The new phase of our GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project is called HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE.
HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE: GAZA, PALESTINE <> LONDON, UK
You are invited to come and share your ideas for, and imagination of, a ‘live events space’ planned for late September 2017.
Az Theatre is hosting a gathering at:
British Actors Equity Offices: Equity Guild House, Upper St. Martin’s Lane WC2 9EG (within 50 metres of Leicester Square Tube Station) at 5.45 – 7.45pm on Monday 24th April
We are inviting writers, academics, thinkers, activists, performers and artists to co-create the HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE ‘live events space’ with us. This means imagining together ways in which this space may be used:
- to bring home what is happening in Gaza
- to open creative communication with people in Gaza
- to open up conversations and learning to wider publics and more communities.
- Films and videos
- Performance: dance, spoken word, music, drama.
- Panel discussions (about Gaza, War on Terror, Tolstoy, sustainable environment, international law)
- Publications (focus on recent books, films etc.)
- Art, participatory or exhibition
- Public Skype exchanges with people in Gaza
- Learning programme
- Community outreach
- Participatory activities
- Contact with the hundreds of people in Gaza who are participating, as audience or theatre-makers in Theatre for Everybody’s production of Tolstoy’s War & Peace.
We are planning to animate a ‘live events space’ for 7 days at a venue in East London in late September 2017.
This is a part of a ten-year 2009-2019 cultural exchange partnership between Az Theatre (London) and Theatre for Everybody (Gaza).
How can we create a space that can present live events with a variety of inputs (organisation, programming, presentation, sponsorship) and using different forms of expression (film, spoken word, written word, music, photography, dance, song, skype exchanges, panel discussions, public conversation, participatory and installation art) that can make connections between what is happening in Gaza with what is happening here in the UK and in other parts of the world, from the point of view of the threats to, and opportunities for, human beings living the lives they want to live?
The occasion for the creation of a ‘live events space’ is the production in Gaza in late September 2017 of Theatre for Everybody’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace. This is a stage in GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM, a ten-year cultural exchange project between Theatre for Everybody (Gaza, Palestine) and Az Theatre (London, UK).
Az Theatre is calling for a gathering at 5.45pm-7.45pm on Monday 24th April at British Actors Equity’s Offices, Guild House, Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2 9EG.
The keynote of this stage of our project is ‘connections’. As Angela Y Davis points out in her most recent book FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE (Haymarket Books 2016): “The tendency has been to consider Palestine a separate – unfortunately too often marginal – issue” p.11
Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”
In the Native Americans Rise protest against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline in March led by the Sioux from the Standing Rock reservation the chant went up: ‘Occupation is a crime, From Standing Rock to Palestine’
Our aspiration is to unite different forms of expression and engage with connections between struggles in Palestine, the UK, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Diyarbakir, Eastern Turkey and elsewhere. This entails a strategy of ‘intersectionality’, ‘efforts to think, analyze, organize as we recognize interconnections of race, class, gender, sexuality’ (Davis op cit. p.18)
Never has it been so clear that the issues raised by the Palestinian struggle for freedom is at the centre of our own political and social discourses.
The above is the question we are using as a ‘calling’ question for this gathering.
Reading Ilan Pappe‘s essay in the ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ book I began to believe that he was answering a question that I had asked myself. Don’t we in the UK need a new kind of activism? See my “Activism and Az Theatre’ in the Az Theatre blog.
His essay called ‘Permission to Narrate Gaza’ is one of many wonderful contributions in this volume edited by Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar but Pappe’s was the contribution that really caught my attention. Here is an extract. He is responding to Edward Said’s call for Palestinians ‘to extend their struggle into the realm of representation and historical narratives’:
‘One can continue Said’s journey by challenging further the historical narrative and by questioning the hegemonic discourse on Palestine commonly employed by the powers that be. This questioning has to insist on including the historical context and new terminology when discussing the 2014 attacks on Gaza and the overarching question of Palestine. The new terminology can be presented best as several pairs of antinomies: the former in each pair representing a redundant term to be replaced by the latter more apt one. Occupation versus Colonisation; Peace Process versus Decolonisation; Peace Solution versus Regime Change; Two States Solution versus One Sate Solution; Israeli Democracy versus Israeli Apartheid; Israeli Defence Policy versus Ethnic Cleansing (and, as we shall see, Genocide in the case of Gaza)’ p.159 Gaza as Metaphor
He is summary and is concerned with breaking down illusions, of moving beyond the accepted given narrative of the situation. He is redefining the space of thought. I feel his reasoning has dimension. But, at the same time, he is summing up what has already been articulated. And the thoughts are based on recognising what is happening in Gaza.
What was the first building block on the way to founding this new vision, what he calls a new ‘penning’? He is comparing the power of the pen with the power of the sword. Maybe it starts with a critique of the accepted thinking. Usually faced with the situation there in Palestine you meet ‘facts on the ground’. These facts on the ground are the arguments that set out the space, determine the basic ideas, the terms of the debate. Normally these facts and ideas send your mind round in circles. They make it not make sense.
