Thursday, October 30, 2014

Baku Theatre Conference, Azerbaijan

On the 5th and 6th of November, I will be participating in Azerbaijan's biannual theatre conference in Baku. The theme of the conference is 'Theatre art in the system of multi-culturalism and universal values' - a theme which seems steered towards discussion of the things which connect us across cultures.

It's certainly an interesting opportunity at the moment for your naive Australian correspondant. The conference is attended by theatre-makers from Europe, the US and the UK, but many from Russia and the local area. I am the only Australian, and just one of two from Germany. Given Australia's recent hysterical response to global events, and its particular targeting of the religion of Islam, the conference is a genuine opportunity for me to gain some insight into how this plays out in a theatre forum - and hopefully to communicate some of that knowledge.

I will be presenting my paper, called 'Artist as Battering Ram and Collective Scepticism', based on my experiences making theatre traveling from Australia to Germany.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Notebook

Hmph. It seems Tim Etchells has already thoroughly critiqued Forced Entertainment's The Notebook here.

This is becoming a theme for me in FEs work - this defense against criticism, and by extension a kind of forced production of new pathways in critical thought. It's about as thorough a program note as you'll get, and, yep, covers virtually everything I was about to try and write. I suppose if you block off all other avenues, then all that remains is the creation of a new response. I'm yet to exactly make my mind up about whether this is really good or not... something about a correct theatrical intention being impenetrable to the words 'I liked it' or 'I didn't like it', and so instead demanding something else be said.

The Notebook is adapted, pretty strictly it would seem, from Ágota Kristóf's 1986 novel, translated into English with the same title. The story follows a pair of twin boys who one day are shipped off to live with their grandmother, and subsequently learn their survival during WW2 by teaching themselves. The ambiguous process of this learning and decision-making is presented without judgement in both novel and play, and the boys become desensitised to the horrors and pleasures of life. This desensitisation occurs the extent that they are able to respond to situations in ways at once empathetic and inhuman, training themselves into unwavering ethical machines.

The two actors on the stage (Richard Lowdon and Robin Archer) read the play from books, and it's split into stories which we later find out were written by the boys themselves as part of their 'Mind exercises' aimed at improving their chances of survival. The situations they witness include beastiality, killing their mother, whipping a visiting officer for sexual pleasure, blackmailing a priest, and so on. In each scenario, the decision of the boys is almost entirely, and very interestingly, justified by the context, to an extent that is hilarious, absurdly consequential, yet totally rational. Oh, you fucked a dog? Guess that didn't hurt anyone, and you're very poor. No problem. You don't want to give us these notebooks, which we absolutely need, for free or in exchange of eggs? Then we will just stare at you until you do. And when you ask us never to come back, we will tell you that, naturally, we will be obliged to come back - when we run out of paper.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

That Bad Word, That Brown Land

Sitting down again at my desk in Berlin after (yet another) wild movement across Europe, which took me from Italy to Scotland to London back to Italy and home again*, it strikes me that, having engaged in European theatre for the past 15 months now, I may be qualified to make some 'small but important' direct statements about the context in which I am currently operating, sometimes as - that bad word - 'critic'.

I resist these statements a lot. I know, for starters, how much contemporary life is about the performance of perspective, how capital is gained from I was here, or I own this idea. I resist for several reasons: I don't want to show off that I am in Europe, in perhaps its most fashionable city, that I have somehow, until now at least, managed to survive here. I know that Australians come here and take photos and say 'BERLIN, I AM IN YOU'. It is not my objective to gain power in this way, through simply being in a place, or generating a narrative through cultural assumptions. Life is just not that simple (or that successful).

But for those wondering: I have been living in Europe for the past 15 months and intend to continue doing so. I live in a small flat in Berlin, the rent is low, and it's as good a place as any to engage in struggles which, more and more, I see are important. We are moving into the time of perpetual crisis, as predicted by Orwell and others.

In this space, it is also becoming harder to write anything meaningful (and so I write less and less). Knowing, as I know, that the world is full of opinions, and seeing, as I see, that everywhere people behave in ways that support their various existences, I increasingly think the only space for change is that small gap which combines human drama and knowledge. This can be in the theatre, at a conference, or at a dinner table. This work is mainly done in person. So I generally don't write this kind of 'WHAT HAPPENED NEXT CHANGED MY LIFE' kind of structure favoured by freelance writers trying to get Facebook hits. Change - shock - is nearly always slower.