mappa mundi getting out there in the world

We had two exciting ‘get-togethers’ in February that have given new perspectives to the work on mappa mundi.  You can read notes from the event held on the 21st February 2013 click and 28th February 2013 click

We have successfully completed our training session at the University of Leeds on the weekend of the 8th, 9th and 10th March!  Soon we will have the next prototype mappa mundi video from this weekend’s work.  You can look at a report on the all the exercises from these session here.

Also you can take a look at our new appeal for participating groups and individuals here.

Gaza Opening Signs Celebration event was great!!

Gaza: Opening Signs Celebration Event was held on Wednesday 27th March at 4.30pm at College Park School, Garway Road, Westminster, London. About 50 people turned up; supporters, friends, teachers, parents, families and students.

The key facilitators of the event were Caroline Moore and Ciara Brennan:

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Caroline, a visual artist working in video, and Ciara, a theatre practitioner, had worked with year 10 at the school since September 2012 on the exchange programme with young people, working with Theatre for Everybody, at the Deir El Balah Rehabilitation Centre in Gaza.  The group in London are young people with learning difficulties and those in Gaza are a mixture of the deaf and the hearing.

The celebration was introduced by Sue Latham, the drama teacher who worked alongside Caroline and Ciara at College Park School.

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They were joined in the work by David Sands who is a deaf theatre practitioner who uses a visual vernacular signing language.  You can see David at work in this short video made at the launch of the Gaza Opening Signs project at The London Globe Theatre Studios in September 2012.

The celebration event had a quiz on Gaza presented by Year 10 students.

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The audience really liked this!

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The videos made by Year 10 students as their ‘gifts’ to the young people in Gaza were shown.

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As also was the video made by Caroline and Ciara to show our friends in Gaza about life in London.

There was a reading by David Calder and Ciara Brennan of a series messages in the form of a ‘war journal’ written by Hossam Madhoun, Co-director of Theatre for Everybody, during the attack on Gaza by Israeli armed forces in November 2011.

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The audience were fully engaged.

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Hossam Madhoun can be seen on video talking about the Gaza Opening Signs project.  Take a look.

The Gaza Opening Signs project involved Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam training in signing for the deaf and running a training programme for young theatre workshop facilitators some of whom were deaf.  Here is a video from Gaza of one of the young trainees telling us about why she wanted to do drama.  See the video.

The highlight of the event was the showing of the video sent to us by our friends in Gaza.

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This shows the wonderful work they are doing with young people there. Please click here to see the video and when you get to the video put the word ‘gaza’ as the password into the box marked access.

One of the College Park teaching staff wrote:

“It was an amazing evening! It really gave a different perspective to the school, very international and very moving. It had a real community feel to it. I must say the year ten’s signing piece to poetry was beautiful.”

And as Hossam wrote later:

“It was lovely chance for me to share something from Gaza!”

The Gaza Opening Signs work with young people at Deir El Balah is continuing until the beginning of May.  Hossam reports:

“As I mentioned during the event, the children are fully involved and find a great space of free expression. The violence and aggressive attitude is much controlled, the teamwork is going very well among them. The next phase we will concentrate on is self- expression, stories, dreams, hopes and fears and we will use the acting scenes as a tool to reflect them. The group of the children is very big and this is another challenge (26 boys and girls) but still we are able to work with them.”

We expressed our gratitude to the British Shalom Salaam Trust, the International Performers Aid Trust and the Street Theatre Workshop Fund as well as the 50 individuals who have made financial contributions to make this work possible.

Thank you and please stay in touch with Gaza Drama Long Term by emailing us on info@aztheatre.org.uk visiting our web site www.aztheatre.org.uk

The next stage in our ten-year collaboration with Theatre for Everybody will be a production of an original Arabic adaptation for the stage of Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace.  Interested?  Let us know!

We are also committed to facilitating the continuing contact between College Park School Westminster, London and Deir El Balah Rehabilitation Centre in Gaza!

Thank you.

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mappa mundi get-togethers coming up

mappa mundi is on the move again after a winter rest!!  You can see the first three mappa mundi videos NOW.

We have two ‘get togethers’ coming up, on Thursday 21st February and Thursday 28th February.  On these two evenings the participants in the November creative sessions are getting together with special guests to develop the mappa mundi project.  So these will be like focus group meetings and the emphasis will be on how to extend the project online and through other creative participant sessions. Aims: get a space up online! And more videos from more groups.

We are talking to Roberto Battista who works in audio-visual and interactive media about the design of the online interactive space where the mappa mundi 3-minute drama videos will be uploaded and interconnected!

