1990s Season: A beginning by Felix Mortimer

By Dan Sellick, RIFT producer and Gruff, a theatre company. 

It's a strangely cathartic experience to dissect an era that for you consisted of playing Tomb Raider and reading Anthony Horowitz 'Diamond Brother's' books. I turned seven three weeks before the end of the Millennium. I can't even really claim to be a "90's kid", I've nothing but snippets, ideas, photos from which to construct an idea of that era. For me the 1990's is as much an era confined to history as the 1890's. I can tell you what happened, a list of historical social political and economical factors that construct a textbook approach to a decade. But that's not the basis for collective memory or understanding. 

As we sat around and spoke through what the 1990's meant to us, and how this could be reflected in our season of work focused on the decade, I kept quiet. We spoke at length about the feeling of the era, the sway of collective consciousness from Thatcher to Major to Blair, from Public to Private ownership and the influence of girl power. In theory, these things are understandable, relatable, documentable and discussable regardless of whether you lived in that time or not but in practice, sat around that table, history, memory and nostalgia all converged into one. Anything I had to say felt like a story from a friend of a friend, a half baked concoction of information that lacked familiarity or fraternity with its subject. 

When this season opens at the end of February, 2017, those who knew the 1990's will recognise within the world we are creating in Tottenham the consciousness of Britain in the 90's, but for me, what I'm excited about is opening a new conversation for my generation, those with little to know memory of that decade. 

Throughout the six weeks of this season we will be inviting 10 young playwrights, one born every year in the 1990's, to become artists in residency at STYX. Working alongside the creative team behind the season and our associated artists, these 10 playwrights will be creating fresh commissions as a response to their concept of the 1990's, and the season in which they are working. I think it's important to recognise where memory and mythology overlap, and to examine where the social memory and historical reality of the era differ. I think this residency programme will go someway towards illuminating this. 

DAN SELLICK

 

It feels like the issues, questions and demands of then are still as relevant now if not more so. 

What was so strange was thinking about the 90’s not just as a time when we were growing up - where the biggest issues in our mind was when The Spice Girls' movie was coming out, but this detachment from what was really happening in the world. Memories were distant of war across the world; glimmering moments of parents with furrowed brows. 

In the three plays within the season violence stalks the stage - complicity and shared responsibility of what is happening now, what has happened and what will happen if we do not act and re-see is at the forefront. It is our job to provoke the audience into seeing past a furrowed brow and show them a glimmer of the horror.

It was the height of shaping our framework of reality, conversations of ‘Friends’ as our understanding of how to behave as a grown up. The beginning of the internet, a fresh time where global events were curated for our understanding, shaping what we knew and didn’t know. It seemed that conversations turned to the fact that the 90’s were the beginning of globalisation as we know it. The era of the ‘I’. How can I emulate the celebrity? How can I forget whats going on with the world? 

To try to construct and examine the place and time that moulded our minds into what they are now through a collective season of playwrights that were the shocking voice of that time is fascinating to see where we can take them. WE CAN’T WAIT!

GRUFF

Conversations about Tottenham by Felix Mortimer

Over the past two weeks we have been part of several conversations which placed us in a conversation about the future of Ashley Road, N17, Tottenham Hale, Tottenham, Haringey and London. These conversations were convened by Haringey Council, Create, Green Rooms Hotel, The Mill Co. Project, LIFT and ourselves. This blog post will evolve with provocations and ideas which were proposed in conversations which represented different subsections of people all with an interest in the future of Tottenham; however that is constituted and defined. 

 Chicken Town on Tottenham Green full of chat after the round table at BGAC

Chicken Town on Tottenham Green full of chat after the round table at BGAC

Tottenham Green (N15) - Round-table at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre (organised by CREATE and Haringey Council)

Organised by Hadrian from CREATE. We gathered in the theatre together with LIFT, Punchdrunk, Block 9, T.H.I.S., The Mill Co. Project, Argent, the GLA, The Barbican, Jackson's Lane, the CEO and Leaders of Haringey Council and assorted artists and makers. The conversation was open, like latter-day knights of the roundtable, we crunched through ideas about gentrification, regeneration and the uncomfortable role of the artist within both.

