Theatre Across Borders

BOR-DARR

“Border: a line separating two administrative divisions.”

The first time I heard the word “Border” was when I was 7 years old. I don’t remember the colour of the day outside- whether it was the warm, orange hue of the afternoon sun or the pale darkness of the evening sky; but I remember hearing my mother use the word in a worried voice as she had a cup of chai with my grandmother. Something about India and Pakistan and “border” and death. Death. That’s what us Indians usually think about when we hear that dreaded word…Death, war, separation, soldiers…The B-word has never held anything more than a negative connotation for most of us (or maybe that’s just me)

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But why? Why has the word “border” become synonymous with all things bad? It is, but a strip of land-a line. The line you draw during your Board Exam ka math paper- Q 4] a) y = 2.

Isn’t it?

 

Yesterday, I met Josephine Joy- or “Jojo” as everyone calls her. She has pale pink hair, a cheerful warmth in her voice and a passion for theatre. We spoke for about 45 minutes about theatre in the UK; how it compares to the theatre movement in India. And as she spoke animatedly, and as the rain howled like a wild beast starving for days- I realized that borders aren’t just lines.

Jojo has been associated with Contemporary theatre, which is a genre of theatre that includes performance works and artists that fluctuate between different fields of art

In simple words, modern theatre. Aaj ka theatre.

Jojo went on to elaborate that she believes that contemporary theatre in India is rather mainstream and commercial – although that’s not always a bad thing. Mainstream theatre is grounded in Indian culture in a way experimental theatre never could be. Mainstream theatre is vada pav, sev puri, ganna juice- loved by all and assaulting the common man’s senses in the most pleasurable way possible.

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Contemporary theatre in the UK, however, is very different. “It’s more experimental”, she nods thoughtfully- “Avant-garde” was the word she used.

This may be the case due to the public funding for theatre movements made available by the Arts Council England, a non-departmental public body catering to ensure the accessibility and availability of the arts in the UK.  “There’s also less pressure to appeal to the masses”, she adds. What does public funding do? It ensures that charges for the play/festival are at extremely subsidised rates- and thus, made accessible to the common man who can’t afford a ‘Hamilton’ ticket.

The next thing we spoke about was the “accessibility” of theatre in the UK. I’d assumed that theatre in the UK would be extremely accessible. The P stands for the fact that experimental theatre is a rather elitist concept. The A claims that it’s usually (but not always) intellectual, cryptic and perfect to discuss around round dinner tables to appear intelligent. The R signifies that experimental theatre is bizarre, radical, horrifying, beautiful. And the A understands that experimental theatre does not appeal to the common man at all.The D stands for the time Jojo went out with her parents to watch an experimental play. The O indicates that she loved the play. “It was brilliant!”, she exclaimed excitedly to her parents. But the X was etched into their faces- wrinkles of confusion and disorientation. “It was good”, they said. “It was good but we didn’t really understand it.”

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P A R A D O X. It’s a paradox. Because experimental theatre is available to the common man at subsidized rates, at accessible venues…But does that even matter if they don’t understand a word of the play? What’s the point of a revolutionary play if the members of the audience are neck-deep in the clutches of capitalism? And isn’t the point of theatre to REACH people? To engage people? To help them escape? Are the subsidized seats worth it if that genre of theatre doesn’t help people do the very thing theatre should be doing?

We then went on to speak about the Youth Theatre culture in the UK- where Jojo affirmed that emerging theatre artists have a lot of opportunity in the theatre arena. One of the most famous youth theatre movements is the National Student Drama Festival, founded in 1956 with a mission to empower young theatre persons. A platform for young adults, it believes in the power of performance- where children, regardless of demographic inconveniences – can participate to develop skills and begin the launch of a potential theatre career.

Jojo seemed rather enthusiastic as she spoke of socio-cultural representation of the UK in theatre. We spoke about the under-representation of women- an issue faced across the globe, and the excessive representation of white, middle class men- another issue occurring at a pan-cultural level.

