Monday, 14 March 2011

The world shifts beneath us

Hello there -

I hope that you are okay and that anyone you may know is Japan is safe and well. The events there over the last few days have been a kind of reflection of the thinking and reading that I've been doing on the OEM project since last I blogged and I wanted to share a bit of what I've been reading with you.

So, I finished Tony Allen's fantastic book on public speaking at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park and I wondered where to go next. My partner, Fern, has been on her own very strong personal journey over the last year as Clore Fellow for Wales 2010 and she has been reading a huge amount and going on a zillion course on one thing and another. Generally in the past I've been the kind of bloke - typical of my sex and upbringing in Yorkshire - who poo-pooed the notion of spirituality and anything other than what I can see or fix with my own hands. And that would be all fine and dandy if it hadn't proved to be totally unworkable in my own life! I found that I couldn't fix anything or hold anything still with my own hands - I had no control whatsoever, least of all over myself or my work. And so, after skidding along the bottom, emotionally, spiritually, physically for many years, I determined to live better. And so, the OEM project is not simply for me about theatre or performance or about experimentation. It's also about learning how to live better in the world and how to be spiritually true to myself and my fellow man.

So, with all this in mind my next book to read was by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown - Coming Back to Life - Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World.

No, wait. Don't go ...

See, that would have been my exact reaction too. "Oh for fucks sake - what is this specious new age bollocks? Can't I just eat my pie and watch the telly and not be bothered with all this crap." Amd I suppose I felt that way for a long time until I realised very strongly that 'just eating my pie and watching the telly' really, really wasn't making me in any way shape or form happy ...

So, the book is a description of how the authors believe that the Industrial Growth Society in which we live is fundamentally destroying the planet and us along with it and that what we need to do to change it is to actually speak out loud about our grief for what we are doing and to own that grief and then effect change. What they refer to as 'The Great Turning.' It's an incredible body of work that they are doing and, whilst it makes my rationalist, cynical self fight the rampant heebie jeebies, it also really spoke to me about what I feel and what I think a lot of people feel and it hit the bullseye in terms of one of the aims of the OEM project.

And now a story to illustrate this: Last week, my partner, Fern, and I took up an invitation to attend a conference at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff hosted by the Welsh Assembly Government under the banner of Sustainanbility and Business. Fern has been curating and leading a series of fantastic Emergence events about sustainability and the arts so she went along. And why was I there? Other than she'd forced me to go? Because I genuinely do feel that we are living beyond our means - but not financially - in terms of resources. The world is all we have - there's no second one standing by. But we're using the second and third ones already. I was curious to see whether the business community were really interested in sustainability for any other reason than it might be profitable.

Turns out they weren't - and yet ... So, we arrived to find a sea of grey suits - men and women - all representing private business in Wales. Many senior figures from the WAG spoke to us - Jane Davidson AM, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing gave the keynote address and sang the praises of Wales and Welsh business as being well ahead of the game. Steve Howard, the newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officer for IKEA spoke about the huge opportunities sustainability presents to business. And the first question from the floor? "This is all well and good but what about growth?" I nearly wept. Economic growth - making more money than you spend or invest - is the watchword of businesses and governments worldwide - and nothing about it is sustainable. Clearly there would be no 'grieving for what we are doing to the world' here.

Or so I thought. After hours of repetitive powerpoint presentations all of which showed how brilliantly business was dealing with the issues we were siphoned off into smaller groups - hopefully to actually talk about things. Nope ... a representative of British Gas told us how delighted they were at enabling people to become managers of their own energy needs rather than what British Gas actually needs to be doing which is changing its name to British Wind. Then, finally, a discussion was opened and my saviour arrived. A big guy - big in body and voice - spoke up. He worked in the oil industry he said and he loved it. Always had. But he had to tell everyone in the room that we are simply fiddling while Rome burns. At best estimate we have forty years of fossil fuels left. And then its gone. And we are simply not changing the way we live fast enough or comprehensively enough.

And it was like someone had finally spoken about the huge elephant in the corner and the sense of release in the room was palpable. And then it was back to the same old backslapping and fiddling ...

What's my point and how does this relate to theatre? Well, it seems to me that Joanna Macy and the Big Oil Man are making the same point. We have to talk about it - together in groups as large as we dare. We have to share our fear and our panic because the change is real and it is coming.

But how do we talk about it? I'd like to leave you with a couple of things to watch that have been inspiring to me. I read my book on Shamanism and I wondered if that's what I should do - get myself into an altered state of being and talk to the spirits and share their wisdom with my audiences. But somehow that just doesn't feel real and authentic for the world we live in today. Because, no offence, but I believe in people not Gods. I want to talk to people and look them in the eye and let them share what they need to. So, here's a couple of YouTube vids that have been really inspiring to me in different ways.

The first one is by the fantastic researcher and storyteller Brene Brown - she talks about her findings related to vulnerability and shame. I loved watching this and immediately got hold of one of her books. She's great and this kind of presentation is what I'd like to aspire to.

And then a friend recommended that I watch this video of Keisha, Little Grandmother. She's a shaman of the old school who clearly strikes a powerful chord with many, many people around the world. The fact that I agree with some of the things she says doesn't take away from the fact that she gives me the absolute screaming heeby jeebys. This is not what I want to do but I can understand why people like it and feel the need for it.

I'd love to know what you think about these two styles of presentation because, fundamentally the message behind them both is the same.

This week I'll be attending two courses - the first on Group Facilitation methods and the second on Public Speaking. I'll report back on them next time.

Keep well,


P.S. I know a lot of people can't stand her books but this speech by JK Rowling at Harvard in 2008 is also one of the most inspirational things I've ever seen. Check it out.

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