'Artists are the shock-troops of gentrification' - Grayson Perry

In some moments these tensions rose to the surface, we heard from T.H.I.S. who were trying to engage with the community from their ex-CoE Church, the BGAC and their £500k a year running costs, how I was scared to talk to the housing developers when they came to have pizza at Styx. Many people expressed frustrations at not being linked up, not being visible, or being connected to the council, housing developers and arbiters of change in our community. 

We heard that Haringey is made up of 27.5% 0-19 year olds, and 79.8% ethnic minorities. 

Questions:

How do artists stay secure working communities?

How do artists make their work more visible to those that might benefit?

How do we quantify our value in a way that isn't through money?

How can we come together to create an action or happening which channels the skills of the organisations in the area. 

The meeting was followed by Chicken skin at ChickenTown, conversations about the light in Wood Green and moving to Liverpool. 

 Green Rooms Hotel

Green Rooms Hotel

Wood Green (N22) - Q&A at The Green Rooms Hotel (organised by Placeful and the Mill Co Project)

Quantifying value was core to the conversation at Wood Green's Art Hotel, Green Rooms. Shawn McLearan from New York based social investment organisation Placeful. He started by talking about the mennonites who fit their tractors with steel wheels to ensure their communities stay small as they can only farm a precise area. Through regulating technology they build a stronger community. He also talked about Dan Barber and his vertically integrated farming practices which chart food from manure, through soil, through animals to the table. He emphasised how we should build empathy into how we shape communities. 

The conversation opened into a Q&A, investment, visibility, how space is allocated and how we emerge out of the other end of regeneration and change preserving some of the experiments and excitement which was milled in the meanwhile.

 Photo: Jalaikon for LIFT

Photo: Jalaikon for LIFT

Tottenham Hale (N17) - Open Space discussion (organised by LIFT and STYX)

Jorge led the discussion in a large circle. After introductions, he invited people to suggest provocations which would form the anchor for 90 minutes of discussion. Hugh suggested how does community art stay community-led and scale? George suggested resisting gentrification, I suggested how do we plan an action / celebration together. 

We gathered in groups, I spent most of my time speaking to a man who ran a children's reviewing website about how we define Tottenham, how we define community and the tension between having a representative group and one individual with drive organising the event. 

Coming back together we heard from the groups, and re-introduced ourselves but this time with something we could provoke from others. I then spent some time talking to Hadrian from CREATE and Steve from Block 9 outside. People huddled around the fire. 

Tottenham Hale (N17) - Presentation at STYX (organised by Haringey Council and Argent)

Later in the week, Argent and Haringey Council organised a conversation about workspace provision in the borough. I left this quite early and will get Josh to write a summary. 

Toxic Tour through Slovenia by Felix Mortimer

  Photos: Nada Žgank

Photos: Nada Žgank

In early September I was invited by LIFT (The London International Festival of Theatre) to take a Toxic Tour through Slovenia.

Definition: Toxic Tour

A Toxic Tour is a tour of a natural site which is in danger of encroached on or jeopardised by the activities of humans, the tour takes in the stories of those affected and those affecting the landscape. 

I arrived in Ljubljana late on a Sunday, straight to the Hotel Park, a green hotel in the heart of the city. I bumped into another delegate, turned down an offer of a drink and went straight to bed. The itinerary that met me in my room talked of caves, corncrakes and the human fish. I fell asleep quickly.

