Nov 22 - Nov 26, 2016
Next day, day three in London. Eggs, toast and tea. Still delicious. We head back to the theatre at CASS school arriving at 9:45am. Somehow we run into Jacek, our workshop host, inside the train station.
We set up then lead the six hour workshop with 15 students. Name introduction, Living Theatre history, Vocal and body warm up, tableaux vivant, sound and movement. We discuss with each student their experiences with oppression and hatred that exists within our culture. One shares that all their friends have been drugged and/or raped. They speak of feeling frozen in times where they could have taken action. They speak on the cultural lack of sympathy for the elderly, for the disabled, for new comers. Brexit.
A student shared, “Brexit showed 52% of people wanted to leave the EU, not that 52% of Britain voted to leave for racist reasons. However, that small margin of people that are racist think that 52% agree with them.”
Feeling there is nothing they can do, the world is a malevolent place, people are innately bad. All we had to do was listen. Lunch break. We teach them Apokatastasis. We split the group into two, giving them 45 minutes to create two pieces; one on “Help” and one on “Oppression”. The teachers would step in only to give the pieces more dimension. We then took the pieces to the streets and performed them in front of an unsuspecting audience.
“Help” was a piece created by five students. It used a cellular blueprint, in which one person in the middle (the nucleus) was orbited by the other four. The orbiting quickly became more frantic and unpredictable, with crashes to the nucleus soon being made. With each crash the nucleus spat, “Sorry”, at first quietly, then increasing in volume until a mighty scream of, “SORRY!” erupts. A hand comes over the mouth silencing the power within helplessness. The nucleus is brought slowly to the ground by the silencer. Silencer turns to grieving once they reach the floor, and the other three orbit with a bigger radius now pointing at the audience and saying, “You are the solution. You could have fixed this. Can you help?” If someone in the crowd felt compelled to help they could. Some of them did. Dropping their shopping bags to help the poor victim up off the ground. Once the audience member and nucleus saw eye to eye, everyone invited to take part in the piece sincerely repeated the words, “Thank You”, and that was enough. The piece was over.
As “Help” was engaging the people on the street the other piece, “Oppression”, created by eight students was one that utilised the linear relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. Oppressors walked the oppressed in front of them and controlled them by holding their hair. They systematically guided them towards their own torture. As they marched towards their marks they sang an original melody; an ominous spiritual tune of an inevitable happening. Oppressor stopped marching at some point, turned the oppressed out to the right, fought them down to their knees, and continued trying to mold them into what they wanted. The oppressed fought back peacefully until the oppressor finally got tired. Then the oppressed took the opportunity to take back their strength, painstakingly standing back up to their full height. The energy from the resistance pushed the oppressors back a few steps.
The oppressed turned to face their torturers, walked towards them, further backing the oppressors up to the wall. Each side stares at the other. Just when you think the victims will take revenge at any moment… they don’t. All they do is stare. One of the oppressed says the line, “Until that knock, that sound of flesh on metal, clank, clank, clank, the fist that feeds and punishes calls.” The audience experiences repetition of the line over and over again, in different languages from the one person. The oppressors melt away from shame. The rest of the group exit the scene, except the oppressed individual still yelling the words at the top of their lungs; standing defiant in their statement until they are satisfied. This piece was now over.
We did both of these pieces outside simultaneously. The reactions around the streets of London was profound. Men climbing out of their windows to watch the piece; double decker buses coming to a halt (with no bus stop in sight for a few hundred metres), so the bus driver could observe what was going on; people walking into the streets to get a better viewing; people on their cell phones recording while laughing intensely, before realising that they could actually have helped; an elderly lady with a cane crossing the street as fast as she could to try to help, then turning around with a smile saying, “Super gran to the rescue.”
We took the class back inside to discuss. Everyone full of excitement, pride, empowered. Mentions are made of “seeing the kindness of people. People do care.” Jacek mentioned that the energy of the room had completely changed. There was one non-theatre student named Constantine who had been with us from ten in the morning till five in the afternoon. He sincerely put in as much energy into the day as he could. We received an email from him. We won’t share the whole thing, but he did say, “I was wrong saying that I was fighting for nothing. I have my own fight - for people’s goodness. I believe that everyone is good, just not everyone remembers about it.” We close the session with a chord.
That night we headed by tube to the Sacred: Homelands Festival at Toynbee Studios (Artsadmin). Watching brilliant artists reflect the corruption in the world they see into a positive variation of pieces is really a privilege we have as a traveling company. I wish I could share with you what we saw, but that would be a disservice. Instead i will call their names, and hopefully you get the chance to support and experience their work: @Josephine Garcia Jowett (Jojo Garcia), Zierle & Carter and Latai Tomoepeau.
When we got back home to Leighton, again Darragh Martin was up getting ready for the BPexhibit the next day. News breaks that the immediate evacuation of Standing Rock Indian Reservation had been issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The day after thanksgiving, providing more insight into the absolute disregard for Native Americans. America seems to have no problem showing this despicable quality off. The day after thanksgiving. We go to the back room and work on our spoken word/movement piece for the BP or not BP? move in the backroom. Laundry is taken care of at three in the morning.
Fourth day, and it’s a great day to be alive. Cold as all get out, but it is the last day in London. Tea, eggs, mushrooms, digestive biscuits… slapped into our guts once more. We grab our laundry from the dryer. There has been no rain at all on our journey. The three of us work our piece again then we head to Diorama to meet the rest of the group. Our piece is about the rise in water levels due to oil usage in the world by companies like BP, Shell and Exxon.
At Diorama studios we meet Chris, Ian, Danny, Jay and the other 36 participants. Everyone is ready for their piece. The confetti is packed, the bottles are stowed away, the red ribbon is folded. All of us walk towards The British Museum raring to give our voices to this insane exhibition. Sure, have your show, but we will make an example out of the sociopathic sponsors. For four hours we meditate and wax poetical on the practices from BP that will run our world into a cheap, off-brand Atlantis.
Monica, Brad and Equiano present their piece about New York’s magic, it’s problems, it’s soul, it’s defiance in the face of adversity, and it’s inevitable drowning in 2058 if we continue co-sponsoring the use of fossil fuels. It’s time to use the alternative energy sources that are available. The competitive nature of America doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This spirit could be focused on the competition to create healthier, more efficient energy creating abilities. The rolling audience seems to appreciate the piece as a whole. One of the highlights of the day was The Living Theatre getting the people watching to link arms together in solidarity as Monica shared her powerful testimony from the point of view of protector and friend. She had experienced the diabolical nature of capitalist violence. Her piece was partly dedicated to a friend of hers that had been wounded at Standing Rock.
The installation comes to an end. We have a plane to Paris to catch and not a minute to waste. At the airport our check-in attendant is unusually rude, with unusually dyed blond hair. Not sure why the dyed blond had to be pointed out, but it was unusual maybe because he was so rude. Maybe it would be a sign of good luck for our flight to France’s capital. After all they did come up with the whole “je ne sais quoi.”