I was at Central this afternoon, doing a panel discussion on "Narratives without Borders". Geoff Colman had asked me to speak alongside himself and Maya Zbib from Zoukak Theatre Company in Beirut, as part of the Haymarket's Masterclass series. It turned out that Maya is in London as part of her involvement with the Rolex mentor scheme, and her mentor is none other than Peter Sellars. So - much in common from the start. The discussion was fascinating, as much as anything because our positions on so many things seemed to be so similar, even though we were starting from such different places - both geographically and culturally. Zoukak is a collective in the fullest sense - there is no single director, and every project is evolved collectively. Border Crossings does have a director (me) and doesn't have a permanent ensemble - but the company's core methodology, bringing together artists from wildly differing cultural backgrounds and theatrical styles, necessitates a collective approach.
The audience was quite young, very focussed and very excited. Lots of people were asking about the riots, and how theatre might respond. I guess one reason was Maya's presence, and a sense that she and Zoukak might in some way be "responding" to the long wars of Lebanon and the current changes in the region. They are, of course, totally engaged with what is happening around them - and so are we. But we both found ourselves saying today that the role of the artist is not the same as that of the journalist or the social worker. Yes, culture can and should respond to historical change - but it requires time and reflection to do so. Yes, culture can empower and engage disaffected youth - but it cannot be applied like a sticking plaster; it needs to be integrated into the fabric of society in order to be truly civilising.