Woke up early and stole downstairs. Met Mark from LIFT and got into a car, ended up in a park, had coffee and introduced myself to the other delegates. A wide range of experience and countries were represented including members of ArtsAdmin, Bunker and the organisations that make up the network. I met beekeepers, sound reenactors, students, icicle symphoniers, educators from Ghent, Latvia, Croatia and across Europe. We sat in the dappled light of the garden on stolen benches and learnt about each others practices. Lunch shortly followed in a school cafeteria, where I spoke to a professor at UCLA who worked with my friend Dustin. 

  Photo: Nada Žgank

Photo: Nada Žgank

The afternoon was spent in a small classroom where the head of the botanical garden talked to us about the marshes which we would be visiting the next day. We had another lecture about the corncrake (with an ice cream in between). Many of us were working out how we could artistically respond or react to these situations. After dinner at Bunker the evening we went to see a play in Slovenian which fused Beckett with modern Slovenian politics as the aftermath of a party. 

The next day we woke up at 6am to visit the corncrake in it's natural environment, we illegally steamed up river on a barge, past pontoons where illegal boat parties took place. Disembarking in the middle of the marshes. Sîan recorded with contact mics attached to the hull. We walked into the marshes and talked about monoculture and rice. We saw a kestrel. We hid in a hide and ate sandwiches. We saw a dead bird. We paused to listen to the sounds of the birds. 

  Photo: Nada Žgank

Photo: Nada Žgank

We spent some more time looking for the corncrake and then visited a museum which was dedicated to the river of seven names which scores through eastern europe and ends up in the Black Sea (Trbuhovica, Obrh, Stržen, Rak, Pivka, Unica, and Ljubljanica). The Museum was unfinished and they were yet to mount the world's oldest wheel or the objects found in the river. The museum was in a converted leather factory which once polluted the river so it could not be used. Back on the bus we talked about radio, and slovenian cultural references that I didn't understand in the play. 

Returning to the city, we did a bit of shopping and then had dinner, writing a song. 

The next day was the climax of the trip, a visit to the Planina caves. The caves were the largest in Slovenia, and a complex set of tunnels played host to Italian prisoners trying to bore their way to Austria through the mountains. We set off inside and walked for an hour and a half deep into the cave system, the opening and some of the caves were hundreds of metres tall and the light quickly diminished as we trod the regular path. Eventually we reached the site of four inflatable boats, the photographer and the main party turned round and we clambered aboard these silently rowing further in. The lights from our headlamps catching abstract rock formations under the surface, searching for the almost mythic 'human' fish, which we had learnt about. No eyes. a 100 year life span. Small arms and legs. The colour of human skin. Ony found in these caves and similar ones in Croatia. 

Our boat trip ended after another hour and a half in a cave flanked by stalactites and stalacmites. Our boat was left asunder as we took photos of the human forms shaped by hundreds of years of dripping water. We perfected our rowing technique on the return journey (with the addition of Tony) and spurned on by the promise of sandwiches (and unexpected Schnapps). 

 Human Fish

Human Fish

We relaxed at the mouth of the cave, I ate one too many sandwiches, and drank one too many schnapps. The return journey was warm and as I looked out of the window I listened to a podcast about WW1 and imagined the Italian prisoners. We went out for a drink and I met my friend Joe who had decided to visit from Italy. I missed a talk from a woman who wanted to pro-create with a wolf. We sat by the canal and on a rooftop. We joined the group for the evaluation session. We recited the song. You can listen to a version here. Sasha, a volunteer and expert in the legality of oil pipelines took us to the underbelly of the city. A dilapidated children's playground flanked with alpine inspired bars selling cans for a euro. We sat in a tree house and talked about how to live in a city on €60 a month and how tourists ruin Pula. I imagined living in a city that wasn't London where that might be possible. Do people create more when they need less? Does London create an uncontrollable pace which is spinning out of control?

We then went into town and drank a beer brewed by Human Fish. 

Got back to the hotel. Woke up and spent the next day in blistering heat wandering the city. Others went to Lake Bled. Looked out from castle which overlooks the city. A turret was filled with photographs of the nature we'd seen the day before. I imagined making a performance in it. We ate some trout and hummus and then I went back to the airport. 