We are very pleased to welcome Bryce Lianna who is coming to work with Az Theatre on a placement from the University of Leeds where she is studying for a BA in Theatre and Performance.  We are undertaking a training weekend in Leeds for Bryce and her colleagues where we will be making a mappa mundi.  She will also be working on selecting and developing another group who will be making their own mappa mundi later in the year.

Other work is being planned at the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury and amongst students at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris.

Our January 10th live event viewing of the three mappa mundi videos produced by the November workshops was a great success and it was from the conversation at this event that the following notes were made:

Notes and thoughts after the viewing event on Thursday 10th January 2013 from Jonathan Chadwick – January 16th 2013

What follows are intended to provoke the forward movement of mappa mundi.  They are like an assessment or progress report directly arising from the CREATIVE SESSIONS WEEKEND 2/4th November 2012, the feedback from participants and the live event on Thursday 10th January where the videos were viewed.

  • We will be having some follow-up get-togethers in February principally for participants but also open to companions.
  • We need more participant groups so we can carry through what we have learnt.
  • We need online space design skills.

Responses to the videos

SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING, the 3 three-minute videos produced from the work at the creative weekend 2/4 November, do not ‘stand alone’.  Seen separately or together as a series they may not convey the intentions or inspirations that went into the process of making them.  As dramatic works they may lack directorial intensity and the focus of a thoroughly worked script development.  They may actually not strike a clear meaning in the viewer even when the basic thematic of change is well advertised.

Viewing situation

It may be that the context that was given to the videos at our event, by my introduction, might have prevented people from fully responding to what occurred on the screen.  The expectation of significance can cause a kind of myopia, a perceptual dysfunction.

Larger work

On the one hand, these videos are not intended to be viewed in isolation.  They are a part of a larger work.  On the other, at this stage in the construction of the larger work, there is a need for the initial works to be inspirational and accessible.  This is important to attract participants.

Mis-match

There may be a simple mis-match between the aspiration of the project (to show or express human change) and the form (a three minute drama video).  It may be true that if this basic brief was given as a commission to expert (or aspiring professional) film-makers the results may be problematic simply because the processes of identification and elaboration, that we normally need to enter into for drama to work, cannot happen in three minutes.

Reason for limits

The three-minute time limit derives from a perception of how long people may watch things on the internet. It doesn’t come from a perception of how long it takes to convey a story about human change.

Videos as links between spaces

This may present a fundamental problem with our attempt to find a creative link between the creative space of human storytelling and the online interactive space of the internet.

Need for artistic development

These specific examples (SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING) may have been made in circumstances that did not permit a proper artistic development.

Time limits and quality

In assessing the quality of the work over the 2/4 November weekend participants commended the delivery of the exercises and the sense of communication, creativity and empowerment to which they gave rise.  Everybody realised that there was not really enough time to accomplish the tasks that were set and sensed that there was a certain amount of ‘cramming’.  The sequencing and timing of the process could be improved.  Some participants appreciated the creative benefits derived from the pressure of deadlines and the formulaic nature of the tasks.

Nature of the participant group

The group who were brought together on the 2/4 November were a highly creatively motivated and creatively literate group of individuals, a considerable proportion of whom were photographic, cinematographic or dramatic practitioners.

Imaging stories

The overall build-up to the ‘discovery’ and articulation of the stories of change that could be told by the group seems to have been on the whole well managed.  Key to this process was firstly, the creation of a space in which people could reflect on the nature of change as it manifested itself individually, socially and environmentally; secondly, the creation a space of trust and communication amongst the group; thirdly, the creation of a means of embodying images of stories that was in itself sensually and collectively engaging; fourthly, a tangible and imaginative engagement with the expressive and narrative capacity of moving picture images.

Departure from prior plan

In terms of time management and direction of the process of making the videos there was a departure from the ‘plan’ developed by the ‘directors’ at the point where the participants had refined their individual stories of change.  The previously conceived plan was to view all the images of the individual stories on the Saturday evening, leaving Sunday for the work of animating these images, exploring the connections between them, searching for how many stories could be distilled into one story, refining the dramatisation of narratives.

Clarity for non-participants

This last observation may not be clear to readers of this who were not participants.  Let me explain that each participant made an image of the key moment of change in their story of change using the bodies of other participants.  This process of definition and embodiment happened after an earlier introduction to the plasticity of image making and an earlier exercise sequence where the stories were selected and refined through exchange and role-play. The aim was to base the work that would go into the dramatic videos on the ‘real’ stories of individuals.

