The Spirit Of Performance

Traditional chinese opera maskAlongside World Theatre Day, Theatre Room Asia is also celebrating. Today it has taken a new domain name, theatreroomasia.com  (although the old ibreadingroom address will continue to direct you here). Also today, Theatre Room is likely to pass it’s 10,000 view mark, which I find both thrilling and extraordinary. When I began, it was a meant to be a curated resource for my senior theatre students and indeed it still is. However it is now viewed across the world –  114 countries to date – and has a growing readership. It delights and encourages me that there is a need out there for something like Theatre Room and despite all the threats that theatre and performance face, be they economic, cultural, political or ideological, there is still a need to make theatre and reflect our humanity within that. South African playwright (and designer, director, installation maker and artistic director) Brett Bailey wrote the  Message of World Theatre Day 2014. His opening statement says it all, whilst his closing question is a challenge to every single student, teacher and practitioner of theatre across the globe.

Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests.

Under trees in tiny villages, and on high-tech stages in global metropolis; in school halls and in fields and in temples; in slums, in urban plazas, community centres and inner-city basements, people are drawn together to commune in the ephemeral theatrical worlds that we create to express our human complexity, our diversity, our vulnerability, in living flesh, and breath, and voice.

We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine. To wonder at technical dexterity, and to incarnate gods. To catch our collective breath at our capacity for beauty and compassion and monstrosity. We come to be energized, and to be empowered. To celebrate the wealth of our various cultures, and to dissolve the boundaries that divide us.

Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests. Born of community, it wears the masks and the costumes of our varied traditions. It harnesses our languages and rhythms and gestures, and clears a space in our midst.

Brett Bailey

Brett Bailey

And we, the artists that work with this ancient spirit, feel compelled to channel it through our hearts, our ideas and our bodies to reveal our realities in all their mundanity and glittering mystery.

But, in this era in which so many millions are struggling to survive, are suffering under oppressive regimes and predatory capitalism, are fleeing conflict and hardship; in which our privacy is invaded by secret services and our words are censored by intrusive governments; in which forests are being annihilated, species exterminated, and oceans poisoned: what do we feel compelled to reveal?

In this world of unequal power, in which various hegemonic orders try to convince us that one nation, one race, one gender, one sexual preference, one religion, one ideology, one cultural framework is superior to all others, is it really defensible to insist that the arts should be unshackled from social agendas?

Are we, the artists of arenas and stages, conforming to the sanitized demands of the market, or seizing the power that we have: to clear a space in the hearts and minds of society, to gather people around us, to inspire, enchant and inform, and to create a world of hope and open-hearted collaboration?

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