Friday, October 26, 2018

‘Participatory’ theatre festival in Goulburn.

 Polish director Daniel Jacewic at the panel session

By Helen Musa
UNDER the watchful eye of Lieder Theatre director Chrisjohn Hancock, a lively cross-section of local identities practitioners, students, community members and teachers gathered last weekend to engage with and learn from members of Poland’s Teatr Brama, a company located in Goleniów, roughly the same size as Goulburn and about 180 km from Berlin.
This writer spent a day learning new things about theatre’s potential for relating to society.
Evol McLeod, former director of Tuggeranong Arts Centre, formally opened the festival titled “Periphery”, which could be defined as “away from the mainstream“.
McLeod welcomed the Polish guests—director Daniel Jacewicz, Ola Slusarczyk, Jenny Crissey and Patrick Bednarski—as practitioners of a theatre style that was “participatory, not spectator-oriented”, describing how Teatr Brama was part of a project that now involved nearly 30 European countries and 21 countries outside of Europe which viewed theatre was as a force for positive social change.
A lively and sometimes argumentative panel session followed, which involved Jacewicz, Crissey, along Ben Drysdale and Cara Matthews from Canberra’s Rebus Theatre and Rauny Worm from Tuggeranong Arts Centre—Rebus and TAC are both working in the area of theatre for social change.
Jacewicz explained the emergence of Polish theatre practice from dictatorial society of the '50s to the '80s, before Polish independence in 1989.
He had been one of the "lucky ones" in a sense, starting theatre work in 1996, but, likening freedom to the instant exhilaration of Coca-Cola, he noted that in the early days they’d had to ask themselves: “we are all free, but what do we do now?”
Theatre in Poland, he said, reaches deep into the community, with 800 independent groups and 125 national theatres – every small town has a theatre.

    The 'Periphery' mascot

Although they are peripatetic in practice, Goleniów became their home after the local mayor closed local disco and gave it to Teatr Brama as a centre.
But often they worked outside that space. Some years ago, for instance, they closed a town bridge and created an ‘artificial border’ that required passports to cross—25,000 people did so, willingly. This year they built a 4m high ‘Colosseum’ from hay-bales that had locals exclaiming, “Wow.”
Jacewicz said he had met Hancock in Belgium at a time when he was looking for an Australian collaborator – and the rest is history. Goulburn seemed like a parallel community, yet after seeing a fire show performed by Lieder Youth  enjoying local hospitality, it seemed  “so different from what I imagined,” in a good way.
His colleague, Jenny Crissey, originally from Chicago but now living in Goleniów, outlined the work of their EU partners in the ‘Caravan Next’ project, notably Odin Theatret in Denmark and the Social Community Theatre Centre at the University of Turin.
That university’s academic methodology, which quantifies how theatre can engage with society, at first worried them and Jacewicz initially said, “but we are already doing this,” yet in the end the studies affirmed what they did.
“Wherever you are, you should feel like you’re the centre of the universe,” Crissey told those present at the panel session.
The festival continued with a workshop run by Jacewicz focusing on concentration, body contact, body-memory (‘Like Grotowski’, he called out, conjuring up a famous Polish theatre guru from the  past) stamina, rhythm and trust.
The first day of ‘Periphery’ concluded with a pair of performances.
“Monochrome, “by Lieder Theatre, won multiple prizes this year at the American Association of Community Theatre International Festival in Venice, Florida. Playing with questions of exclusion, it coincided with President Donald Trump’s pronouncements on immigrants and drew enthusiastic applause from audiences there.
The evening wound up with Brama’s “Ghost Dance Impressions,” where local actors joined their Polish counterparts to perform a work built around the famous ‘Ghost Dance’ of the late 19th century, which led directly to the Massacre at Wounded Knee and the decimation of Native Americans. A musically- driven  presentation that expressed anger at the way dominant cultures destroy others, it had the entire audience rising to its feet and to shout in the words from the movie ‘Network,’ "I'm as mad as hell!”
A spot on the periphery, it seemed, was not going to daunt this gathering of passionate theatre practitioners.