In neo-Latin languages, the word “heritage” (from the Latin, patrimonium) means “the father’s duty”, that is the act of donating something to the children to be remembered by them. Inheritance is an active process of transmission which involves knowledge and awareness, because it is necessary to comprehend the meaning of cultural assets in order to understand our identity as a kind of living and continuously evolving heritage.
Each time we encounter artworks or social landscapes, we try to read them somehow. Then, in order to remember what we see, we usually share it by telling the story of our seeing. But the story is not always the same: it changes according to both the listeners’ and narrators’ knowledge and personal choices. That is how memories also evolve and change slightly over time.
Cultural heritage remains alive only when its meaning is transmitted and shared through narration and embodiment. Hence we can see heritage as not solely something which concerns the past, but as a current living memory for the future.
Sharing stories makes space for different interpretations of heritage: this is how we form a common memory, which is the base for a common identity.
Narration is perhaps the best tool we have to grasp both the tangible and the intangible entities around us – such as objects, places, knowledge. If diverse people put their heritage in common, this can create a shared memory that activates a sense of common belonging. Sharing our heritage could foster the collective creation of a tradition – one which could become the root for a new, shared common identity. The process of sharing our heritage, then, could contribute to the development of new forms of citizenship based on ‘living’ heritage.
Every story told makes present the world view of he/she who tells it, his/her cultural heritage, and locates the actors within it. Any narrative, be it created through words or images, displays a plurality of identities and, in a multicultural context, the configuration of those identities can shift according to the different viewpoints of those who tell and those who listen.
Identities are always constructed in a context of social interaction. And as they are made of a living and continuously evolving heritage, identities are continuously reshaped and renegotiated through cultural and social experiences.
Creolisation is a process of encounter through which subjects are able to reconstitute, reshape, redefine and recognise their identities. People use interrelated identities strategically in their interactions with a range of others whom they encounter, and play different roles in different contexts.
Differently from the model of “integration”, which understands the cultural encounters only from the dominant point of view, and differently from “multiculturalism”, which neutralises and hides that dominant point of view behind a universalising presumed sense of equality, creolisation always takes into account two or more points of view in tension.
Creolisation is a way to mix and reconstitute pre-existing codes of self-representation as a claim to new social, political and cultural identities. Creolisation always involves two or more points of view in conflict, but because every point of view involved mutates and transforms in the process, the result is always mutually inclusive.
A creole identity is mainly played out through narration, which frames social interaction and makes it meaningful and effective on the grounds of a shared understanding of the world. The performing arts, as theatre, entail “face to face” encounters among the actors, as well as between them and the audience. This confrontation leads different people to become aware of their own creolised heritage, while they participate in its continuous re-creation.
The theatre offers a space for subjectivities to be displayed and performed, and can also offer an arena for cultural encounters to take place. As a medium, the theatre is always conscious of how identities are negotiated, formed and performed; the theatre also comprehends how every single action or gesture takes on symbolic value, whose impact will act out differently for different spectators both in the moment and in memory. Because the theatre as a medium manipulates and performs ideological discourses, given meanings, patterns of behaviour, social beliefs and aesthetic principles, it can be seen as a creole medium in itself: the process of working with identities at play entails a conscious performance of heritage.
Stories, identities, memories arrive to the stage via different means, and can sometimes offer models of the world as it could be. By virtue of sharing the experience of spectating, the audience could be seen as a new community, constituting itself around what it understands as the meaning of what members can see, and putting their feelings about what they see in common. As such, the theatre can be seen as a privileged locus for producing shifts in mindset in those present: it can be used to challenge or reinforce what the assembled audience, or indeed the performers, might understand as identity.
As professionals of performance, theatre performers and actors are always and unavoidably engaged in understanding how identities play out and in how they are reshaped over space and time. It is because of this skill that performers are able to make present and available to an audience facts of which audiences may be unaware. In their attunement to how identities are played out, performers understand and display the shifting nature of identities, and do so in a way which is significant and intentional. The fact of acting on stage implies an acting upon memory, heritage and identity; hence acting has a political value.
If it is seen as a place for imagining the world as it could be, theatre can be understood as a laboratory in which societal issues are condensed and synthesised. This project seeks to observe the collective theatre-making process of artists from different backgrounds because those processes may offer glimpses into how common heritage can be negotiated, shaped and acted out. The fact of making theatre through a collection of experiences (regarding objects, places, public spaces, events past or present) is a process in which different things are put in common in order to be transformed into something shared and collectively understood. This collective understanding relies also on the involvement of the audience, who need to participate in how meaning in common is made. Through watching processes of collective acting out and putting in common, we hope to understand what a contemporary, creolised European citizenship may look like, and whether it could push our historical borders (between individuals, groups, countries) to breaking point.
Through the proposed project, theatrical performances collectively devised through experimental approaches will be observed for their capacity to (re)present and (re)shape political, social and historical relationships within what we see as the contemporary creole European society.