The ‘two-state solution’ arises from the initial partition of the land in 1948 that was validated by the United Nations. The logical corollary of this partition is that the two peoples should live in separate spaces. He quotes sardonically the Robert Frost poem about ‘good fences making good neighbours’.
The next proposition is that the Peace Process should lead to the foundation of the Two States. This is a piece of double-think or, at any rate, it is the generation of thinking as a smoke screen. The Israelis are ‘pretending’ that they are not appropriating Palestinian land, most significantly the land which they occupied in 1967. So the next idea that hits the floor and smashes to pieces, is that what they are doing is ‘occupying’ the West Bank and Gaza, that what is taking place is an ‘occupation’, as if this is envisaged by the perpetrators as a time-limited process and that the ‘occupiers’ are planning to withdraw. Of course the ‘withdrawal’ of colonies from Gaza is a part of this feint. We are asked to believe that this was a part of the ‘occupation’ ending.
Already by criticising the Two-State solution, the Peace Process and the Occupation, the ground in view, and the mind, starts to clear. If these were pictures that obscured the real view then it is necessary to knock them down and dispense with them. The Peace Process is the biggest feint. There can be no peace without justice. It cannot be that a ‘peace’ can be constructed as if there has been a war between two parties whose conflict has reached a conclusion.
I have recognised for some time that the Peace Process is a fake game and finally knowing this was simultaneous with recognising that a genocide was happening. I don’t agree with Pappe that this is only happening in Gaza.
Of course, my use of the word genocide is specific. It is genocide in the strictest meaning of the word. This is as I understand it: genocide is, according to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who invented the word and defined what it meant, the destruction of a human group. This idea of ‘human group’ often refers to an ethnic group, a ‘people’ but it can be any identifiable group. This means that the group has to be capable of being identified and the process of identification must be an integral part of the genocide itself. The victim group in a genocide, as such, may not exist as an identifiable group before the genocidal process begins. It may lack definition and a part of the genocide is to clarify this definition.
Understanding why genocide starts with the identification of the victimised ‘human group’ and does not start with the scale of the killing (the actual physical destruction of the group) is important because it clarifies the fact that the process does not start from the attributes of the victim group but rather with the requirements of the perpetrator group.
In the first movements of the operative definition of genocide when it was incorporated into the United Nations Convention on Genocide framework Lemkin struggled to maintain the political rather than only the ethnic definition of ‘human group’. In the wake of the Second World War when this process of formulation was undertaken considerable pressure (yes, an early example of the Israeli ‘lobby’) was brought to bear to ensure that the ethnic definition was primary.
This political consideration makes us mindful of the requirements of the perpetrator group rather then the characteristics of the victim group and brings attention to the fact that identification is a key part of the genocidal process. I believe it is this specific understanding of genocide that has been developed by the work of Daniel Feierstein. In his book Genocide as Social Practice he outlines five stages of Genocide.
Two main things are important in this. One is that mass killing is only one phase of genocide. It may be the final phase. The most important overall objective is the ‘imposition of the national pattern of the perpetrator group on the victim group’. Secondly, this work draws attention primarily to the characteristics of the perpetrator group. These characteristics amount to a need for social cohesion and the genocidal process provides a means of social reorganisation for the perpetrator group or society.
So there can be emerging or proto-genocidal movements. For example, during the Thatcher government years there was move towards a kind of ‘genocidal’ mentality when she designated the miners (or at least the active resistant sector of the National Union of Mineworkers) as ‘the enemy within’. This is like an internal declaration of war. Similarly, during the regime of the Argentinian junta there was an internal war against ‘subversive’ and political opponents of the regime. Daniel Feierstein draws attention to the parallels between the practices of this regime and the national socialist regime in Germany in his book.
Whereas I would resist the definition of genocide as simply and solely mass killing it is difficult to accept a definition that excludes killing or excludes the tendency towards mass killing. Processes of exclusion, the creation of ‘the other’ or of an enemy, appear to be endemic to human society so when does an exclusionary process of social organisation become genocidal?
One significant factor is the cohesion a group gains from considering itself more advanced or superior. It has to do so in relation to another group. It is this distancing itself from the other human group that is a crucial moment in the genocidal movement. The erasure of the other human group ‘as a group’ becomes the means of securing the identity of the genocidal group. What occurs is a specific relationship between different specific technologies of power, or techniques of social organisation, imposed on one group and the impacts, in terms of social cohesion produced, for the other group. Each stage of erasure is co-ordinate with each stage of cohesion.
It might be true that the moment of actual mass killing is the moment of self destruction for the perpetrator group. There has to be survivors of the victim group for the perpetrator group to have the ability to impose its ‘national pattern’.
The mass killing is an end game. This is the significance of Feierstein’s devastating observation that genocide is endemic to modernity. After all, modernity must be the point of arrival for advanced human groups as they distinguish themselves from those less ‘modern’ than themselves.
This brings our attention to another important aspect of what Ilan Pappe is saying. Having replaced Occupation with Colonisation, Two-State Solution with One-State Solution, Peace Process with Decolonisation he goes on to argue for Regime Change. He connects the need for regime change to the apartheid and settler-colonial nature of the Zionist regime.