What was rushed

It was the adaptation of these ‘real’ stories into dramatic fiction that had to be rushed and this multiple task was simply given to the three working groups to accomplish. The groups were instructed and guided but there were not ‘hands on’ directed. There may have been damaging problems that arose in the ‘cramming’ or ‘rushing’ of the process.

Trust and creativity in the group

Because there was such a high level of trust and creativity in the group (which for the purpose of video-making was divided into 3 groups of six people) the  work was managed and accomplished with success but still this success may have been limited by the impact of this pressure.

Numbers of participants

It is worth noting that the group consisted of 19 people, four of whom were presenting exercises.  Our initial estimates for the work had given us a ceiling of 12 people.  It became clear during the work that given the time limits a working group of approximately 6 people was effective to make a short video. There were benefits from the overall group being so big.  It gave a feeling of variety and critical mass to the work.

Experiment and other models

Also, the weekend was deliberately experimental. There may be other ratios between ‘participants’ and ‘presenters’ that might have been more effective.  For example, if it was possible to combine the ‘presenter’ skills in two people, one of whom was particularly expert in video, and they were working with a group of 8 ‘participants’ and the aim was to make one three-minute video.  This may significantly change the timing and scheduling possibilities.

Editing process

The foregoing only deals with the shooting/filming of the videos. The editing process, which in the current project has been carried on so inventively, raises more questions about time and scheduling.

Whereas the editing process has been as collective as possible for SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING this was never thoroughly integrated into the scheduling of the project despite Marleen and Sara making clear how crucial this process was.  The fact that we have the finished products is a combination of real good fortune, generosity and sensitive skills.

Many stories, one story

We, the ‘presenters’ knew that a crucial stage in the process of arriving at a story of change was the way in which individual stories can be combined into one story.  There is a lot to be said about this stage of the work.  Each of the three groups undertook different processes in discovering the story that was to be told.  However more directional input should and can be given to this process.  I believe that this gap in the work over the 2/4 week-end was registered by many of the participants in the assessments they have given. The foreshortening of this part of the process was a major casualty of the lack of time.

Getting together

One of the main suggestions coming out of the event on Thursday 10th January was that the participants should be invited to get together again to help the ongoing feedback and project development process.

Movement from many to one/ from image to shot

There needs to be a more organic directional movement from the creation of individual images to the discovery of the ‘key’ story. There also needs to be a similar creation follow-through from the concentration given to the ‘image of the moment of change’ in the image work to the conception of the ‘key’ shot within the nine-shot form of the video.

Training and participation

There are other inputs that may substantially raise the quality of creative experience and outcomes.  Whereas we cannot expect a ‘conservatoire’ training within the limits of the project, a distillation of best practice and refinement of sensual creativity can be given.  However, the key to the mappa mundi project is participation and the key to the participation is rooting the work in people’s own lived experience.

Specific improvements

Firstly, more input can be made on the composition and execution of the filming of dramatic action; specifically, the aesthetic and narrative qualities of the shot.

Secondly, more input can be made on editing; specifically, what is the nature of the ‘cut’. Further to this we need to schedule into the work how the editing can be accomplished.

Thirdly, more input can be made about acting for camera.

Bringing arts together

How the dramatic and cinematic arts come together in our work and how we generate this capability in participants without an elaborate professionalization of the process and the product is a vital question.  We are trying to be formally inventive.  We want to propose the three-minute drama video as a means of expression and we want to link this to an online interactive space that serialises the work.

Functions and modes 

It is questionable whether the same members of the group should be involved in both story creation and filming.  The challenge is to find the key to creative fluency between these aspects of the work.  This includes ensuring that the exercises in one mode and the other flow well into each other.

Online delivery and connectivity

There was a ferment of discussion at the event about how the connectivity online may work, how one video might connect to another, might take scenes from another, might respond to another.  I wish I could re-capture this ferment.

There was considerable discussion about accessibility and how vivid material about the making of the videos could somehow trail or accompany the videos online.

In order for mappa mundi to work it has to break boundaries.  It can’t just be to do with leaving the cultural forms of expression as they are given.  This is why culturally diverse forms such as the haiku and the sutra come into play. Also, mappa mundi needs to be a popular art form so the idea of serialisation and of games (like ‘Consequences’) may suggest creative directions.

