30 Years On
6th January 2017
It is 2017 – Happy New Year
And that means that Pan Intercultural Arts has completed thirty years as an organisation. This comes as quite a shock to me and some of my longer term colleagues, but it is also a source of amazement to reflect on the growth and change in the company from its origins to where we are now.
Without revisiting every twist and turn it is worth considering how the initial impetus to investigate ways of enriching our theatre practice, by meetings with theatre teachers from cultures representing multi-ethnic Britain, has transformed into how theatre practice can enrich those who come together from different worlds and give them the space to re-imagine themselves.
In our first occasional workshops British performing artists from many backgrounds met and absorbed knowledge from expert practitioners from India, China, Nigeria, the Caribbean and more. They sought to research and redefine many facets of their practice; how to approach character, levels of physicality, the use of rhythm, shaping the space, creating narrative etc. and many took this knowledge back into their own professional work, others stayed with Pan and translated it into performance and workshop-giving.
A common thread of story-telling soon emerged and different approaches were woven together in wonderful performances in London and which toured nationally and internationally.
The presence of a group of performers from several backgrounds and with a fresh approach led to invitations to work not only in professional circuits but in areas where people from different cultures met and interacted, or did not! Working where racial tension simmered between groups of young people, or where young refugees from many cultures came together in a new environment, gave new meaning to the word “intercultural”. It came to denote the creation of spaces where different cultural experiences, backgrounds, viewpoints could meet – safe spaces where creativity could be shared and influenced by all those who worked together. These spaces welcomed young people close to crime, victims of torture, unaccompanied minor asylum seekers and many more.
This shifted the centre of our work further towards the process of working inclusively with many people, and away from the creation of product – performances to view.
Of course there were still public events, performances, sharings, installations, screenings, some of these in small intimate settings and some in major theatres and arts centres like London’s Southbank and the Hackney Empire. However these emerged from the thoughts and reflections of working with people from different communities which then produced the need to communicate with the wider public.
So for the last fifteen years our work has been primarily focused on arts for social change, theatre for development and the personal and community development for people in very fragile and marginalised situations; the latest initiative being our project specifically for women who have been trafficked into the UK from all over the world, using creative work to allow them to re-imagine their lives after slavery, and, in our choir, to celebrate and enjoy their freedom.
Our work is not easy but the results are impressive, the achievements, artistic and personal, are wonderful. The work is enjoyable because of the energy which the arts evoke in people, but it is only possible because of a team of immensely talented and committed staff and artists. Many of these have grown through the strata of Pan, from volunteers, students on placement and participants to become part of our team.
In parallel to this long term work in London and other UK cities, Pan has trained and seeded many other projects around the world where theatre can help people find solutions to social problems, from areas of natural disaster, post conflict zones, in places where prejudice is rife, justice is not readily accessible or health problems need more open discussion. Many tens of thousands of people have been actively helped through these projects which we launch and then set on their own independent paths. In 2016 we twice worked with Good Chance Theatre in the Calais “Jungle”, using our experience of working with refugees in a place of extreme hardship.
So here we are at 30. There is still so much work to do in a world where suspicion and misunderstanding seem on the increase, but over this period we have seen and evidenced that the arts are an incredibly potent way of empowering people, of awakening imagination and reflection and, yes, having a lot of fun.
Intercultural Arts is still a relevant term; a meeting place where different people meet, find common ground, share and adapt ideas and enjoy finding new ways of expressing themselves.