World Theatre Day 2018 Messages

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Ram Gopal Bajaj

After all the evolutionary stories, we only know one thing in brief; that all life forms tend to survive till eternity. If feasible life tends to pervade beyond time and space to become immortal. In this process, the life form also mutilates and destroys itself universally. However, we need to limit the deliberation to the survival of humanity and its emancipation from the hunter cave man of the Stone Age to our Space Age. Are we now more considerate? Sensitive?Joyous? More loving toward the nature that we are a product of?

Since our beginnings, the live performative arts (Dance, Music, Acting/Drama) now also have the developed instrument of the lingua, consisting of vowels and consonants. The Vowel basically expresses the feelings or emotions, and the consonant does the communication of form and thought/knowledge. Mathematics, Geometry, Armaments and now Computer have been its result. So now we cannot go back from this evolution of lingua. The very earth itself will not survive if the collective joy of live theatre arts and knowledge (including technology) is not emancipated, re-sublimated from the mundane, the fury, the greed and the evil.

Mass Media and our science and technology have made us powerful like demons. Thus, the form of theatre is not the crisis today, but it is the crisis of content, of statement and concern. We need to appeal to the man of today’s earth, to save the very planet earth and therefore ‘theatre’. At a pragmatic level the arts of the actor and the arts of live performance need to be made available to children in primary education. Such a generation will, I believe, be more sensitive to the righteousness of life and nature. The advantage of lingua thus may be much less harmful to mother earth and other planets. Moreover, ‘theatre’ will become more important for to the retention and sustenance of life itself; it therefore needs to empower the live performer and the spectator without threatening each other in this cosmic era of togetherness.

I hail theatre and appeal to the world to implement and facilitate this at grass root level, rural and urban all. ‘Limbs, Lingua and Compassion together in Education for the Generations’.

Ram Gopal Bajaj is a theatre director, theatre and film actor, academician, former director of the National School of Drama, Delhi.

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Maya Zbib

It’s a moment of communion, an unrepeatable encounter, not found in any other secular activity. It’s the simple act of a group of people choosing to come together in the same place at the same time to take part in a shared experience. It’s an invitation to individuals to become a collective, to share ideas, and envision ways to divide the burden of necessary actions… to slowly recover their human connectedness and find similarities rather than differences. It’s where a specific story can trace the lines of universality… Here lies the magic of theatre; where representation recovers its archaic properties.

In a global culture of rampant fear of the other, isolation and loneliness, being present together, viscerally, in the here and now, is an act of love. Deciding to take your time, away from immediate gratification and individual self-indulgence in our highly consumerist fast-paced societies; to slow down, to contemplate and reflect together is a political act, an act of generosity.

After the fall of major ideologies, and as the current world order is proving its failure decade after decade, how can we re-imagine our future? As safety and comfort are the main preoccupation and priority in predominant discourses, can we still engage in uncomfortable conversations? Can we cross over towards dangerous territories without the fear of loosing our privileges?

Today, speed of information is more important than knowledge, slogans are more valuable than words and images of corpses are more revered than real human bodies. Theatre is here to remind us that we are made of flesh and blood, and that our bodies have weight. It is here to awaken all our senses, and to tell us that we don’t need to seize and consume with our sight alone. Theatre is here to give back the power and meaning to words, to steal the discourse back from politicians and restore it to its rightful place… to the arena of ideas and debate, the space of collective vision.

Through the power of storytelling and imagination theatre gives us new ways of seeing the world and each other; opening up a space for common reflection amidst the overwhelming ignorance of intolerance. When xenophobia, hate speech and white supremacy have effortlessly come back on the table, after the years of hard work and sacrifices of millions of people around the globe to make them shameful and deem them unacceptable… When teenage boys and girls are shot in the head and imprisoned for refusing to comply with injustice and apartheid… When figures of insanity and right-wing despotism are ruling some of the major countries of the first world… When nuclear war is looming as a virtual game between the man-children in power… When mobility is becoming more and more restricted to a selected few, while refugees are dying at sea, trying to enter the high fortresses of illusive dreams, as more and more expensive walls are being built… Where shall we question our world, when most of the media has sold out? Where else than in the intimacy of the theatre, are we able to re-think our human condition, to imagine the new world order… collectively, with love and compassion but also with constructive confrontation through intelligence, resilience and strength.

