Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Bank Holiday Monday saw me making a trip down to Cheltenham - to the racecourse, in fact - for the Greenbelt Festival, where I'd been asked to give a talk after a screening of Our Generation. It was one of the most important films we screened in Origins - a documentary about the Howard Intervention in the Northern Territory, which was Critics' Choice in Time Out, and which fires up audiences, turning them into instant activists!

I was a bit dubious about Greenbelt, given that it is vast, open air, summery and Christian - a combination which suggested I was in for a lot of happy-clappy evangelical bigotry. In fact, my prejudice could not have been further from the truth. The festival combines an intelligent and broad-minded approach to faith with a real concern for social, economic and political justice (Palestine featuring particularly strongly around the various tents), and a very positive ecological agenda. The talk after the film lasted for more than an hour, with an audience who were deeply concerned and committed to the ideas we were dealing with. It was only after the formal end of the debate that I was asked, very politely, whether I was a Christian myself. I suspect the questioner actually wanted to know if I had ideas about involving churches etc. - he certainly wasn't out to save my soul!

The political film programme at Greenbelt is organised by Tipping Point, run by a fascinating and energetic woman called Deborah Burton. I suspect there is going to be an ongoing partnership here: Tipping Point do monthly screenings of politically conscious films with talks at the Lexi. That's something we would definitely support....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sheelah's first week

Border Crossings` new General Manager is Sheelah Sloane. Sheelah has worked as Tour Manager and Lighting Technician for Shared Experience, Glasgow Citizens and Albany Empire. She was General Manager for Theatre-rites and Quicksilver, and more recently Islington Music Forum. She has project managed a range of young people’s theatre projects and site-specific productions, working with professional theatre artists and participants from London’s culturally diverse communities.

Sheelah is very welcome to the Border Crossings team! We were sorry to say goodbye to Lance Bourne, who saw us through Origins 2011. We`re also very happy to have the help of our office interns: Cloris Ng from Hong Kong, Zeynep Incir from Turkey, and Aike Senna Broens from the Netherlands. An intercultural office indeed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


It's very difficult to respond to what happened in London last week. Returning from the States felt like walking into a war zone - usually I've felt it was the other way round. It's a huge warning shot across the bows of our social ship - and if we don't respond, the next one may sink us. It was strange, as we worked on the documentary we're doing about our Origins work on Maori heritage, to hear my own voice saying that London needed to learn about community cohesion. The idea has a much more urgent meaning now.

The response from Westminster has, perhaps inevitably, been short-termist and short-sighted. Art takes the long view. I had an email this morning from Jonathan Chadwick, who is a very thoughtful director, also very interested in interculturalism, asking if a space might be created in which theatre-makers and the like could consider ways of responding. That sort of space is very needed right now - there has to be consideration and a long-term strategy for an enormous project: there is a whole culture to be achieved.

In Saturday's Guardian there was a letter from a Venezualan man, pointing out the way in which El Sistema has been instrumental in diffusing the culture of violence there. It sounds crazy - teach kids to appreciate beauty, to love music, to perform, and there will be peace on the streets - but it is actually true. Our work is urgent and central at the current moment.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Museums of San Francisco

A bit more time to explore - in between meetings and actors' auditions at the Opera. San Francisco has a wealth of culture - I am going to enjoy being here for a month, if I can find any time around what looks like an insane rehearsal schedule.

There are three exhibitions here at the moment which won't be around come October, and I've managed to take them all in. The Asian Art Museum, which is a complete treasure-house on all sorts of levels, has an exhibition about Bali, much of which is about performance as something integral to the way of life. There are the famous shadow and rod puppets, of course - but there's also material about the dances of the Barong masks, and the performative rituals associated with cremations.

