LONDON, part 1
Nov 22 - Nov 26, 2016
From our little New York sanctuaries to a London hideaway
We met up outside the graffitied walls of Brooklyn with our bags packed for all the surprises we would meet in Europe. We are traveling lightly in comparison to our ‘Know Your Rites’ tour, but our personalities glow loudly in each of our only pair of shoes for the journey. Bright pink boots, check. Dusted brown dress shoes, check. Black palladiums, check. Blue suede boots, check. Mahogany brown leather boots, check please. They are a part of every first impression we will make over the next 24 days and we had faith in their strength as we gallop across seven countries.
Our taxi driver pulled to the side of the road to get us started. It took him a while to pop his trunk for our bags. Off we went. The sun hasn’t shifted too far into the afternoon so traffic is nothing to rage on about. Our taxi driver drives his automatic the way I first drove a manual. Rough.
At La Guardia we thank our driver, grab our bags and check in. No bags are going under the plane today. Feels nice to say that. We go through security and head to our gate. Let us make note that our flight has been delayed by half an hour, and we have a connecting flight that depends on keeping a strict eye on the clock.
We had one member waiting for us in Paris, but still: a celebratory beer before we let ‘Venus & Mars’ take off. After all, there is only so far “living vicariously” can take you. It is our turn to take flight, and our wings feel a little ruffled since November 8th. How will we be seen? We are now the “people coming from that part of the world”. As if we never were in the first place. Sticking out like a sore thumb hurts more when you feel pain from association. We are on edge, but not sure if we are looking up, down or looking out. Probably all three.
We are offered a refund for slow service, and we epically turn down the offer. Kindness during these times can still take the best of us off-guard after all.
We are carried by clouds to Toronto with whiskey breaths painting our requests to flight attendants. What a clear symbol of our real fortune. We land in Toronto, and blast out of the plane like old sprinters trying to make our connecting flight. Our thighs only able to go so fast, and our light packing now feeling like a huge hinderance. By the way, there has to be a better system for those who have connecting flights.
On the second plane, and our whiskey cool has been substituted by sweaty panting. Off the ground now to Gatwick.
Landing safely, bags in hand, we begin the familiarisations with London's Oyster cards on our way to Leighton where we will meet our generously brilliant and soft spoken host, Darrah. He lives in a quaint English house and has supplied us with welcoming hugs, two rooms, a magical backyard that literally turns your falls into magical tappings of bell sounds, real life English tea, and HobNobs biscuits. We rest from all our flying.
Later in the evening we met up with Chris, Jess, Danny, Darragh and the rest of BP or not BP? at Diorama Arts Centre studio to get the breakdown for a secret piece. The idea of growth though collaboration is the only way we can reach our goal. They have been fighting BP and their dangerously corrupt practices for many years, and there is another peaceful battle to stage. BP’s sponsorship of The Sunken Cities Exhibit at British Museum is a disgustingly ironic presentation of the corrosive effects that BP’s entire mission statement will push the world into; sunken cities that will only be remembered through photographs or literature. If people could not see the connection then our job was to sharpen that blur.
Monica says it well, “My home city of New York will sink beneath the waves by 2060 unless bold action is taken on climate change — and that’s only possible if the anti-science stance of political interests is challenged and overridden.
With a genuine climate denier about to enter the White House and anti-science lobbyists in the ascent, it is more crucial than ever that the British Museum joins the cultural shift away from fossil fuels.”
Our second day in London we slap tea, eggs and toast into our bellies then head on to CASS School of the Arts, London Metropolitan University to connect with our liaison Jacek Ludwig Scarso, the artistic director of Elastic Theatre and Theatre professor at London Metropolitan University. He has organised a talk that would take place inside the theatre on campus. The students come in with a nervous energy. It is clear Jacek has done an incredible job whisking the students into suspense in meeting us. Monica, Brad and Equiano address the audience on the legacy, the current American political situation and present duties of The Living Theatre. There are about 45 students present. "Judith still gave hope for how the world could be a better place into her eighties”, Brad tells the students.
Brad, Monica and Equiano share how they came to be a part of The Living. Mid way through the talk, we get the students on their feet. Time to give them a taste of what commitment to a street action can feel like. We warm up their body and voices, then teach them Murderous Violence. This is an exercise in which a single drummer decides the tempo of the piece. There are three sections. 1) everyday life 2) violence 3) the new world. On the hit of the drum the students would come up with their imagined movements for each section. To transition to the next stage they would wait to here another hit of the drum, and freeze in whatever positions they found themselves. They would unfreeze and begin the next chronological section with another hit of the drum. We took them around the front of their theatre building, so all their peers could take in the disturbance. The students from the talk stayed intensely committed despite the laughter, jeers, questions and video recordings going on around them. They were great.
After the exercise we resumed the discussion. We talked about the different types of street actions we’ve performed, the performances we’ve created, the purpose of the Venus & Mars European Tour, and the difference between pointing the blame and creating space for conversation. Jacek wrapped up the talk and we invited students to join us for the workshop the next day.
We then went for a quick dinner near the main London Metropolitan University campus about a 30 minute train ride away. Jacek readied us for the next talk we would have that was a part of a series at the university called “Making a Living” that dealt with funding your artistic endeavours. Brad grimly broke down the way the arts are funded in New York, smaller cities like Chicago and the US. It was a biting wake up call. The students went from chipper to sour faced when hearing the numbers, and what we as individuals have done to thrive/survive in this industry. Essentially the message was, ‘holding on to your truth shouldn’t have to cost you your soul.’ We explained Judith’s method of documenting, and her dedication to create. "Love and Politics”, the documentary that follows Judith from earliest memories of theatre creating with her family, all the way inside her rehearsal process with the then current company of players. It was interesting to note the fresh young faces of current company members back then. How empathy can age us like wine, and how it might be the single human ability that maintains the youth in our eyes.
As we headed back to Leighton, almost simultaneously we received texts of love and thanks from family. It was then we remembered it was Thanksgiving Day. Stopping for beers to take home now became a priority. Equiano almost lost a finger helping a bus full of people. That couldn’t take away the high from a great day though. We got back to the house and Darragh greeted us with hugs, and an offering of lentil soup to celebrate the day of thanks. The offer was most welcome. His roommate Roseanna, joined us. We discussed politics, corporate sponsorship, menthos commercial horror stories, and Standing Rock #NoDApl. After all, it had been announced that November would from now on be known as Native American month. Symbology though powerful, is only as strong as its literal representation. Maybe we’d finally hear good news from this struggle.