Coming from the Arab region I could speak of the difficulties artists face in making work. But I am part of a generation of theatre makers who feel privileged that the walls we need to destroy have always been visible ones. This has led us to learn to transform what is available and to push collaboration and innovation to its limits; making theatre in basements, on rooftops, in living rooms, in alleyways, and on the streets, building our audiences as we go, in cities, villages and refugee camps. We’ve had the advantage to have to construct everything from scratch in our contexts, and to conceive ways to evade censorship, all the while still crossing the red lines and defying taboos. Today these walls are facing all theatre makers of the world, as funding has never been scarcer and political correctness is the new censor.

Thus, the international theatre community has a collective role to play today more than ever, to face these multiplying tangible and intangible walls. Today more than ever there is a need to creatively re-invent our social and political structures, with honesty and courage. To confront our shortcomings, and to take responsibility for the world we take part in making. As theatre makers of the world, we don’t follow an ideology or one belief system, but we have in common our eternal search for truth in all its forms, our continuous questioning of the status quo, our challenge of systems of oppressive power and last but not least, our human integrity.

We are many, we are fearless and we are here to stay!

Maya Zbib is a theatre director, performer, writer, co-founder Zoukak Theatre Company.

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Simon McBurney

Half a mile from the Cyrenaican coast in Northern Libya is a vast rock shelter. 80 metres wide and 20 high. In the local dialect it is called the Hauh Fteah. In 1951 Carbon dating analysis showed an uninterrupted human occupation of at least 100,000 years. Amongst the artifacts unearthed was a bone flute dated to anywhere between 40 and 70,000 years ago. As a boy when I heard this I asked my father

“They had music?”

He smiled at me.

“As all human communities.”

He was an American born prehistorian, the first to dig the Hauh Fteah in Cyrenaica. I am very honoured and happy to be the European representative at this year’s World Theatre Day.

In 1963, my predecessor, the great Arthur Miller said as the threat of nuclear war lay heavy over the world: ’When asked to write In a time when diplomacy and politics have such terribly short and feeble arms, the delicate but sometimes lengthy reach of art must bear the burden of holding together the human community.’

The meaning of the word Drama derives from the Greek “dran” which means “to do” … and the word theatre originates from the Greek, “Theatron”, literally meaning the “seeing place”. A place not only where we look, but where we see, we get, we understand. 2400 years ago Polykleitos the younger designed the great theatre of Epidaurus. Seating up to 14,000 people the astonishing acoustics of this open-air space are miraculous. A match lit in the centre of the stage, can be heard in all 14,000 seats. As was usual for Greek theatres, when you gazed at the actors, you would also see past to the landscape beyond. This not only assembled several places at once, the community, the theatre and the natural world, but also brought together all times. As the play evoked past myths in present time, you could look over the stage to what would be your ultimate future. Nature.

One of most remarkable revelations of the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe in London is also to do with what you see. This revelation is to do with light. Both stage and auditorium are equally illuminated. Performers and public can see each one another. Always. Everywhere you look are people. And one of the consequences is that we are reminded that the great soliloquies of, say, Hamlet or Macbeth were not merely private meditations, but public debates.

We live in a time when it is hard to see clearly. We are surrounded by more fiction than at any other time in history or prehistory. Any ‘fact’ can be challenged, any anecdote can have claim on our attention as ‘truth’. One fiction in particular surrounds us continually. The one that seeks to divide us. From the truth. And from each one another. That we are separate. Peoples from people. Women from men. Human beings from nature.

But just as we live in a time of division, and fragmentation, we also live in a time of immense movement. More than at any other time in history, people are on the move; frequently fleeing; walking, swimming if need be, migrating; all over the world. And this is only just beginning. The response, as we know, has been to close borders. Build walls. Shut out. Isolate. We live in a world order that is tyrannical, where indifference is the currency and hope a contraband cargo. And part of this tyranny is the controlling not only of space, but also time. The time we live in
eschews the present. It concentrates on the recent past and near future. I do not have that. I will buy this.

Now I have bought it, I need to have the next… thing. The deep past is obliterated. The future of no consequence.