At the Modern Art Museum, there's a fantastic exhibition of the paintings collected by the Stein family (Gertrude, Leo, Michael and Sarah) in Paris in the early years of the 20th century. I'd read a lot about this in the John Richardson biography of Picasso - wonderful to see so many of the original paintings gathered together. In particular, there are Picasso's first forays into mask-like portraiture, including a surprisingly tiny self-portrait, and the incredible portrait of Gertrude Stein herself. The exhibition also has loads of Matisse, purchased mainly by Michael and Sarah, as well as the revolutionary Woman with a Hat, which still feels radical and wildly colourful when you encounter it in the raw. One of the curators has written a piece suggesting that these radical movements in painting took place in "tranquil times" in comparison to the turbulent 21st century..... what about Guernica? Still - it's interesting that he suggests the abandonment of the representational allowed artists to think of the painting as an object in its own right, operating in the world by virtue of its presence.

The third exhibition is the smallest, but for me the most relevant and specific. It's a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Angels in America, called More Life! It has costumes, props, videos and photos, Tony Kushner's desk.... and, fascinatingly, his original notebooks. The layout is very instructive. He writes down ideas as if they are lines of dialogue, without allocating them to characters or situations. And yet they form a sort of conversation. This is how his work is so brilliantly dramatic, so totally dialectical - he's constantly having a dialogue with himself.

And there was an image of Nancy Crane, playing the Angel. Our old friend, here on the walls of San Francisco.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Foreign Cinema

I've been at large in San Francisco - helped by the fact that the technical work on Xerxes has been much smoother and simpler than expected. Paul Pyant, the Lighting Designer, has been here too - and we've been trying out a different restaurant each night. Carissa is from San Francisco, so there have been some insider tips. Last night we were at a wonderful place called Foreign Cinema, which does indeed screen European films in its courtyard, in case you don't fancy chatting over the delicious food. This city is the food capital of the US, with a restaurant for every 28 inhabitants.

We got through our cue-to-cue by lunchtime today, so I was able to spend some time exploring. I went up to the San Francisco Art Institute, which is an art school but also happens to contain an original Diego Rivera mural - the first one I've ever seen in situ. It is totally incredible. As expected. The bonus was an exhibition of contemporary work, called East Meets West. Most of this is rather ordinary, but there is one stunning piece of work by an artist called Amie Siegel - called Black Moon. It's partly an hommage to Louis Malle, but it's also a fascinating use of film in the gallery setting, projected in such a way that you feel very much involved in the post-apocalyptic narrative, alone in a dark room with a screen that covers an entire wall.

On to the legendary City Lights bookstore - where I am able to buy a signed copy of Winona LaDuke's book All Our Relations, plus some other indigenous materials from the vast stock on display - and (of course) a copy of Howl. Well, you can't leave San Francisco without a copy of Howl, can you?

Monday, August 01, 2011

San Francisco

I flew out to San Francisco yesterday. Nothing to do with Border Crossings - though as so often with freelance work there are lots of possibilities in the trip - but to re-work Xerxes again. It's essentially the same show I did in Houston last year, with very few cast changes, so in theory it should be quite an easy job. In theory. I spent the morning watching the video of the Houston production and having a rush of "Oh - is that what we did? How are we going to get something that complex back in a very short time?" The system here is very odd: we don't actually rehearse till October, but we're doing much of the technical work now, a long way ahead of rehearsal proper. I just hope it doesn't mean we can't change any staging because of where the lights are.... luckily this is quite a bright show, so we ought to be OK!

The city is very different from other parts of America. I had a lousy introduction to it last night when I stumbled jet-lagged into the Tenderloin district, and found myself surrounded by homeless people pushing shopping trolleys containing all their worldly goods, and drug addicts in incoherent rages. It was deeply depressing. Today I discovered that this is not typical, and that San Francisco is rather an attractive place! I picked a museum at random, and went to the Museum of the African Diaspora. I'm not sure it's a museum in the conventional sense - there are no artifacts to speak of - it's more of an historical centre, with displays exploring slavery, the Haitian revolt, Mandela, African music and food, plus an archive where people can type in their own family histories. There's also a wonderful temporary exhibition of Siddi quilt-making. The Siddi are people of African ancestry living in India as a result of the Indian Ocean slave trade and similar - I knew a bit about them already because Rustom talks about his work with the Siddi of Karnathaka in our Theatre and Slavery book. I'd not seen pictures before, though, and I'd certainly not seen the lovely vibrant quilts which the women make. The exhibition is linked to an initiative to help them make some money for the community out of this craft. Here's the link: