A brief background to subVERSE:
I was recently asked by Simon Parry to contribute a post to this blog due to my former work with the theatre company, subVERSE, which led a short but fiery life from 2004 to 2007 creating over 300 new pieces of theatre that explored the issues of the day.
Since working on subVERSE, my subsequent practice has continued to be as a political agitator, but rather than ‘preaching to the choir’ as subVERSE often used to do, I have begun to be less didactic and less of a propagandist, but realize that people are where they are and getting them to change their behaviour is often very difficult. So, I focus on my own behaviour – ‘What can I do differently?’ which has led me to work in Theatre for Development and specifically with the charity, Theatre for a Change, which uses a variety of forum theatre to examine gender equality, balance and HIV. As a theatre director, I continue to produce political theatre but with the knowledge that audiences have a wide variety of experiences and that I need to account for these. Because, if not, they will just turn your production off and not listen at all.
A brief background to subVERSE:
In September 2004, Adrian Page & I discussed a shared vision of putting together an evening of high quality and artistic political & socially-conscious theatre. We contacted other likeminded artists and political activists and began to get submissions from playwrights along with commitments from actors and directors to participate in this evening. In November 2004, subVERSE was presented as an evening of short pieces with a political agenda and as a way of raising the profile of a selected charity at the World’s End Theatre in Chelsea, London. It was seen by a member of the Theatre503 artistic staff and was picked up as a regular event at that theatre. This became the blueprint of short pieces of new theatre ripped from the headlines for each successive monthly event: the highest quality theatre with a ‘subVERSEive’ bend and a chance for both the artists & audience to become aware of and participate in an area charity. Each month, the programme of subVERSE was different, evolving and updating according to the artists’ responses to current events around the world.
Along with presenting theatre, subVERSE believed in more than just ‘raging against the machine’ within the four walls of a theatre. To this end, we facilitated a series of forums that follows the performances in which a selected charity speaks about them and then opens up to the audience for questions. For example, in March 2005, we hosted the Stop The War Coalition with STW steering committee member Chris Nineham and George Solomou, a former TA soldier and member of Military Families Against the War, who refused to serve in Iraq. In May 2005, we hosted the London Detainee Support Group, a non-political and non-religious charity that supports asylum-seekers and others detained in the London area. Throughout subVERSE’s life, it continued to reach out to other charities that were interested in this sort of profile-raising event and always continued to try to be aware of global events that affect our lives and how we, in a very small way, could help affect change in this world.
subVERSE was a unique blend of political satire, comedy and drama from new British and American writers to audiences in London and Edinburgh.
In August 2005, we successfully transferred the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 24 performances, with a combination of the best of our previous pieces. Audiences began to expect some of the best fresh new political writing, which made them laugh out loud, listen, and think about the current geo-political climate and New World Order. Satire was never been so apt, angry, funny and moving.
subVERSE was successfully producing performances that entertain, rather than soapbox, and was critically referred to as ‘hip, dark, engaging, and stylish’. The key to this success is an approach that blends both drama and comedy, together with the ability to inform with a political conscious. Michael Billington argued that for new writing to thrive, a theatre must be in place solely dedicated to that end, and subVERSE, together with Theatre 503, were successfully fulfilling these criteria — premiering over 300 pieces of new writing by eighteen playwrights and poets over a three year period, in addition to establishing a talented core of actors and directors. Although theatre itself is unable to solve today’s global conflicts, subVERSE was answering Ian Shuttleworth’s call: ‘Let us question. Let us talk. Let us see other ways’. We were proud at subVERSE to encourage and support the emerging voices.
A small sample of charities & activist organizations that subVERSE raised the profile of as well as money for:
Friends of the Earth – Supported at the subVERSE October 2005 show.
The London Bombings Relief Fund – More than 50 people died and 700 were injured in four explosions in London on Thursday 7 July. The Mayor of London has established the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund, in association with the British Red Cross. The money raised by this charity will be used to assist the victims of the attacks, their families and dependants and to support any other projects that its Trustees consider appropriate. Supported at the September 2005 subVERSE show.
