zondag 24 September 2017
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Stormy Songs of the coastline

Stormy Songs of the Coastline

Titia Bouwmeester, artistic director of 5eKwartier, participated in 2015 in Tandem, an exchange programme for professionals from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany. LKCA interviewed Titia about her project with tandem partner Nathalia Eernstman from Encounters. Together with fishermen, seafarers and inhabitants of the coastal region of Cornwall, they created Stormsongs, a musical performance at gale force 10.

What struck you about the meeting you had with people in Cornwall?
'With my theatre company, I focus on a single location. We try to interpret the significance of global developments, such as climate change or migrant flows for social relationships in a local community. We try to get a grip on the changes and enter into relationships with people from the community and listen to what they have to say. To experience what is actually happening, we focus on a single location for some time. We dig ourselves in. It was great to step out of my own self-made zone and to meet theatre makers elsewhere who have the same approach, a similar fascination for tales about the region, the landscape, the history. It was really like coming home!'

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For many people, climate change is not something they really think about. But what if seawater floods your home? What if the storm blows you away? Villages along the coast in the UK are threatened by the sea. The storms seem to be getting fiercer every year. Last winter, houses and churches were engulfed temporarily by the waves. In interaction with local residents, this Tandem project involved creating new songs based on traditional Cornish examples.

What did you do exactly in Cornwall?
‘Nathalia and I carried out a preliminary investigation for a site-specific performance. In a small fishing village on the south-west coast of the UK, we spoke to residents about the storms that threaten the community. As a result of climate change, rising sea levels are posing a real threat. On the basis of what people told us, we created a new scenario about how you can deal with the threat and the chaos. We also investigated how we could intertwine traditional Cornish music with our theatre music and vice versa. We provided sea shanties with new texts, but we also composed new music on the basis of what the residents told us. We rehearsed a number of times with the locals, all holding a sizeable beer, next to the centuries-old pub with a view of the sea.’

What are you trying to achieve as an artist? What are you looking for?

‘I want to highlight the lesser known personal tales behind the news. What effect do global developments have on local communities? I want to make people aware of the changes that are taking place by sketching the present, past and future. I want to make them receptive to the landscape, the place where they live and spend their lives. Communities are sometimes at risk of losing control of their own future. We can use our performances to mobilise large groups of people and let them experience that they can make a difference.’

What contribution did your exchange in Cornwall make?
'I wanted to go to Cornwall because the deep-rooted feeling of autonomy among the inhabitants fascinates me. Engaged site-specific theatre and socio-artistic practices are solidly embedded in the regional history. I wanted to investigate how socio-artistic practices have developed there in the past few decades. The UK theatre company Welfare State was set up in the 1970s, just like Dogtroep, where I worked for a long time. We wanted to make theatre based on similar social inspiration: creating images in public spaces and going beyond trodden paths. This UK site-specific theatre group has also left its mark in Cornwall. I have met contemporaries who are now artistic directors of companies that evolved from the same idea. It is fascinating to see what they are doing. They also take their inspiration from the landscape, the population and the history. That creates a close bond between the makers and their public.'

'It was great to step out of my own self-made zone and to meet theatre makers elsewhere who have the same approach, a similar fascination for tales about the region, the landscape, the history. It was really like coming home!'

Is that different in the Netherlands?
'Dutch theatre makers have less affinity with the history of site-specific theatre, there is less sense of tradition. Our arts policy is geared to innovation, to experiment. There is more desire for new creators, new experiences and new productions. That results in a certain transience. It would be interesting to introduce young theatre makers who are creating a furore on Dutch stages with their engaged performances to the tradition of site-specific theatre. I think the interaction would be exciting!’

And, after your Cornwall experience, what is now your fondest wish?
'I have become more convinced as a theatre maker that the landscape is a memory that you can tap into and manipulate. I would like to create a performance about the relationships that coastal communities have with the sea. The lead role would be for the sea as a mysterious and threatening character. It would be great if that could be an international co-production. The Netherlands and the UK are both having to fight rising sea levels. Recently, I have been wondering more and more about how I can transfer my experience, so that the knowledge acquired and the skills developed can be built on and traditions can expand and develop.'

More information about Stormsongs [Dutch]
This interview was conducted by Hans Noijens and published on the LKCA website. [Dutch]

Singing in Cornwall

Dit artikel heeft betrekking op de volgende regeling(en) van het Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie website: TANDEM projecten

Dit artikel is een portret uit de reeks verhalen die we delen binnen het programma: Cultuur maakt iedereen