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She also mentioned that the United Kingdom is a melting pot of various cultures, and the theatre culture prevalent at the moment does not do justice to the diversity of languages, skin tones, cultures, lifestyles and dialects present. Representation is the nectar we all crave but is nearly impossible to obtain because of the venomous insects guarding it.

Lastly (I promise the torment is ending soon), we discussed possible collaborations between theatre in India and the UK to bring about cultural harmony and appreciation. Jojo pointed out that merely exchanges of theatre culture and performances could achieve the desired effect of cultural appreciation. She then lapsed into a wondrous story about a girl she’d worked with, who produced a play in a small town in England, the only ‘drawback’ being that the play was in Marathi. Jojo was rather skeptical about the turn-up of people at the venue of the play, but to her surprise, the venue was packed! The play may have been in Marathi, but that didn’t stop a non-marathi-speaking audience from attending the play.

As I thought about my interaction with Jojo on my way home, I realized that my last question about collaborations had been answered when Jojo and I began our little tete-a-tete. It had been answered by the very fact that Jojo, a citizen of the UK had enlightened me, a 16- year old girl living in India about the theatre culture of a place an entire continent away from me. In our inconspicuous way, we’d exchanged cultures whilst sitting at a table littered with food crumbs as the wind howled in the distance.

And that’s when I realized that a border isn’t just a line. It’s a meeting point of two cultures. It doesn’t merely divide, it facilitates diversity and growth and change.

A border isn’t y = 2: a straight line. In fact, it was never a line at all. A border is A ∩ B: an intersection of two sets, a convergence of two vastly different cultures.

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– Asfiyah


Play-ing in Toronto

For many of us theatrewallahs, discovering a vibrant, young theatre festival is always exciting. But when that festival isn’t just a theatre festival but a full-fledged youth-run,22179659_10159403389885274_1516126431578881622_o professional performing arts organisation that works towards youth leadership, inclusivity and accessibility, encouragement of indigenous art forms and advocating social entrepreneurship and change *catches breath*, all through the arts, you know you’ve come across something truly special.

With a tagline that says “Where artists come to play”, Paprika Festival is a unique performing arts festival celebrating the work of young and emerging artists, based in Toronto, Ontario.

In the past 14 seasons, it has supported the artistic work of over 1000 individuals and launched over 100 professional careers.

“Established in 2001 by the then 18-year-old Anthony Furey, the idea was of building a festival that showcased work created entirely by young people. In March 2002, the first Paprika Festival showcased five new plays created by artists 21 and under.” It has since grown to include year-round programming featuring a diversity of productions, playwrights-in-residence, a resident company, ongoing mentorship, monthly training days and a dynamic connection to the professional arts community.

This tangible growth has been streamlined by a significant evolution in the festival’s vision and scope. Visit their website and you’ll find not just a well-defined list of Mandates and Values but also a comprehensive and collaboratively worked on Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan underscores four central themes that emerged as shared priorities for Paprika’s future:

community, accessibility, artistic development and youth leadership.

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“Getting to this stage has been about allowing each iteration of Paprika to advocate for and execute the projects, dreams, and values they envision. Each year, the Paprika Festival has introduced exciting new initiatives. In 2007, a multi-disciplinary Creators’ Unit was introduced, supporting new film, visual art, and spoken word projects. In the following years, programming continued to change in response to the needs of the youth arts community, but also in response to the needs of the festival. For instance, the 12/13 season piloted the Advisory Board—a new opportunity for participant-aged youth to engage in the administrative and development aspects of an arts organisation. This new program served the festival in the short-term by connecting to new communities and providing a youth-led opportunity; it also served the festival in the long term by developing the next generation of leaders and board members for Paprika.”