This brings me back to the exploration of new activism with which I started. I said that Ilan Pappe concerns himself with changing the narrative and thus making an intervention with the power of his ‘pen’ in relationship to the Israelis powerful ‘sword’. What does the counterposing of these two forms of human power bring to our attention?
Why does the turn or change that he is pointing to open up key tactics and key strategic demands? What perspectives are opened up by BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) and the co-ordinate emphasis on the Right of Return. These are aimed at Regime Change
He is saying that the core of the current regime in Israel needs to change. It is not just a question of changing government policy. Policy change does not go deep enough. It is the basic premise on which the policy is constructed that needs attention.
Feierstein describes the genocidal process as consisting of a number of stages. Though these stages are chronologically ordered, some of the stages could take place at the same time. One of the stages, the last, is ‘symbolic re-enactment’. He describes this as the portrayal of the events of the genocide as composing the two absolutely distinct groups (we know from the historical record that such distinctions are not so absolute): innocent victims and diabolical perpetrators. These two groups, manifesting as absolute opposites of each other, assume a symbolic function as they enact a basic mythic story. And thus this story impels and motivates correlative action.
All ‘national patterns’ or national stories, narratives, are symbolically enacted in the construction and institutionalisation of the instruments of policy. For the symbolic enactment to take place the figures or characters in the story have to be recognisable and therefore both specific and general.
Augusto Boal says in his book The Rainbow of Desire, enacted stories can be related to in modes of varying qualitative intensity. He gives the key points in an array of perceptual responses from identification, to recognition and to resonance, pointing out that elements of these appropriative reactions can be fired simultaneously. It could be said that responses to a symbolic enactment of a genocide may have to operate at multiple levels for the actions that correspond to it to have effective force.
Several stories with different but related personages may reformulate and play out a basic mythic pattern, rather in the way that Ted Hughes in his book, Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Being, tells us that Shakespeare, along with other poets, articulate a key mythic formulation through a multiplicity of narratives.
If the basic story that the Israelis are able to tell, which is a symbolic re-enactment of a genocidal process in which they cast themselves as absolute victims, then what is the basic story of the UK national pattern? What are the components of this story?
From where can regime change emerge? The sense that I get from Ilan Pappe’s work is that the process of regime change must be accompanied if not preceded, by a new narrative. From what well-spring does this restructured narrative come?
It must come from profound and basic needs felt by the human beings who participate in such movements. Of course material circumstances such as appetite, hunger, need for shelter and so on may well play a part but it is demonstrable that these material exigences can equally work against the renewal that is envisaged in a change of regime. The needs must exceed these material requirements.
Human beings are creatures whose actions are intentional. We hold ourselves together through the intentions that we formulate for ourselves. Thus we are creatures, but creatures who are political and mimetic. We formulate our intentions through language and this is a social tool. We collectivise our intentions but only so long as the mimetic processes, that hold us together as a group, can operate effectively. These understandings of the nature of human group behaviour have been explored by writers as diverse as Elias Canetti, Wilfred Bion and Rene Girard.
In order to co-ordinate and form our intentions, which are always experienced individually though formed collectively, we must engage in the organisational processes of symbolic enactment. How precisely symbolic enactment operates and is effective in social organisation may, at first sight, seem complicated.
It is perhaps by understanding how this structuring of stories takes place that new narratives can begin to be developed. It is at times when the old stories send us round in circles that this restructuring feels necessary. When the restructuring feels necessary we start to reject the old story and begin to look with interest not just at new stories but at how these stories operate. This, in turn, leads us to looking more closely at the basic parameters of human experience and at the sources of desire. To understand the way in which stories operate on us, we need to look at how we are in that stage of our lives that is pre-verbal.
This may be taking us too far from Ilan Pappe truly enlightening essay.
Does this new activism have implications for Regime Change here in the UK? We can compare the foundation of the state of Israel with the foundation of the UK state. One is immediately met with differences. The Israeli state was founded in 1948 through an armed land grab, a military appropriation of territory. This securing of occupied land is the prevailing raison d’etre of the state. Although the initial land grab and the subsequent land grab in 1967 were sudden and dramatic, the building and sustaining of the Israeli state project is a long-term venture. The sudden moments of change may give rise to, or make more apparent, a prevailing narrative or sustaining myth. This may have a relationship to the ‘national pattern’ that Lemkin refers to in his definition of genocide. Does the UK have a prevailing narrative, sustaining myth or national pattern that is comparable with Israel’s?
Many questions arise from these thoughts. Is the regime that reigns over the major part of Palestine comparable to the regime that reigns over the British Isles? They are very different in size. One started in 1948, the other could be said to have started in 1688. This last detail is, for example, open to question. Did what we can identify as the UK regime not start before that date? How much of the basic institution-building took place during the Tudor period. Certainly the Reformation and the political break with Roman Catholicism could be considered to be the starting point for the regime. Also the arrival of the Norman institutions in 1066 might similarly be considered thus. Equally, the advent of the 1832 Reform Act or that of 1867, or the battle of Culloden in 1745 or the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 may mark major points of no return or major starting points.
