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Without Words/Sin Palabras by Marco Ferreira
Portuguese theatre maker Marco Ferreira led a silent workshop. Small statements were written; instructions communicated through smiles and gestures alone. The overall effect, however, was to open up the workshop participants. At the end of the session the emotion in the room was palpable. The silence was simply a lack of noise, not a lack of communication.
For me the session was a highlight because it took me on an emotional journey. It made me confront my fears and open up about my desires; enabled me to share them with a group of strangers. As a worker and producer it is important to be reminded how it feels to be a participant in a community arts projects. A workshop space should be safe and supportive so activities work at a deeper emotional level, ensuring a richness of experience.
The Round Table by PeerGrouP
An unexpected detour brought me to my seat at ‘The Round Table’. Performance company PeerGroup led us through an orchard and to a farm; an amusing and informative journey during which the performers taught us about sustainability, gastronomy and the birth of the Croissant (originally from Austria and called a Kipferl!)
At the round table participants sampled locally produced food created at the farm. We sat together and shared stories about food, and about ourselves. It reminded me of campfire stories and brought back happy memories of sharing food. PeerGrouP’s piece appealed on many levels. It could be used around the world to teach people about different issues, with the use of humour and audience participation making the process more enjoyable.
Australian participatory arts organisation Big hART are dedicated to the arts and social change and bring marginalised issues into the public domain, in an attempt to effect change at a political level. They are made up of community builders, field workers, researchers, artists, arts workers, and producers. The workshop I attended took place in a Hotel built on a historic Seamen’s House (Zeemanshuis).
Big hART spoke about their project Blue Angel, which tells the stories of seafarers, a group whose dramatic stories almost unknown to us. We were joined by a crew of real-life ‘old salt’ seafarers who spoke about their lives at sea, taught us to tie ropes, sang songs they had written and recited poems. Before this workshop I had not given much thought to their lives and the vital role that they play “delivering our consumer goods along a liquid highway to our doors” (Big hART) . Without them we wouldn’t have many of day-to-day luxuries we enjoy, or the food that we eat. Their lives are global, rich and demanding.
The best piece of work I saw was a film and performance piece by UpState Theatre from Ireland. It showed life in an Irish town through the personal recollections of 7 people who grew up and still live there. Under the guidance of artist Feidlim Cannon, in a weekly club dedicated to ‘recovering’ lost stories and personal histories, the ‘magnificent seven’ became the authors and performers of the show. I love the way film was fused with live performance and I was genuinely moved by the small, everyday stories that were funny, yearning, sad, hopeful and full of meaning for us all.
…and everything else…
In a way, my favourite thing about ICAF wasn’t an individual event so much as the spirit, and sense of community, that permeates the entire festival. It’s inspiring to see so many people from around the world share their stories through art and performance, especially when these stories come from groups whose lives have been changed by the chance to express themselves. It will be hard to forget the sheer exuberance of the ‘Tiny Toones’ young Cambodian hip-hop dancers making their European debut; the audience response to a group of Roma women performers from Seville, and the instant party that erupted in the live concert by Orchestre Partout, a truly international ‘refugee orchestra’.
Main Image: A mosaic made from socks that have lost their partner, in workshops with Israeli artists Ut and Anat Shamai