In my conversation with Ali Joy Richardson, the current Artistic Producer, I wondered about one of the goals of Paprika towards equipping the youth to find employment in diverse cultural industries. “We cannot estimate where Paprika participants’ careers may lead them but we endeavour to build skills that are helpful in all career paths. This skill-building begins by never treating participants like students. Yes, they are learning but they are also artists in their own right and need a safe place to practice being an adult and an artist. Through attendance at Training Days and participation in festival-wide project deadlines and tasks participants build skills in collaboration, time and project management, networking and problem-solving. Many participants have gone on to have very successful careers as artists, arts administrators, and even environmentalists, citing the work ethic and safe practice ground provided by Paprika as a key tool in their success.”

In a consistent nod towards creating meaningful opportunities and connections, Paprika strives to ensure at least 3 shows every year have a life beyond their performances at the festival.

“A core part of Paprika is matching young participants with professional artist mentors. We ask participants with whom they’d like to work and, in many cases, are able to make a dream come true by matching them with an artist they admire. These mentor-mentee relationships often yield support for the participant’s production down the road. The festival itself (which happens annually in May) in showcasing the work to the wider professional theatre community serves as a launching point for productions. Bilal Baig’s “Acha Bacha” was produced at Canada’s oldest alternative theatre this year, Theatre Passe Muraille, because the Artistic Director (Andy McKim) saw it in Paprika Festival!”

This kind of anecdote is one of many under its belt. But what about sustaining the festival itself? “Paprika Festival programs are completely free to participants in order to create a barrier-free space. Hence, we often rely heavily on in-kind and monetary donations, fundraising events, and community support. Paprika is graciously funded by various arts councils, foundations, and sponsorships: Federally, Provincially and Municipally. A large part of our success is also due to the Festival Administrators Program, and the tireless hours staff contribute throughout the year.”

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For years now, Paprika has set the stage for young artists to have their voices heard. They’ve made inclusivity and representation of diverse communities a given in their work culture. At a time of ongoing, global discussion over matters of representation and initiatives taken by the youth, Paprika sure seems to be doing something right. Currently, in the midst of the build-up for this year’s festival, their commitment to constructive dialogue is evident. Paprika is constantly transforming to respond to the priorities and interests of young artists. Last month we were awarded a Compass Grant from the Ontario Arts Council to work with a consultant in order to develop a new formal Strategic Plan for Paprika’s future. So, over the next month, we’ll be meeting with past and present Paprika staff, participants, the Board of Directors, partnering companies, and an Indigenous Elder in order to envision the future of Paprika. Stay tuned…!”

Sources:  www.paprikafestival.com
If you would like to make a donation to Paprika Festival, please visit: bit.ly/paprikadonate

                                                                       – Esha Patil

Singapore Drama Educators’ Association’s Theatre Arts Conference 2017

From 28th June to 1st July 2017

At Goodman Arts Centre, Singapore

Drama education is something I haven’t dabbled with much. Then why was I at this conference? Not only attending but also presenting there. The tagline for the SDEA Theatre Arts Conference 2017 was “Projecting Playful Possibilities” and that’s what got me there. Facilitating workshops is a part of the training process at Gillo which I have made the most of every time I got the opportunity to conduct or assist in one.

It was a whole new group of people I was surrounded by – teachers, researchers, students and a few practitioners.

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The Unicorn way is a lot like the Gillo way. In the pre-conference master class led by Purni Morell, Artistic Director, Unicorn Theatre, London we discussed what theatre for children should be and why. And the 20 of us came up with SO many reasons! Of course, it led to a long discussion, sharing experiences and questions asked by children. Then we moved on to reading two books for children that Purni said she had stolen from the child who lived where she was staying. While discussing how the stories could be staged, I realised how I think in visuals first and then analyse the themes in a story. After lunch when we all seemed to be lazing around she made us do an exercise that touched upon one of the most important aspects of performing for children – on playing the character of a child. Made new friends, experienced new approaches of making a performance for children and shared a bowl of Laksa with Muneeb from Karachi which was the highlight of my day!

