Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Concert Party

Way back when I first started talking about Dilemma, Josip Rainer - contributor to our website, Paris-based dramaturg and regular reader of this blog - sent me a fabulous video about the Concert Party tradition in Ghana. I lent it to Elsie, largely to suggest something of the rough quality I'm looking for in the production, and she in turn showed it to her Mother, who seemed to know just about everybody in it. Now it's blossoming into a really exciting production idea. Elsie has been really struck by the way in which the Concert Parties used to arrive in a village, find the house with the biggest courtyard, and erect a stage there out of planks and blocks. In a way, a very similar approach to makeshift touring! She's suggesting that we do something similar with our stage, so that we have a little raised space in the middle of the room. I like this, since it allows me to divide the space without going anywhere naturalistic.

Talking to Elsie about space is fascinating. She's the architect of the new supreme court, so she's very involved in ideas about liberty and equality, and how they express themselves in terms of spacial relationships. There's a theatricality about all courts which she acknowledges - but she's also very interested in the way in which a new way of looking at it might help overturn received ideas about hierarchy and authority in a judicial process which is meant to be about equality but so rarely is.

Fired up with all this, I drove the family down to Devon to spend the weekend with Brian Woolland. On the way, we passed Stonehenge, silhouetted by the setting sun.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Celebrity culture

With two projects bubbling away towards the boil, Border Crossings has never been busier. It's exciting, but a bit mad! I find myself making silly mistakes, like leaving .html off the links to the Laboratory and Box Office pages in some email shots. Luckily at least some people are keen enough on what we're doing to email us and ask! If I didn't have Kate as Producer for Dilemma, I think I'd be totally out of control by now. She's been doing some of the really tough work, like the Work Permit application and buying air tickets. She only found out at the last moment that Osei is actually Osei Korankye's surname - he uses it first as his stage name. thatw as close to a serious border incident. Booking tickets on Ghana International Airlines is an interesting one too. You reserve online, then phone Ghana to sort out payment. They give you a mobile number of a Uk-based agent, who only takes cash deposited in their account before issuing tickets.... This didn't feel right! Eventually Kate managed to track down a real office and got some real paperwork for our real cheque.

Meanwhile, I've been talking to PR people. It's important we get a good profile for this show, especially with Ama coming. One man depresses me. He's never heard of Ama, which is fine - the job is to make sure people have heard of her. But his argument is that if somebody isn't a "celebrity", then you can't get them any press at all. I begin to wonder how anybody ever becomes a celebrity. I point out that she's won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the Nelson Mandela prize and pretty much everything else going bar the Nobel. "Look", he says: "Athol Fugard can't get interviews. The only one the producers of Victory got was by flying a journalist to California at their expense to talk to him in person. We live in a celebrity culure." And Athol Fugard - that great writer and artist - is apparently not a celebrity. But Paris Hilton is.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Music talks

I was invited to the Chinese Embassy last Thursday, to meet the new Cultural Counsellor, Mr Wu Xun, and a delegation of artists they've brought over. It's a shame that Ke Yasha's not here any more - I'd developed quite a relationship with him over the last couple of years. Still, Wu Xun seems to have style - he got the visiting singers to do a bit of karaoke, and a wonderful pipa player, Wu Yuxia, played for us.

The pipa is like a vertical lute, but has the ability to sound like a rock guitar if needed. I'd not heard it much before a couple of weeks ago, when I saw Wu Man perform with the Kronos quartet - and suddenly here it was again, and again being played by an astonishing performer. As happens with musicians, a Scottish flautist who was there, called Eddie, got excited and offered a reel or two in return. And this led to them playing together. I'm never quite sure how musicians do this - least of all ones who have no language in common at all (though I guess we managed something similar with Zhang Ruihong). Eddie and Yuxia sat opposite one another, watching each other intently - there was almost an erotic charge between them, rooted in rhythm. And, just because of the instruments and their approach to playing, every moment glistened with cultural melding. Eddie told me it was possible because Scottish folk, like Chinese music, uses a pentatonic scale.

The next night, I was at the Barbican for Peter's production of John Adams' new opera, The Flowering Tree. It's another cultural melding through music - an Indian folk tale re-told in contemporary mode, with American singers, Indonesian dancers, and the best Chorus I have ever heard - the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. I get to meet John afterwards, and to congratulate him on another incredible achievement. But all he can think about is the fact that his glasses flew off while he was conducting the final bar, causing the opera to end rather abruptly. "What would have happened if they'd gone earlier?" he keeps saying.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another World is Possible

I spent much of the weekend at the Barbican, for Peter's New Crowned Hope Festival. On Saturday night, this was a concert of world music by the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, with Tariq Ali giving political comments on the various regions from which the music came. It sounds a bit odd, but it was actually quite wonderful; with the music creating a contemplative space to work through some of the ideas in the politics. And, as in the Adams operas and (I hope) in some of our own work, the music took the politics into the arena of the emotions, where the statistics of (say) Middle Eastern deaths move beyond mere statistics and into the reality of mourning. The theme of the weekend was Another World is Possible. In the concert, Tariq Ali's talk suggested the opposite - but the music took us towards a place where transformation through empathy seemed a reality.

Moving ahead on the production: contracts, publicity designs, work permits, accommodation. All made a bit more tricky this time by its coinciding with organising the launch of the Origins Festival in September. At least I can book the accommodation in the same places.

I spent yesterday morning with Elsie and her mother, who is a fount of wisdom on Ghanaian society. I'd passed on the video about Concert Party for them to watch: Elsie's Mum knew many of the performers personally. She fills me in on some of the rituals in the play, and on songs and dances. Like most Ghanaians, she likes to laugh. "Oh yes" she says, when I mention this. "We laugh at everything. Even when people were very hungry, at the start of the Rawlings government, and their throats went flappy because they were so thin, we used to call it 'Rawlings chin'!"