We have reason to think that Heritage is something we all make together. It is the outcome of the complex interaction of potentially everyone in a community, through all of his or her manifold identities – parent, worker, church-goer, researcher, football fan.
Identities are themselves something we negotiate and adapt to contexts. It is a game we all play in any human interaction where our symbolic or concrete thriving or misfortune is at stake.
If we think of Heritage as a collective performance taking place in real or virtual contexts, we think of an endless transactional turmoil where values are continuously assessed for ourselves and others. We actually follow and perform patterns that we have found, and change them little by little in the very negotiation. According to such vision, I belong to what I do. I am ‘what’ and ‘how’ I do.
This is a relatively new point of view in Europe. Some sibling approaches had seen the light in the creole Caribbean or Australia, where there’s nothing such as ‘Heritage’.
Over there, the encounter of mutually unknown identities sparkled the process on how we build a common ground out of diversity, or how we fail to do so. These encounters generate unintended outcomes, a phenomenon we have called Creolisation.
Today Europe, a continent of incredible cultural variety, is itself a venue of clashes and encounters with new people from all over the world. The Heritage of Europe, in all its tangible and intangible aspects, will change meaning forever because its ‘players’ are changing for good.
Since year 2008, this view on Heritage and Identity unites a handful of researchers, artists, and scholars in to Performing Heritage Investigation Group. With University of Siena as a main partner, this group started a series of international partnerships that gave rise to a cluster of European projects.The first step of this cluster of projects took place in 2009, when we kicked-off ‘Playing Identities: Migration, Creolisation, and Creation’ (Culture programme, 2007-2013), which involved six European countries. The project also issued an international call for artists.
Back then, we adopted the twofold approach that still watermarks our projects: academic work and artistic endeavour intertwine our research, and then deliver in their own respective fields.
Migration and Creation were the two main points of focus of the first Playing Identities. In order to test contents and methodological approaches, we produced two theatrical plays: Slawomir Mrozek’s Emigrants directed by Jerzy Stuhr, and the first Creole Performance Cycle entitled ‘L’Ala’, a five-phase performance led in the partner countries directed by Balletto Civile, which inquired into Work as a forger of personal identity.
On the academic side, the book Shifting Borders collects our academic outcome on Creolisation, switching Edouard Glissant’s poetic intuition into an operative concept. We met with Mr. Glissant a few months before his demise, and he drew this for us as a wish for good luck.
Therefore, in years 2012-2014 we kicked-off the Erasmus IP Programme ‘Playing Identities: Acting, the Self, and Society’, in cooperation with a growing number of European Drama Academies and universities. More than 90 prospective actors and directors and more than 20 scholars and professional practitioners developed a discourse on the social role and cultural duty of the actor. We intertwined theatrical traditions, discussed implicit cultural and artistic tenets, and thought of acting as an art of relations, and as an example of embodied knowledge that needs to be inherited from generation to generation.
Meanwhile, Performing Heritage Investigation Group has also tested the PanSpeech crowdsourcing platform, a social media still in-progress dealing with co-creation of knowledge (Making bottom-up knowledge), research and dissemination activities on European cultural tangible and intangible heritage. Now PanSpeech is active and aims at being the main project source for audience development activities. It has also recently gained public visibility and important rewards thanks to a prize awarded as first ranked project in a Italian Regional Call for Creative Projects. Indeed, the original aim of the PanSpeech platform is to create a community of cultural operators, scholars and theatrical performers discussing the issue of European cultural heritage.
The last step of this cluster of projects took place in 2015, when we started ‘Playing Identities, Performing Heritage: Theatre, Creolisation, Creation and the Commons’ (Creative Europe programme, 2015-2016). This project 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 will produce creole 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 also 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.