Guest Blog: Artistic Director Joshua McTaggart On Festival BUNKER WITHOUT BORDERS
For me, theatre has always been about one important thing: storytelling.
Storytelling, and listening to stories told, is an integral part of our life. In telling a story we break down the barriers that exist between us, as we try and find a way to connect, to communicate, and to understand one another.
The visceral mode of storytelling in the theatre can move audiences to laugh, to cry, or to scream, depending on what story is being told. Despite the fact that we know what we are witnessing is fiction, we cannot help but feel empathy with what we see in front of us. The actor reaches out to the audience, and in return the audience responds to this generous act of storytelling in a way they see fit.
Across London, theatre-makers are sharing their stories with us, enlightening us with their insights, and breaking down the barriers that exist between their world and ours. Yet this city has a long way to go until the stories it tells to its audiences on its stages are truly representative of the world in which we actually live. Just last week, actor Riz Ahmed presented a moving and inspirational speech in Parliament demanding decision-makers and storytellers truly consider the issue of representation on stage and screen.
Still, he reminds us, there is important work to be done.
The theatre is a place where we can encounter stories that are unfamiliar and challenging to watch, instead of just settling for safe and recognisable narratives. Even though the storytelling opportunities that exist are infinite, we seem stuck in a repetitive loop that only explores a small portion of our rich and diverse global community.
There is, of course, a place for theatre that is nostalgic. The stories we tell are the product of a history and tradition spanning thousands of years. But we need to be looking beyond our own history, our own traditions, and - most importantly - our own stories, if we are going to move forward, together.
As a theatre director who wants to create work and tell stories that break down barriers, the current political trend for tightening a country's borders causes me real concern. We have seen it in the UK with the vote to leave the EU, and we have seen it when the President of the United States declares he will build a wall along the Mexican border. Out of fear of the other and the unknown, we are closing ourselves off from the narratives outside of our sphere, instead turning inwards to focus on the stories we see as familiar and safe.
At The Bunker, the theatre in London Bridge I run with producer Joel Fisher, we have decided to interrogate this international trend towards borders in the best way we know how: storytelling. In my role as The Bunker's Artistic Director, I am aware that the stories I want to see told on The Bunker's stage have to come from outside of my own sphere; otherwise, I am just serving a pre-existing familiar narrative.
With this in mind, we have launched Bunker Without Borders, a week-long festival that brings together spoken word artists, playwrights, choreographers, musicians and other artists from a variety of disciplines, to explore the world in which we currently live, and to imagine what a world without borders would look like, sound like, feel like, and be like.
Japanese theatre director Tadashi Suzuki once said, "International cultural exchange is impossible, therefore we must try." Bunker Without Borders presents us with a similar impossible task, but also presents us with that unique opportunity to try. To try and represent. To try and break down barriers. To try, with every story we tell, to better understand the world around us.
In trying, it is imperative that we try together. I am indebted to my collaborators who have worked tirelessly with me to curate the festival: spoken word artist James Chelliah, playwright Firdos Ali, and Shai Mohamad's team at the Bhumi Collective. Not only did these incredible artists bring their own stories to the table, but they also challenged me to ensure that the performers we programmed were truly representative of the world outside The Bunker's doors.
The programme for the week is a special one. We move from short plays like Fennel-Spiked Lamb, which tells the true story of a Bangladeshi immigrant tricked into modern-day slavery in a Scottish hotel, to performances by spoken word artists including Charlie de Courcay, Desree, and Banana Sharma, to dance choreographed by Anthony Matsena. All these artists bring a unique perspective to the idea of borders and what it means to break these down.
Although our task seemed impossible, through words, through music, and through movement, we are discovering a way to share these stories. Hopefully, when the festival opens, those stories will help us all find a way to move forward, together, in this unpredictable world.
If you'd like to get involved with the festival, there are still some opportunities to perform. Email The Bunker on firstname.lastname@example.org