Amsterdam: Multicultural Theatre, Goldie and assorted other things

Last week Gavin and I went to Amsterdam for a few days to be part of MC Theater’s New Realities Conference and to meet people working in theatre in Holland.

The Conference was about multicultural theatre: where we’re at in Europe, if the ways we plan, programme and make policy are right in a multi-cultural world, and what to do about it. The first thing I noticed was that this was the most diverse group of delegates I've ever seen at a conference. There were policy makers, theatre professionals, artistic directors, journalists, creators, performers, educators, students and a huge amount of them were young people. 

The headline keynote speech was by Goldie, the British drum 'n' bass musician. Goldie was brought up by foster carers, started his creative life as a graffiti writer and since achieving fame as one of the pioneers of drum 'n' bass music has also worked with orchestras, learned to conduct and shared his experiences with all sorts of people. He talked about the idea of how ‘art’ should be defined in the face of so many emerging varieties of artistic output from hip hop to the Venezuelan El Sistema music programme. Two things stuck with me from his talk: firstly the suggestion that El Sistema play ‘better than the London Symphony Orchestra’ because the young people are passionate and driven rather than ‘old and bored of it’; secondly that policy makers, governments and educators need to catch up with the art being made by young people and embrace it. ‘If Coca Cola can notice a movement and use hip hop in a commercial, governments should also be paying attention to these emerging art forms,’ was the sentiment.  

Here are my two favourite quotes from Goldie’s talk:

“If a kid says ‘listen to my record’ we should f**king listen. How disheartening is it for a kid to know it will never be listened to?”

“All you have is now. So you guys, somehow, gotta change the world. Alright?”

Simple as that. 

Baba Israel, Artistic Director of Manchester’s Contact Theatre also led a panel consisting of arts heads and policy makers from across Europe. Baba introduced the group and the subject by switching between freestyle spoken word and formal speech to make the point that there is often a distinction between the vernacular and communication style of young, emerging artists and the style of policy makers and funders. One of the more interesting elements of the debate was the question of whether young, emerging artists should be expected to speak the language of bureaucracy or whether arts councils and funding bodies should adjust to the communication style of the artists. I haven’t made my mind up about this yet but when I have some more concrete thoughts I’ll start a discussion in another post.

On Wednesday evening we saw a show called Nina Simone (A)Live, a biopic of the singer performed by a cast of 6 actor-musicians. Despite almost all the dialogue being in Dutch, I felt like I was involved in the narrative and having such an emphasis on music really made this accessible. The actors sang, played, or mixed all the music themselves on stage which was also brilliant to watch. I liked how a variety of music – from a young Nina’s classical piano practice to live multi-tracked vocals – was included rather than it just becoming a jukebox musical all in one style. 

On Thursday we branched out from theatre and went to check The Eye Film Museum, a beautiful new building, the architecture of which is as exciting as the content. We saw an exhibition called ‘Expanded Cinema’ which showcased the work of three film makers who have moved beyond the single cinema screen to explore ways in which multiple screens and different spaces can make a different kind of film. Isaac Julien’s piece was the most interesting of these. He used a room the size of a school hall with 10 or 11 large projection screens around and across it. Each one had its own set of speakers and the film moved from screen to screen and using combinations of different screens at the same time, forcing you to keep moving around the space to see different angles and perspectives on the action.

We also ventured out to the north part of the city to a place where Kosmopolite were creating a new mural. Kosmopolite, who also spoke at the conference the previous day, are a graffiti collective who have taken graffiti from an underground form to group artwork produced on a large scale, in public, often with permission and support of public authority. I love taking photographs of graffiti and street art wherever I go so getting the chance to actually see this work being created was really exciting. 

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