Theatre, Trees and Landscape Project
Holland 8-10th September
The first three-day meeting of performing artists, groups and organisations working in rural community contexts was in Peergroup, our host’s headquarters in the North of the Netherlands: We made our way there taking planes, trains and automobiles to reach this rural area of peat land, a resource once used as fuel by the small farmers in this area. Due to socio-economic developments there are fewer farmers and fuel is now in the form of gas extracted from the land and piped elsewhere to feed the needs of the ever-increasing urban populations.
We met to discuss, theatre, trees and landscape and the role of the performing arts in bringing socio-economic and ecological issues in a rural community context to our world stage.
Beginnings are always delicate as we’re entering into strange territory with limited experience of each other’s cultures and rural communities. We could only talk about our own experience as cultural creators in a rural context, and how we’ve been working with and getting to know our communities. Some of the groups are long established members of their community and the performing arts world, others less so.
Though our approaches differ what we all tended to agree on was the need for us to be involved with other everyday experts to preserve our natural and cultural landscapes: That is to say performances or events distinguished by the participation of non-professional performers or so-called ‘everyday experts’ talking about their own lives. This is a theatre of performers who are not necessarily actors, but specialists in particular spheres of life: ‘professionals of a theatre of the real world’ who are sometimes paid, sometimes volunteering, sometimes unaware they are performing for others.
According to the history and statistics of farming practices presented by guest speaker, Jan Harholt and representative of the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs Agri-cultural practices are dwindling due to modern farming methods and socio-economic pressures to thrive or even survive in a rural landscape. The question is how could performing arts strengthen the public debate about food, animals, landscape and the farmers?
While agricultural and artistic values may not always be the same there is a symbiotic relationship between our natural and cultural landscapes and whether it be in a rural or urban setting there is equal concern about the quality of our lives and landscape. In a world of fast food and faster communication it seems we know little about the production process and even less about the overall effects on rural life. We speedily travel from country to country, city to city or from home to urban workplaces along motorways that disconnect us from the countryside, small towns and villages. So despite an abundance of food and communication networks our rural heritage is struggling to survive and communities and individuals feel more isolated than ever.
With this in mind we’ve tried to come up with ways to reconnect with our communities and landscapes with the human and natural resources available to us.
A lot of our ineffectiveness to make the world a better place has to do with our limited perception as artistic performers working in a specific area. And we recognise the need to integrate other organisations and individuals within our rural communities to represent the macrocosm through the microcosm if our efforts are to be worthy of emulation, like the cultural villages or transitions towns set up by networks and communities similar to our own.
What our representations or presentations will consist of depend on our individual and combined efforts over the coming year: We plan with the aid of Erasmus Plus, a European mobility grant, to spend some time in each other’s company, workspaces and communities. The objective being to share our knowledge and experience to come up with ways and means of creating in and with rural communities rather than imposing our artistic values upon them: It’s about giving and receiving rather than taking and leaving, with no change of heart or understanding of how performance and landscape can represent each other for the good of agricultural and artistic practices in these communities.
Most stories or performances consist of a journey, whether physical or metaphorical, between places or states of mind transformed by the passage of time. After sharing our thoughts and aspirations we came up with the idea of mapping our journey, as a means of understanding our landscapes and making the creative process more transparent and visually easier to understand for ourselves as well as from other to participate and share in creative process with us. Our desire would be to link everyday experts in various fields to create performances, social events and landmarks that would leave a sustainable imprint on the communities involved as to the importance of preserving our countryside and rural culture together.
This requires working on creating entertainment that is educational, easy to understand and disseminate so the seeds are sown for spectators and participants alike to let nature nurture what we value and help us preserve our natural heritage and traditions in the face of trade, technology and human progress.
We met with some of the local farmers, forest and regional officials who mostly listened to what we had to say and offered us advice on ways of gaining much needed expertise and support for our project.
We now have our homework to do to establish our own legitimate identity and clearly define what we would like to learn from each other and what we can offer in exchange to the communities. Though public performers with creative and personal freedom from the labour industry we, as part of the leisure industry, sometimes carry the greater responsibility and effort to keep audiences entertained and implicated in the lighter and darker truths of human nature that we collectively represent on our world stage. This is no easy task because we all have a role to play and often more than one to help make life an enjoyable journey.
Hopefully we’ll be able to look back at our performance footprint at the end of this theatre, trees and landscape project with humble pride having shared our dreams and worked to achieve something worthwhile for the right reasons.
“Shakespeare in the park"- A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare’s influence over humanity cannot be under-estimated, which is why we are interested in using his works as a literary backdrop for the theoretical and practical side of The Non-Prophet Festival. Our approach to Shakespearean comedy, inspired by Prof. Seth Lerer from The Teaching Company.
Contexts, Overviews, Form
1. A survey of the transitions from the classical and medieval comic traditions to those of the Renaissance, especially those relevant to Shakespeare’s comic theatre.