There are many who say that theatre will not or cannot change any of this. But theatre will not go away. Because theatre is a site, I am tempted to say a refuge. Where people congregate and instantly form communities. As we have always done. All theatres are the size of the first human communities from 50 souls to 14,000. From a nomadic caravan to a third of ancient Athens.

And because theatre only exists in the present, it also challenges this disastrous view of time. The present moment is always theatre’s subject. Its meanings are constructed in a communal act between performer and public. Not only here, but now. Without the act of the performer the audience could not believe. Without the belief of the audience the performance would not be complete. We laugh at the same moment. We are moved. We gasp or are shocked into silence. And at that moment through drama we discover that most profound truth: that what we thought
the most private division between us, the boundary of our own individual consciousness, is also without frontier. It is something we share.

And they cannot stop us. Each night we will reappear. Every night the actors and audience will reassemble. and the same drama will be re-enacted. Because, as the writer John Berger says “Deep within the nature of theatre is a sense of ritual return”, which is why it has always been the art form of the dispossessed, which, because of this dismantling of our world, is what we all
are. Wherever there are performers and audiences stories will be enacted which cannot be told anywhere else, whether in the opera houses and theatres of our great cities, or the camps sheltering migrants and refugees in Northern Libya and all over the world. We will always be bound together, communally, in this re-enactment.

And if we were in Epidauros we could look up and see how we share this with a larger landscape. That we are always part of nature and we cannot escape it just as we cannot escape the planet. If we were in the Globe we would see how apparently private questions are posed for us all. And if we were to hold the Cyrenaican flute from 40,000 years ago, we would understand the past and the present here are indivisible, and the chain of human community can never be broken by the tyrants and demagogues.

Simon McBurney is an actor, writer, stage director and co-founder of Théâtre de Complicité.

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Sabina Berman

We can imagine.

The tribe launches small stones to bring down birds from the air, when a gigantic mammoth bursts in on the scene and ROARS –and at the same time, a tiny human ROARS like the mammoth. Then, everyone runs away...

That mammoth roar uttered by a human woman –I would like to imagine her as a woman– is the origin of what makes us the species we are. A species capable of imitating what we are not. A species capable of representing the Other.

Let's leap forward ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand. The tribe has learned how to imitate other beings: deep in the cave, in the flickering light of a bonfire, four men are the mammoth, three women are the river, men and women are birds, bonobos, trees, clouds: the tribe represents the morning's hunt, thus capturing the past with their theatrical gift. Even more amazing: the tribe then invents possible futures, essaying possible ways to vanquish the mammoth, the enemy of the tribe.

Roars, whistles, murmurs –the onomatopoeia of our first theatre—will become verbal language. Spoken language will become written language. Down another pathway, theatre will become rite and then, cinema.

But along these latter forms, and in the seed of each one of these latter forms, there will always continue to be theatre. The simplest form of representation. The only living form of representation.

Theatre: the simpler it is, the more intimately it connects us to the most wondrous human skill, that of representing the Other.

Today, in all the theatres of the world we celebrate that glorious human skill of performance. Of representing and thus, capturing our past —and of inventing possible futures, that can bring to the tribe more freedom and happiness.

What are the mammoths that must be vanquished today by the human tribe? What are its contemporary enemies? About what should theatre that aspires to be more than entertainment be about?

For me, the greatest mammoth of all is the alienation of human hearts. The loss of our capacity to feel with Others: to feel compassion for our fellow humans and for our fellow non-human living forms.

What a paradox. Today, at the final shores of Humanism —of the Anthropocene— of the era in which human beings are the natural force that has changed the planet the most, and will continue to do so— the mission of the theatre is –in my view-- the opposite of that which gathered the tribe when theatre was performed at the back of the cave: today, we must salvage our connection to the natural world.

More than literature, more than cinema, the theatre —which demands the presence of human beings before other human beings— is marvelously suited to the task of saving us from becoming algorithms, pure abstractions.

Let us remove everything superfluous from the theatre. Let us strip it naked. Because the simpler theatre is, the more apt it is to remind us of the only undeniable thing: that we are, while we are in time; that we are only while we are flesh and bone and hearts beating in our breasts; that we are the here and now, and no more.

Long live the theatre. The most ancient art. The art of being in the present. The most wondrous art. Long live the theatre.

Sabina Berman is a writer, playwright, journalist.