In fact, what you consider the key characteristic of the regime will determine what you believe the starting point might be. To some extent what you consider to be the starting point is dependent on your sense of what is happening in the current situation. Isn’t this to do with the fact that the social formations we are describing are not static entities? They are combinations of processes that are unfolding and developing.
On the one hand, this seems to be true and, if it is true, it must apply to both the regime in Palestine and the regime in the British Isles. On the other hand, it seems to be actively and immediately true in the case of the Zionist regime that it is facing a more violently contradictory situation.
Is this to do with the relationship of forces working on the internal development of the country and those working on the external development. By all accounts, Israeli society is held together by a deliberately engendered state of fear. This means that the whole society is constantly in a state of war. So the level of intensity and fragility of the social processes aimed at cohesion and security is very high. This is reflected absolutely in the level of dependence on external support. This means that there is a direct relationship between these internal and external tensions.
Both regimes are client states of a larger political entity but the level of dependence of Israel is much higher. Both regimes are colonialist. The colonial processes in one are ongoing and have yet to stabilise themselves whilst in the other, the colonialism is more of an historical factor. In this sense they are at different stages of development. The Israeli Zionist state project may be historically short-lived. The British state project has been sustained for at least 400 years (depending on your definition). There is also a relationship of what might be called precedence. Britain was the former colonial ruler of Palestine and before that the Ottoman ruled there. As Israel’s star waxed so Britain’s waned.
This reminds us of a kind of succession in the movement of history. The political forms are transposed from one player to another in a movement of variation on a theme of conformity. One state becomes like another state in order to match it. Then there are movements when one ‘model’ of statehood has hegemony and other states conform. This also must be to some extent the case with the relationship between Israel and the UK but more so with the relationship of Israel to the USA.
This means that all states are held in place in relationship to all other states and, once in a while, a state or group of states breaks away and forms a new movement. In this sense the internal constitutions of states appear to arise, at best, from the will of the people but are as much determined by the structure of the states with which they are in relation.
This dynamic between external conformity and internal aspiration is the tension that holds the structures in place. Both the regimes in Palestine and in the British Isles are ‘structured’ or held in place by their relationship to the hegemony of the USA. Of course these relationships are very different. You might think, at first sight, that Israel is more dependent on the USA than the UK is. However this may not be simply the case. This interconnectedness also means that regime change in one related political entity can be causally related to regime change in another. Regime change in one country can trigger regime change in another and it might also be true that regime change in one country is unlikely without regime change in another.
What Ilan Pappe is saying is that effective resistance starts with resisting the narrative that the dominant power is effecting or enacting. This potentially avoids the reciprocal structures that can lead to the emerging social movements being incorporated and stifling resistance. It involves ‘moving the goalposts’ or creating a new paradigm. This is why he is concerned with ‘replacing’ occupation with colonisation and peace process with decolonisation and so on.
Isn’t there an equivalent paradigm shift warranted by the politics of the UK? Is there a way of expressing it that is as simple and clear? Is there a tactical equivalent to BDS? Since these political regimes are connected isn’t the struggle for BDS indirectly a movement of resistance to the regime in the UK? Resistance is connected to regime change through a keener mode of activism: refusal.
I am grateful to Ilan Pappe for his provocative essay, to the editors of Gaza as Metaphor. We clearly need to seize on what is at the core of our problem in our own society and this will give us the breadth of perspective necessary to change the narrative and re-write history.
Recently I led a session for Leading Edge, a series of talks that Dr Gottfried Heuer curates for the Association of Jungian Analysts. I did a participatory interactive event that invited the participants to look at the relationship between dramatic space, therapeutic space and everyday space. See the notice for this event
This has made me reflect on why it was that we have created a new mission statement for Az Theatre: Performing Arts, Inspiring Activism. What exactly was intended by associating theatre with activism?
I did not intend that this means that the work of the company should always be directed towards issues that can be resolved by the achievement of some immediately attainable goal. I didn’t imagine that we should be involved in campaigns where theatre was an alternative to leaflets or public meetings or online petitions. Neither did we envisage that our work should be a public display of demands on a demonstration. Though none of these possibilities is out of the question. So what kind of activism do we have in mind?
When we were struggling to define this outcome of the company’s work I used the word ‘activisation’. Until it was pointed out that this sounded robotic and mechanical. However, I did want the sense that the work should activate people and make them disposed towards taking action. There didn’t seem to be any word that could describe the sense of revitalisation and animation that I had in mind. I recalled Hannah Arendt had used the word ‘praxis’ to describe the activity of involvement and participation in public and political life. She counterposed this to the passivity of totalitarianism. But this word seemed too academic and the word ‘practice’ was too connected to preparation.
My thinking derived from simple observation about the human life with which I was surrounded. The economic system, the transformation of the Earth’s resources through production, distribution and exchange, had become more unified and globalised. This movement had become more and more dominated by financial operations which circulated values in almost unimaginable quantities. The sheer size and complexity of the interconnections between supply and demand, between the extraction of natural resources, their transformation and consumption, had become hard to comprehend, even mesmerising. This meant that individuals and relatively small human groups, including governing entities such as nation states, seemed to have little control.