Rift in Russia - Part 2 - Moscow by Felix Mortimer

 

The journey back to Moscow was just as long, this time quiet. Rain started. It continued and came down in sheets over cars in the traffic jam. We watched the lighting join the thunder in the sky. Sasha recorded the sound on a small recorder. 

Returning to Moscow. We went to a hostel for a night, seeing English people for the first time in days. In Moscow for a moment. We went to rooftop pizza place and enjoyed a fresh balmy breeze, a view of the city and the smell of wet concrete. An early night. An early morning. We walked in the heat to the air bnb, via an 'English breakfast' of spliced frankfurter, arriving at the air bnb and being shown round by a Babushka wearing grey. Ill-shapen rooms. A wooden giraffe. A piano. Trinkets. A fully-stocked bathroom. A fully-stocked store cupboard. Placards with pictures of children. The entrance smelt like smoking covered with air conditioner and dried on carpet cleaner. The babushka left us and we relaxed walking over to Gorky Park; filled with teenagers, skaters, promotional kiosks for 'Vans' and 'Lays', clay being made, other ceramics. A debate about the use of skateboarding. 

 Statue of Christopher Columbus / Peter the Great in Gorky Park. 

Statue of Christopher Columbus / Peter the Great in Gorky Park. 

Dan joined us early in the morning. He was locked out. An alarm I set for 7am jolted me up and I nudged his sleeping presence up from outside the front door. We walked with Dan through Gorky Park, stopped for a drink. Enjoying the relaxing sunshine, looked at the Garage, discussed his contract and work commitments. After three beers we offered him a job. The next day we met Sasha, he took us to a boat, Andre and Yuri were there and we are cheap Greek food meeting an actor who had performed one-man versions of successful films. Friends with Yuri. Sasha and Yura arranged for us to meet Tatyana the events manager of an imposing modernist building. We dashed through the german expressionist, austere renderings of Lenin and Stalin and emerged at a bankers summer party. 

The next day met Yuri at Stanislavski's house, emerging from the uber we saw Nina, an actor who works with Le Cirque, she took us into the suburban Moscow house, we almost had enough (200 roubles each). Assorted props everywhere and a large security guard instructed us to wear blue overshoes. Up the stairs we saw Stanislavski's parlour, where premiers of Tchaikovsky opera's were performed, a small room with a large leather chair, and a small stage dominated by columns. We visited his study, a handle that students touched for good luck, pictures of Chekhov. Yuri's friend, the choreographer, joined us, Yuri appeared kissing the walls of the house, dashing into the parlour and posing with Stanislavsky.

We started walking to another theatre which was closed. We walked through Red Square, I suggested going for coffee, Yuri told me the story of the Kremlin and him and Sasha's meeting. We dawdled outside a traditional looking restaurant complete with hanging baskets, Yuri had briefly mentioned previously that Ukrainian vodka was his favourite. He took us inside and women in traditional dress sat us outside (slightly outside the range of the wifi). We sat, conversation became stilted, best when deflected into Yuri's hands, he told us about his early years in Italy and pointed out our proximity to the Kremlin and Putin's office, and the irony of a Ukrainian restaurant within spitting distance. We struggled with the menu, he recommended 'dim sum' style dumplings, the rest of the menu looked inedible, when the waitress came he seemed to disregard our order and he spoke to her at length. Quite quickly six bottles of Vodka appeared, along with a warm drink of distilled bread, sweet and brown. Then lots of fish and bread and dumplings. We drank the vodka to a series of toasts all intertwined with bites of food. Conversation became more animated, stretched at its limits. The choreographer went to sit elsewhere (in the wifi), she was dancing that evening. The vodka not chemically but smooth and sweet. We walked for a long time after this, the sun beating down on us, we walked past a memorial of flowers for the leader of opposition to Putin who had been killed by the president of Chechnya, We talked about comparisons with Northern Island. The sun hot in the sky, the roads wide. Darting in between torn up roads, maintained by workers in bucket hats. 

