Theatre Thoughts: Global innovation and theatre

The weekend offers me, like most people, a chance to relax and enjoy my own time in my own surroundings. Having recently acquired an iPad, I’ve found myself falling into a little tradition on a Sunday – one that led to this very long-winded blog. Sunday’s tradition is, with iPad in hand, to explore the vast array of TED videos available through the TED app, giving me access to the hundreds of conferences and speakers from across the world. TED is ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design‘, a series of conferences that showcase speakers giving presentations on topics often relating to their work/personal lives.

I found myself watching Chris Anderson talking about ‘How web video powers global innovation‘. I’ve never really been a video-minded person, I prefer to put my thoughts into text, but Anderson’s talk was fascinating. He speaks about how videos on the internet have helped to develop and innovate across multiple platforms, arts, cultures and languages. He uses references to self-taught dancers who use online videos to showcase their moves, which are then picked up by other dancers somewhere else in the world, copied and applied to their own dance styles. Anderson speaks of the evolution of dancing via the internet. They learn, shape and form new approaches to areas they are interested in. When combining these with videos online, they bring about change, and new ideas and methods of working are born, and the cycle continues.

After this thought-provoking video I find myself craving some good theatre reading. I recalled Andrew Haydon’s earlier tweet asking for assistance on discovering blogs to feature in his Noises Off blog on The Guardian website, a roundup of blogs across the globe. Someone who responded was Alison Croggon, an Australian theatre writer and poet. It’s only recently that I’ve had a chance to explore Croggon’s writings but they are most certainly ones to read and treasure.

Croggon’s suggestion to Haydon was of some of the blog posts recently published around The Australian Theatre Forum 2011: Convictions and Connections conference, which brought together some 200 theatre professionals, artists, administrators, makers, performers and critics in Brisbane. In my curiosity I made my way to Croggon’s blog, where I read her brief response to some of her time at ATF 2011 where she discusses what will happen to the younger critics if there is such a dilution among them. Who teaches them, nurtures and develops the new generation of critical responses? (Here I think about I’m striving to do here on AYT.) Croggon continues with discussing innovation, a topic explored during a panel discussion she was part of.

I was struck how my earlier viewing of Anderson’s TED talk led me to once again hear of innovation, this time a little closer to my own personal adventures in theatre. Anderson speaks from America, Croggan from Australia, and these have been connected rather loosely through Haydon’s tweet from Germany. And me? I’m sitting in England. These connections and discussions are projected onto the Internet and are made easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection, across the world. This intrigues me.

I returned once more to Croggon’s blog, this time exploring some of the links she publishes on her ATF2011 post, which led me to Augusta Supple’s blog/personal site. Supple, it turns out, has been brought in to document AFT2011. She does so with her writings on the various discussions in the Open Space formats and of her own journey to the conference, which make for enlightening reading. I’m struck once again how the conversations that are being had across the other side of the world are parallel to the ones that are happening here in the UK, highlighted by the Open Space sessions that I have attended through Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled. The connections between AFT and D&D are fascinating.

Supple documents one discussion on ‘Terrifyingly Frank discussions between artists and critics‘ which seems to resonate strongly with some of the discussions brought up in the satellite D&D that Lyn Gardner and I hosted on ‘What are we going to do about theatre criticism?‘. During this I called a session on ‘Going Beyond The Words‘ inviting people to discuss how we can move dialogues from just critical commentaries to responding in more ways than just with words. Can we influence/assist in funding decisions? Can we move from the words into something that bridges the critic/artist relationship?

What intrigues me is how these conversations are being echoed in completely different countries, and no doubt in multiple languages around the world, too. These dialogues are being struck up and communicated inside a country/industry, and then posting them online opens up the dialogue to anyone who enjoys theatre and wants to join in. I refer again to Anderson’s TED talk on the ‘global innovation’: Supple and Croggon have started this dialogue and I hope that Haydon will continue it through his Noises Off blog. Which leads me to ask, how will conversations in Australia help the artists and conversation starters here in the UK to be innovative?

There is more to respond to about global discussions, and I am reminded of a radio discussion I was recently pointed to on ABC (an Australian based channel) conducted by Amanda Smith (thanks to Matt Ball of National Theatre of Wales for his Tweet to point me to this). The transcript is here, but Smith discusses research that has been undertaken around young people and theatre, a subject close to my heart. The thing that struck me was that Smith’s discussions echoed the thoughts that I have presented numerous times on this blog, at events or just in personal discussions.

Once again I  see a connection to Supple’s documentation at ATF, where a discussion on ‘What if theatre for young people was subsidised like opera‘ mimics a lot of what is in Smith’s discussions and my own. If these discussions are being had on a global scale, then how do we connect them, and allow them to develop and influence us? How do we reach Anderson’s ‘Global Innovation’ for the theatre world that we inhabit in each of our countries?

I’m completely swamped by my thoughts and reflections upon all of this. I’m glad that (excuse me going personal once more) through my iPad I’ve managed to begin with a video, be influenced by a tweet, directed to a blog, led to a conference and had my opinions questioned ten times over. I’m intrigued by this idea of connecting Anderson’s ideas with Croggon’s writings and Supple’s documenting… But what next? Where does it lead? How do we innovate from different sides of the world and given my dislike of video, how can these words travel across the globe without getting lost in translation?

I guess maybe the start was me sitting down to write this.

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.