Friday, July 27, 2007

The Africa Centre

I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the Africa Centre with Elsie, Kate, Nick Moran (our newly recruited lighting designer) and Graeme from Business Culture, who are running the building until it gets re-opened in spanking new form, round about 2010. The previous evening, Graeme and I had both been at the architects, Ash Sakula, looking at the plans. This was a serious gathering of movers and shakers around African activities in the UK, where I was very excited to meet Biyi Bandele. He and I had overlapped at Central in 2006, but never got to chat before. He kept me entertained with anecdotes about the Nigerian film industry. "Nollywood" is apparently conquering the entire continent.

The architects have made an amazing job of the Centre. Given that it has the only original Georgian frontage in Covent Garden, which leads into a very narrow, long space, they have found ways of cramming in a vast number of surprisingly large spaces. The real debates during the evening are more to do with management and usage. One thing which stands out very clearly is the centrality to any work in the space of the old auction hall, which sits very powerfully in the centre, and is retained in the new design (not least because it's listed). Gottfreid, a visual artist, talks about how it is like the square in an African village - the open space used for markets, for culture, performance and politics.

That's exactly what we want to do with it too. Elsie and I get excited about the ways in which we can configure the room to make a really interesting actor-audience relationship, and Nick comes up with some really exciting ideas about how to light it in a very unconventional way, which says something different about what the performance is. The direct relationship with the audience which is so basic to African theatre will be at the heart of this show. Part of this, of course, is the welcome we can give them into the building, so we're delighted when Graeme suggests opening the basement area as a bar / restaurant / exhibition space during the run. This is very exciting - a way of extending the experience beyond the auditorium into the social ritual of theatre, in the way I've always loved at the Cartoucherie. I need to think more about it, but we're moving forwards!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thomas Keneally shipwrecked

Tom was on Desert Island Discs this morning. I got used to his voice through a saga of phone-calls in the build-up to getting Bullie's House on: nice to hear him again. By a funny coincidence, today I also finished reading his novel A Family Madness, which is a journey into deeply disturbing material across two parallel narratives - one in contemporary Australia, the other around the Belorussian involvement in World War Two. This is characteristic of Tom, and one of the things which drew me to his work in the first place: he's very much aware of the interdependence of seemingly discreet spheres of operation - the way in which global history affects each and every life, however parochial it may seem to others, and indeed to itself. Bullie's House was set on a remote mission station - and was about the great spiritual and political questions of our time. At one point in the BBC interview, Tom says: "The best stories happen on the fault lines between races and cultures". That could be the motto of Border Crossings.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Full steam ahead

The last few weeks have been packed with admin - all of which is moving very much in the right direction. The really good news is that Dilemma has now been funded by the Arts Council, the Commonwealth Foundation, Passage of Music and the Gibbs Trust. Which means we're on. Kate (who runs Bilimankwe, and is going to be producer on this project) and I carve up the admin jobs - which are legion. The most immediate tasks are around bringing people from Ghana, where the news of the go-ahead has been greeted with much rejoicing! We need a work permit, which means getting passport details. I suspect at least one of the people we're inviting may not have a passport - and that there may also be no record of her date of birth, which will make everything a bit more complex than it really needs to be. Of course, I may be wrong, and I hope I am. By a fortunate coincidence, Steve Collins, a young director who we're intending to take on as an intern on this, is currently in Accra with Theatre for a Change, so he can help smooth the way and sort some of the cultural bridges. I doubt he'll still be there by the time the cast need to apply for visas, so we may have to get British Council help there.

Phone Ama Ata Aidoo. She's very excited, and sure that she will be able to come for at least a week, possibly more. This is a big boost to the marketing - which is probably the biggest job of the lot. Plus it will be wonderful to have such an eminent figure around our work.

Meanwhile, the Origins Festival is also moving on. We've got funds from the US Embassy and from Arts WA for the Advisory Board's meetings and the launch in September. I meet up with Ian Connich, the Director of the new Centre for New Zealand Studies at Birkbeck, and he offers to show some Maori short films for the launch. This will be great - it's a way of involving some element of presentation even at this early stage. I phone Allan Collins (Aboriginal film maker) in Alice Springs, to see if we can also show his amazing film Sunset to Sunrise. He seems very open to the idea, and tells me amazing things about the background to the piece. In order to allow the elder Max to tell his story, they spent six weeks consulting other elders about protocols, and then went to the specific place in the bush where Max's father was born, and sat under a specific tree to tell the story. None of this is overt in the film, but it goes some way towards explaining the extraordinary resonance it has.

Ophelia Huang emails from Shanghai to say we've got a CTC grant for me to go to China and meet Director You again, with a view to moving the Trilogy forward. Hopefully I can get this to happen in December, once Dilemma is done - I'd like to be in the country till then if I can. But there are also pressures to try and get the work seen in the first half of 2008 - not least the China Now Festival. I met their Programme Manager, Fenella Barber, who would like the project to be part of the Festival. Worry that suddenly everything is happening at once..... which is great, of course......