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Wèrê Wèrê Liking

One day
A Human decides to ask himself questions in front of a mirror (an audience)
To invent himself answers and in front of this same mirror, (his audience)
To criticize himself, to make fun of his own questions and answers
To laugh or cry, anyway, but in the end
To greet and bless his mirror (his audience)
For giving him this moment of spite and respite
He bows and greets him to show him gratitude and respect...
Deep down, he was seeking peace,
Peace with himself and with his mirror:
He was doing theatre...
That day, he was talking...
Despising his flaws, his paradoxes and distortions,
Shocking himself through mimicry and contortions;
His pettiness that has blemished his humanism
His tricks that led to cataclysms
He was talking to himself...
Admiring himself in his surging outbursts,
In his aspirations to greatness, to beauty,
A better being, a better world
That he would build of his own thoughts
That he could have forged with his own hands
If from him to himself in the mirror, he wanted it, he says to himself,
If he and his mirror share the desire ...
But he knows it: he was doing representations
Of derision, no doubt, of illusion,
But also, of course, mental action
Construction, Recreation of the world,
He was doing theatre...
Even by torpedoing all hopes
By his words and accusing gestures
He was bent on believing
That everything would be accomplished in this single evening
By his crazy stares
By his sweet words
By his mischievous smile
By his delicious humour
By his words that, even while hurting or rocking
Operate the surgery for a miracle
Yes, he was doing theatre.
And in general
At home in Africa
Especially in the Kamite1 part where I come from
We do not care about anything
We laugh all the same, mourning while crying,
We hit the ground when it disappoints us
By the Gbégbé or the Bikoutsi
Scary Masks are carved
Glaé, Wabele or Poniugo
To figure the Uncompromising Principles
Who impose on us the cycles and the times
And puppets, who like us,
End up figuring their Creators
And by subjugating their manipulators
Conceive rites where the spoken word,
Inflated with rhythmic songs and breaths,
Goes forth to the conquest of the sacred
Provoking dances like trances
Incantations and calls to devotion;
But also and above all, bursts of laughter
To celebrate the joy of living
That neither centuries of slavery and colonisation
Racism and discrimination
Nor eternities of unspeakable atrocities
Could smother or snatch
From our paternal Soul of Father the Mother of Humanity;
In Africa, as everywhere else in the world
We do theatre…
And in this special year dedicated to ITI
I am particularly happy and honoured
To represent our continent
To carry her message of peace
The Peaceful Message of the Theatre;
Because this continent that was said not so long ago
That anything in the world could happen
Without anyone feeling the slightest malaise or lack,
Is again recognized in its primordial role
Of Father and Mother to Humanity
And the whole world is pouring in...
Because everyone always hopes to find peace
In the arms of their parents, isn’t that so?
And as such, our theatre more than ever, convenes
And engages all humans, and especially
All those sharing the thought, the word and the theatrical action,
To have more respect for themselves and for each other
By favouring the best humanist values
In the hope of reclaiming a better humanity for all:
One which brings out intelligence and understanding.
By using this part of the most effective human cultures
The very one that erases all borders: the theatre...
One of the most generous because it speaks all languages,
Involves all civilizations, reflects all ideals,
And expresses a deep unity of all men who,
Despite all the confrontations
Are especially interested in getting to know each other better
And to love oneself better, in the peace and tranquillity
When representation becomes participation
Reminding us of the duty of an action that imposes on us
The power of theatre to make everyone laugh and cry, together
By decreasing their ignorance, by increasing their knowledge
So that man becomes again the greatest wealth of man.
Our theatre proposes to re-examine and reassess fundamentally
All these humanistic principles, all these high virtues
All these ideas of peace and friendship between peoples
So much advocated by UNESCO
To reincarnate them in the scenes we create today
So that these ideas and principles become an essential need
And a deep thought of the theatre creators themselves first
Who can then share them better with their audiences.
This is why our latest theatrical creation titled « L’Arbre Dieu » repeating the recommendations
of Kindack Ngo Biyong Bi Kuban
, our Master, says:
"God is like a big tree”
Of which can only perceive one aspect at a time
From the angle where it is beheld:
Whoever flies over the tree will only perceive the foliage
And possible fruits and seasonal flowers.
Whoever lives underground will know more about the roots,
Those leaning against the tree will recognize it
By the feeling in their backs.
Those who come from every cardinal point
Will see the aspects that those opposite do not necessarily have access too,
Some, privileged, will perceive the secret
Between the bark and the pulp of the wood
And still others, the intimate science in the marrow of the tree;
But whatever the superficiality
Or the depth of perception of each,
No one is ever placed under an angle from which
You are able to perceive all these aspects at once
Unless you become this divine tree yourself!
But then, are we still human?
That all the theatres in the world tolerate and accept each other
To better serve the global goal of ITI
In order that finally, on its 70th anniversary,
There is more peace in the world
With a strong participation in Theatre...