End

One of the major aims of the event was to bring to the participants and to the other interested people (those I referred to as the ‘companions’) a more overall sense of the project and to set the creative sessions work within the context of the collective work of creating an online space, a changing map of a changing world composed with people’s dramatisations of stories of change, a mappa mundi!  I believe the event was achieved this agenda shift.  But the event at least reminded me of how much work there was to be done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

mappa mundi creative sessions weekend

Start at the beginning of the story of the development of mappa mundi

The mappa mundi creative sessions weekend took place on 2nd, 3rd and 4th November at Whittington Park Community Centre just off the Holloway Road in North London.  Nineteen people participated and, after a medley of exercises based on the work of Augusto Boal, Joanna Macy and participatory video, we shot 3 short drama videos about change.

The participants were culturally and generationally diverse.  About a third lived in the environs of Holloway/Finsbury Park.  There was a high creative energy and sharing within the group.

People were very inventive in the video exercises given by Sara Asadullah and Marleen Bovenmars from Insightshare, the experiential exercises given by Debbie Warrener opened up people’s perspectives and enabled them to share their stories and the drama exercises given by Jonathan Chadwick enabled people to define and stage their stories.

We are editing the videos and preparing for a presentation on Thursday 10th January at Whittington Park Community Centre.

Were discoveries made?  Beside the creative enthusiasm and the high productivity, were advances made in our understanding of how this work can be accomplished.  The key process of creative transformation that we were working for was the discovery of a general story about change derived from the individual stories.  In a debriefing session between Jonathan Chadwick and Debbie Warrener, the latter referred to this generalising component as the ‘meta-story’.

By asking people to share their experiences as stories and then to explore the similarities between them we wanted them to gain a sense of how the stories may express something about human change in general.  By focusing on these similarities, using the framework offered by Boal in ‘The Rainbow of Desires’ (Routledge London 1995), that entails differentiating responses between those of identification, of recognition and of resonance, we were attempting to make the transformation equivalent to what Boal calls the making of ‘the image of the images’.  In practical terms for Boal this involves taking the essential gestural image from participants stories and composing one image of them.  The images are made like tableaux, using the shaped and staged bodies of other members of the group.

The approach to this latter part of the creative process was undertaken on our weekend by three smaller groups of six people each.  What seemed to happen was that as the group recognised the specificity of a given individual story and realised it at a more and more specific level the general dimensions of all the group’s stories seemed to emerge.  The process of generalisation actually derived from the process of specification and actualisation.

This may seem to be counterintuitive.  The process of generalisation would usually be associated with an effacement of detail and specificity.  However this creative movement is consonant with what Joseph Campbell observes about myth as an underlying story.  Also, in Jung‘s work there is an awareness of how the particular self, as it engages with its own particularity, at a key moment is immersed in the collective unconscious and realises itself as a larger Self.  This is the basis for his work on archetypes.  It is also close to how Antonin Artaud perceived the transformations that are wrought in the act of giving representations of the human in theatre.

Looking back at our work over the weekend the collective character of the mappa mundi project has confirmed itself.  This is really only the beginning.


A drop in the ocean is making waves

The Gaza Opening Signs project which is the current phase of the Gaza Drama Long Term project, a collaborative partnership between Az Theatre in London and Theatre for Everybody in Gaza is well underway and is involving more and more people as it moves forward.

Facing the situation of deliberate mass civilian punishment and a strategic underdevelopment that amounts to a quasi-genocidal operation by the Israeli state with the compliance and collusion of the so-called international community, the people of Gaza need more than a drop in the ocean.

That’s the way I would describe our project, just a drop in the ocean.

All the work in the UK is voluntary.  We have a team of three people working on the project, two of our team, Ciara Brennan and Caroline Moore are working directly with the wonderful drama teacher and nine young people at College Park School London.  They are calling in movement expertise from Sissy Likou and theatre signing skills from David Sands.  The young people are getting a quality input and the project is impacting on the school community which includes other staff and parents.  You can read about the progress of this work on this blog by going to the Gaza Opening Signs at College Park School strand.

We need to raise another £1000 to reach our fund-raising target.  This will enable us to follow up the money we have sent to Gaza for the training process.  This training consists of two phases.  One, is the training of Theatre for Everybody directors, Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam Madhoun in signing for the deaf.  Two, is the training of a group of four young practitioners, two of whom are deaf, in drama workshop facilitation.

