Monday, December 14, 2009

Red Shift

Emma invited Nisha and myself for dinner last night, to meet some other friends of hers. They were Jonathan Holloway, and his wife Jane. Jonathan is AD of Red Shift. I first saw his work as long ago as 1983 (!), when he directed The Duchess of Malfi at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was a really important production for me then - formative in terms of my early voice as a director - so it's nice to be able to tell the director in person!

Much in common. Jane used to be General Manager of Opera Factory, so they know David Freeman, Susannah Self, Janis Kelly.... Jonathan is involved with Central and Middlesex.... It's kind of amazing we've not met before. It's particularly interesting to hear how he's fared with running a company over a quarter of a century. For a long time, Red Shift was an Arts Council RFO (regularly funded organisation), and was a client of the national office, running long tours on the small to medium scale. Then everything was devolved to the regions, and touring became far less of a priority. Jonathan decided he wanted to move into more specific forms of theatre anyway - and actually gave up RFO status as a pre-emptive strike against a likely cut. Now, like us, they rely on project grants and partnerships. Interestingly, he regards it as a liberation. Strange to hear when RFO status is regarded as your holy grail....

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Opera Jawa

I spent last night watching the DVD of Opera Jawa; one of the films which Peter commissioned for the New Crowned Hope Festival. Click here for a synopsis and a review by the ever-perceptive Tony Rayns, who also wrote about it for the Festival programme.

For me, what was fascinating about this film was the combination of traditional Indonesian performance forms with a contemporary setting, and with very strong social and political concerns. Like our Trilogy, this film draws off Hindu mythology and the danced and sung theatre forms of Asia, at the same time as confronting some of the contemporary issues in the region. In the Trilogy, I've been alternating scenes of naturalism with more fantastical, magical and mythological moments. In Opera Jawa, the film-maker Garin Nugroho makes no distinction between the mythic and modern worlds. His Ram and Sita are contemporary working-class Indonesians, and they sing and dance as well as make pots and ride bicycles. The film is through-sung, so totally operatic - the only spoken text emanates from a TV, which (with the multiple layering characteristic of this work) is a carved statue. I can learn something from Garin's approach: I should trust non-naturalistic styles as being capable of conveying everyday life as well as the dream - indeed, of showing what is magical and dream-like in our everyday lives. It's a beautiful film.

Annika, our intern, has got herself a permanent job in a casting agency. She's only been with us a short time, but did some terrific work: transcribing the Swedish sections of the Re-Orientations script, preparing sponsorship proposals, and more than doubling the number of friends we have on MySpace! Thanks and good luck to her.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Paul Sirett joins Border Crossings

Paul Sirett, a leading dramatist with a special interest in intercultural theatre, is joining Border Crossings as Associate Director. Paul is currently International Associate at Soho Theatre Company, and Associate Writer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. He was formerly Dramaturg at the RSC. Recent plays include: Bad Blood Blues (Stratford East), Running the Silk Road (Yellow Earth at BITE), The Big Life (Stratford East and Apollo West End), and Rat Pack Confidential (Whitehall, West End). Two volumes of Paul's plays have been published by Oberon Books.

Paul will be working closely with me to develop the company's programme and infrastructure. His wealth of experience will be invaluable to the company; and his inspiring work in intercultural theatre makes him an ideal member of our core team. Anyone who knows plays like Worlds Apart or Crusade will recognise his as a distinctive and perceptive voice, talking with humour and urgency about cultural cross-currents in the contemporary world.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Wangari Maathai

The British Council invites me to a lecture, in a series called Talking without Borders (logical enough I should be there, I guess). It's at the RSA, and is given by Wangari Maathai: the Kenyan founder of the Green Belt Movement, who in 2004 won the Nobel Peace Prize. She's on her way to Copenhagen, where she'll be lobbying at the summit on behalf of Africa, the forests and the poor.

The lecture is very good, although nothing she says is particularly surprising. There are some exciting new ways of putting old problems - I particularly liked her question as to how we can make a tree which is standing worth the same, economically, as one which has been felled. What is perhaps more striking about the evening is the way in which climate change activism has become establishment. You don't get much closer to the establishment than the British Council at the RSA, with the Acting Chair doing the introduction. Lots of the guests, who all toe the line, are people from embassies, government departments, quangos, even industry. The man sitting next to me turns out to run BP. "I'm interested in environmental issues", he tells me.

So - with Copenhagen on the way - the burning issue is surely not "there is an environmental problem", not "what can we do to solve the environmental problem?" but "why are we not acting to solve the environmental problem?"