At the same time, people became more and more conscious of the impact of the material transformations on the environment. Knowledge could be produced through scientific measurement and extrapolation that could confirm people’s instinctive feeling, based on day to day observation, that unforeseen consequences of economic (mainly industrial) growth were creating circumstances with which human social organisation appeared not to be able to cope. Because of the massive inequalities that are endemic to the system amongst the more affluent societies there was a tendency towards distribution and consumption rather than production. Consumption itself was made to appear like a productive activity. The accumulation of wealth due to the sheer volume of transactions benefitted the rich countries and exacerbated inequalities. The domination of consumption and distribution was creating enormous dependency at the same time as giving the illusion of autonomy. All of these developments were creating the conditions in which people were likely to feel overwhelmed, confused and passive.
This passivity was further complicated by the disablement of the political institutions that interfaced with masses of people. These government entities have become more and more enslaved to the apparently impersonal needs of the system for the cheaper and cheaper provision of human labour. At the same time major corporate and financial entities (the front organisations for the plutocratic elites) started to prey, through privatisation, on public and common goods, like welfare systems and other public services. The nation states, as well as being taxed by the corporate plutocracy and made to pay vast sums in assuring the functioning of the system, were constrained to move their operations from that of caring for, and educating, their respective populations to policing them. This has further weakened people’s ability to envisage how the can exert control of the vital processes of their lives.
Furthermore, when the system exhibited major malfunctions because nobody could determine what money or goods were worth and the there was a breakdown in the financial systems, the nation states were put in the position of footing the bill and the deprivation of public goods continued at an even higher rate through austerity-based policies. The outcome of this pressure on national entities has been the growth of demagogic discourses promising to create safeguards and protection but in fact being little more than another illusory front behind which the robbery continues. This continues the process of disablement and though the apathy is now accompanied by a raucous desperation, it further divides people who, in their best interests, should unite against their common oppressors.
In a situation where the further paralysis of fear is being added to the deep sense of marginalisation and loss of control, it seems even more necessary for us to become at least as deeply active as the surrounding passivity.
But the question remains, what kind of activity will give us the keys to the future? All political processes consist of resistance and there is no doubt that resistance has to be a major element in the activism that we are proposing. But resistance itself rarely goes beyond the parameters determined by the powers that be and therefore cannot be the only element in the activism that is needed. The danger is that resistance can be incorporated into the system itself, particularly when it ranges itself against it in a like-for-like way. For example, forms of violence can very quickly transpose themselves across lines that appear to distinguish two sides in a conflict or a struggle. The tendency for opposition to become similar to that which it opposes is a major human problem exemplified by considering the fix that arises when fear is counterposed by fear.
This encourages us to think that we must have the ability to engage in resistance at the same time as being able to enact a different story, a story that exhibits different human qualities than those installed in the current institutions of power. The refusal to accept the definition of power that is affirmed by the established order, a refusal to believe that this power can be apportioned in our favour, or that it has been overcome or changed when it appears to allow us entry into its glamorous orbit, is increasingly necessary.
So the activism that we are proposing is far from the simply mechanical, resistant version that can be so effectively subsumed by the system. It is paradigmatically different from the institutionally mimetic forms of oppositional activism that have become traditional.
One way of expressing this is to say that the activism needs to be internally as well as externally vital. Can we realistically and practically call for an activism that is philosophically and imaginatively mobile, that is quickened by the capacity to deny the dominant narrative and world view? Of course we can and it is clear that the emerging social movements have precisely this capability but of course nothing arrives in its pure form.
So why was I provoked to review exactly what we meant by activism at this session delivered as a part of the seminar series organised by the Association of Jungian Analysts?
We set out to investigate what might be the relationship between these different spaces. We started by comparing the process of transference and counter transference in the psychoanalytic therapeutic space with ‘catharsis’ in the dramatic space. Elements, in the form of references, representations, states of being and feeling, are carried into both these spaces by the participants. They are reconstructed and transformed and, in the souls and lives of those taking part, they are carried out again into the everyday space.
I have been influenced by Augusto Boal’s work in my thinking about theatre since I first came across Theatre for the Oppressed in the early 1980s. In the theatre that Boal proposes, the participants are able change roles and engage in processes of control and loss of control. This enables them to see the consequences and implications of their imaginative activities and leaves them ready for action. He describes his proposed theatre as a ‘rehearsal for life’. This is a good and fruitful way of looking at the relationship between the dramatic space and everyday space. Boal, and his progenitor Paulo Freire, were quick to see that passivity was key problem facing human beings in modern societies. When he was asked to endorse our War Stories project in 2002 his message was clear: ‘Peace, yes: passivity, no!’
When the theatre is working, neither as a peep show nor as a display of physical ability, when it is achieving its true potential, it makes visible the invisible. Can this space where we lose ourselves and are subject to processes of confusion (or just fusion), where things are what they aren’t, where we catch sight of things that are not really there, where the magic of invisibility is conjured, be somewhere that generates activism and political change?
I have already said that the quality of activism I am working to define is more like a process of ‘activisation’, of drawing people into action rather then proposing a set of activities that we already know as activism. Also, I have said that this is not only mechanical and practical (as it were, external) but is driven by thinking and imagination and is consciously aimed at stimulating inner processes.