2. To reflect on the central features of Renaissance courtly life, especially its public and performative nature.
3. To examine some of the key techniques and thematic concerns of Shakespeare’s comedies
4. Modern adaptations to reflect upon Irish culture in a Global context pre and post-Celtic tiger:
I. Class distinction between the aristocracy or very wealthy, the middle class, the proletariat and the poor.
II. In Marxist doctrine, capitalists as a social class antithetical to the proletariat.
1. The comic form of the Renaissance stage
I. Renaissance comedy’s debt to Roman comedy and New Comedy traditions
II. Central conceits:
i. Mistaken identity
ii. Rustic humour
iii. Language of romance and satire
III. Elizabethan stage’s emergence from medieval and renaissance stage:
i. The cycle play
ii. The wit plays of the Inns of court
iii. The court interludes
IV. The performative nature of courtly life.
V. Self-consciousness of professional theatre. It’s main themes:
iv. Impersonation and display
v. The necessity of family and dynastic continuity.
vi. The value of money
vii. Rural Ireland on the world stage
2. Renaissance dramatists and critics create a new concept of comedy:
• The nature of Renaissance comedy
• Comedy as a mirror of life and social correction.
• Types of comedy
i. Romantic comedy is the story of young lovers; it is the New Comedy marriage plot, set in a world of fantasy or imagination. It contrasts the country and the city or functions in the world of dream and vision
ii. Satiric comedy of social reform shows us characters who challenge hierarchical structure and belongs to Old Comedy traditions of caricature and burlesque
• Shakespeare’s comedies are mostly romantic but contain elements of social satire.
3. Shakespeare’s comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Much ado About Nothing and darker comedies such as Measure for Measure as well as the lighter moments in the tragedies and histories:
I. What links many of these plays and their comic elements is a larger argument for comic theatre as the site of political restitution, domestic restitution, commodity exchange, and literary entertainment.
i. Political restitution: Many of the plots of Shakespeare's plays hinge on the successful replacement of an older generation with a younger and, in the process, the maintenance of the political order. Our intention would be to examine this political order.
ii. Domestic resolution: Shakespeare often asks what is the nature of marriage, and how do the modern worldly concerns of money, lineage, profit, social status, and professional identity shape the roles that men and women play both in public and in private? Is marriage a contract, a business arrangement, a social ritual, a theatrical performance, or a religious rite? In Shakespeare the new comedy plot isn't just about enjoyment but offers a profound political commentary as well. We would address these issues through adaptations dealing with these themes and through post show discussions make transparent to the audience our interpretations of Shakespeare’s works and their validity.
iii. Commodity exchange: what is the nature of theatre for money? Do you get your money's worth at the theatre and, if you don't, what is your recourse?
iv. Literary entertainment: what is the value of entertainment? Is it healthy for the body and the mind? Does it educate or manipulate? Is entertainment the mass conditioning of spectators, or is it a place where social and natural harmony can be restored?
II. Shakespeare’s comedies are comedies of spectatorship. They take as their theme and often embed within their plots, the audience’s experience of watching a play or watching themselves.
i. The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play performed for a drunken Christopher Sly who plays along with the ruse that he has been in a drunken stupor for the last fifteen years. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a play performed by the mechanicals – “hempen home-spuns” who reflect the ridiculous behaviour of the ruling class within the play.
ii. Twelfth Night and As you like it has boys playing women playing boys
iii. Henry IV, Part 1, has Hal and Falstaff play and exchange roles in a generational plot with elements of performance and spectatorship.
III. All these themes, techniques, literary and social issues are expressed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to reflect upon the place of comedy in modern society with our adaptations touching on contemporary issues, juxtaposing Shakespeare’s England and Modern Ireland in the wake of the Celtic Tiger.
Having set up a theatrical group, called Relish Theatre Company (RTC) we’re currently working on taking theatre out of the confines of conventional theatrical spaces to make it more accessible to locals who wouldn't necessarily be theatregoers by putting performances on in other spaces than the darkened spaces we associate with theatre and film. These kind of spaces cut spectators and performers alike off from each other: as a collective gathered together we hardly notice and often ignore the presence of those around us unless they happen to encroach upon our personal space. We will look at this question of space in much greater detail in other performance pieces as well because it is only since Shakespeare’s time that theatre began to be performed in new spaces due to technological invention. Nicholas Ridout in Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems (Theatre and Performance Theory) has something interesting things to say on the evolution of theatre. More on that later…
We performed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: Death in a pub to create interest in the group, which provoked some interesting reactions from the public and even more interesting reactions within the group. Fortunately we’ve all gone on to do other things and learned from that first foray in the Wild West.
The Fallen Angel or Alberto’s story is about a piece of paper can determine our dreams and the destruction of our own lives and those whom we love.
Paper Cuttings was also performed by locals at a monthly gathering of people interested the performing arts. The piece deals with long distance relationships, the generation gap and the breakdown of communication. Particularly relevant nowadays with the number of prodigal sons and daughters as well as absent paternal figures forced to leave loved ones at home in order survive and provide for their families.
Learning to Let Go deals with communication and how a family copes rather than confronts issues, past and present until John the “prodigal son” returns home on a surprise visit only to be greeted at the door by his troubled sister, aging parents and different ways of dealing with reality.
This production requires spect-actors to read and participate in a post-show discussion about our right to privacy and whether or not the end ever justifies the means. This is an on-going issue in our society, especially in the present age of technology, Internet and the World Wide Web.
These performances have been mostly for free and we will continue when possible to offer our pieces and performances to the public for as little as possible as Artivism is not about making money but freeing us from the bonds of slavery.