 

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Opening night keynote address by Purni Morell. Most of the things she spoke about were discussed during the master class, but she is such a brilliant speaker! It was a great start to the two extremely busy days to come.

 

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Playing ‘Hot and Cold’ during Jeffrey Tan’s “Crossroads. You. Terrorist.”

An intense day 01, starting with a workshop on working with refugees by Dr. Norifumi Hida. Being a privileged Bombay kid I have never directly dealt with grave issues. We were prioritising certain rights from the point of view of refugees and all the groups ended up having a similar list. Most of us still set our priorities based on our experiences as privileged city dwellers. “You can prioritise but access isn’t guaranteed”, Dr. Nori said. The keynote address by Chong Tze Chien was so relatable and inspiring. He spoke of his journey as a playwright and it told me that it’s okay to be confused and not know where you’re headed. By this time I was getting butterflies in my stomach for my PechaKucha a couple of hours later at the same venue. But I didn’t want to sit out, so I went ahead and watched a devised performance by teenage girls about the use of Instagram titled “The Box” and it was so good to see how they reflected upon their own use of the social media and how it affected them. I got a mini heart attack when the crew at The Black Box, where I had my PechaKucha, said that they didn’t have my slides. Thankfully it was just confusion and we found them on their pen drive. Gosh how I was rambling! 6 minutes 40 seconds are less! Crossroads. You. Terrorist. – a workshop by Jeffrey Tan was an eye opener. It made me rethink how much I care about things that don’t affect me directly. We played hot and cold and when it came to taking sides for talking about terrorism I was initially on the cold side but at the end of the session I realised terrorism doesn’t only mean international terrorism but also internal terrorism. We even had light moments like when Jeffrey asked me to read a dialogue by an Indian character from his play. When I started reading it he stopped me and said, “You don’t have to read it in an Indian accent.” Everyone in the room roared with laughter but I didn’t understand what the joke was. Later I learnt that he thought I was an Indian born in Singapore. The performance we saw at the end of the day, “Frozen”, was a little difficult for me to connect to. It was about young people from a Taoist and a Buddhist family wanting to convert to Christianity. Again it’s something that doesn’t affect me directly but I couldn’t deny that it’s happening all around me.

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Watching series of still images created using a passage from “The Diary of a Young Girl” during “Exploring Immersive Drama to Build Connection” by Elisa Williams.

Trying to do things I haven’t done before, on day 02 the first thing I decided to attend was a paper presentation on research and archiving. Heavy. But how our seniors have left documents for us to refer to, we should too, right? The keynote address by Dr. Julie Dunn was about her practice in early years, the interrelation of drama and play and reality and play and about the key aspects of working with the very young. “Mass Rapid Tales: the absurd tale of perspectives”, as the tagline suggests, dealt with my favourite topic: perspectives. How the same story had six different ways of arriving at the conclusion was so exciting (and absurd)! What added to it was the narration of the incident by the neutral characters of a lizard and a cockroach. And survived yet another day of presenting our PechaKuchas with my allies Melissa, Terence and Jodi. This time I knew how to use my time. I just skipped talking about some slides (still had lots to share) and let the audience ask questions. The best part of the day, Exploring Immersive Drama to Build Connection with Elisa Williams. How I didn’t want it to end! The energy in the room was something else! We explore a piece of text with an ensemble a lot these days, but it’s always interesting to see other facilitators at work.

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L to R: Jodi Thiele, Melissa Quek, Nishna Mehta and Terence Tan

With the busy programme through the two days of the conference I managed to mingle and enjoy the food, yes, SDEA had arranged for delicious food! I wish we had more time to talk to people instead of just chatting in between sessions while rushing from one venue to another. Nonetheless, this conference was the beginning of some new long term friendships.

 

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Delegates still mingling after the closing of the conference.

 

                                                                                                                                                              – Nishna Mehta
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