Colchester symposium throws light on international theatreDate: 28 October 2011
If I bowled three concepts – PLOTS, interACT and Open Space – at you, they might not mean a great deal. Alright, we all know that plays, like novels and films, mostly have plots. Art galleries and theatres often either have open spaces or are called by that name. But interACT – what’s that all about?
interACT is an international consortium of theatre companies and festivals, of which Colchester’s Mercury Theatre under the artistic direction of Dee Evans is a founding member. PLOTS is a new collaborative theatre festival project involving five European theatre companies as well as the Mercury. Open Space is a way of developing ideas collaboratively and formed part of the international theatre symposium held at the handsome new firstsite art centre in Colchester on Friday 28 October.
Chaired by Evans, the symposium opened with short introductions by representatives of a number of theatre companies both British and otherwise who explained how they had come to first appreciate and then collaborate with their opposite numbers working in very different theatre cultures from abroad. The importance that festivals play in this process was frequently underlined – and not just Edinburgh, Brighton or LIFT.
The Open Space groups were many and diverse. Some of the issues discussion at these threw up have particular relevance in the 21sr century. Mike Maran drew attention to the ownership of staged work, particularly when it has been communally devised and employs creative as well as performing talent from a number of disciplines and as many different countries. Intellectual property rights and copyright are legal minefields which perhaps have not previously been seen in this particular context.
David Tarkenter moderated the group considering whether it was enough simply to be an actor. Do drama schools and university theatre courses place sufficient emphasis on how an actor can create his or her own work opportunities outside mainstream theatre productions? How important is it for a company member to become involved in a theatre’s various outreach and community projects? Simple “yes” or “no” answers, of course, do not necessarily address the very real problems of keeping a roof over one’s head and securing a stable home environment under it.
PLOTS itself was the focus of another group. Beginning with first management and then technical workshops, its organisation highlighted how diverse the working methods of different companies in different countries are one from another. This is true of both initial read-throughs and rehearsals to the way a technical rehearsal is run.
Some European theatres keep productions in their repertoire for many years and the employment of actors on a full-time, year-round basis gives enormous flexibility in repertoire planning. As artistic directors across the UK frantically juggle their schedules for the next six or ten months, the idea of not having to decide which show to slot in when until a few days before must seem like something from another planet and time, and not just from across the North Sea.
English-speaking theatre is notoriously literary-based. Other countries have other traditions, many as the result of censorship both in past centuries and under more recent unpleasant dictatorships. You can shoot a writer, an actor or a director. You can imprison or non-person a composer. Puppets, movement-based theatre and musical compositions are all escapologists, skilled at the most subtle evasion. They are what the viewer and the listener chooses to make of them.
Here in Britain, we committed theatre-goers do know that the performance we are watching is the mere tip of an iceberg of preparation. Perhaps we should study its surrounds more closely; those floes have their own purpose. An open forum on the lines of this in Colchester could well be interesting for audiences as well as practitioners. Discuss.
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