CRASHING THE GATES. 5 Provocations on Contemporary British Theatre

3. Complementary Perspectives

As I said earlier, I am suspicious of the word “postmigrant.” I think its inflection feels negative because we associate a negative value with the term “migrant” in the first place: in the media especially, migration in referred to always as an experience affecting the “other,” while we are the ones witnessing it, or dealing with its consequences. The idea of crystallising a particular perspective through the word “postmigrant” feels like we are starting from a deficit position – as if migration was an event from which we must take distance from, though without losing touch. Most of all, the term assumes a dominant narrative, an original status quo, which is being affected and altered by migration – as if there were an eternal idea of Germany, the UK or even Europe that is now contaminated by migration.

I believe that within the culture sector, as much as in any other field, migration is the constant, not the variable. Through the centuries, and across the world, nation states, monetary unions, treaties, and even languages, have changed and developed – each dominant culture with its arc of rise and fall and eventually disappearance. Culture is often defined and perceived as a dead body to be contemplated and preserved unchanged, enshrined even. Culture is hailed, defended, and worshipped, like a saint with miraculous powers. And in the case of European culture, it is perceived as a historical heritage that requires protection – even after it has, arguably, rampaged the rest of the globe for a few centuries.

My belief is that identity is as fluid as culture. It escapes definition, and it is constantly re-writing itself. Most importantly, it needs to have the power to re-imagine itself. If we yield to and abide by the definitions available to us, we will inevitably fall into perspectives that are pre-existent and/or received, thereby enforcing a structure of cultural dominance.

As artists and policy makers, we need to claim complementary points of view within our spaces, not only in opposition to or outside of the mainstream outlets. We need to speak with authority and occupy positions of power to be able to balance inequality, affect modes of production, and help to write a new chapter for the cultural moment we are living and defining.

Language in this instance is key to the struggle. Therefore, as I criticise the use of the term “postmigrant,” I also would like to be able to use the word “diversity” in a different way, stressing more the notion of plurality or complementarity of perspectives, instead of the negative inflection “diversity” subtly implies – diverse being equated with non-similar, and therefore non-harmonious.

We are British, German, Italian, European. And the best thing about these definitions is that we shouldn’t know at all what it means, because the history of these cultures is still to be written.

4. Crashing the Gates

In November, we’ll be hosting the second edition of RADAR – Signals from the New Writing World, our yearly festival of new writing and new work. Alongside shows and workshops inside and outside the building, we have also been keen, since last year, on opening our stage to a series of provocations. Every year, we invite a number of speakers from across the country to share a dangerous idea with our audiences. This year, we’ve titled the talks “Breaking Walls/Building Bridges,” in an attempt to capture the polarity of any dynamic of change – you need something to destroy in order to start building again, and you need to break in before you can start reaching out. While we spoke a lot about theatre and form last year – mainly in aesthetic terms – we thought we were missing the point by remaining confined within the insularity of the theatrical discourse, especially within the specific context of New Writing. So this year, we decided to open up the festival to a range of speakers, most of whom have very little to do with the theatre: architects, academics, musicians, campaigners, journalists, fashion designers. We asked ourselves: who defines culture today, and what are the experiences that will provoke us to think beyond the status quo? Who’s breaking the walls down, and who’s building the bridges from which we’ll acquire yet another vantage point?

Our mantra during the first year at the Bush was: “We want to be open, porous and plural, and ultimately, we want to lose control.” We discovered that in order to lose control, first you need to obtain control – not an easy task.

But it has been interesting to observe in the space of 24 months just how much impact some of the decisions we made have had on our organisation. Our audiences are growing, but they’re also changing, reflecting a wider spectrum of backgrounds. Our tone is changing; people are starting to grasp what kind of stories we’re after and the kind of work we’re championing. We’ve become gatekeepers, much against our will – the door is very narrow and there’s a huge mass of people waiting to get in. But at least we’re now able to break the circles of the establishment from within, by creating an offer that is different, though just as valid.

The next step will be to crash the gates and really lose control. To our artists, and to our communities. To achieve, this we need to affect the modes of production of new writing in our building, and across the country. We need to question the traditional relationship between artists and producing venues, as well as the one between audiences and buildings. We need to provoke our audiences and educate them to want more and more surprises. We need to empower artists not necessarily by granting them more money or time or space, but by giving them more responsibility vis-à-vis the context of their work. Reducing the gap between art and life means that we not only present a more truthful and contemporary response to the living moment, but that we are able to imagine a different ecology in which sustainable collaboration supersedes vertical hierarchy. It also means that the community we serve needs to be at the centre of our practice, and they must have a stake in our/their theatre. Perhaps we’ve already breached the wall, but we need to start building the bridges, soon.

5. The Fifth Provocation

I anticipated five provocations at the beginning of this intervention, and I intend to leave this one open to the public, for the sake of coherence with my last statement about losing control. We can define the world we want to live in, define the way we want to be perceived, and articulate our perspectives. Then again, there’s always the “other.” But this time, a positive “other,” that helps us to better perceive our limits.

This is a provocation I’ll bring back to London and share with my peers and colleagues. One that will help us, I hope, to look at ourselves differently, allow us to ask questions we haven’t thought about before, and to be affected by other experiences and ideas that we observe from a short distance, but always with curiosity and openness.

Thank you for your time and consideration.