worked with a hugely talented and committed group of final year students of European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College, exploring a theme I've been drawn to for some time - the founding myth of Europe, our continent named after a Middle Eastern woman who was carried off by Zeus in the form of a bull. The same thing happened: the government announced that all students had to leave for home by December 9th, and so our planned performances in a socially distanced auditorium had to be hastily re-imagined for an online presentation. We filmed a lot of it in the theatre space. We filmed some of it elsewhere on or around the campus. We did some scenes on Zoom after the students had gone home. Some of them made their own video sequences around their own localities. We shot the closing scenes on location, on a beach in Essex, observing Covid regulations and getting very cold. If you've read this far, you may be interested to see the resulting piece: it's called I AM EUROPE

I've already said that I don't envisage a wholesale shift online, either for our work in particular or for theatre in general. But it would be reckless to imagine a simple return to the form we had before, and foolish not to learn from the significant gains these experiments have proffered.  As we enter 2020, Border Crossings seems well placed to capitalise on the learning we've acquired in this extraordinary, and in many ways tragic year. We were lucky enough to receive a Culture Recovery grant from the Arts Council, a significant portion of which will allow us to purchase technical equipment and build capacity for online streaming. This may mean that we do more international collaborations in a virtual way, like MAGNETIC NORTH.  I'm sure it will mean that we host a lot of our debates and exchanges online. More excitingly still, it may enable us to push the bounds of live performance as an intercultural and international form, bringing together physically present and streamed performers and audiences across the world. Watch this space. And, until then, a Healthy and Happy New Year to you all.