Thursday, November 30, 2017

Voila! Festival Wrap-up

Theatre naturally lends itself to moving through worlds.

The etymology of the word ‘theatre’ has architectural connotations – it comes from the Ancient Greek word for the ‘place of seeing’. That place is quite specific, connected with architecture, but not necessarily bound within it. Although this is challenged by today's theatre artists treating place quite loosely (site-specific theatre, for example) and also exploring the flexibility of form (participatory theatre, for example). In its western form, theatre is a place facilitating a constructed reality.

Such that, perhaps, visiting the theatre today, one is not even moving through cohesive 'worlds' anymore, but experiencing something like a multi-track reality, that the individual desperately tries to fuse into a harmonic whole.

All this to say, by the end of the Voila! Festival, your correspondent couldn't shake the feeling that maybe he had moved through a few too many realities than a capable physician would recommend. The chaotic fusion of politics and art that was my experience at COP 23 in Germany (containing its own strange geopolitical displacement of Fiji and Germany effectively sharing the event, or if you view it more cynically, as I did, Germany hosting the event and Fiji unfortunately playing the role of some exotic, symbolic window-dressing) was replaced with the Euro-UK project of Voila!, which itself took me through some of the more distant areas of highly diverse London, and some equally kaleidoscopic staged ontologies.

It's fair to say that I was pretty spent by the end, magnified by the usual problems of not being paid for much of it, this type of labour being seen as largely valueless in contexts that favour labour that creates material wealth directly, or is involved with other types of more fashionable simulation such as IT. Compounding that is my own increasingly fluid categorisation, moving between nation states, residing in some, speaking the language of others, sometimes doing that badly. Draw from social security? Ha, good one. Ask a neighbour for help? Don't count on it. Get that random 10 euros back that you were charged for withdrawing 20 pounds? Doubtful.

But you can afford it, right?

I'm certainly not alone in this state of transience and permanent negotiation with dominant structures over which I have virtually no control, as was proven in almost every show that I saw in Voila!. It’s also a precarious time for the festival itself – perched uncertainly within the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, it finds itself thrust into a quasi-activist platform, where even existing as a European becomes something of a protest. I’ve always found the UK’s relationship with Europe strange, one of total interdependence mixed with fierce proclamations of autonomy. Expect nothing to change on that front. For the theatre, which benefits hugely from intercultural exchange and diversity, there are challenges ahead.

Some of these I outlined in a practical/theoretical workshop in London’s Cockpit Theatre, entitled Performing Europe's Non-Withdrawal: Crises of Environment and Identity at COP 23, and part of the Voila! Festival. The event was essentially a demonstration of the work from Bonn, with a performance of Gaia by Canadian writer Hiro Kanagawa, acted out by Shaila Alvarez and ably supported by Frank McHugh, who had earlier performed in (and in the case of McHugh, organised) a Climate Change Theatre Action in London earlier in the week. We finished with a short demonstration of the exercises which were used to demonstrate material in Bonn.

The full text of my presentation, is available here.

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