Sunday, June 25, 2006

More things Chinese

Nixon's been open for a week and a bit (three shows so far). The reviews have been fantastic - which gives a bit of a glow. Good news is we've been asked to do it again next spring in Athens (the birthplace of theatre and democracy - and I've never been there!). Spent Friday with the designer Stefanos Lazaridis, who is now Intendant of the opera house there. He came along to a pre-performance talk I gave, as well as seeing the show and talking through the technical and casting mountains. So that particular journey continues.

Haili's Chinese journeys are also continuing: she's back for a few days before another trip into self-discovery. She's sent me some images of Tibet - herself in front of Everest, and pilgrims wandering through the villages twirling their prayer wheels. She's also sent a contract from the Yue company. It's all fairly straightforward - although the spectre of the censor hangs over it, as over so much else on this project. The phrase used is that the play "should not work against the Legislation of the People's Republic of China". I can't imagine it will - but not being an expert in Chinese law, it makes the whole thing feel a bit daunting, especially since SYT claims the right to stop rehearsals if we go out of line on this one. They probably have to be seen to be cautious, as a government-funded organisation. Still - it's an insight a week into the workings of China.

Our own government funding is positive news too. We got the funds we asked for from the Arts Council (in fact they added a little extra because they thought we should put in a bigger contingency). Visiting Arts are postponing decisions till they sort things out with their own funders; but the Arts Council injection is the big boost we need, so we move ahead with the marketing. Simon is looking at potential photographers, and is madly doctoring my much-too-arty copy. The ChineseIbsenn appears not to be coming to Riverside (I'm quite relieved), so we're back with our three-week run in September. Though still no final contract.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dates and Patrons

More moving around of dates. Riverside are also considering a Chinese production of Ibsen's Master Builder, which has lots of intriguing overlaps, but as yet no money. Still in the air on dates, then. The likeliest dates (in September) work pretty well for most people, though not for Peter Kenny, who was Julian in Orientations, and who I would love to play the role again. It would feel very odd without him. Zhang Ruihong has a performance in Hangzhou on August 18th, so would have to fly after that. That's OK, I think. Meijing (my link while Haili is travelling in Tibet) emails to say Mr. You is "concerned" that there's no contract yet. I ask if this means they've got permission and a passport - I suppose the contract will be just a version of the invitation letter, which had everything in it. There's a lot of bureaucracy! Meijing gives me a mental note that as well as dealing with Zhang Ruihong we must also keep the channels of communication open with the company. Haili gets back tomorrow, so hopefully it will all be easier.

Also, I'll have more time, as Nixon in China will open tomorrow night. Peter Sellars arrives for the last few rehearsals on stage, and expresses delight with what we've done ("This show is in places it has NEVER been, Michael".) Although he does very little (it's all kind of been done), his presence is very valuable in the process. The quality of his watching and listening is an object lesson to a director.

Peter and I go out for "a lunch experience" as he calls it, and I ask his advice about the work we're doing. He's hugely excited about the collaboration with SYT and Zhang Ruihong, whom he also thinks is the best xiaosheng in the business. (He knows her, of course: Peter seems to know everybody who is talented in every genre across the whole world). He's also very positive about the Ghana idea: and tells me I have to go to find anybody I need. I'd been wondering if it was better to cancel, given the time scale of the show - but now I feel I have to go for about ten days, otherwise next year disappears in the glare of this one. Particularly since there's now another Nixon next spring - in Athens.

Peter seems so genuinely positive that (with some trepidation) I ask him if he would be Patron of Border Crossings, and he says yes at once. What's more, he will be an active Patron, writing short articles to expand on and help the cause. This will be a huge boost to prestige, and that's what we need right now. Visibility. The work is good - but people need to know that it's good. An endorsement like this does the job. Thank you, Peter.....

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I've been trying for ages to talk to Louise at Riverside and confirm the dates and contract. Finally manage it. She wants to move the whole show EARLIER - so we'd be looking at September. This puts me into blind panic mode. I fire off emails to China, in the hope that the performers can all manage it. Hopefully they can. In which case - all systems will be go... It explodes most of the plans - but that's the nature of theatre, I guess. Constant de-construction.

I went to Central on Wednesday: partly to meet up with the various students who'll be continuing their involvement with the show. It felt like a bit of a reunion. Tori will be leaving the drama school shortly, so this will be her first job. Billy and Jenny both seem keen to do it as a placement. I'll have to tell them the new dates now.....

Watched Geof Colman's production of Heiner Muller's Hamletmachine. I'd known this play (and Muller generally) for some time: and Alaknanda is always telling me how brilliant it is, and that I really should do some. The only performance I'd seen was her Medea on video. Hamletmachine is fascinating: theatre which is about the impossibility of theatre; acting which is about the impossibility of acting / action. Geof's production (as you'd expect in a drama school, I suppose) is very much about attempting to perform the idea of Hamlet - and even features recorded interviews with (I think) Gielgud, talking about the relationship between his performance and Irving's. It probably all sounds rather indulgent, but it's actually very funny, and very pertinent in a time when action seems so suspect, so difficult to achieve. Of course, that's also what Hamlet is about: and I admit that I spent quite a bit of time remembering what a good play that is! This is the dilemma of this sort of post-modern work: in suggesting that all we can do is de-construct, it returns us again and again to the canonical texts which it apparently destroys. Empowering its audience, de-construction turns into re-construction.

Nixon in China has elements of that too. There was a mini-incident in rehearsals this week which seemed very resonant to me. Fred suggested a bit of blocking from previous versions of the production, and I said that it didn't make sense to me. There was a slightly uncomfortable moment, and then I asked the singer what he thought. He said: "I just do what I'm told". Opera all over: for so many singers, the production is just a series of things to remember, not a structure through which they can build a performance with meaning. Until performers are empowered, theatre remains dead - even something like Nixon is not quite there until it has real inner life.