Living here / Theatre in another country

“Is there anyone else here living here but developing his/her theatre in another country?”

Convener(s): Veronique Van Meerbeek                     

Participants: Lee Simpson, Julian Crouch, Jason Ho, Stephen Sillett

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

If I asked this question it is because I first came to London to study theatre. I then worked hard during several years to produce and direct a show here to finally end up feeling that London was maybe not the place where I could or would better develop my theatre practice. When at the same time, I got invited in my home country to work. And the other artists involved and the audience seemed to better respond to my work. Still, my personal life is in London and I positively make the choice to be here. I also enjoy living here to see all these major European companies on tour and to feel the artistic boiling atmosphere of the city. I am in the situation of enjoying being involved in projects in my home country and I enjoy that outsider position living in London gives me. Still I feel disconnected from the theatre community in London but like we said it later most people somehow feel that way.

Lee says that Improbable is currently addressing a similar issue. They are working more and more in NY and they don’t know where it will lead them as a company. There are more demanded there and their profile is higher. It is maybe due to the fact that theatre in the UK is still very much perceived as a branch of literature, when they do a different type of theatre. What would it be like to have a company in two countries? 

Julian joins in and says that his personal issue with himself working more and more in NY is deciding where to raise his kids? He - like Phelim - very much work in both countries and he would like to feel more security in better structuring what is already happening. His feeling is that in arts artists only are a small number of people in the group and that they are the ones traveling from one group to the next. It is the nature of the profession, of being an artist.

We all agree that being away a long time informs a lot our personal life and specially our relationships. It is always a strong choice whether to decide to travel much or not.

As a father, Julian is fine traveling away from his children for work. But as a mother, I do not feel that fine with it. There is certainly often a difference between men and women on that subject.

Then Lee and Julian both get the solution for me: by the time my girl gets to primary school, I should just find a way to raise money to make a team come here to rehearse in the UK – close to where my family is, like Jos Houben does in Paris – and then take the piece to Brussels or wherever. It is happening in the UK when actors from London go and rehearse in Birmingham! Lee insists that just outside London it is easy to find at European prices places where to rehearse and get support.

Improbable was of the first companies to go to NY to present their work. It is now more common.

Julian dreams of an ideal world that would integrate what is somehow already there in theatre: global theatre. He things that it would be nice to have a place where to go to rehearse and have the facilities for schools…

I personally enjoy having time off rehearsal, not even rehearse everyday and I would be frightened by a rehearsal camp… 

So, again Lee and Julian tell me to find the money and make the people come from Belgium here to work and rehearse here with me. It makes me think that it could positively inform my work as the artists coming could get something of the cultural shock of being in the UK and away from home. They could get a freer creativity from it.

Still Julian also says that we shouldn’t worry too much about the scares we would do to our kids. They are able to cope much but also society needs people to have suffered things like the early death of their father. Lee also mentions that better is for my daughter not to see me for a week but find me happy than see me frustrated everyday. I absolutely agree with that and I would go for taking her off from school for a month, or for home education but I get much warnings not to do it. I also remember that I know Romeo Castellucci and his sister always took their kids (11 in total) with them around the world as they worked. Like Julian says, the more they are the easier somehow.

And Julian to summarize that reading the title of this discussion he wouldn’t have guessed it was a parental issue, when in fact it is.

Then Jason joins in and Lee leaves.

Jason’s family is from Hong-Kong but he was born and always lived in London. He notices that he only is interested in theatre from Europe (Germany). 

Julian continues on the Ldn-NY issue and say that there are 15 years that Phelim and him are doing it. And his now lives differently in NY and in the UK. In NY he feels lonely and is always out and when he is back in the UK he enjoys staying home with his family.

We always have reasons for going elsewhere.

I am feeling very grateful for the support and advices Lee and Julian gave me. I feel relieved and encouraged to find alternative solutions.

Then Stephen joins in and Julian leaves.

Stephen is running community based projects in South Africa. He has learned skills like forum theatre here and he now implement it there. He also see the potential for cultural exchanges like he saw it with capoeira.

Jason’s project is to show in cinema full footage of theatre performance. Stephen advise him to check Fiasco TV.

Sharing my personal issue with Stephen, he tells me the same situation happens with people from Manchester. Jason as a Londoner insist that he rarely meets anyone originally from London in London!

Another aspect Stephen raises is how to maintain communication as you are away? Do you have key contacts there? Do you use emails? Phone calls? Or like Jason: writing personal New Year’s cards?

Stephen organization is called “Aiding dramatic change in development”. They get funding to train local people and help them facilitate groups and running theatre projects. Their current challenge is to make these projects sustainable, to get people to continue. They are in places with not much electricity and they keep it to the essential experience.

Every place they will go the project will be different. They adapt to the people. This project is in Zoulou language.

They also are exploring the question of how to maintain an on-going training for the local people? How to give them the knowledge and let them run it? They notice these issues of power dynamic in the group? Who is guiding? There is no straight answer to that and he advices me a book on it: “Getting to Maybe” that deals with projects management. Stephen is very interested in keeping the balance between keeping the eyes on the goal and feeling free to adapt and del with the Maybe.

Back in London, Stephen and his organization run workshops. Unlike workshops he has found around (psycho-drama, dramatherapy…) that produce work that comes out from the self, they are into “infusion” labs that are interdisciplinary and that work with the group. They work with a core group and have peripheral groups with other skills that come and go.

I may relate that to the research place I am establishing with others in Brussels.

I also mention that I am preparing a show with many community people onstage and Stephen tells me about the term “applied” theatre, or applied community art as they do it.

It is interesting to me to notice the various experiences from me to Improbable and Stephen. We work abroad for different reasons and with different set-up and somehow most of it can also somehow be found within one country.