Playing identities, Performing heritage
Playing Identities, Performing Heritage is built upon the idea that aesthetic experience through theatricality can convey meanings at their fullest extent. Theatre always performs intangible heritage, keeps alive a shared memory, confirms or re-shapes traditional knowledge. People collected around the stage share the same competence in that very moment. As interpreters of the performance, spectators are engaged together with the performers in the joint complex work of both cultural production and identity setting around cultural intangible assets. In fact, citizens as the owners of heritage become performers of heritage and audience in artistic endeavour.
In this project we propose to experiment processes of artistic creation based on the creolisation of diverse European national theatrical traditions, as well as on the relationship between the performers themselves, on one side, and the performers and the public, on the other. We will produce theatrical performances involving young artists coming from different countries all around Europe. The performances will be strongly influenced by the social and cultural contexts in which they take place. Young artists will be also supported in their work by foreign artistic advisors and academic researchers. They will get in contact with local communities and audiences. Young theatre makers and performers will be directly engaged in the transmission of knowledge belonging to anybody else, and will be forced to face local artistic competences and cultural traditions.
The combination of theatrical practice and academic counselling will support the artists in the process of exploring, sharing and performing cultural heritage, in order to establish creolised intangible commons, springing points of a dynamic shared memory, which is the base for identity. Through the performance of heritage, theatre can set conditions for the constitution of new sense of belonging and brings on collective processes of cultural appropriation. This is how performing arts can act on intangible cultural assets and produce social innovation.
The idea behindPlaying Identities, Performing Heritage lies in the attempt to experiment processes of artistic creation based on the creolisation of diverse European national theatrical traditions, as well as on the relationship between the performers themselves, on one side, and the performers and the public, on the other. The project is the product of a peculiar cultural work-plan carried out by the University of Siena, together with its European partners. We conceive this of as a creative route that started with Playing Identities – Migration, Creolisation, Creation (co-funded by Culture Programme between 2009 and 2011), and continued during the past years with the implementation of several other European projects. These include the Innovating Heritage (INHERIT) project, co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme, and the Landscape Choreography project (Culture Programme), passing through an original research proposal positively evaluated by the JPI-JEHP transnational programme on cultural Heritage. Meanwhile, the University of Siena, together with 7 European partners, has also run an LLP Erasmus Intensive Programme called Playing Identities – Acting, the Self and Society. The Action started in 2012 with only 3 partners. It has then grown involving a larger European landscape, being funded for two more years. Focusing on complementary themes – transmission, fruition, valorisation and reproduction of intangible cultural heritage; Europe’s changing identity and its evolving notions of citizenship and belonging – all these projects have being pursuing the same artistic and theoretical objectives through a variety of perspectives, offering a peculiar state of the art through artistic performances, theatre in particular.
This project takes its cue from the realisation of two crucial factors that characterise contemporary Europe transversally:
- that a growing gap exists between a quality experimental cultural offer in the field of arts and wide accessibility in Europe. Large parts of the population do not have access to the advantages linked to participation in the arts. Thus, Performance Studies, and in particular the emerging field of Audience Studies, would offer us an exciting opportunity for cross-disciplinary fertilization.
- At the same time, the issue of re-appropriation of cultural heritage is gaining ground throughout Europe. This is also testified by the relevance that cultural heritage (its transmission, fruition, valorisation, reproduction and conservation) has gained in the current European policies and agendas. Moreover, the philosophy and politics of the commons have emphatically displayed the claim of centrality raised by citizens in the daily management of democracy and culture. On the other hand, yet complementary, and at a more institutional level, several policies and programmes have recently promoted forms of active citizenship in Europe.
We consider theatre as an experimental, interdisciplinary, open space. By stimulating performances that respond to our core themes, we hope to prompt discussion on some pressing questions concerning creolisation, citizenship and the commons, including: how can the performer interpret, through the language of theatre, the changing Europe of the active citizenship and the commons? How can theatre and performance illuminate the development of creole identities and the processes of changing citizenship paradigms? Which innovative and original methodologies can performance-makers and scholars imagine in order to making both the performers and the public responsible of the entire creative process? What contribution can Social Sciences and Performance Studies offer to this experimentation?
