Performing Arts & Rural Landscapes Featured
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.
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