Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Setting up possible contacts for China, I talk by email to the delightfully named Bingbing - Arts Manager at the British Council in Shanghai. And, out of the blue, I get a phone call from a woman in Manchester called Haili Heaton, who Bingbing contacted straight away. Astonishingly, Haili was a Yue performer as a child, and has just written a thesis on the form. She's really excited about what we're doing, and (of course) knows all the Yue XiaoSheng (literally "Young Man" - played by women in Yue opera), and everybody else personally. She even made a film of Yue - which I didn't even know existed.

We arrange to meet in a couple of weeks time. Then she emails me about four times. I think she's even more excited than I am.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Meet the Board!

Saturday morning, and we have a board meeting at the National Theatre. I'm full of admiration for this group of people, who oversee the company on a totally voluntary basis (and, in Peter Scott's case, even do the accounts - I hand over a wad of papers today with a deep sense of guilt!). We spend a couple of hours talking about everything which is going on in the company, and about Kath Gorman's recent consultancy document. There's so much that's positive in all this - but our basic problems remain the same as ever: we're not in a position to do much of the work necessary to build the company, because we can't pay full time employees (either myself or an administrator). And, unless that work is done, then we won't be able to do so.... It all feels very chicken and egg.

Still, Kath's key recommendations about diversifying the funding sources and expanding the board to include people who can do some serious lobbying are really useful.

The big decision we make is that I need to go to China. Soon. Time to start working on it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Back to School

We've been reviving Uniforms and Hoodies, the Education piece we created for Patti Smith's Meltdown, with the kids at Lilian Baylis School in Lambeth (see ). Two days re-rehearsal, and two performances for the rest of the school. I'm not sure it's the best way to do things: there was such a big high for the performers after their Festival Hall performance, and it would be a shame if that were eclipsed in their memories by a more hurriedly rehearsed, technically messy show with a less enthusiastic audience. On the other hand, it's very good for the rest of the school to see a real piece of protest theatre with music and video, which is talking about the real concerns of their age group, and makes those concerns political.

As before with this group, 90% of the time and energy goes in crowd control - but it's all put into perspective at the end of the show, when the Headmaster has to get up and explain to everybody that the local tube has been closed because of a bomb. A bit odd to hear him talking about how they must be respectful to the police who are dealing with this, just after he's been praising a rather anti-police bit of theatre.

For me, the really interesting outcome of this project has been the discovery about form. The piece is somewhere between drama, rock concert and video installation. I really like the way songs and scenes move in and out of one another, commenting without the music-theatre cliches of characters bursting into song. It makes the whole thing very much of the teenagers' world, but still allows it to be immediate and powerful. I'm wondering if we shouldn't try to create something like this as a public project for young audiences - a club night with theatre.

With these thoughts mulling round in my head, I go to the V&A for the launch of the Mayor's Commission's Report on African and Asian Heriatge. Lots of very exciting African musicians and DJs there. I remember that Third World Bunfight has been experimenting with Club Nights recently..... ( Hum..... Then we all get harangued from the platform for talking too much during the two hours of speeches. Reach for another glass of champagne.

Monday, July 18, 2005

China, Iran and supertitles

Friday morning at the Cultural Department of the Chinese Embassy. It's a huge mansion on Hampstead Heath, which Miss Chang (the Assistant and, as far as I can tell, one of only two people who work there) tells me they bought from "an oil magnate". It's curtained and airy on this boiling hot day, and she pours me Chinese tea "to make you cool". I sink into the leather sofa.

The Cultural Counsellor, Mr Ke Yasha, appears: an efficient middle-aged man in a Mandela shirt. They're very helpful and very polite - but I sense all along that the cultural difference here is very real - that there are things in his subtext I'm just not getting. The idea of starting a project without having a script is one he obviously finds tricky to deal with - and he suggests that I don't even try to sell that one to any institutions in China. "Individual artists, yes", he says. "And this will be easier for you. There will be less bureaucracy. And I can smoothe the way." I have a feeling this alone will be worth its weight in gold - so I'm not too bothered when my query about funding is met with polite laughter.

I go to see Amid the Clouds at the Royal Court - it's a company from Iran in a poetic piece about refugees coming from that country to Europe. Great to see work with a real Islamic cultural voice behind it - something there's so little of in the theatre (though we're striving towards something of this with the Nottingham group). The moment when the two characters make a temporary marriage is very beautiful - and only possible within that tradition, which as a result asserts its humanity, even its feminism, in a very surprising way. And I love the blending of really harsh political realities with the mythic - the woman is a modern version of Maryam (Mary), which again is very resonant for Nottingham.

I rarely get annoyed by supertitles in foreign language theatre, but tonight I find them a real hindrance. I think it's because so much of the play is in monologue form, and sometimes the monologues are pre-recorded and whispered in darkness, as if we're inside the protagonist's head. But hearing this in Persian, and reading the title, I don't get that immediate experience which the company clearly want me to have. I'm cut off from the play at precisely the moment I should be drawn in.