The Creole Performance Cycle shall then absorb this complex process by displaying the unpredictable results such a creole approach and methodology bring about.
We understand creolisation as the process by which subjects are able to constitute for themselves systems of related identities appropriate to diverse contexts of social interaction, using them strategically in order to reconfigure positions and roles both for themselves and for the ones with whom they interact. Moreover, creolisation pertains to the way in which a subaltern culture mixes and re-contextualises the pre-existing codes belonging to the dominant culture with which it is in contact. A creole culture is often born around social, political and cultural claims. Thus, the processes of creolisation deal with the construction of an individual or group identity.
Following the poet and critical thinker Edouard Glissant, creolisation consists of a dynamic system in which complex relationships among social actors take place, the outcomes of which are impossible to forecast accurately. As such, creolisation is the outcome of an endless process of strategic interaction between social actors bearing different identities. Therefore, creolisation is opposite to the so-called “processes of integration”. Creolisation is the “organisation of difference” in the social and cultural global landscape.
The commons can be defined as the complex product of a participatory involvement of one or more communities willing to negotiate and attribute a specific value to a range of objects and resources which are identified, accessed and practiced as communal and shared property.
We are particularly interested in the notion of intangible commons, which emerge at the crossroads between diverse cultures and identities, where differences become the platform upon which new shared values and patterns are built. We believe that the emergence of intangible commons in Europe should be understood as a vast process of creolisation in which communities undergo severe transformations of their legal systems, social architecture, arts, economies, politics, and civic values. While the creation of newly shared commons seems subjugated to hegemonic powers, the alleged identity shifts, erosion of rights and securities renew the urgency of questions such as: what is citizenship? What are citizens entitled to? Where are the roots of a new sense of belonging, which moves people towards and through the borders of UE?
Theatrical creation, performers, audience
We conceive of actors and other performers as value-players, in that they root their work in the complexities of the social and cultural contexts in which they live. Their bodies carry desires, values, expectations and ideologies, which bring before the audience through a complex set of physical and intellectual techniques. They are trained to listen, incarnate, and negotiate meanings and are educated to empathy. Their work is an invaluable tool for inquiring into the wide set of phenomena that creolisation brings about in society.
Understood as the place where subjectivities are performed and displayed for being observed and disseminated, theatre gives a model of the world as it could be known, remembered and told. On stage, each action or gesture becomes a story, and each of those stories will reach spectators’ memories. Moreover, theatre is a creole process in itself. In essence, it disseminates and manipulates ideological discourses, given meanings, patterns of behaviour, social beliefs and aesthetic principles. Whether simulating reality or creating new worlds, it brings along mindset shifts in both performers and audiences. Performance playfully challenges or reinforces shared identities and is nurtured by on-going social and individual conflicts, as well as dominant and emerging narratives.
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.
Our artistic project aims at blurring the boundaries between the involved artists and citizens by promoting contributors as actors in intermedial performances, which will merge into our Creole Performance Cycle (4 original performances to be staged by mixed artistic equips of different nationalities). We will invite citizens not only to offer their opinions on the state of their belonging to their community, but also to perform their issues and claims by the direction of the involved artists. Citizens as the owners of heritage become performers of heritage in an artistic endeavour. Therefore, the Project wants to engage the audience by calling citizens and cultural operators alike to build up on interpretations and visions on places, mindsets, and conflicts – be them cultural, social or political – and to make an artistic leap together. By doing so, the project simultaneously promotes the formation of active spectators and an understanding of spectatorship as an activity that contributes to the meaning-making processes of the performance event.
By departing from local issues as indicated by specific communities, we aim to spot similarities in the structures of conflict and creative practises Europe-wise, and to enable cross-visions and ‘contamination’ on a wider scale. The intermedial ‘online’ nature of performances – to be achieved through the use of a crowdsourcing platform – will foster cooperation amongst citizens and artists from the diverse communities joining the project. By “intermedial nature” we mean that all the photographic, audio and video documents on the single artistic processes happening in each venue will be available everywhere and every time, for any kind of fruition and creative use. Platform’s users will be allowed to post any type of contribution, including either re-elaboration of uploaded documents (video mash-up, editing, etc.) or original reply to the performances. The best creative contribution by the crowd will be awarded with a 3.000€ prize following a decision of the project SASC.