Listen to what Theatre for Everybody director, Hossam Madhoun, has to say about our project:

These are the trainee drama workshop leaders in Gaza:

Trainee Drama Workshop leaders in Gaza

Here they are in action during one of the training sessions run by Theatre for Everybody:

Gaza Opening Signs trainees in action

The next stage in Gaza will be the workshop programme with a group of young people from Deir Al Balah.  This will be a very special group because some of them will be deaf and some of them won’t.  We are accomplishing our aim of working across disabilities and across frontiers.  Working for good communication, breaking down barriers and creating an exchange between the project there in Gaza and the project here in London.

The other member of the London team, Jenny Bakst, amongst the other things she has done for the project, was responsible for producing the successful project launch event at the Sackler Studios at The Globe Theatre in London on Saturday 22nd September.  Watch the short video describing this event.

The issue of deafness and disability is of real and symbolic importance.  As Theatre for Everybody director, Jamal Al Rozzi says in our GAZA BREATHING SPACE FILM, for the deaf in Gaza it is like suffering an internal siege.  Engaging with abilities and disabilities, moving beyond frontiers, drawing people into knowing the consequences of political positions, using creativity as a means both of communication and of self realisation, our project is a drop in the ocean which is making waves….and signs!

Something went wrong in the mid-1970s

I went to the TUC’s Conference on Poverty on Wednesday 17th October.  I am looking for other ways of pursuing work on The Deal besides the mappa mundi project.  I like this process of searching.  You put yourself in front of experiences and ideas in order to find connections.  Sometimes, of course, connections are not forthcoming.  This is a minor risk in a game that depends on balancing the expected with the unknown.

I was interested in this conference because Owen Jones, who wrote Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, was down to speak.  This book tells a vital part of the story of the last 40 years: how the working class’s organisational defeat that centred around the pit closure programme and miners’ strike of the mid-80s has been accompanied by an ideological onslaught.  It is all the more interesting because this process is viewed from the perspective of someone who was born at the apex of this movement, in 1984.

This dimension of the extraordinary story of the success of neo-liberalism during this period was also brought to my attention while watching No, a film shown at the current BFI London Film Festival by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain about the 1988 plebiscite in Chile that recorded a popular majority against the continuance of the rule of the military Junta under Pinochet that brought itself to power on September 11 1973.  In the film we see Pinochet reiterating the aim of the military dictatorship as being ‘to make Chile a country of proprietors, not of proletarians’.

The 1973 coup in Chile announced a new world order and this process of renewal by war was the template for the aspiration expressed by Bush Senior in the first Gulf War of 1991 and of Bush Junior and Blair in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At the TUC conference the opening address given by Danny Dorling who with Bethan Thomas has recently published Bankrupt Britain: An Atlas of Social Change.  This man is a fountain of lurid and colourful info graphics delivering a fugue of repeated variations on a theme: we have become one of the most unequal societies in the world and this process of inequality started in the late 1970s.  As he tantalisingly expressed it: ‘something went wrong in the mid-1970s’.  ‘Yeah’ someone scowled from the audience, ‘a centrist labour party!’  Possibly, but that in itself may be an effect rather than a cause.

Dorling also drew attention to the key importance in social change of the bottom 90 per cent of the top 10 per cent.  He pointed out that their adherence to and belief in the top 1 per cent was decisive for social cohesion.  At the moment this relationship, so thoroughly cemented by Thatcher, is deteriorating.  Of course the Coalition are desperately attempting  to apply repairs.

The mystery of the story of the last 40 years (I mean the success of neoliberalism and economism) has been how people have been persuaded to vote for their own immiseration.  This is a fantastic aspect of the process.  I went along to the conference with this firmly at the front of my mind.  It is a commonplace to say that nobody has more to gain from progressive social change based on equality and democracy than the poor but nobody is deprived more obviously of the means to effect that change.  It is difficult to see past the idea that that only way to empower the poor is to enrich them.  It is the accompanying illusions that have secured the rule of the rich elite.

I opted to go to a workshop session called Reciprocity: What rights? Whose responsibilities?  The talk in this workshop was informed by direct experience.  People working with Unemployed Workers Centres, self-help community organisations, job advisory organisations spoke with authority about the history of the welfare state from Beveridge’s work in the early 1940s where the concept of a national insurance scheme was formulated and operationalised and also of how the link between contribution and assistance had been systematically destroyed.  Crucial to the inception of the national insurance system was the accompanying commitment to full employment. These people were experienced in the day-to-day operation of the system for unemployment and it was out of this experience of how the system humiliated and disempowered the unemployed that certain demands and questions emerged.  One simple demand was for the claimant’s agreement, with its obligations on the claimant, to be met by a reciprocal agreement on the part of the state. This would oblige the state as a part of an agreement to ensure support and advice within a generally acceptable code of conduct.

