Emerge Festival – Day Three

Get Yourself Together and TANK

So the Emerge Festival at Warwick Arts Centre has finished and everyone is exhausted and happy and relieved. It’s been (certainly in my eyes) a success. There have heated political discussions which divided rooms of intellectual and rational people, shows of really inspirational quality, and a bubbling sense of theatre being this elusive and amazing thing which can bring us together in the best ways but also ideologically tear us apart.

The two shows last night couldn’t have been more different, I don’t think. We began with Get Yourself Together – a one man piece about depression and our attitude to mental health devised and performed by Josh Coates. Some shows about mental health can be pretty insensitive, vibing off a Sarah Kane asylum theme with a lot of screaming and hospital gowns. This one, thank god, wasn’t like that at all. It was real and felt so tangible. Josh created a space with us where he shared some pretty heart wrenching stuff and yet he wasn’t deterred from making us laugh and becoming our friends. A big thing about mental health issues is quite often it feels like it can create a barrier when it’s talked about because people will probably either offer short term solutions, like a calming tea, or back away completely. It was pretty significant that Josh formed a place where those things weren’t going to happen. He related himself to us and allowed us into his world for just a short moment. In particular, actually, men’s mental health is stigmatised to a terrifying degree and because of our gender binaries and social constructions of masculinity, men are often made to feel as if they can’t talk about feeling sad and they can’t cry. I think the great thing about Josh’s show was that he smashed through these assumptions and came out the other side and was accepted. He opened up the conversation. He even left leaflets outside and offered to chat to people if they needed but also he encouraged the conversation to continue, which it did.

TANK, created and performed by Breach Theatre, was about creating a discourse between ‘us’ and ‘the other’. Breach Theatre’s show focused on the relationship between a dolphin, named Peter, and a researcher, Margaret. She attempts, as part of an experiment that happened in the 1960s, to teach this dolphin English. This actually happened though. Some of the script was verbatim and honestly I don’t think I’ll ever really get to grips with science but the 1960s were clearly a very weird time. The conversation TANK was creating was really about the colonial mind-set within the imperialist culture forming in America at the moment. It was about how we force ourselves onto those who don’t want or need us. The metaphor used to approach this pertinent topic was, frankly, ingenious – although the audience knew they were watching a show about a dolphin in an experiment, the fact that Joe was an actual person playing a dolphin in a show where the dolphin is a metaphor for actual people made it all the more disturbing and unsettling.

Opening up the conversation then, Josh’s show was about creating a safe space to connect with those around you in order to destigmatise a rhetoric surrounding an important political topic, while TANK was about creating a metaphor for the dehumanising of the other as a way to start and inform the ongoing conversation of xenophobia in the Western world. Both were about breaking down barriers, but one was through love and the other through force. Within TANK there were also various circling communities which formed and intersected with each other, creating a dialogue which was disputed and argued over throughout, in classic Crimp style. In Josh’s show there was his individual community and then there was ours – the one with Josh and the audience. Both shows played with the idea of subjectivity, and who gets to decide what you are and how you’re supposed to be.

After the shows we had a post-show talk as well, about the move from student theatre to professional theatre making. The general consensus seemed to be that it was hard, like really very hard, but also incredibly fulfilling. It’s kind of the ultimate goal to find people who you like making theatre with and then be able to do that for a sustained period of time. It’s obviously not easy but it’s not impossible which it definitely feels like sometimes, especially when the only thing people say to someone with a theatre degree is ‘Oh that’s a hard industry to get into, maybe start looking for a back-up plan’. I also think something that isn’t addressed often enough is that by making the distinction between ‘student theatre’ and ‘professional theatre’ a binary begins to form and it feels like certain criteria have to be met. Especially when the phrase ‘it was good for student theatre’ comes into the equation. It can be damaging to both students and professionals because surely everyone’s theatre should be judged on the same level. What was so great about Emerge was that there was work created by current students with graduates and stuff performed by recent graduates and not so recent graduates, and by people who had never even been here – but it was all put on the same level. Everyone was accepted and judged equally and that worked really well. Some of the best theatre I’ve seen all year has been here in these three days. Communities formed beautifully and were catastrophically broken down in an eclectic amalgamation of exciting work and interesting, insightful people.

Bring on next year.

Also – the company that curated and ran the festival, Barrel Organ, have their show Some People Talk About Violence going on tour next week – go check it out, buy tickets, and enjoy.

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Emerge Festival Day Two

The Community Project and The Privileged 

The second day of the Emerge festival at Warwick Arts Centre in the middle of Coventry has finished. We have seen The Community Project and The Privileged. We are exhausted and drained – we are questioning and being questioned. I’m not going to pretend that I can write a perfect summary of this evening, but instead I hope to give a small insight into what was created and what occurred. This evening became rather centred around political debate and I don’t want to pretend I know all the answers to the questions we were asking, or that I even know which side of the debate I’m on.

We began with a formal discussion. We sat in a circle in front of a panel of academics and creatives and discussed the question; ‘What implications does an assembly of people have in political, social and cultural contexts?’ Chaired by Dr Rachel King, the panel and some of the audience, discussed what it means to be a community and an assembly. Can an assembly be a threat? Is one temporary and the other permanent? Should we create binaries for terms which are in themselves so dependent on a context, on the people in them? The ideas that were flying around about who defines a community and when does a group of people change from an assembly to a community had particular poignancy with the two shows last night. As well the notion that an assembly of people is inherently threatening, and are we willing to accept the risks of being within that assemblance of people?