During the Three Spaces session I started by using exercises to create a sense of relaxed concentration and presence that a full sense of being can give. I described this as being the basis for the work of creating the dramatic space.
Another way of describing this sense of being is to relate it to what the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu calls ‘the uncarved block’. This is described as being nameless and without desire and is associated with the state of being like a new born babe. I associate the ‘uncarved block’ with the first period of our lives before we have words. It is the fundamental condition of humanity.
Certainly we can only remember this state of being indirectly, through other related experiences. During this period we live in an undifferentiated world of feeling. We notice everything and absorb all tensions and impressions. It is the basic material condition of our lives.
If some shock occurs in later life, some pain or upset, this can resonate in the ‘uncarved block’. Energies that are contained there may be released. Fissures and deep movements can occur that are like subterranean volcanic events. Things may settle down or the basic instabilities may persist and we are unseated, disturbed, deranged. Equally, our sense of what is true and what is real is connected to this deep movement of feeling in us. I believe that social change is charged by the energies that derive from this sense of being. Without connecting with this basic human condition we cannot overthrow the dominant narratives of the powers that be.
If the major consequences of the forms of social organisation, that have become more and more prevalent in the modern period, are feelings of passivity, lack of control, a kind of infantilising dependency, an inability, at a profound level, to be able to take care of ourselves then resistance and refusal and activism have to be effective at the most profound levels of our human experience. The current system, literally presents us, as human beings, with a existential crisis.
One obvious indication of this is the use made, by our political institutions, of fear as a means of social organisation. The key co-ordinating strategy that links ‘home’ policy with ‘foreign’ policy in many countries is the ‘war on terror’. Fear and terror are contagions that cannot be counterposed by the production of even greater fear and terror. The promise of security so often looks and feels like a threat and is based on corrupt idea of strength.
The realisation, articulation and restructuring of stories in the aesthetic space has a power and an energy that resonates deep in us in a way that music can. It can shatter us and mend us. This is to do with the nature of symbols and the power of metaphorical transpositions. Symbols reflect the objects of the world of the senses but also connect these impressions to deep patterns in our inner life. This is not a sacerdotal or mystical process but an ordinary part of how we discover meaning.
Symbolic enactment could also be described as story or narrative. But stories and narratives are never without context. They are embedded in ideologies. It is a commonplace that the dominant ideology of a given society is the ideology of the dominant social group. If it this is true of ideology then it is also true of the dominant narrative or story. Is it possible to unseat and replace these narratives?
The theatre of activism is a microcosm of social change because, in this theatre, stories are changed as they are enacted. They are tested against the deep resonances they meet in the participants and altered accordingly. Theatre work can be both a reflection and a part of social change if it connects with an activism that refuses to accept the terms and parametres set by the dominant narrative. This means it can activate the core energies of the participants and bring into play the deep realisation of their humanity.
Also, during the Three Spaces session we worked at forming a group as a way of creating different spaces. Group formation was necessary as a way of working to understand the spaces we were dealing with but it is important in its own right. Successful group work is a crucial transitional space between the individual and society. This seems to me to be another attribute of the activism I am proposing. I am attempting to extend my understanding of this by engaging with the Art of Hosting.
Many of the projects that Az Theatre is now undertaking are influenced by these preoccupations.
Our UNFORESEEN project is forming an online community of young creatives in the UK and Palestine. Our recent work, bringing together a group of creatives in London to produce work to send to our colleagues in Gaza, was a good example of activism and group work. In a weekend, the group of ten people researched, devised, and shot a short drama, I MUST LEAVE, I MUST RETURN for release later in the year at an event that will link via Skype to Gaza, Palestine. See video of our last UNFORESEEN live exchange with Gaza
Our production plan for THE CANNIBALS by George Tabori involves a consensual casting process that is design to build an acting ensemble to produce this astounding modern classic.
Our development of the world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for production later in the year by Theatre for Everybody in Gaza will be accompanied in London by an installation/exhibition space, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, that will be created by a group of artists involving interactive and participatory activities aimed at social engagement.
Our new local project, the ISLINGTON NORTH DRAMATIC ARTS GROUP will be a company formation project that will involve activism and group work.
A trans-disciplinary group that has come together to explore the mentalities that hold together the Israeli state project is another example of this tendency in our work. Our participation in this group arises from a conference on Trauma and Political Violence in November of 2015 where I presented Az Theatre’s work.
This is a new development from Az Theatre happening in North London. A new community-based dramatic arts groups based in Holloway, North London. Interested? Come to the first meeting on Tuesday 21st February 2017 at Whittington Park Community Centre http://whittingtonpca.org.uk/
Find out more:
Regime Change Az Theatre 2
Having focused for some years on projects with an international dimension, I decided earlier this year (2016) to turn my attention to what was happening in the UK. A lot of talk during the Iraq invasion and the 2011 popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere was about the idea of ‘regime change’. I set out to see what this might mean here. What was the story of the UK regime? My research took me back to what I considered to be its founding moments in the revolutionary movements of the English Civil War (1641-1660) whose final act might be considered to be the constitutional settlement of 1688. I was setting out to create theatre but I knew it might take a long time. I have started writing drama but also I am accompanying this work with a blog that would outline my thinking as the project moved forward.
