Friday, 23 November 2012

Palabras Errantes: Voices from the Venezuelan City Launch

Palabras Errantes is a project originally set up by students from the University of Cambridge, to translate Latin American literature into English and publish it online. So far, they have brought us contemporary Uruguayan women’s writing, contemporary Argentinian poetry and Argentinian narrative. Now it’s Venezuela’s turn.

Last night, we headed to Passing Clouds in Dalston to celebrate the launch of the project with readings, discussions about Venezuelan literature and live music. There was a great turn out and a shared excitement for the project and for Venezuelan literature in general, which just proves how, as Carlos Colmenares Gil affirmed in his opening speech, this is a 'golden era' for Venezuelan literature.

Rebecca Jarman (editor of the Venezuelan edition) and Cherie Elston (editor of Palabras Errantes)
 present the latest project.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the project, translating Ana García Julio's short story, The Incident, about the human side of a random act of violence, which I read at the launch party.

The first five translations - including The Incident, plus the first two chapters of Gustavo Valle's Underground, and stories from the wonderful Dayana Fraile, Mario Morenza and Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez - are now available at here. New translations will be released each week so stay tuned!

Monday, 19 November 2012

MONEY the Game Show Sneak Peek @ RADAR2012

There are cups of Quality Street lining the sides of the Bush Theatre stage as we enter. Murmurs of excitement and sideways glances at the chocolatey treats. This is going to be interesting...

MONEY the Game Show is the latest co-production between the Bush Theatre and Unlimited Theatre, written and directed by Clare Duffy. The project began life in April this year as part of the Platform 18: New Directions Award, through which Clare won £6,000 - enough to pay for three weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of performances. The whole process made Clare think about the value of money, which fed into her preoccupation with the financial crisis that began in 2008. Now, a redeveloped, rewritten - and more expensive! - version will hit the Bush stage from 31 January to 2 March 2013.

As part of the Bush Theatre's aim to 'demystify the theatre', the audience at RADAR2012 were invited to take part in a game that captures the 'spirit of the show', giving us the chance to directly influence the development of the final piece. We got to learn about hedge-fund managing in what turned out to be the most fun economics lesson imaginable. Split into two teams, we 'went long' on our volunteer blowing up a balloon quicker than our opponents, 'went short' on our balloon bursting first (betting on failure) and 'hedged' choosing between success for small rewards or failure for large rewards. With chocolate at stake, we quickly became greedy. We swapped edible wealth for moral bankruptcy, happily betting on the failure of the Euro leading to massive death and destruction while planning how we would enjoy our riches in Brazil. The final show will have a similar structure: the audience will become contestants, split into two teams led by ex-hedgefund managers turned performance artists. Only this time, there will be more at stake, because the losing manager will kill himself at the end of the show. How will greed and and ethics mix then?

After the sneak peek, Unlimited Theatre launched their 'See Your Pound On Stage' programme. The stage will contain 10,000 real pound coins and they need to start collecting them somewhere! In exchange for our shiny coins, we got to become shareholders and once the production has finished a Extraordinary General Meeting will be held to vote on what to do with the money. Judging by the preliminary suggestions at the event, this will surely be a fascinating social experiment. Will we be greedy - holding a lottery giving one shareholder the chance to keep everything? Charitable - donating the money to a good cause? Arty -investing the money in a new play? Or sadists - gluing the money on the pavement and laughing at people trying to get at it? We'll find out in March!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Chapel Street @ RADAR2012

Fresh from summer success at Edinburgh, Chapel Street burst on to the Bush stage in a frenzy of bubbles, neon wigs, squirty foam and mini-scooters. Luke Barnes new play is pure storytelling, bringing to life two engrossing characters, Joe and Kirsty, who collide on one extreme night out. It is a high octane piece, which made me feel as drunk as the young protagonists who rush about the stage recreating their respective sides of the story. It demands concentration to follow the two separate but converging strands, told in tandem and at high-speed, but the effort is worth the rewards. After initial confusion, I quickly became drawn in to their tale, eager to know where it was all rushing towards.

Ria Zmitrowicz (Kirsty) does a drunk 16 year old really well: arms waving furiously, chest stuck out and a voice between sing-song and whine. Young, naive and optimistic, she will do whatever it takes to go to university and get a better life, no matter what her teachers say. Joe (Theo Barklem-Biggs) is more laid-back, warm and sympathetic. He would be labelled as lazy scum by the Daily Mail and he knows it, but he is totally disillusioned. While he recognises that he should probably take a boring service job, he thinks that would be soul destroying and wishes he could really achieve something with his life.

While Chapel Street is commendable for these wholly convincing and honest young characters, what makes it so powerful is that key issues of contemporary society aren’t shoved in your face but emerge between the lines and bubble away in your subconscious. The protagonists' lives are bounded by enduring class prejudice, the shadow of war, paedophilia and teenage pregnancy, the true weight of which can’t be felt in their drunken state but lurks in the background. Weirdly, the result is a strange sense of optimism – no matter the obstacles, Kirsty and Joe’s energy cannot, will not, falter.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Family Atlantica @ Hootenanny Brixton

As my PhD has made me fascinated by all things Venezuelan, when I heard that Hootenanny in Brixton - regular home of live world music - was offering a Venezuelan/Ghanaian supergroup, Family Atlantica, I couldn't resist, especially when the singer was advertised as follows:

Direct from the small town of Sanare, deep in the Venezuelan interior, comes the hypnotic singing and poetry of Luzmira Zerpa ‘the high priestess’ of the live music ceremony, first discovered by Manu Chao at a festival in the Sahara desert where he brought her into his band to perform.

