Sunday, 15 March 2009

Day One - (13/03/09) - Arrival in Lund

Arrived in the charming little university town of Lund, Sweden, tired and full of  trepidation.  I'd been up since five (yes, in the morning), and had already been in Denmark (where I caught the train to Lund, a fifty minute journey away, avoiding the temptation to wander off course and begin a hunt for my hero, Lars von Trier).  

I was here for a conference about Theatre and Democracy, the only representative from the U.K, with a slightly convoluted story as to how I ended up here.  I'd been one of the writers of 'White Open Spaces', a play made up of seven monologues about the 'silent apartheid' of the British countryside, for Pentabus Theatre, and the play had played in Riksteartern's (the National Touring Theatre of Sweden) international theatre festival the year after it was produced in the U.K.  Pentabus, and the Birmingham organisation Script, had already sent a handful of writers over to Sweden to help continue this loose relationship, and I was the latest in that lucky line.

On arrival at the conference venue, I was introduced to Therese, our lovely and endlessly helpful translator, and also other non-Swedish speakers who would also be relying on her.  The conference delegates were a mixture of writers, trainers, producers, actors and other theatre professionals.  Primarily Swedish, there were also people visiting from Denmark, the U.S, Australia and Holland.

We began with a key note address by the academic Nikos Papastergiadis, a professor of Culture and Communication from the University of Melbourne, about the 'Concept of Democracy after the War Against Terror'.  He talked about a new 'ambient' nature to our culture - we're bombarded by information from many different sources and many different countries, resulting in a general impression of events, rather that a precise, complex understanding.  Because of this, our experience of fear, specifically in relation to the War on Terror, is also 'ambient', and he described six features of this type of fear:

- The enemy has no home and no specific territory to fight for.
- The enemy has no name or face.  No single profile fits all the enemies.
- Chaos can spread from tiny, innocuous things - the wearing of rucksacks or heavy coats on public transport, the arrival of envelopes of white powder.
- The war is no longer about material things, but instead is a struggle for our belief systems - the media itself.
- Osama Bin Laden is a remote, abstract leader, who only acts in an imaginary sense.
- The structures of war have become polycentric.

Because of this, the main terrain being fought over is the public imagination, and this is where Nikos saw the role of the artist or dramatist coming in.

Afterwards, there was a lovely spread put on for us at a local restaurant, and I put my 'networking' skills into practice.  I spoke to members of Kunq and Qaos, two Stockholm-based queer theatre companies, who would be giving one of the workshops the following day.  They were friendly and charming, and promised their workshop would demand no performance skills from an anxious writer like myself.  What a relief.

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