Saturday, November 4, 2017

Re-opening: Home

I guess it was only a matter of time.

Since opening this platform in 2013, it became important to me. Not really as either a sort of public personal diary, as so much of the internet has become, nor as a place where I might publicly train myself in the difficult and increasingly (I propose) unappreciated field of theatre criticism.

The empty space here is a chance - or maybe better, an excuse - for me to try to articulate something. That can be quite a difficult thing to find the time and space to do. It's a simple practice in concept, but one I increasingly appreciate even as it becomes more difficult. There were many times since 2013 when it was almost impossible. Furthermore, it's a chance to make a small home. And accommodation is a specialty of mine. I love hospitality. The giving and receiving of it is one of my unequivocal pleasures.

But not least, the digital space here was a chance to fight back. And it's on this third point that I resolved, paradoxically, to stop writing.

Climate Protest 4-11 in Bonn, Germany

Withdrawal made sense, at that time a year ago. But that was a particular time and place, and a particular context. Whilst I acknowledge identity to be fluid, this concept is regularly invoked to refer to the capacity of the individual to change their identity - and not for the context to influence the perspective from which the self is viewed.

I 'protect', as a critic, (when I am a critic), the way my writing is symbolically functioning. When I sense that it is not functioning well, because the political circumstance has changed, it's my responsibility to act on this. Sometimes this protection looks a little weird - for example, when it is in the form of a fierce attack, lobbing in a provocation, or wading into vastly unknown territory. Nevertheless, this integrity is everything. Sometimes, when it is compromised, one must withdraw.

Stopping writing did not mean I dropped tools completely. In 2017 I built a small community with others in the former Australian Embassy of East Berlin. I built a small embryo of a performance about the current USA president. My work was in an art biennale in Romania, and auctioned to raise money for activists protect forests from government in Poland. I reopened Theaterstück briefly to write again about shows in the beloved Faki Festival in Zagreb. Amid all of this, I tried to collaborate more, and to listen more.

Which brings me to now. Because I write this from the train, ploughing its way through the fields of North Germany inevitably towards Bonn, and the 23rd United Nations Climate Conference of Parties, or COP.

The last few months have been a steep learning curve. After being approached by the Umweltbundesamt, Germany's Environment Agency, to develop a work for the COP on the theme of Climate Migration, much-appreciated collaborator Sonja Hornung and I threw ourselves into the complexities of working with refugees in Germany. So it was that I directed in German for the first time, worked with refugees for the first time, worked in a German State Theatre for the first time, and attended a COP for the first time, all in the one project.

If you think that seems like a lot to handle - it strangely doesn't feel like it. Directing in a second language loses its intimidation when the 'directed' is so open and receptive to your direction - you stop thinking about your errors (for once), and focus on what you want to articulate. 'Working with refugees' (increasingly a weird kind of art world sub-genre) I have found not particularly special, it is a lot like working with other human beings with little or no theatre experience (in a way, all of us). The politicisation of the subject, which some groups have recently come to symbolise, makes it a lot like working with other explosive subjects, which I am not unaccustomed to. And even the inaccessible state theatres of Germany can be broken down, with the right offer.

The agenda over the next days is jammed with rehearsals, events, and protests. On Wednesday, we will jump into the freezing Rhine River in a global protest against climate change, following the leads of Christoph Schlingensief, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Ben Vautier. And on the 11th, we will together premiere a beautiful work, titled 'STAY', in the foyer and stage of Theater Bonn. The direction will not impress anyone - and frankly I don't give a damn.

Over the next weeks, I will report where I can on the activism and politics around the COP 23. With Fiji the president of the COP and the physical location in Germany, I will do my best to focus on the islands of the Pacific, the relationships with which my native Australia has historically exploited and continues to exploit (Nauru is only one example). I have already witnessed a fair share of cultural appropriation from Berlin in connection with this COP, born out of a tyranny of distance creating a lack of accountability, and a commitment from the U.N to represent the interests of low-lying nations - as long as it's convenient to do so. May those whose name the COP is held be acknowledged and respected, afforded their rightful dignity, and be given a chance.

Following this, I will cross the channel to the dark, murky, dystopian UK, where the ray of light that is the festival of european theatre Voila! will no doubt shine from the gloom. The festival has taken a distinctly political turn since the events of the 2016 EU Membership Referendum, branching out for the first time into multiple European languages (from its origins as a French-speaking festival) and into multiple languages and venues. It's a wild experiment, and in the current political context, one destined to succeed in a particular kind of way. I'm a quasi-part of the festival, reporting on the shows and doing this event. I will miss the beginning of the festival on the 8th, making my way there on the 13th for the final week.

It's time to believe again that change is possible, that the future is not pre-determined but something that we shape and create together, and that the structures, the institutions and the businesses are humans with human concerns. Where exploitation, dehumanisation, and xenophobia is employed to divide us, may we unite against it under our common humanity.
It's time to believe again.
It's time to write again.

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