Specifics of the British Regime
A regime is a set of organisational processes that come together at a particular place at a particular time. We can imagine that they are like components or practices or institutions or even images. Some combining factor arises on the basis of local human settlement that holds together a particular version of human society. What holds a social formation in place is not separate from the elements that, in one way or another, give it a constitution. It is difficult to come to terms with the nature of this entity which in our imagination can appear to be like a body, a culture, a machine or a system. In social theory it can be called ‘an imaginary’ (1) or an ‘assemblage’ (2) though I don’t want to ignore the distinctions between these different theoretical notions.
The roots of a regime appear to be in geography or ecology: these people living on this particular part of the earth at a particular point in time, a variation on, and in interaction with, the human species.
So what account can be given of the one that has arisen on the British Isles. We cannot be as definite about the time-scale as we can about the location.
The British Isles are relatively easy to identify on a map though the borders between the different nations may not be obvious. England describes the area of the main island that was subject to the Roman invasion of 2000 years ago. All other major migrations or invasions have been determined by its frontiers. The domination by London of England, and by England of the British Isles, is due to the extraordinary harbourage offered by the Thames estuary. This is a significant determinant of the regime
As for time-scale, the present determines the way we look at the past. So, for example, if we were facing the extinction of human life on these islands we would tend to start our story with the arrival of human beings here after the last ice age some 11,700 years ago. However, at the moment, there are more human beings living here than there have ever been.
What is happening now and to what initial processes is our attention drawn?
In general terms, we are witnessing tensions in relations between the nations that make up the British State, between the role of financial services and manufacturing and between the London and the ‘provinces’. There are uncertainties about the two party system and the role of political parties, also about the nature of the House of Lords. The military function of the British State has been radically called into question by the inquiries into the ‘war’ on Iraq. This last may be inextricably tied to British dependence on the United States and this offers another underlying tension.
The institutional components that were drawn together in the period after the English Revolution of 1641-1660, particularly in the period leading up to the settlement of 1688, appear to be those that are in crisis now.
The success of London as a capital was focused on finance and banking. There were the networking benefits and the medium term assurances of a centralised intermarrying ruling elite, enhancing trust and contractual security, that connected landed wealth with mercantile enterprise. This nexus was centred in London. The relationship of government to the imperialist commercially-driven military expansion, crucially organised through the formation of the Bank of England (1694), sealed the advantages of a communications structure that focused on the royal court but wasn’t dominated by it.
Within 20 years of the foundation of the bank the new regime had fought a successful war against the French in North America and Europe, climaxing with the Treaty of Utrecht (1714), had unified Scotland with England and Wales (1707) and had secured the Hanoverian protestant succession and began to construct ‘British’ identity.
Anglican Protestantism offered the basis for a unique national ‘loyalty’ test as well as an ethos suited to capitalism. The unique combination of a monarchic head of state who was both the military commander-in-chief as well as head of the Church of England fastened and refined the regime-building project. The ideological underpinning of a state religion sustained the new regime through the first founding period until, for example, in the earliest years if the 19th century, the need to avow the protestant religion as well as allegiance to the monarch for members of the volunteer militia was dispensed with
The fertile ground made up of financial fluency, protestantism and co-ordinated military and commercial enterprise bred a functioning and compelling model of the human in the figure of the English gentleman and this gave personality and moral coherence to the regime.
War as a profitable venture and as a ‘keynote’ national unifier has played a unique role throughout, from Blenhiem (1704), to Waterloo (1815), to the Somme (1915), to Dunkirk (1940), to D-day (1944), to the Falklands (1982) and to Iraq (2003). Apart from the massive destruction of the Blitz the wars have always been fought elsewhere. This doesn’t diminish the loss of life and the concentration of production effort.
The country was never invaded and therefore never faced the decisive crises that invasion brings. Victory was something that was brought home and delivered rather than fought for at home. This distinguishes the history of the British Isles since 1066 from most other locations.
The development of the British regime has at its core the development of the British state. State-making and war-making are synchronous. (3) The effect on the administration and style of government of the ‘seniority’ of the British Navy, rather than the continental ‘army’-based regimes is considerable. The sustained coherence of the British ‘officer’ class in delivering ‘successful’ military adventures abroad has, up until recently, been formative for the regime.
I am only intending here to give some broad and general markers or headings of where my research has taken me. The books that have been central are Britons by Linda Colley (4) and The Enchanted Glass by Tom Nairn (5).
(1) This term was developed by Greek French philosopher Castoriades see The Imaginary Institution of Society [IIS] (trans. Kathleen Blamey). MIT Press, Cambridge 1997 . 432 pp. ISBN 0-262-53155-0. (pb.)
(2) This term was developed in Deleuze and Gattari’s A Thousand Plateaux see Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 14, 26–38, 135–139, 149–166, 195, 198, 235–236, 240, 241, 259, 390, 534, 539, 559. ISBN 0-8166-1402-4.