We found our way to Strelka (the design and architecture foundation, who were tearing up the roads), we sat in the air conditioned lounge in a stupor, quietly on our phones drinking fizzy water. Quickly returned to the flat. Then back to Strelka where now acerbic swedish architect was conducting a talk in a lilting americanised accent. Strelka, late, to eat, we sit again downstairs in the air conditioning, awkward again. Yuri disappeared, he comes down grinning, we are sat upstairs, a beautiful view of a sunset. I speak to Elena from the GRAD gallery about Suzdal, Moscow and everything in between.

The sun set slowly in the sky, casting a purple haze over proceedings and the awkward date next to us. I have a long conversation with Alex who has joined us from London about his simple life philosophy. Caesar Salads were eaten. We talked briefly about the project, it has become six towering freight containers. Yuri makes a speech celebrating their desire to find partners from the west, to begin of something. I meet a girl from Kazakstan, she laughs as I tell her about Suzdal and tells me it is in the Russian character to do everything at the last minute.

We leave. Everyone is drunk. Sasha misses his uber. We stumble around. He had never called an uber. We have a day inside doing nothing, preparing slides for our lecture that evening. 

In the evening we make our way to Stelka again in a cab that goes the wrong way. We wait for a bit and then make our way upstairs. We are in a large loft, overlooking the cathedral and the Kremlin. A tall blonde woman is taking photographs with a disinterested air. A thin man with a bright white tee shirt and dyed blonde hair greets us warmly. We sit down, another woman is setting up some decks. We sit for a while and then we look at the view through the drizzle. Sasha is here. We sit until 8 O’Clock. No one has arrived. We mentally prepare ourselves. We are ushered into a back room, on the side there are bottles of whisky from a sponsor. We sit down on camping chairs in a circle and the conversation proceeds largely in English. Yuri enters with a man called Sasha, who is wearing a bright white adidas tracksuit, each of us get up and greet him with a fleeting full bodied handshake; conversation about time, space and Jungian philosophy. We drink the whisky and listen as he tells us about a performance of a Pushkin Opera which he made for a rich group of people with 3D mapping. We are then ushered back into the rooftop space and this time it is filled with people; young muscovite types who work in branding, marketing and account management for alcohol brands. 

We bumble into our presentation, with a lot of faff to broadcast it to an expectant mass online. Showing pictures of our productions and speaking in the staccato english which we have adapted for our russian audience. They look on. We abruptly sit down and take some questions. There appeared to be a genuine interest from many, even those that didn’t understand us our bizarre inflections. Yuri speaks about the piece 'Palace of Youth' that the Russians made in London. We stick around after the party as Sasha’s girlfriend Aglaya was Djing. 

People started going onto the terrace, to see the view, the rain continues. Stealing indoors through the busy kitchen back to the main space. A black woman sits on a bench waiting. People emerge out of backrooms. We decide to go, Yuri introduces me to two girls from St. Petersburg. We left. 

14102955_1441210402563070_170934607188924912_o.jpg

We tried to call an uber; chasing it's ghost around the building without no wifi. We go to Strelka for another drink. We sat and talked over several pints. Sasha and Aglaya joined us for mackeral croquettes. We left. We wandered around this island in the middle of the large river. We stumbled into a club; a grotesque version of an american bar called 'Rolling Stone'. Filled with people. 

We left. We cued, met some people from Cyprus. Lost Dan. Found Dan. Went to a club called Gipsy. Lost Dan. Danced. Found Dan outside absorbed with some older men in suits on a terrace. We walked out. A woman fell flat on her face. We got in a taxi. It cost £18. 

We didn’t do anything the next day. 

Despite saying to Misha we would go cycling. 

