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Apr 19

April 2, 2019

Jottings and fragments from #IETMHull

There is something disorientating about being in Hull at an International theatre Meeting (#IETMHull – my first) on the day we should have enacted Brexit, in a City which voted heavily to leave and would almost certainly vote the same again today if given the chance. And to be here on the day Theresa May’s meaningful vote crashed for the third (or is it 2.5th) time. And the very fact I’m here is that my place has been part funded by Start East, a European funded scheme.

This is a strange time for you Brits said ITEMs Secretary General Asa Richardsdottir as she threw open the doors to the conference.

Strange time or no the sun shone over Hull’s “spires and cranes” , its “ships up streets” and delegates from across the world.

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‘They laughed a lot’ (said Stephen Brady, leader of Hull City Council in his opening comments) when we won Capital of Culture. They aren’t laughing now’

Later plastered all over an empty shop window I see Richard Morrison’s quote from The Times ‘The philistines were wrong: culture can bring a city back to life’

(If anything symbolises the impact of Capital of Culture it’s the army of smiling, enthusiastic, ever helpful volunteers who pop up quite literally everywhere.)

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‘We can catch each other right

Man Nadzieje

I fuckin hope we will’

Ends Middlechilds Us Against Whatever, which in its striking second half brilliantly captured that underlying feeling of disempowerment. Of finally we are given a voice.

Yet who is listening to those voices now? asks playwright Maureen Lennon in the post show discussion

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In her dynamic opening presentation Sade Brown quoted Verna Myers. ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance’.

Teja Reba (City of Women, Slovenia) took this idea further asking who is organising the party, and what music are we dancing to.

Well in the UK we’d been reminded that 32% of Mps, 51% of doctors, 54% of FTSE 100 CEOs and 70% of judges had come from public schools (7% of the UK population). The echoes of 7:84 are difficult to ignore.

Has the referendum invited 35 million to the party, and left them standing on the sidelines?

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Back at the plenary.

Everyone and Anyone / Tout le monde at n’importe qui

And still Vernas quote challenges nearly each and every session. Jess Thom asked what does a relaxed venue really mean (the  changemakers project she has been working with Battersea Arts Centre on sounds fascinating). She urged us to create no new barriers, to ensure equality of experience and, brilliantly, to reduce faff (which is , she argued, what we have been doing around Brexit).

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We should never feel we’ve arrived – that allows complacency – in a world that continues to change .Amanda Huxtable, quoted by Mark Babych

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Jess described how she had once decided never to go to the theatre again (after she had been moved to the sound desk after audience complained about her ticks). She took another path, and chose to take the only seat that no one would evict her from – the stage to tell her story (in Backstage in Biscuit Land)

Stories – and whose stories are we telling was to become a theme of the weekend. We are all story tellers director John R Wilkinson reminded us.

There was talk of taking the stage, of giving people agency – you can be a champion for someone just by showing up for them said Sade Brown. Others talked of todays leaders giving way to new voices (Darren Henley would later list recent changes, then dream of a time when such change would be unremarkable). . ‘Take power, share power, don’t replicate todays power structures’ another delegate said.

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Park the thinking, do the doing Liz Pugh, Walk the Plank

Audiences have power – go and see authentic voices – boycott the other shit Jo Verrent

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On the opening night we celebrated the announcement of a whole series of new Unlimited Commissions including Cheryl Martin – One Woman , Byron Vincent – Instagramming The Apocalypse and Tarik Elmoutawakil – Brownton Abbey .

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36% of the population (rising to nearly 60% in 18-24 year olds) think going to the theatre is ‘posh’ – a stat which evoked Sade’s story of the first time she attended the Bush, where she nearly left within minutes. We heard (in various sessions) how ‘this isnt for me’ is being tackled through form, through cutting away the faff and through connections and conversations.

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Invite multiple conversations in times of division

I want to be in the margins. I dont want to be mainstreamed. I’m allergic to universalism. I have a voice and I will speak in that voice

But there was anger to. Tarik would later chair a lively, passionate and heartfelt session entitled Nothing About Us Without Us. It was a timely debate – especially after the recent National Theatre recent programme announcement (see also this Theatre and the Invisble Women – again, blog by Stella Duffy ) – and one that focused around whose stories are we telling, and who is telling our stories. Robert LePage was hotly debated.

‘If you can’t see yourself, you cant be yourself” Kate O’Donnell

Invite multiple conversations in times of division

I want to be in the margins. I dont want to be mainstreamed. I’m allergic to universalism. I have a voice and I will speak in that voice

It’s beautiful how we are all so different’

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Chief Executive of Arts Council Darren Henley (who earlier had announced the UK was very much open for business) reaffirmed ACE’s commitment to diversifying the workforce. A responsibility which is ethical, social and financial. That a few days after a recent report had shown NPO’s (National Portfolio Organisations) were treading water.

Matt Fenton argued for structural change, echoing echoing Lyn Gardners comments inn the article above.

“People are putting in place initiatives in order to increase the diversity of the number of people who are on stage or who have particular roles. But the change is not actually happening at the top. And the only way that change will ever happen is if people step aside”

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But outside the auditorium, away from the stage how much can we really influence the world around us? The final session I attended managed to be both bleak and optimistic.

Art does not reconcile us with life, it helps us to face it better Gerard Mortier

In 2012 a cynical UK embraced the Olympics and the cultural olympiad. People smiled, the trains ran on time. We were the best of ourselves

When different thoughts collide, truly original thoughts take place

Then austerity happened, and that optimism and hope disipated as quickly as it had arrived. Brexit has further divided us. A society retreating into its own divisions and echo chambers.

We’ve got to go into our discomfort zone Stella Duffy

But can art make a difference? Not whilst we are speaking to our own echo chambers, not whilst voices and stories are marginalised, not whilst the norms/neutrality of now remain unchallenged.

Before you try and improve the world, look at your own house three times

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Change isnt always a battle – it can be joyful, discursive, persuasive and silly. Lets share the biscuits not the crumbs’ Jess Thom

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‘We can catch each other right ?

Man Nadzieje

I fuckin hope we will’

(with apologies for all the unattributed quotes from the conference)

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