Military Families Against the War – Throughout the Edinburgh run, subVERSE will be collecting money for & raising awareness of Military Families Against the War and their legal challenge against Tony Blair regarding the legality of the Iraq war. Military Families Against the War is an organization of people directly affected by the war in Iraq. Their relatives and loved ones are members of the British Armed Services. They are opposed to the continuing involvement of UK soldiers in a war that is based on lies. For more information about them, please visit their website at http://www.mfaw.org.uk/.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) campaigns non-violently to rid the world of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and to create genuine security for future generations. Supported at the July 2005 subVERSE show. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are seeking to raise awareness of the Peacewalk from 26th July – 9th August 2005. The walk will mark the 60th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 250 km long walk will start on Tuesday, July 26th, in the peace town of Ypres, and will end at the secret NATO nuclear weapons base at Kleine Brogel, passing via NATO Headquarters in Brussels. The nuclear powers and NATO member states must work towards a treaty for a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, as laid down in the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Globalise Resistance – Globalise Resistance is an anti-capitalist and anti war organisation. Donations were raised in support of the protests at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July 2005. G8 summits have increasingly been held in isolated and remote places in order to try and get away from the attentions of activists, and for a reason: the protests four years ago in Genoa made certain the hopes and dreams of ordinary people took the spotlight, the issues of debt, environment, human and workers rights, welfare, and of course peace have been foremost in the reporting of the summits. Supported at the June 2005 subVERSE show.
The London Detainee Support Group – The London Detainee Support Group (LDSG) is a non-political and non-religious registered charity that befriends and supports asylum-seekers and others detained in the London area, primarily at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Removal Centres. Currently LDSG has approximately 70 volunteers visiting individual detainees. Detainees are held indefinitely without charge and without automatic access to bail hearings. Many have no connections in the UK, little or no English and little understanding of the asylum system. For some, LDSG is their only source of contact with and information from the outside world. Supported at the May 2005 subVERSE show. Following the show, the London Detainee Support Group and their volunteers gave a brief talk about their experiences visiting detainees, followed by a question and answer session.
ChangeLife – ChangeLife is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. It seeks to promote balanced and sustainable development through its assistance of the people in South Africa. It places the individual at the heart of all of its activities. ChangeLife seeks to improve the quality of life for all citizens affected and infected by HIV/Aids through the establishment of community-based developmental projects that provide a variety of educational, art, care, treatment and empowerment programmes to the members of traditionally disadvantaged communities. Supported at the January 2005 and November 2004 subVERSE shows.
The Bhopal Project – The Bhopal Project was set up to raise global awareness of the worst industrial disaster in history: On the night of 2nd to 3rd December 1984, over 35 tonnes of poison gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. At least 7,000 people died in the first three days and more than 15,000 have died since. Today 100,000 people still suffer from chronic or debilitating illnesses and an average of one person a day dies from gas related causes. Through this project we hope to raise awareness of the ongoing consequences and the never-ending fight for justice. Supported at the February 2005 subVERSE show.
The Stop the War Coalition – Over the past ten years, Stop the War has organised a series of protests, over the Butler and Hutton reports, in protest at the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, two national demos on March 20 and again following the European Social Forum last October, as well as many local protests and a range of public meetings and other events. Supported at the March 2005 subVERSE show. Following the show, Stop The War Coalition steering committee member Chris Nineham, and George Solomou, a former TA soldier and member of Military Families Against the War, who refused to serve in Iraq, gave a brief talk about their experiences, followed by a question and answer session.
The Children’s Theraplay Foundation, Inc. – The Foundation’s mission is to provide children with special needs a foundation for developing life skills through innovative therapies in a safe and caring environment that utilizes equine-assisted physical, occupational and speech therapy services. Supported at the April 2005 subVERSE show.
Sample reviews for subVERSE:
‘In its critique of the modern political and social landscape, subVERSE renders oft-used critical superlatives like “brilliant” and “remarkable” hollow.’
*****British Theatre Guide
‘ Hip, engaging, hard hitting and thought provoking, the key to subVERSE is that each show explores the human consequences of current world events…These writers are asking their audiences to think about the world they live in and they are not afraid to take risks.’
‘This is a cracking piece of political theatre, which is both hard hitting and thought provoking. The acting from all members of the cast is superb… This is political satire as it should be’
***** Edinburgh Fringe bible Three Weeks