This afternoon I was editing the video interview I did with Jatinder Verma for Rose Bruford. At one point he asks: "What is the aesthetic of multiculturalism?" I don't know any more than he does - but it's certainly not the supertitle in a moment of intimacy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Laboratory

Farid Paya phones from Paris to confirm details of his trip to lead a workshop with our new Laboratory. (See I met Farid in December, when I went over to see the Théâtre du Soleil in their wonderful production about refugees, Le Dernier Caravansérail, and to talk to Ariane Mnouchkine about it. Josip suggested there might be points of common interest between the Théâtre du Lierre and Border Crossings: both companies are interested in a theatre which operates across cultures and disciplines, which addresses today's world, but which avoids a slavish naturalism (with all the political conservatism that form has come to contain). As so often, Josip is a real litmus paper of a man: it turns out that there's even a common interest in the theatre of the Indian Ocean - Lierre presented Théâtre Talipot from La Réunion in Kalla, Le Feu last November, on the initiative of Aloual, their Malagasay actor. Talipot is a company which melds African, Asian and European forms: a real lesson to us all.

In April, I made another trip to Paris to see Farid's production of L'épopée de Guilgamesh: an amazing treatment of the myth through physical and vocal theatre. Look on the Laboratory website, and you'll see a photo - actors like whirling dervishes. Now he's coming here to teach us something about these voice techniques, which he draws mainly from Middle Eastern traditions: I feel really honoured.

For some time I've been feeling that Border Crossings needs a Laboratory space, outside the processes of developing particular projects, so that we can research what intercultural theatre might really mean, train ourselves in a whole range of techniques, and explore the possibilities which collaborations like this one offer for future productions. Even though we aren't staging a full production this year, I feel that the setting up of this Laboratory more than compensates, and gives a real lift to our tenth anniversary as a company. It's a chance for actors to train with some exciting practitioners, and for me to see the results.

We sort out Farid's Eurostar tickets, and publicise the workshops.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What a Week

It's the first week of this blog, and it's been one of the most extraordinary weeks in London's history. The Live 8 concert last Saturday, building up to the G8 summit and all the debates around that, the Olympic announcement and then the horrors of yesterday's terrorist attacks.

Two very telling emails this morning. One from Josip Rainer (French playwright and dramaturg), who says "Looking at all the terrible images, I only wish I could say that it is all so hard to believe, but sadly it is believable. All the more reason for people coming together, crossing borders." The other is from Poul Ruders (Danish opera composer), who says "I have to admit, that composing nice, classical concert music feels a wee bit futile right now, but so it did after 9/11 and Madrid."

They are both right, of course: any artistic or creative response feels woefully inadequate to the enormity of these events - but it is only by the encouragement of cultural dialogue that we can hope to make any difference at all. And I mean real cultural dialogue: not Youssou N'Dour being given a grudging few minutes to duet with Dido in Hyde Park. Live 8 had its value, of course - but in the end it was about the West, not about Africa: it was about the Africa of our imaginations, which we could help on our terms - hence the absence of any real African voice. We cannot expect cultural dialogue to occur solely on our terms any more: one of the reasons the world is in such chaos is that the West has dictated the terms of the debate for so long. We talk about "development", but we mean "becoming more like us": we talk about "enemies of human rights" when we mean people who don't agree with us. What we need now is an open space, in which every voice counts, is genuinely equal and is listened to. And yes, I do believe that theatre - in a small but significant way - can be that open space in a way other commercially driven fora cannot.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fun with the funders

Visiting Arts threw a party on Tuesday night to mark Terry Sandell's departure as director: he's off to the Ukraine as Director of the British Council there. As a result the party, on a Thames boat, was Ukrainian themed: vodka on arrival, fatty sausages with black bread and horseradish, Pavlo Hunka and a choir of Cossacks singing. Terry's departure coincides with the end of Visiting Arts' restructuring programme: and I'm encouraged to see the work "collaborations" very clearly present in their new mission statements. Until now, they've tended to say that their money is only really for presentation of ready-made foreign productions: we've managed to persuade them to make exceptions in the past, but now it looks as if these exceptions are becoming policy.

Wednesday afternoon at the Arts Council, where I have a very encouraging meeting with Denise Jones. Quite unusual for an Arts Council officer to describe a planned project as "very exciting". On the other hand, we've just heard the result of the Olympic bid, and the announcement of the new Lottery game aimed solely at Olympic funding. The fear is that this will eat up all the Lottery funds, and anything else in the DCMS budget, right through to 2012. The Arts Council suffered a budget cut this year, and project-funded companies like ours were the victims. Together with the way in which the government is subtly diverting Lottery funds away from "good causes" like the arts towards things which should be funded from the Treasury (like the NHS), this doesn't bode well. Jude Kelly is on the radio at lunchtime, saying that the Olympics will be great for the theatre because we'll have a world cultural festival. But we have to survive until 2012 in order to be part of it....

Monday, July 04, 2005


This is the new Border Crossings blog: an online reflective journal which we hope will give you a few insights into the workings of an intercultural theatre company.

Watch this space for postings - and in the meantime case out the website at