Our Advisor Finlay Ross Russell writes about his first experience performing to an international audience…
On July 17th around midday, the Iberia flight I was on landed at Madrid Barajas International Airport. After weeks of preparation, I was on my way to perform my solo piece ‘The Nomad’s Odyssey’ as part of the International Theatre Institute’s World Congress, which takes place every two to three years. This year, the congress took place in Segovia, a small Spanish town an hour due North West of Madrid, famed for the Roman Aqueduct that runs through the center. My piece had been selected from applications from all over the world to take part as part of a festival of micro-performances (performances of up to 15 minutes) made by young practitioners. This meant that over the course of this week-long conference, at 1 pm, there were two performances that took place somewhere in the grounds of the University of Segovia, a beautiful University with stunning views of the Spanish countryside. I was flying the flag for the United Kingdom alongside performers from France, Italy, Brazil, Uganda, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Slovenia and each of us had the option to choose the location on the University campus where we wanted to stage our shows.
“It was incredible to experience the way that artists at a similar stage of their career to me viewed performance.”
As I was closing the festival, I had the opportunity to enjoy the performances from my international colleagues and it was incredible to experience the way that artists at a similar stage of their career to me viewed performance. Among many, there was the performance from Bangladesh in which a man did a performance traditionally done by a woman or the French-Italian duo who staged the Epic of Gilgamesh as a chant-based, physical theatre masterpiece or the Slovenian performance, which focused on audience-based interaction to explore the University campus.
What was similarly incredible was the organization who had organized this conference. Despite being on their mailing list, I had no idea who or what the International Theatre Institute did before flying to Spain. However, over the course of my time there, I came to develop a huge understanding and appreciation for the work they are doing. The International Theatre Institute is a UNESCO-backed world theatre organization who do their work through National ITI Centres in different countries (countries as varied as Colombia, Indonesia, Sweden) whose job is to both promote local practitioners and professionals abroad but also to encourage practitioners and professionals from abroad to come to their country. As I came to understand, this event was the organisation’s World Congress and it meant that there was representation from most of the centres.
What it also meant for me when I stepped into the courtyard to perform my show was that I had an audience from all over the world who were seeing my performance. This not only meant that I was able to gain an international perspective on my work (up until this point, only people living in London had seen the piece), but it also meant that I was able to have conversations with audience members about the potential for bringing the piece forward. Throughout the duration of the conference, I had many fantastic discussions with the head of the ITI centre in Finland and after coming to see the 15 minute performance, she requested to see the hour-long recording I took in London and we are in discussions to bring me and/or the show to Finland at some point in the future.
“As a British person, my place in the world is feeling more and more isolated as the fallout from Brexit draws on.”
Now back in London, I have committed to being the communications person for ITI’s Network of Emerging Arts Professionals (an international group of artists which includes all young practitioners from the congress plus a select group of artists invited by us). We are working towards creating international platforms for emerging artists to showcase their work so that we can give other artists the same opportunities we were given at this conference. As a British person, my place in the world is feeling more and more isolated as the fallout from Brexit draws on. In fact, it is interesting to note that I was one of three British people at this conference. What I will say is that going to this conference with my show was an amazing opportunity to link up with like-minded young artists from around the world and I look forward to working to give those chances to more emerging arts professionals from around the world.