We woke up. We headed to a market on the outskirts of Moscow. We ended up in what looked like an unused location for Clockwork Orange. We are stuck outside a hotel, venturing in to ask for a market. Gold. Lavish carpets. Porters with no teeth. They had no idea where the market was. We wandered towards an onion domed building. Not like the ones we had seen in Moscow, some cracked and broken, stylistically clashing with it's self. Crossing a draw bridge we entered a courtyard which felt like a forgotten theme park. One of the turrets was pumping out bass music, there was no one else in sight. We went up the stairs to be met by women who in chorus chimed ‘Good Morning’ when they heard our alien voices. We span round and went back down the steps. 

We walked further into the square, which looked like the child catchers lair, visiting a ceramics shops and learning about milk glaze. Expressing some feigned interest in a fledgling buisness, nothing else was open. Further in eight stalls unfurling, collections of ephemera including Lenin figurines, nuts, bolts, paintings, assorted Russian dolls, further in stalls started to set up. The further we ventured, across wooden gantries ending in soviet era pistols, down stone steps adorned with furry hats, through boulevards of saccharine paintings, we walked for half an hour and on each side we'd wade through silk dresses and wooden toys, fridge magnets of Putin. There seemed to be more traders than tourists. A man sat hunched over a stall arranging a group of 12 bolts. A stall with machine guns hanging from chains. Josh bought a chess set. Dan a hat. I bought a small paint-it-yourself Russian doll. We eat ribs then play chess. Then decide to dare ourselves to find the source of the still booming music. 

Out from a toilet emerged two large women, their chests covered in tattoos, the returned to a room which only contained a dj and one enthusiastic dancer, a man lying on a sofa in a suit. We retreated down the stairs, not quite as fast as before. We return to the ballardian GREAT WESTERN HOTEL and Misha bounded in on a folding bicycle. After some kerfuffle about an uber, we made for a park full of pavilions dedicated to Russian industry: agriculture, textiles, sheep, and places like Ukraine and Belarus. It also houses the science museum and many empty buildings.

We make for the cycle hire, Dan quaking in his boots, (it would later transpire that his last excursion on a bike had ended in a broken wrist and 15 years of cycle phobia.)

Dan valiantly got on the bike. He made it down a straight path, turned with his feet and back again, we all dashed into the park. Past a rocket. Past gold sculptures of workers and grain. Dilapidated buildings. We rode down the lake as it started raining. Misha passing us horseradish vodka he had made. We went to a Japanese garden, it cost 200 roubles. We walked around it and into a pagoda. The rain intensified and we raced through the park, to get to a georgian restaurant, past a cavernous glass space and the closed botanical garden. Soaked we reached a Georgian restaurant. Misha took charge of ordering and soon, we dried off and ate dough parcels of meat and soup, and bread with egg or cheese integrated into it’s structure. We dashed home. Very tired. Cancelled a drinks plan and prepared for our final day. Dan left at 1am. We have a last breakfast with the russians and are rushed to the train tation by Yuri fresh from a 72 hour rave. 

Rift in Russia - Part 1 - Suzdal by Felix Mortimer

 Dashing through the cornfields, Suzdal, Russia

Dashing through the cornfields, Suzdal, Russia

Courtesy of The Arts Council, the British Council and the EU Step Beyond Fund, Felix and Josh (along with Dan and Alex also of RIFT) spent the last ten days in Russia developing ideas for a collaboration with Russian company Le Cirque De Charles Le Tannes. Felix and Josh were hosted by company members Sasha, Yuri and Misha and split their time in Russia between Suzdal and Moscow. We spent this time developing ideas and fact-finding about a piece they want to create in Russia in collaboration with Le Cirque called ‘Palace of Youth’. Felix continues the story with this, the first in a series of two blog pieces outlining their trip.

