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Guest Blog: World Stages looks past 'debauchery' to the future

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World Stages London, led by a consortium of eight Off-West End producing theatres working with international collaborators, is now under way. Of the inaugural season of six productions this summer, three have so far opened: Wild Swans at the Young Vic, Three Kingdoms at the Lyric Hammersmith (the one dubbed “debauched beyond redemption” by Whatsonstage.com’s Michael Coveney) and the site-specific BABEL.

World Stages co-director Nicola Thorold takes this halfway point as an opportunity to reflect on the inspiration behind the initiative, and its new way of working for theatre companies, and to make a promise for the future.

Last Sunday we hosted a brunch for the 250 performers and other company members involved in making World Stages London shows. Looking along a sunlit terrace in Waterloo at theatre makers from all around the globe, I realised I was seeing the embodiment of World Stages London’s guiding idea: ‘London in the World/ The World in London'.

Nicola Thorold with her World Stages co-director, and Young Vic artistic director, David Lan
World Stages London is a season of exceptional theatre. It’s also the first time that eight leading London theatres have come together to create work that none of us could make on our own. We’ve taken four years to discuss ideas and learn to collaborate with each other and we’re now half way through the season of six shows that we’ve produced along with 12 other theatre producers from around the world and the UK. Our guests were from every continent and speaking at least eleven different languages over their coffee.

We were motivated by a desire to see if we can change the instinctive and deep-rooted culture of competition between our organisations. We wanted to test whether by being generous, collaborative and supportive we could create extraordinary work that wouldn’t be made otherwise.

It’s not been straightforward: at our first meeting we realised that the artistic directors of BAC, the Bush, Lyric Hammersmith, Royal Court, Somerset House, Sadler’s Wells, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Young Vic barely knew each other. But over time and as artistic ideas became our focus, it became clear that what we share is stronger than anything we felt we ought to protect from each other.

In fact it turned out that what we thought we most wanted to protect - audiences - was what we need to share the most. Under 10% of audiences cross over between our venues and this collaboration is a real opportunity to introduce our core audiences to other theatres and theatre styles.

At the heart of World Stages London are the shows. Together, we are making work that reflects the great cultural traditions that together make up our most cosmopolitan of cities: London. We’re working with theatres in Paris, Munich, Tallinn, Boston, Brussels, and Haifa as well as artists from India, China, South America and South Africa. Each show tells stories that mean something to all Londoners and particularly communities from these countries. London is a global city and World Stages London is exploring and celebrating that.

We started this journey saying it would be a ‘one-off’, but it won’t be. We’re enjoying working together too much. We’re also realising that taking artistic risks and being bold is less scary when you do so with colleagues. Our shows have been controversial - “debauched beyond redemption” was the Whatsonstage.com critic’s take on Three Kingdoms (others have raved) – but so far audience responses have been as enthusiastic as we could have hoped for. Three more open over the next fortnight and already two are planned for 2013. Try stopping us.

- Nicola Thorold, co-director, World Stages London

World Stages London continues with next week’s openings of Peter Brook’s The Suit at the Young Vic, Bollywood musical Wah! Wah! Girls at the Peacock Theatre and and Palestinian play The Beloved at the Bush Theatre.


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