Theatre around the world

After only a year of welcoming producing students to the CGO Institute, I am proud that we have become members of the ITI/UNESCO Network for Higher Education in the Performing Arts.   In May 2018 I met the leader of the International Theatre Institute, Tobias Biancone on a visit he made to the UK. At that point we exchanged emails and talked of future collaboration.  Last week I attended the global gathering of members and shared in 5 days of presentations by members.

From Shanghai Theatre Academy to Texas Tec University, from the University of Juba in South Sudan to the Grotowski Institute in Poland, we each presented our passions and our aspirations for the future.  45 Countries are represented within the ITI/UNESCO Network and many more in ITI itself. Over the next few months I will have the pleasure to take time to get to know many of them.

At the heart of the discussions was cooperation across institutions, sharing best practice in teaching / supporting those training for the arts, and finding ways forward for each of us.  Some are based in incredibly challenging environments, all are living with the pandemic. But through all the discussions there was a great sense of positivity.

The future of CGO Institute is in helping aspiring producers to forge connections to make work happen.  Some of those connections will be very local, and some will be international. Across the world there is someone who wants to make a piece of work which exactly matches your hopes and dreams. Somewhere across the world there is an audience that will embrace your best work in a thrilling way.

We were also joined during the week by four lead creative artists from around the world. I was particularly taken by the eloquence and tangential thinking from Lemi Ponifasio the dance ritual theatremaker from Samoa    He talked of the body as “filled with dreams, nightmares and ancestors” and that “the purpose of creation is to bring forth the ancestors”. He challenged us to “shatter the idea of theatre…throw away the machine” and reminded us that “theatre needs a bigger mission now…invite the gods back into the theatre”. 

Although less richly voiced, this was a common theme – the need to do things differently. The need to be aware that institutions may hold onto the past as they move forward into the future. And a lot of that past is not helpful to our future as creative beings and communities. 

My current cohort of inspiring producers think about this all the time, and I know that the alumni from the first 2 programmes are hitting some of the ‘old ways’. But they are also offering the old guard new ways to think which could be powerful into the future.  Elli Papakanstantinou talked around crisis and how there is great strength for the “individual in the safety of the collective” giving them the potential to be able “to expose the core of the collective trauma”.  Collaboration and mutual support leads to “collective empowerment” and it was inspiring to hear her talking about her work in Greece both on the ground and through the potential of zoom and in the cloud.

It was an honour to listen to the globally renowned Taiwanese playwright and maker Stan Lai who’s longform pieces are now available to be read in English following a 10 year project my Mr Lai to translate, and where necessary adjust, his epic works from Chinese into English for English production. . He talked of the 1980s “economic miracle which created a cultural desert” and the need now to reconsider ritual, the circle, the cycles of life which are fundamental to theatre. He joined in a feeling that “we will cherish the face to face, the being in the same room together” but he remains worried that “we don’t have the creativity to create the work which will [resonate] with the people today”.  Each of these speakers inspired and challenged us to look to the future, and maybe more than anything else to celebrate and support the people who will be the future of the theatre.

Finally in the week the dancemaker Gladys Agulhas reminded us to “open up your heart for anyone who wants to come in”. She works with artists who often work with their senses in different ways to complement and compensate for a disability, like her inspiration Adam Benjamin and Candoco in the UK. She is working in South Africa and now around the world using the power that is possible when we remember that “dance is the voice for the voiceless”. 

The week reminded me that we are different and inspiring. We share a common passion to make work and reach an audience or a participatory base. We come from different cultures, different ways of seeing and living in the world, different language bases, different climates and communities.  The ITI (and especially for CGO Institute the ITI/UNESCO network) seeks to do what is most necessary – bringing the current and next generations of theatremakers together to use the arts for good (and fun).

I look forward to seeing what 2022 will bring. I look forward to welcoming a new cohort of creative producers into the 4th course when it starts in April 2022 Applications most welcome now..  But first I will be welcoming back the 3rd cohort who are off undertaking their assignments in budgeting and marketing (and hopefully having some time off too)

So thank you to the theatre for opening my eyes to the world. Thank you to so many of you, like those this week at the convention, for giving me extraordinary opportunities to continue to expand. And thank you to past and future students of producing who challenge me and inspire me.

Have a safe and festive season, and every good wish for 2022

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