(3) See the work of Charles Tilly
(4) Colley, Linda Britons, Forging the Nation 1707-1837 Yale University Press 1992
(5) Nairn, Tom The Enchanted Glass, Britain and its monarchy Century Hutchinson 1988
This is Az Theatre’s new website. It has been in development for some time and revises the way Az presents itself to the world with a new mission statement and a new simpler way of displaying our activities. We can make better and quicker changes to content through the WordPress system and it links more effectively with our blog. We are deeply grateful to the wonderful Emma Sangster who has seen through these changes. And to our friendly, ethical, super-sensitive service providers Netuxo.
Here’s what’s happening at Az.
In London we are establishing a group of young people who can work with us to make a creative exchange with the group of young people in Gaza that Theatre for Everybody is working with. Our best chance so far of doing this is working with a group of alumni from the Islington Community Theatre. This company is now called Company Three. Find out about it.
Our work with the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants has paused over the summer after the climactic closing sessions when we were working on Bob Marley’s epic COMING IN FROM THE COLD. This followed a wonderful concert on July 3 2016 at the church in Cross Street that the Centre uses as its base. This presentation featured songs, the lyrics of which were written during Sita Bramachari and Jane Ray’s writing and art classes. These lyrics were put to music by Romain Malan who runs the singing sessions and they were performed at the event by the singing group from the classes accompanied by the World Harmony Orchestra. This was the World Premiere for these songs and for the Orchestra. Read about the work at the Centre.
Progress is also ongoing on the various production projects here in the UK.
Meanwhile in Gaza, Theatre for Everybody are preparing for the full production of their new Arabic adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. We are working to produce this with Theatre for Everybody. Zoe Lafferty is working with Az to create the financial and production infrastructure for this challenging project. You can keep in touch with Theatre for Everybody through Facebook
That’s the latest news from Az Theatre.
THEATRE FOR EVERYBODY
Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam Madhoun are the Directors of Theatre for Everybody with whom Az Theatre have a ten-year (2009-2019) cultural exchange partnership. The current phase involves working with a group of 18-30 year olds in Gaza on drama and creative writing and the production of an original contemporary stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Plus a workshop in London of international artists, including Jamal and Hossam. This will be based on the extract from the meditation by John Donne that begins: ‘No man is an island’ so we are calling this the NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop. (more about this below)
What is GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM?
Our exchange partnership is called GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM. It developed from Az Theatre’s WAR STORIES project which worked with companies from Algeria, Palestine, Serbia, Kosovo, Italy and the UK and at theatre festivals in Romania and Turkey from 2002 to 2007, supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Arts Council England.
It set out to create cultural exchange between artists and audiences in Gaza and London, to break down isolation and cultivate solidarity and to do so through creative work. It has created a model of participatory production and has refused to seek support from any government organisation.
GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM has generated work in four phases since 2009: GAZA GUERNICA, GAZA: BREATHING SPACE, GAZA OPENING SIGNS and WAR & PEACE: GAZA (PALESTINE)/LONDON (UK). It has organised numerous public events in the UK some of which have connected live with Gaza through Skype.
It has been supported by financial contributions from 100s of individuals and over 50 UK theatre artists (including Harriet Walter, David Calder, Maggie Steed, Tara Fitzgerald, David Lan, Jennie Stoller, Philip Arditti, Deborah Findlay, Caryl Churchill, Hassan Abdulrazzak and many more) have made creative contributions and appeared in person at our events that have attracted 100s and 100s of audience members. It has worked with over a hundred young people in Gaza and has explored theatre for those with hearing disability there and in London as well as linking theatre talent in both places.
It has engaged with London venues: Rich Mix, Soho Theatre and the Globe Theatre and has received support from International Committee for Artists Freedom, International Performers Aid Trust, British Shalom Salaam Trust, Street Theatre Workshop. It has worked alongside Culture and Conflict, the Shake! Community from Platform Arts.
We are looking for a group of young people here in the UK to make an exchange with the young people there who have come together around and activist journalist project: We Are Not Numbers. And we are looking for funds to do the War and Peace production and the NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop.
The NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop
A six-day workshop bringing together international stage artists with members of the Theatre for Everybody group from Gaza.
This is a key stage in the ten-year GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project (2009-2019), a cultural exchange partnership between Az Theatre London and Theatre for Everybody Gaza.
The NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop is planned to happen in London in January 2017 and will offer audiences one or two presentations of work created and devised by the 10 participants directed by Jonathan Chadwick.
The aims of the workshop will be to:
Provide a creative interaction for the artists from Gaza, to meet and work with artists from the UK and other regions
Create as wide an access for audiences in the UK to this major international cultural exchange project.
Provide the GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project partners with the opportunity to develop plans for the closing phase of the project within an inspirational context.
Act as the central event for the artists from Gaza to meet other groups and individuals who have supported the work (International Committee for Artists Freedom, British Shalom Salaam Trust, International Performers Aid Trust)
Work with other institutions and organisations (e.g. University of Manchester IN PLACE OF WAR project, University of Coventry Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, British Actors Equity, British Arab Centre) to offer a platform for them to share experiences of working, living and creating theatre in Gaza.
Find out more.