STEAL THIS PLAY performing next week!

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Was just settling down, after a productive day’s rehearsals for Israel/Palestine, to do promotion and planning work, when news arrived that a proposal I made with Open Source Theatre for a scratch night at the Soho Theatre several weeks ago got accepted. To perform next Monday.

I’m tremendously excited, but also pretty overwhelmed. I’m juggling a lot of artistic balls (pun intended) at once right now, and then another just got lobbed right in there. But we can manage it. It’ll be a great evening.

The piece is called STEAL THIS PLAY; it’s about property and theft. The night is an evening of scratch interactive theatre called, surprisingly, Scratch Interact. It’s being run by an exciting company called Glue. You can get the low-down on the event and tickets here; hope to see some of you there!

(keeping it) Real

Theatre

I’m working in Southend at the moment on a project called The Real Britain. It’s a launch for East 15‘s new Clifftown Studios there — a site-specific theatre and performance series on the history of the UK. The driving idea is that the UK is and always had been an immigrant culture, and so our audiences, as they walk through the different rooms of the building, will go on a journey through the experiences of different immigrants in different times, from the Romans to the Poles.

Now that’s a UK I can believe in. Problematic, motley, isolated and creative. That’s long been the vision of the UK I’ve had — a wild combination of different peoples, settlers and invaders, colonised and colonising. The BNP’s farcical “indigenous” being a vague sort of synonym  for “looks sort of white”. Go back far enough in any British family’s history and you’ll find it’s an immigranmt family; it only takes five generations, or 150 years, to find that in my family, and we would appear as British as they come. So I’m finding it a really worthwhile project to be working on.

I’m assistant directing on a segment set in a 1970s Green Street back alley between a Chinese and a Pakistani restaurant; it’s exploring those two key immigrant experiences, and also the rising culture clash as a result of the large-scale immigration of the 40s and 50s. We’re also looking at refugees and asylum, something I’m really passionate about, so we’re managing to work some of that in as well.

There’s a real race issue. The class group is mainly white, with a few internationals. So how to portray Pakistanis and Chinese? We’ve taken the decision to just run with it, and as we have to cast across race, to do it fully and make a point of it. So our gang of white racists include a Burmese, a Nigerian and a Greek, while our Chinese family are all white. We’re having some fun play with language as well, looking at racial stereotyping and performace — the waitresses all speak broken Engrish when customers are around, but talk totally ordinarily amongst themselves. It’s good for a laugh, it solves an issue, and it makes a point.

The structure of the theatre project is also something I really believe in: collaboration across groups and institutions, theatre that breaks the confines of the simple stage-play, that immerses audiences in experiences, that discusses important issue in an entertaining way, and which is being combined with workshops and panel discussions to create what should be an empowering weekend. We hope! Of course, all of that brings organisational difficulties, confusions, rushed rehearsals, stress and so forth — but I’m optimistic. Come and see it if you’re around.

Arty (Farty) Party

Personal, Theatre

I took myself over to Seven Sisters on Saturday night, negotiating a cunning maze of tube and Overground closures, for a friend’s party. It’d been a while since I was out in London, and I wasn’t sure what I was in for. But I had a great night. It turned out to be a serendipitously-proportioned mix of artists, geeks and queers — a heady combination, one that made for fantastic conversation and unbridled dancing.

I found myself repeatedly saying “I’m a theatre director”. Well, I am. I may only be wee, but I am and I’ve got to say it — part of making it, part of becoming this thing I want to be, is claiming the territory for myself without fear or self-serving shame. So I even started believing it myself. But what I couldn’t believe it there were loads of folks there (and this was a seriously arty party) who seemed genuinely interested in my projects and ideas about theatre — the way I was interested in their post-structuralist gallery show, or their part-satirical political communication product design, or their immersive soundscape generator programming. I started to feel kinda at home — which is a pretty good sign, I guess.

Here’s another thing: over and over again, I would here conversations from all these multi-disciplinary art practitioners, in all their different (multi-)disciplines, talking with fervour about interactivity, audience participation, collaboration, and everything do with taking art out of the self-regarding at into an empowering social sphere. Now I find that exciting. OK, so it’s not a representative sample, birds of a feather &c., but still — I’m encouraged. Some of these ideas are very old even if we don’t recognise them, and some of them are very new, but it all adds up to the same thing: art not just as self-expression, and not even just as essentiasl testimony, but art as a joyous and exciting tool for empowering us, all of us, where “us” really means everyone in any society that has art, to take possession of our many lives and worlds.

I think this year’s shaping up pretty good so far.