As the UK leaves the EU it loses connections with European artists, but Nick Awde says one theatre in the North West is keeping conversations alive
Theatre tells stories. If told well, these stories give people the power to create a narrative for their society when the going’s good — and when it’s not so good. If a country lacks or suppresses theatre, it’s safe to say it’s not a good sign for equality and representation.
Each time a country (not always despotic or even distant) closes down a show, theatre or festival, beats up an artist or denies them a living, it reaffirms the freedoms in the UK.
And yet it’s not a freedom that has been well used in recent times. A huge disconnect has developed between mainstream theatre and the fringe, where the industry has failed to create a common narrative for Brexit. A huge part of this rests on the fact that the industry hasn’t been listening to its peers in Europe.
A plan has been waiting in the wings. Just as the UK leaves the European Union, a venue in the north west of England intends to culturally twin with every country in Europe.
The Alternative National Theatres network is starting to twin Morecambe’s Alhambra Theatre with a theatre, company or festival in each of the EU, European Free Trade Association and partner nations.
The Other National Theatre is also starting up in parallel, intended to bring together voices from across the UK, a network connecting Alternative National Theatres to create a physical space and virtual forum where people can share ideas and visions that transcend borders and politicians.
A growing group guided by Swedish director Henrik Grimbäck, the UK’s Stefania Bochicchio, co-director, of the UK Centre of the International Theatre Institute, and Will Nelson, fringe director and lecturer at Manchester’s Arden School of Theatre are making the Alhambra a fitting stage.
In a seaside town that is regaining its lost prosperity and forgotten theatre heritage, the building was rescued from conversion into flats and is now part of a wider move to re-establish the arts in the area. Theatre, however, is by far the lowest priority in this held-back region – it’s a hard sell and not on many funders’ radars.
A timely metaphor therefore for the UK – the Alhambra is a blank canvas for the arts’ next step. And given the country’s regional divide, it is easier to get people to come to the north from other countries than from London. And it’s surprising how many international practitioners say they have neither the need nor appetite to go to the capital.
The Alternative National Theatres network has nothing but an unfunded building and a welcoming community to offer. Nothing is expected from its partners and participants except a commitment to its ‘EasyJet’ model of low-budget networking, and to create a common voice for theatre across Europe that acknowledges unity in diversity and makes a stand for representation everywhere.
There needs to be greater awareness about lost funding opportunities and collaborations, the threat of carnets to lock domestic theatremakers in, visas to lock others out. There is a greater need than ever to address questions of identity and culture at home and abroad, as well as the dependency on funding and how best to share the art found in everyone’s front rooms and backyards.
Maybe this will create a harbour of culture that will weather the Brexit storm and grow to be a model for exchanges between different countries in ways that should have been established long before. After all, it’s never too late.
For more information go to: othernationaltheatre.org.uk