'High priestess' seems like the ideal description for Luzmira, with her spectacular feather headdress and bright costume, her striking bird calls, and of course her mesmerising words. She brought the Venezuelan merengues, while her colleges from across the ocean brought the tribal drum beats, in a fusion that just begged to be danced to (I wish I had the rhythm and the wiggly hips of most of the people at the venue!). From the infectious smiles of all the band members to the enthusiastic singalongs, their performance was non-stop fun!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Chewing Gum Dreams @ RADAR2012

Michaela Coel already has an extremely impressive CV. First known as a poet, then a singer and musician, she graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama just a few months ago, the recipient of a 2011 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Student Actress and heralded as a future star. It's no surprise then that her new monologue, Chewing Gum Dreams, was chosen to open RADAR2012.

Written by Coel and directed by Che Walker, Chewing Gum Dreams takes us into the life and thoughts of 14 year old Tracey. Stories of maths lessons, the number 67 bus and school-yard crushes are told in the same breath as domestic violence, threats of rape, and racial prejudice, reminding us that all of these are part of everyday life for Tracey. She is such a warm, fun and naively innocent character that it hurts to see her go through what she does, to suffer and then to carry on with a smile. Coel imbues Tracey with such energy and humour that sudden silence and stillness is intimidating and reinforces the gravity of the situations affecting Tracey.

Chewing Gum Dreams is an involving, intimate piece, which proves that theatre doesn't need epic drama, or expensive sets and costumes. With nothing but a chair, some UK garage, a handful of real life, every day experiences and a lot of heart, Coel thoroughly captivates the audience, makes us laugh, moves us, and challenges race and class preconceptions. In a recent blog post for the Bush Theatre (How do we imagine a more diverse and accessible theatrical landscape?), Coel argues that it is up to writers to create characters that people who don't usually go to the theatre can relate to. Through bringing under-represented characters and locations to the stage, Coel proves that this is not the threat to traditional theatre that some reactionaries would have us believe, but rather a source of absorbing characters and affecting situations, the key ingredients of any successful play.

Chewing Gum Dreams will be performed again on 12th Nov @ 9.15pm and 13th Nov @ 7.30pm, at The Bush Theatre. Click here for tickets and more information.

Welcome to RADAR 2012

It was with great excitement that I arrived at the Bush Theatre today for the launch of RADAR2012: Signals from the New Writing World, three weeks of new productions, sneak peeks of works in progress and discussion panels by industry experts. While I will be writing a 500 word round-up of the first few days for Ideas Mag, I'll also be covering everything in more detail here over the next few weeks.

Having never been to the Bush Theatre before (my only prior experience of Shepherd's Bush at all was the Cooper Temple Clause gig at the Empire in 2007), I was immediately struck by the feel of the space. Just over a year ago, the Bush Theatre moved to this beautiful brick building which had previously been the public library, whose easy, unpolished architecture seems the perfect setting for new writing. For the first time since I left Cardiff, I've found somewhere which makes me feel like Sherman Cymru and Chapter did; a place where theatre is relaxed and open, not something you go to see but a space to be part of a community, to take part in something.

It was very apt, then, that the evening began with a welcome from Madani Younis, Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre, which focused on the community around the theatre. Uxbridge Road is one of the longest in London, he told us, and along it you find just about every nationality, coming together in a vibrant multicultural community. At the heart of this community, was always the Old Library, located next to the large market. Built in 1895, the library was an integral part of community life, a democratic space, a place not just to discover the magic of reading, but to meet, to see and be seen. When the Bush Theatre took over the building last year (moving from an 80-seater room above a pub where they were founded over 40 years ago), they inherited this commitment to the community and promised to make the theatre a place where local life and culture would be reflected.

Madani's presentation then went on to explain the desire to redefine the theatrical landscape which is at the heart of all the Bush Theatre's work, and the impetus behind RADAR. The festival is an occasion to share and discuss ideas with the public, to open up a debate on questions like how to develop a meaningful relationship with playwrights. This has been the topic of much consideration at the Bush Theatre recently. Previously, the theatre received around 2000 unsolicited plays ever year. Each of these was read and reviewed, but the conversion rate was just 0.1%. Surely there must be a better way to develop new talent? After consulting with many admired playwrights, directors and other theatre makers, Madani was very pleased to announce tonight that the unsolicited writing policy has been completely redesigned. The new policy aims to stimulate ideas, embrace talent and ultimately produce plays. In future, twice a year there will be three week windows for writers or companies to submit works. A selection of these will then benefit from expert mentoring and workshops, the best of which will then be offered seed commissions. At least one of these works per year will then be professionally staged at the Bush Theatre. At the heart of the new policy is a desire to develop, nurture, and create lasting links with a new generation of creatives. Full details will be released on 18 January 2013 and the first window will open in March.

As Madani looked forward to the exciting prospects of this new policy, he officially opened RADAR, beginning three weeks which will surely prove the power and possibilities of new writing, as well as questioning the way theatre is made and received. 

PS: I was also a little too impressed by the use of scripts as wallpaper in the bathrooms: