Sunday, January 25, 2009

Manic Michael meets Bertolt Brecht

Maybe it's just that it's January and it feels this way - but I don't think I've ever been busier. Much of it is good stuff, I'm please to say - not least the news that the Arts Council has agreed to fund the Origins festival. For which, watch the web... we're also getting our website re-designed, with the Festival as the first micro-site in the new form.

Origins is going to be an exciting new departure for us, hosting a selection of companies, performances and films from First Nations. Of course - just which companies remains balanced on a knife-edge: only this week I've been constantly on the phone to Australia at 8.30 every morning, trying to see if we can count on sponsorship for a particular group (who at this stage had better be nameless). And, over the weekend, a theatre which I had thought was out of the picture has come back in again... so the negotiations go on and on. It's Sunday, and I've already done three different festival budgets today. Bananas.

Meanwhile, with the help of Rosanna Raymond, I also make contact with the wonderful Maori community organisation here, Ngati Ranana. On Wednesday night, I was at their monthly meeting in New Zealand House. I was welcomed in the traditional way, with calls, songs, dances, speeches in Maori, and food. By the end of it, I felt very welcome indeed! I told them this, and said that we would like to be able to welcome the artists in the same way - they seem very keen to take on our Opening Ceremony.

All of this mania is partly to do with knowing that I'm off to Shanghai in a couple of weeks to start developing the final part of the Trilogy. Very excited about this! The dream cast is assembled - including none other than Mahesh Dattani, who in many ways was the inspiration for the whole thing in the first place. The only concern is that Zhang Ruihong has been ill - in hospital, actually - and so won't be able to take the active part we'd wanted. But she says she'll come in and chat at the least. I exchange emails with Jin Xing, who has agreed to come in and see us for an afternoon and a dinner. Fantastic....

Meanwhile - because it's January and it was offered - I'm also directing a show at Rose Bruford. It opens two days before I fly. Mad or what? These days Nisha has the car for the school run, so I use trains to get from Enfield to Sidcup. It means I use the phone and the laptop like a lunatic from 8.30 to 10 and from 7 to 8.30.....

The show is my first stab at Brecht: "The Good Soul of Szechuan". A Chinese setting - of sorts! I'm finding it fascinating to work on, as well as vast and difficult. Much enjoying the opportunity to work extensively with masks, and to mix up a variety of theatre styles as I experiment with the students. As usual, they are teaching me a vast amount. In the second week, we did a morning of research presentations around themes to do with poverty, the credit crunch, drugs, and modern China. What was fascinating and exhilarating was the deep sense of injustice in the room. As the process has gone on, the student actors have been talking more and more about this play causing them to re-assess their own lives and career choices: what being a performer means, what it is for, what social and moral responsibilities it carries. We decide to use the Epilogue, and work to find a way in which it can shock the audience to political action. Even in a drama school.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Digital developments

This blog has been immortalised....

Or, to put it more simply, the entries I did on my research trip to Ghana in 2006 have now been edited and published in African Theatre 7: Companies. James, who has done the editing, has also put in a few extra notes about the Dilemma production, and some photos. He's also talked in his Introduction about Dzifa staying on, her Arts Council fellowship, and the background in Ghana. The great thing about this is that it means our work is reaching a wider audience than those who come to the shows. Of course, the blog and the website are part of this - and this book will get a wide academic distribution, particularly in Africa, where much theatre is based within university campuses.

Owen and I meet up to talk about ways of developing the company in this respect. We've been feeling for a while that the website is looking a bit out of date. It's interesting that James references the blog several times in the book, but not the site. We need to make it more interactive, and more current in its use of blogs, networking and videos. What we really need to do is to open up the digital presence of the company, so that the people who are following what we are doing can begin to link up with each other, and to create their own online community.

So - watch this space.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Old School

Over the New Year break, I read Peter Gill's new book Apprenticeship. I knew it was about the rehearsals for Bill Gaskill's famous production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and since I start rehearsals for another Brecht - The Good Soul of Szechuan - tomorrow (yipe...) at Rose Bruford, I thought it might be a good "way in". I'd read about the production before - in fact, it was reading about Gaskill's rehearsals that first got me interested in Brechtian theatre, way back in my teens. But I hadn't realised that even then the production was some way distant historically - it was as long ago as 1962.

I rather liked reading Gill's account in the knowledge that he was looking back across a time-span longer than I've been alive. For one thing, it allows the book to avoid the Equity factor which is always a problem when actors and directors write about their work. Gill is at the end of his career, and doesn't have to worry about who he offends. As a result, he gives a very lucid account of what Gaskill tried to do, what he in fact did, and how the institutional and cultural apparatus all around him proved so very tricky. As somebody who has worked in large institutions, I appreciated the last point! The great joy of Border Crossings is that there is no juggernaut of a theatre machine dictating how things should and should not be done. Of course, this is also its biggest problem - so much has to be done by so few people - but we would never have one director coming in to "sort out" another's production.... and that was what happened to Bill Gaskill.

So - tomorrow I start my first ever Brecht production.....