Translation: Malory Domecyn / Tom Johnson

Wèrê Wèrê Liking is a multidisciplinary artist

World Theatre Day Message 2018 by Heather Raffo

If you are celebrating today, you are celebrating because you already understand the power of theater. This most vital and vulnerable art. This art that lives only for a few hours, for a relatively small number and is never the same again. This most intimate and ancient art form. This most sacred ritual of life.

As we celebrate today, I want to challenge our responsibility to ensuring that theater lives up to being as powerful as it can possibly be.

To those inside the U.S. it is no surprise to say we are in a moment of reckoning. We will be measured by what we did or did not do. It is not a time for silence. Still many theaters sit comfortably in circles of like-mindedness, answering perhaps to boards and paying audiences - but does this translate into challenging art forms? To new ways of working? What kinds of conversations are we really willing to have? And where are we willing to have them?

I am an American theater artist with Iraqi heritage. My story has always been as both insider and outsider. I am both familiar and “the other”. Those of us with heritage in two incommensurable cultures often find ourselves innate diplomats, adept at deep listening with the courage to express contradictory truths. It can also mean we don’t fully fit anywhere - belonging remains elusive. We live and work somewhere “in between”. Since I was a child I have been weighing the costs of war with the amnesia of privilege. My life’s work has been to bridge Middle Eastern and U.S. culture, to balance the ancient with the modern, the communal with the pursuit of the rugged individual. But there is also something exhausting in this decades long attempt at balance. The path to success as an artist in the west is vertical. It demands a relentless and tireless pursuit of one’s own. In contrast, I think the key to artistry, certainly to being a human, a parent - a member of a larger whole - is more horizontal, where many concerns are carried, collaboratively. While I have roots in both sides of the conversation, I cannot help but stand today as simply a woman, a mother, an artist in 2018 and confess, I dream of a different path all together.

I would like to think we are in the midst of many watershed moments right now. Is it in the pursuit of truth, the bedrock of acting training, that allowed for so many actresses to champion a movement against sexual harassment? Is it this same training, to “give voice”, that helped fuel the young theater students from Parkland, Florida to stand up to our nation and demand gun reform? It’s just incredible to think perhaps the practice of theater supported these brave high school students to speak their truth – but isn’t it more important to ask - how can the theater support these students now? Is the theater as demanding as they are? As brave? What responsibility do we have in furthering their voice? For their sake, don’t we in the theater, need to think fast and hard about the kind of change we envision and our determination that theater too create a national conversation?

U.S. high school students today were born in the midst of 9/11. The U.S. has been at war their entire lives. For the last six years, they have practiced lock down drills at school, hiding in silence hoping violence will pass them by. While mass shootings are a problem unique to the U.S, we are not the only country practicing what it means to be on “lock down”. Communities across the world are closing borders, isolating themselves and hiding in silence.

Are we on lock down too? Does the theater challenge and risk its audiences or does it seek to find a like audience for its voice? If the theater is one of U.S.'s most liberal institutions why is it still so rare to find gender or racial diversity on par with our populations? What does it say about our industry that so many women artists are subject to sexual harassment? And why are theater artists so woefully underpaid while ticket prices have risen to the point of being unaffordable? Working as a theater artist in the U.S. comes at a great price, both in personal debt and cost to families. Who then has access to do theater or see theater or study theater?

If 2018 hopes to be a year of watershed awakening, of offering platforms for our bravest voices, of challenging structures that no longer serve, might the theater be an institution in need of awakening too?

There are countless reasons we value theater. I just want to make sure 2018 is the year we recognize how theater can be of value now.

Let’s make it so!

Heather Raffo is a playwright and actress.


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