Tuesday, July 08, 2014

LIFT 2014

The Year I Was Born
For years, I've loved LIFT.  As much as anything, it's a great research opportunity for our work.  Not in a "Oh that's clever, we could do that" way - or even in terms of finding potential collaborators, though there have certainly been elements of the latter....  but mainly as a way of seeing what sort of performances are being made at the cutting edge, globally - what people are talking about through the medium of theatre, how and why.

Two years ago was a vintage year - two productions from that Festival, Gatz and Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, remain engraved on the memory as truly extraordinary pieces of theatre.  It was inspiring that this year's Festival offered the chance to meet Back to Back, the creators of the latter, as they undertook a residency at the V&A.  This aspect of LIFT, allowing artists to explore and develop future work in the context of the Festival, is very adventurous and could be really productive.  The other company that had a residency this year was Zoukak, with whom we developed This Flesh is Mine in Beirut during 2013.  I can bask in a tiny bit of reflected glory....  as it was me who introduced them to Mark Ball.  They showed their new piece as work in progress at the end of the residency - and I had the chance to view a run-through the day before.  It's going to be a fascinating exploration of the contemporary Middle East in relation to Terror and the West.  At the end, I fished Rustom's book out of my bag as a recommendation: it turned out Omar had bought it the day before.  Great minds...  Just wish they were around for the 1st August!

Among this year's performances, the one that excited me most was The Year I Was Born, a piece from Chile which dealt with how one generation's response to the experience of dictatorship affects the next. The performers were all born under Pinochet - some were children of activists who resisted him, some of more compliant people, some of supporters.  None could simply "be themselves" - identity was marked by the parents from the start.  One woman had even lost her relationship with her mother because of the performance.  It was very resonant with a lot of our ongoing exploration of "Truth and Reconciliation".  There's a fascinating discussion you can listen to here.

Other terrific work included Young Jean Lee's The Shipment - with an all-black American cast dissecting race in astonishing ways - and another company that has interested me for some time, but which I've not been able to see before, chelfitsch from Japan, with a very funny and disturbing confrontation with consumerism - Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich.  Great title.

Where the Festival didn't seem quite so powerful this time was in the larger scale pieces that were programmed for longer runs.  Watching these, I felt much as I did at APAM in February - that I was looking at something globalised and mediatised, at work which could be from anywhere, work aimed at an "international market", and therefore lacking the specifics that are needed to make theatre truly resonant.  This even applied to some pieces that were apparently "about" the specific culture they came from, but which in fact packaged and sold something uncomfortably close to a touristy caricature of that culture.  There was a clue in some of the programme notes - Mark recalled that he saw a Russian company in New York, chelfitsch and The Shipment in Brussels.  Of course, I am far from averse to international touring - we do it ourselves - but I am increasingly wary of work that is specifically addressed to that "market".  Somehow our intercultural dialogues have to allow the "inter" without losing the "cultural" specifics.  That's why we always try to work closely with overseas partners on the ground, and to make the differences between us central to what we do.

I was thinking this through as the Arts Council's NPO announcements came out.  It was a deeply conservative result, which essentially preserved the status quo.  "International markets" were a stated priority for ACE, but not international collaboration.  It's all about the international as a way of selling British art, of making money. The worst kind of cultural imperialism.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Write Theatre

This Flesh is Mine: Andrew French and David Broughton Davies

Border Crossings Laboratory has been partnering with WRITE THEATRE to run a series of intensive courses for emerging theatre writers.  The course leaders are Brian Woolland (who wrote our recent hit This Flesh is Mine, as well as the earlier production Double Tongue, and has worked as a dramaturg on devised projects), together with Rib Davis.  Rib has written plays for BBC radio, television and stage. No Further Cause for Concern, later made into a television play, won a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival.

Like all writers, playwrights have to spend time alone on the hard graft of developing a playscript. But writing for theatre is essentially different from writing novels, short stories or poetry in that collaborations are at the heart of theatre; and that is reflected in the way that WRITE THEATRE courses are organised – with collaborative workshops, open discussions and practical exercises as well as one-on-one tutorials.  What makes the course unique is that on the second of each pair of weekends we are joined by experienced professional actors; and the writers get the chance to work with these actors in groups and individually.  All day Saturday and Sunday morning are spent exploring and workshopping extracts from scripts written by those attending the course – with script-in-hand performances of these extracts on the Sunday afternoon. 

The most recent course was held over two weekends in June.  The three actors joining us for the second weekend were Hannah Watkins, Andrew French and David Broughton-Davies.  Andrew and David were both in This Flesh is Mine – as Achilles and Agamemnon. Here’s what some of the participants had to say:

“WRITE THEATRE might not be cheap – but it’s excellent value for money.  I loved your teaching style. You created a learning environment that offered a safe place to share, explore and take chances. You gave us guidance and support, insight and generosity of knowledge and spirit, encouraging us in a constructive, helpful way.  You provided a solid, professional framework for the course and a series of exercises that proved perfect for expedient learning by doing. I feel like I’ve achieved 6 months’ worth of information and experience in just 4 days.  The opportunity to have our work read, workshopped and performed by such quality actors was an absolute thrill. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve done ever and they were so wonderful to work and experiment with. Thank you for an incredibly enriching, absorbing, challenging, intense and wonderful experience.” 
 Lara Cetinich Cory

“Absolutely thrilling to see my work performed for the first time by professional actors.  Hard work; great fun; transformational; how magic happens.  This is the writing community I’ve been searching for.”           
 Lindsey Armstrong

“I found the whole course immensely rewarding. Having  professional actors work on one of my scenes moved me to tears. Brian Woolland and Rib Davis are great teachers and highly regarded playwrights.  Great value for money and a really great course!”                                                                       
Richard Barrett

Rib and Brian … are simply so generous with their experiences, yet so playful about the art of writing…. Two of the most inspiring weekends of work and play I could possibly have wished for…. To see real actors play a scene of my writing was a mind blasting experience...  Hugely inspiring. The climate was very warm and very intelligent.
Camilla Josephson

“That was truly inspirational. Wow!  What a difference you guys made.  I arrived trapped in a plot driven hole that I had dug myself and left released not really knowing where the characters in this new play are going, but thanks to you they are alive and going somewhere.”                                               
David Howgego

The next WRITE THEATRE course will be held at The Cockpit, London over the two weekends of October 25th – 26th and November 8th – 9th.  There is a strict upper limit of 10 participants.  We do not ask for qualifications as a pre-requisite for acceptance on the course, nor do we ask participants to have had previous experience of writing plays, but it is essential to have a strong interest in theatre.