What immediately interested me was the distance between what might appear to be a minor reform – something that may from certain points of view be called procedural – and the demand for full employment.  Of course underlying both is a radically different conception of the public state.

Any move towards full employment would necessarily involve the state becoming a major investor even if it did so, as it does at the moment, through the enrichment and financing of the private sector.  The decision-making processes in the relevant strategies would have to be transparent and open to public accountability.  Any redistributive programme poses the problem of how to make the processes involved collective and democratic.  This involves questions of justice that have been barely rehearsed.

Old problems, new visions

Bertolt Brecht

Brecht‘s last poem:

And I always thought: the very simplest words                                                                   Must be enough.  When I say what things are like                                                             Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.                                                                            That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself                                                      Surely you see that.

Well it’s the last poem in his Poems 1913-1956 (Eyre Metheun 1976) anyway!

I thought of this poem when I was listening to Michael Alpert speak via an online video about alternative economics.  He was talking about the importance of having an alternative model of how things might work.  It involves a redefinition of work and how it is rewarded, organised and managed.  You can find out what he thinks for yourself.

He talks about things you can change and things you can’t.  If we spent all our effort on combatting ageing, he points out, we would be wasting our time.  He points out that capitalism (an economic system where there is a division between the people who organise and the people who do….so his definition covers most forms of socialism as well!) is not like ageing in that it is not given and unchangeable.  But we have to believe in an alternative.  This means we have to have a vision of it.

He says that the mentality that considers it inevitable has too much sway.  He uses the example of a conversation he had with someone during the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001.  He got his friend to agree that if they could get 10 million people out to protest they could stop the bombing of Afghanistan.  But, his friend added, they would find somewhere else to bomb!

The difficulty is that we live in the present not in the future.  We can have a vision of an alternative but how does this affect how we live now?  We cannot wish this alternative into being.  If we had the resources to live out this ideal vision now we would already have achieved our dream.  If we obey the dictum: ‘be the change!’, we may find ourselves living in a little ideal world inside this less perfect world.  Of course if everybody changed in this way then the whole of social life would be transformed.  But if they didn’t then there would be certain people living in their ideal world and the rest would be living in the ‘normal’ world.  If all the discontented people became content because they were living out their dream then things would pretty much remain the way they are!

All the struggles that we undertake to make our lives and the lives of others better may lead to success in which case the current system will have proved itself viable, credible and desirable.  History and experience seem to tell us that change comes when people move into action.  They get together with other people to try to change something in their circumstances.  In the course of these struggles people become aware of the obstacles placed in the way by the system and those guarding the status quo.  So how in this instance does having a vision of an alternative economy (or society) come into play?

This sounds like an old problem, the relationship between reform and revolution, or even between tactics and strategy.  This leads me back to Brecht’s poem.

I have always been interested in selflessness.  This is why at a certain point in the War Stories project I started to use the Alcestis story from Euripides’s play. Alcestis is the only person willing to give up her life to save her husband.  I saw the shape of this story in one told during our War Stories worskhops in Belgrade in 2004.  When NATO bombed Belgrade and the siren sounded this young woman remembered how she had only one thought in her head and that was for her little sister.  She frantically rushed around and until she discovered the little girl playing, mindless of any danger.  She remembered that panic though.  It taught her something about herself.

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

Likewise the first play I wrote, The Performance, which will be revived as a staged reading at the Municipal Theatre in Zlin in the Czech Republic in December, is about Jan Palach who burnt himself to death in January 1969 when the Warsaw Pact Countries invaded Czechoslovakia to prevent the reform movement connected with Alexander Dubcek’s government’s programme to create socialism with a human face, the movement that became known as the Prague Spring.

Antonin Artaud

In performance there is something both self augmenting and self destroying.  It is both ‘self-ful’ as well as selfless.  This is the drama of the martyr.  I was intrigued by Antonin Artaud’s description of actors being like figures signalling as they were being consumed by flames, like heretics.  I loved heretics.

Giordano Bruno

John Wycliffe

Jan Hus

Give me Giordano Bruno, John Wycliff and Jan Hus.  These are the people I felt close to as I grew up.

Mohammed Bouazizi

Of course I am reminded of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who burnt himself to death in Tunisia on the 4th January 2011.

