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.