The Community Project was a show created and performed by students at Warwick University – Clara, Ben, Lilith, and Eduardo with the help of some members of Barrel Organ. It was positively glowing, as shows go, and it made us feel part of something. Both shows tonight had a strong theme of audience involvement – in this first show we felt welcomed and taken under the wing of four individuals. These four people operated within the spheres of various different communities and we were let into just a small part of their worlds. There were jokes that perhaps only Warwick students would understand and stories which only the individuals themselves could understand, or the individual’s families. I think this highlighted a really interesting dynamic about how far we are ourselves and how far we are merely formed by those around us. The audience also felt very much part of a community created in the theatre itself as well. I have a lingering feeling of fondness towards the show and I’m sad it won’t be performed again but maybe that’s better because it means that our small temporary community will stay like that and it won’t and can’t be created again.

The second show of the evening was The Privileged, again created and performed by live artist Jamal Harewood. We sat for a second time in a circle of chairs and faced each other, only this time it wasn’t a panel discussion, it was a polar bear enclosure. We were given a set of instructions to begin in an envelope marked One. It started in a fairly tame manner as you might imagine, but began to deteriorate and became darker as the piece progressed. It’s almost impossible to describe what occurred in the room but it was significant and it was important. .It talked about racial identity in our society so provocatively and brutally. Every performance of this show is different because every temporary community that forms because of it is different and has different rules. It seemed that in a way, we were sitting down and having a very similar discussion to the one we’d had three hours earlier upstairs. Except that things were different because this time it wasn’t theoretical, no matter how much we wanted it to be; it was real. There was a man dressed as a polar bear in the middle of a room of people discussing whether or not it was morally okay to rid him of his polar bear suit. We knew we were being tested – that our limits as humans and our capacity for violence was being challenged (not that changed anything about the situation).

I think it’s important to remember that Jamal describes his show as ‘playful’ and yet I don’t think I have ever felt so deeply affected by a piece of theatre. I didn’t say much when I was in there because I didn’t feel like it was my place. Some part of me said that you don’t have the right to decide what happens to another human being or whether or not he his stripped of his clothing and made vulnerable. I don’t think that makes me any better or worse than anyone else in that room. As I said, I don’t have the answers and I also don’t think there are answers. I simultaneously agreed and profoundly disagreed with every person in that room and I probably wasn’t the only one. It created debate, it tore apart a group of people in their own temporary community. In a way, what was created in the first show was so brutally questioned that I don’t think the two shows will ever be separate again, certainly to me anyway.

Keep talking about it. Don’t let it be something that happened that one time and made you feel sad. And if you haven’t seen The Privileged – go see it.

Also – if you haven’t booked for the final day of Emerge, WHY NOT?! It’s going to be another evening of intensely present theatre so come along if you can. And tell your friends.

Emerge Festival – Day One

Eurohouse and Lucy, Lucy, and Lucy Barfeild

Emerge Festival is at Warwick Arts Centre for three days this term, curated by Warwick Graduate company Barrel Organ and for the next couple of days I’ll be blogging and sharing my probably inadequate and disjointed thoughts on the festival and the shows that are on. There are still tickets for the other shows so I would definitely recommend coming to the next two days.

The theatre is a safe space. Especially for theatre students. Going back to theatre’s you know and love is a comfort in itself. Maybe that’s why so many Warwick companies are coming back for this three day festival. To feel a sense of community, of safety. Eurohouse began by creating a very safe sphere of togetherness and connection. The audience locked hands, became physically connected, and created a small community in itself. Bert and Nasi smiled out at us. It felt warm and happy. There was dancing.

Gradually though, that safety was broken down. It was simple but they were able to systematically destroy the safety of those first few moments. The dancing paralleled the political zeitgeists which continue to occur in this global crisis that our world seems to constantly be in. Not to be cheesy but history does repeat itself. We are lulled into this false sense of security by the people in power. They pretend everything’s fine and dance around to Comme d’habitude with a charming French accent and slowly eat away at what makes us most secure, most human. As someone said afterwards, ‘It made me want to throw up, but in a good way’. So this shift in tone basically subverted the whole notion of a safety net that holds us in this cocoon of privileged apathy. Two guys made me question my own sense of national identity, and who I believe anymore. Greece was portrayed to us as a country that seriously messed up, but really it was a manipulative French guy forcing us to retch up our M&Ms.

So I questioned my national identity. And I questioned my actual identity as well. And how much my name actually means. That was because of Lucy, Lucy, and Lucy Barfield. A young girl fascinated with the dream world of Narnia (in a way an imagined safe space, one that doesn’t and never did really exist) searches for the ‘real’ Lucy, the one C.S. Lewis dedicated his books to. And everything is thrown into question. Whereas Eurohouse was a focus on facts and presenting those facts via metaphor, Lucy was about a truth that was subjective. How can we ever truly know what happened to someone who is basically untraceable? What is her truth, and is it singular? And in a subtle link to Eurohouse – how is our individualism taken away from us in the wake of political crisis?