The 3-Day Symposium of War at The Abbey Theatre is now officially over.
According to the Abbey Theatre, the symposium welcomed 250 guests and 31 speakers from all over the world, who either worked or came from (post) conflict zones like Rwanda, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Belarus, etc. There were also speakers from Ireland and Northern Ireland talking mainly about The Irish Civil War, The Lockout of 1913, The Troubles.
Apart from the discussions and talks there were two staged readings in the evenings, one musical performance and during the three days of symposium visitors could also go and see “Oh My Sweet Land” production on The Peacock Stage.
I personally attended all the talks and the reading of “Shibboleth”. I didn’t go to the reading of “Returning to Haifa” because I had seen it already in The New Theatre, Dublin, earlier last year. Nevertheless, I was more than happy to meet Naomi Wallace and Ismail Karim Khalidi, people who adapted “Returning to Haifa” into a play. Naomi presented another of her plays, which was read out by Khalidi during the symposium.
I would like to start my review with a quote by Luke Gibbons, the very first speaker of the Symposium: “There is always something left over from the past and it is the future”.
I was at the first Symposium at The Abbey last year (The Symposium of Memory) and I can’t simply compare these two events. I was a bit concerned before booking my 3-Day ticket because, even though I am very much into current affairs, I don’t really know that much about the current situation in Palestine, let alone Africa. I was just scared that I would be sitting there not understanding what people are talking about. I don’t want to sound ignorant, but I am afraid that many people who live in the 1st world country and live comfortably don’t really know what’s going on outside of their comfort zone/home countries. We are marching for not wanting to paying water charges, Palestinians don’t even get enough water to drink. It’s sad, but it’s the reality. That reminds me of one of the speakers, Ruwantie de Chickera from Sri Lanka, who before beginning her speech explained that she had been asked to talk about her home country because the audience might know very little or nothing about it.
Anyway, I did go further and booked my ticket. And I was indeed very excited about the 3 days. I really enjoyed all of the speakers and their subjects. I was also very glad to see some of the last year’s speakers, like Stacy Gregg.
The amazing thing about this symposium was that many speakers come from different backgrounds and have all sorts of experiences. It was a theatre symposium, so the main focus was, naturally, on theatre makers. But there were also such speakers as Ray Dolphin, who works for United Nation’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs.
Ray’s talk was about Israel’s West Bank and occupied Palestinian territories. He presented a very clear and easily understandable map of the current situation between Israel, Palestine and Gaza. He explained the building if the wall that would separate Israel and Palestine. The conditions in which the Palestinians have to survive (like not having access to cultivate their own land) and the total separation of Gaza, where citizens are held almost like prisoners in their own country.
Or Professor David Cotterrell, who talked about his amazing and heart-breaking experience in Afghanistan. He was commissioned by the Welcome Trust to go to the country and produce an installation called Theatre as a part of War and Medicine Exhibition.
More about his experience can be found here: http://www.cotterrell.com/
One man in particular deeply touched and inspired me with his talk: John Scott. He is a choreographer in Dublin. Scott works with refugees and asylum seekers coming to this country, people who had suffered some sort of trauma. He not only helps them to express their pain and emotions and previous trauma with dance and movement, but he also communicates with them and helps them to find a way to legally stay in this country. He takes this “invisible people” and creates a piece of art, a piece of theatre aimed to help them.
Some speakers (to be exact 6 of them) came as part of one big project: Ariadne Project. Ariadne Project is appointed to finding female theatre makers who either work or come from (post) conflict zones. At the moment the project counts with 6 of them: Hope Azeda (Rwanda), Dijana Milosevic (Serbia), Frederique LeComte (Burundi), Iman Aoun (Palestine), Patricia Ariza (Colomiba) and Ruwanthie de Chickera (Sri Lanka).
Project Ariadne is unique not only because it deals with theatre in war zones, but also because it’s created by women. Even in peaceful countries we have very few female theatre directors, so how inspiring should it be to see and hear somebody talk about their absolutely unique experiences and, more importantly, their passion for what they do and their desire to change this world for better. And theatre is a way of changing it. Theatre is a way of saying something that can’t be just said out loud. Theatre is a way of expressing emotions that couldn’t be expressed in any other way. Theatre is a way to bring different communities and different peoples together.
I’ll talk very briefly about only one example, Frederique LeComte from Belgium talked about her experience making theatre in Burundi. She has worked with all kinds of people: the ones who had been tortured, imprisoned for political reasons, raped, whose families were killed, on one hand, and on the other, with people who tortured, killed, raped. With the consent of both sides she would produce a play involving both of them. The torturer and the tortured one would work side by side to create something to overcome their pain, their past, their emotions.
Federique LeComte worked during the time of war in Burundi, she has staged very provocative and very risky types of plays. “The types that you could be killed for right during the performance” putting it into her own words.
On the very last day of the symposium I was particularly interested in hearing one speaker: Vladimir Shchrban from Belarus. Vladimir was the only one who spoke with a translator. He spoke in Russian, so I was particularly happy about it. It really does make a difference hearing somebody talk and hearing somebody talk in their native language.
Anyway, Vladimir spoke about his theatre company Belarus Free Theatre. As Vladimir said it himself, after the USSR split up in 1991, Belarus has obtained a dictator. Vladimir along with a couple of other free spirited young people wanted only the best for his country and this “best” he saw in freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of mind, freedom of being able to express your opinion without being arrested or killed for it. So he created a theatre company. After the company was born the first thing they needed to sort out was what they wanted to make plays about. The answer was simple “tabu topics”. And it looked like they had it very easy because every topic was tabu in Belarus.
Vladimir and his company has suffered a lot during the 90s and 00s. Both the artists and the audience members were persecuted for getting involved in this sort of art. Belarus Free Theatre had difficulties finding venues for the upcoming productions, they would take anything they could rent or secure: it was somebody’s house, in a forest or in even in a sauna. As most of the plays were staged illegally the company needed a legal reason to be there, so that’s where there creativity once again found itself. They would pretend that they were hosting a wedding, a friend’s party or even a family gathering.
For obvious reasons, and as Vladimir puts it himself, most of their plays are “passionate but short”.
Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed was the staged reading of “Shibboleth” by Stacy Gregg. There is a hope that The Abbey Theatre will produce this play at some point soon. I’ve always been very interested in Northern Ireland and The Troubles. So needless to say that I was more than keen on hearing its first reading. The reading was preceded by a panel discussion “Barriers”, in which Stacy Gregg (together with another Northern Irish artist Brendan Ciarán Browne) talked about the peace wall in Belfast and the responses and reactions to barriers and boundaries.
The play exceeded all the expectations. It was smart, it was funny, it was very Northern Irish. I absolutely loved the cast and their portraying of the characters with thiсk NI accents. “Brick by brick by brick by.”
All talks were very informative and very what’s called first-hand experience. Of course it would be childish of me to think that I know more about conflict zones. I don’t. But this symposium was a great opportunity to start knowing more about this world we live in. It was a great way for me to be introduced to some amazing projects, theatre companies and theatre makers, both nationally and internationally. It’s a starting point. And I’m very much looking forward to the next (unfortunately last) symposium in 2016.