Now is the Time to Say Nothing opens this week at the Young Vic Theatre.
It began with a difficult brief. Run a series of workshops with young people in London about Syria and from that create a durational installation, part theatre, part film, part performance. (Although performed only by the audience following instruction on their headphones). It’s difficult to negotiate the challenge of keeping a workshop open, provocative, responsive to the group at hand as well keeping the brutally sharp focus of trying to produce a show that will run for a week, that members of the public can sit through and take something from. That tension between looking out and burying in became the familiar challenge of creativity soothed by a slowly growing well pool of experience that translates into having the patience to watch without directing and waiting for the room to speak. [My high school Quaker headmistress set the scene]
The crux of the proposition, dreamed up by Caroline Williams was that there would be 14 old school TVs in a circle with 14 comfy armchairs facing them. There would be the solitary experience of watching the screen – the news from afar – the familiar alienating difficult images of a war in Syria or elsewhere and at some point the command would come to turn around. For the chairs to spin into the circle and the room to be the same but different. For the participant to be in a circle with 13 other strangers that they didn’t know but could come to know and not the image of a stranger that could never actually return the gaze from the pixelated beyond.
I was from the get go sure that there was something in that slight of hand, a subtle movement that could shift a space from internal to external that was powerful. And judging by the responses so far that magic has translated into something real. Not only real but worth thinking about. It might seem dumb to say this but I think I am finally beginning to understand how art can respond to our time. Perhaps more fundamentally I am beginning to be able to see what our time means in a way I couldn’t decode before. There seems to be something coming to light in the stratifications of activity and language. It was reading the script of Oh My Sweet Land that made me notice it first. It seemed somehow the wrong thing. The right thing at the wrong time. I didnt want this now – I didn’t need it. I didn’t need harrowing stories of death in Syria I needed to know my place in the world and be given the tools to be able to discuss the existence or non-existence of my agency. As I was walking past a News Stand advertising the death of a British doctor who had volunteered in Syria I felt confused again. Of course I am going to walk past. Of course I am going to turn the page in the newspaper. You are printed on disposable materials, you are located at intervals on my route. But my turning the page I am inhumane by walking past and not acting I am a global citizen that is turning away from the death of others. Distance isn’t an excuse for disengagement with war if distance isn’t an excuse for disengagement with cheap plastic toothbrush holders. Now is not the time to watch My Name is Rachel Corrie and feel guilted by our passivity. Now is the time for something else.
Reem, the kids and the performance in a Radio One documentary about War children.
Listen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d0g6l