So I love Brecht’s tender admonition and I can see that sticking up for yourself is not necessarily the contrary of sticking up for other people.  But I also know that fear is the great enemy of change.  Maybe deep down the real vision of the alternative economy connects with a deep belief about oneself.  It was also interesting to hear Michael Alpert encourage the audience not to be swayed by charisma.  He invited them not to believe what he was saying, not to be impressed by the way he was saying it.

He was making a plea for participation.

Maps, models and Az work

Not only are maps the antecedents of systemic models, the first maps, according to Jerry Botton’s wonderful book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, are descriptions of creation.

They describe what exists and, by implication, how it came into being.

Homer conceived of the world as a disk, Anaximander as a cylinder.  Interestingly it was Parmenides who believed the world was round because the universe was.  I can remember from my youth, D. H. Lawrence’s description of the dynamic relationship between man and “the circumambient universe” (“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment.”).  That last phrase gave me an image.  I understood that I was surrounded by the universe.  The implicit image is that of a circle or globe.  How can I tell how far this apprehension is a product of an instinctive response to experiences that arises from the operation of the senses?

When the sun is up, light is all around us.  Sounds emanate from every direction.  Air surrounds us.  Is this circumambience an extrapolation or is it culturally determined?

It is difficult to imagine a time when people didn’t come together to share their sense of the shape of the universe.  By this last phrase I mean: what people believe exists and how it came into being.  At a certain point in the development of our lives together here on earth, religions started to organise this collective believing and thinking.  Providing, ordering and organising rituals and developing symbols that could co-ordinate people’s beliefs has involved all kinds of constraints and inducements.  To hold sway over people’s sense of themselves in the universe is a massive endeavour and it is unsurprising that this has been deeply connected with social and political organisation.

Whether I espoused a particular brand of religion or whether I was trained in any orthodoxy – neither of which I believe happened to me – it is protestant christianity that is the dominant liturgical orthodoxy in my social group.  These shaping influences arrive in one’s life as a set of assumptions rather than as dogma learned by rote.  Or maybe that is the liberal carapace of this particular brand.  The residing apprehension is that god, belief and the shape of the universe are deeply personal issues.

It is, of course, possible that the personal or private quality of this process of decision or discovery is an illusion.  Or it may be that you really can only go so far on your own.  What a given human being construes to be the borderline between the known and the unknown may be an inner movement that is timeless but in each social instance it must take on a specific form of expression.  Joseph Campbell in his investigation of human mythology alights with vigour on the conception in Indian philosophy that being is configured by two interrelated processes.  One is the marga which is continuous movement of creation, ‘the way’.  The other is the desi which is the specific phenomenal form undertaken by being in particular social circumstances.  Without the marga the desi would be meaningless, random substance.  Without the desi the marga would be incapable of being perceived.  Words float over this binary dialectical structure, reflect it but fail to provide absolute definition.

There is a moment in the process of meditation when, after the attention has been sufficiently concentrated, the consciousness is opened out and the focus can be on that which is infinite and timeless.  This moment of being in the void holds the conscious being at the centre and, at the almost simultaneous moment, the centre is everywhere.

It is evident from Brotton’s work that maps always presume a centre.  To begin mapping you have to know where you are.  So the original maps being descriptions of creation also means that they arrived out of an articulated sense of the borderline between the known and the unknown.  The moment of being just referred to in the meditative process is, in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, synchronous with the unity of the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’.

In Brotton’s introduction he quotes Mircea Eliade’s Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbols, (trans. Philipe Mairet Princeton 1991):

“In the case of the Babylonian world map, Babylon lies at the centre of the universe, or what the historian Mircea Eliade has called the ‘axis mundi’. According to Eliade, all archaic societies use rites and myths to create what he describes as ‘boundary situations’, at which point ‘man discovers himself becoming conscious of his place in the universe’.  This discovery creates an absolute distinction between a sacred, carefully demarcated realm of orderly existence, and a profane realm which is unknown, formless and hence dangerous.”

This sense of being – the discovery of consciousness of place – this renewed transport between the inner and the outer is also a description of how things come together in art.  It is the vibration of meaning.  If this can be made and not simply given then the experience is one of authenticity rather than dependence.

These ponderings contain the guiding principles of the work this week for me.

In conversation with Caroline Moore, the video practitioner who is working with the young people at College Park School (see Gaza Opening Signs at College Park School) we talked about how the work there was developing in terms that caused her to reflect on why she had undertaken participatory, rather than ‘signature’, arts.  My assertion was that all true art is participatory.  It is activist.  It is contrary to the relations that characterise our society where production is divorced from consumption and where consumption is passive.  To create is to resist.

This is what makes our Gaza project work, not just of aid but, of resistance.

Can we generate this spirit of activism and resistance around the mappa mundi project?  By using an interactive online space in conjunction with people’s making can we engage people in creativity, can we activate people?

 

Levels of being and Az Theatre now

As usual lots of things are happening at lots of levels in our lives.  Sometimes we are only conscious of a slim bandwidth of what we are actually going through.  I don’t want to imply deep is good and superficial is not so good.  In fact at times the surface everyday connects most vibrantly to the deep unconscious.  Parapraxes are what are most commonly offered in evidence of this.  But, as it were, inversely we can be fixed in the accomplishment of tasks and projects that have almost lost their meaning at an ordinary conscious rational level, but are driven by deep needs recognised at prior points in time.

These tasks are like sails thrown up to catch the wind from the boundlessness of unknowing, making significance in the sea of infinity.  The yearning for spatial definition and rootedness is strong.  How easy it is to forget that we must live on the edge of this delicious pain, the delight and terror of our mortality.

I am reading Jerry Brotton’s A History of the World in Twelve Maps which could make it look as if the primary task accompanying civilisation is map-making in the broadest sense.  How we are impelled collectively by boundlessness, by apeiron, is only partially understood by our subjective experience of the void that pushes at existence.  How we huddle together to better pretend that in the gaze of the multitude or in the embrace of the other there is a shore against the vast ocean of limitless time! And this only partly explains our tendency as creatures to turn these longings into oppressive political and social structures.  It’s as if there is a complicity between the oppressed and the oppressor, taken up in a dance of institutional power that gives to both a perfect blinker against the glare of the universe.

And the embrace in this dance is that of fear.  How social this particular emotion is can be felt in the reaction the fearful has to one who is more fearful.  Equally, of course, actually frightening (or terrorising) the other is a means of gaining security.  Thus these primordial triggers are aggregated and institutionalised, performed in orchestral arrays of oppression, ranging from a perfect suit, a winning speech to kettling protestors, to tear gas and baton charges

Perhaps freedom can never come or maybe it only comes in waves.  It is only by actualising our tenderness that the false promise of power, in its pretence of banishing fear by inculcating it, can be exposed to the withering light of humanisation.

Az Theatre launched its Gaza Opening Signs project at the Sackler Studio at The Globe on Saturday. This event, brilliantly put together by Jenny Bakst, was the perfect complement to the launch of the project at College Park School Westminster, equally brilliantly put together by Ciara Brennan and Caroline Moore a week or so earlier.  These women are the Gaza Opening Signs creative team. We are making a short ‘promo’ video, including a sequence in which the wonderful singers, Reem Kelani and Leon Rosselson together with, Theatre Signer, David Sands lead the audience in a rendition of Leon’s song ‘Song of the Olive Tree‘ where the chorus is sung and signed ensemble.

Next week Change Catalyst Agent, Debbie Warrener, will get together with Sara Asadullah and Marleen Bovenmars from Insightshare and me to plan the mappa mundi creative sessions which happen on 2nd, 3rd,4th November.  Yesterday I saw the perfect venue for this work and my fingers are firmly crossed.

Also we have had a really creative response to our mappa mundi project from a company who may turn out to be our technology provider partners.  I don’t want to jump the gun but Imano bring a really exciting array of talent and skills.

On Tuesday we had the Annual General Meeting of the People’s Palladium at which we agreed that the company should register with Companies House as ‘dormant’.  Jameal, who has recently been the creative mainstay of the company is going to New York, having been offered representation by an agent after his work this summer with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  A major blow to the development of The Peoples Palladium was the illness suffered by Shebul’s wife which meant that he was unable to join us earlier in the year.

A wonderful group of people have assembled around this company and it is a sleeping beauty, waiting for the prince.  Since 2006 Az has been working with colleagues from the Bengali community in the East End of London to create a unique company rooted in this community and open to creative people and influences from everywhere.

This is a snapshot of Az Theatre now at the end of September 2012.  Thank blog for reflective space!

 

The initial investigation into the concept of space and the start of an international exchange

Our investigations into our known spaces within the school through the use of film began on Tuesday. Participants used dramatic exploration to frame their environment in new and unusual ways. This also saw the initial contribution towards the exchange as the footage captured will be edited into a short film which will be sent to Gaza, as well as shared and celebrated with a wider audience this Saturday at Letters, Signs and Songs at the Globe Theatre.

We wonder how our understanding of our own spaces will expand by sharing them with our peers from across the globe?

Click this link to see an exploration of College Park through film.