We were met off the intimidatingly rusty train in Moscow by Sasha our erstwhile guide. Shades of Eastern Europe and Albania echoed through the architecture and gave clues to this country which we grew to become increasingly curious about; the culture, ideas and ambitions not entirely dissimilar to our own but refracted from what we expected. 

Driving through the wide Moscow streets, the Cyrillic alphabet, bombastic architecture set the tone for the rest of the trip. We arrived at the small flat that was used as Sasha's company Playtronica's office. Sparsely decorated, fronted by a steel double door, a couple of mattresses were strewn on the floor along with piles of electronic equipment and a board adorned with post it notes setting out a plan for that company which extended their reach far west. 

We left he flat quickly and skipping over torn up pavement, which we would later learn was a renovation across the city for which Sasha's Playtronica mate Andrea was responsible. We walked down the garden ring (a circular road lined with trees) to Hermitage Gardens. A large outdoor bar spilled onto manicured lawns. We ordered mackerel sandwiches and beers and sunk into the balmy Moscow evening. Later we met Aglaya, Sasha's girlfriend at an art exhibition and made our way to a small bar in a converted motorcycle repair shop. Next door a sparse wine bar accessible only by RFID card. 

Conversation lurched from graphic design to London's cultural dominance, the rise of craft breweries and the performance which was staged in London. Sasha and Aglaya knew many of the people crowded into the car park, in the wine bar Aglaya showed us some hand drawn wavy lines which later appeared on banknotes and tattooed onto her arm. 

Returning home, a hot night on the sofa, at 3am a loud banging continued for hours. Andre, the owner of the flat had been locked out after filming in Siberia. Our first Russian faux pas. 

The next morning, a walk, then a coffee and a chat with Andre about his time at Bristol University and working for the BBC as a fixer, at the design institute that was digging up the roads, Strelka, and now freelance for Sasha's music project Playtronica. Despite not quite being able to read the Russian character we think he forgave us for the hour that he spent banging on the door of his own flat. 

Later that day, we set off to Suzdal, a small town 8 hours away from Moscow. Piling into Sasha's car we steamed out of Moscow past monuments and listening to esoteric jazz, we stopped briefly chocolate once, but eventfully made it to a large house in a small town complete with Russia's oldest Kremlin and many onion dome churches. 

 Aglaya in Suzdal

Aglaya in Suzdal

We settled into the house quickly, welcomed warmly by Lena and Vladimir, her sister and family. We were constantly given food and a place to stay above the winter fire complete with babushka doll. The town, geared up for tourists, was filled with souvenir shops, a large parade of souvenir tents and cafes. The biggest influence on the town was the eight or ten churches which flanked a beautiful river. We swam many times in the river which ran through it's hear and undoubtably was just as attractive to visiting nobles and clergymen when the city was first founded as it was for us in 2016. As darkness descended Yuri texted Sasha telling him that the performance would start at midnight, we made our way to the site of the house, a commune in the middle of nowhere next to a fishing lake where Андри Попов had his base. 

Inherited from a russian landowner who had no need for it the several adhoc buildings, an outdoor kitchen and two houses the floors filled with sleeping bags, matts, children with no parents scuttled around our knees accompanied by kittens all scorched by the sun. Andrei Popov placed himself at the centre of proceedings greeting us abruptly; bronzed. Most furniture was refashioned from benches which we were told by the family we were staying with was produced by Popov for the streets of Moscow. Benches with paintings splashed on them. That sold for hundreds, here they’d been repurposed the kitchen tables, beds, walls. We spent hours here lying around blending in with the itinerant artists and students who poured through the house, waiting expectantly for some kind of purpose. 

Returning to Suzdal, the family gathered us for a meal of soup, black-bread and fish, conversation was sped along stilted but jovial. After a brief respite we were joined by another family and Vladimir began to prepare another dinner: a barbecue. Was the other dinner a pre-dinner? How many meals a day do Russians eat? We sat around with plastic plates drinking wine out of disposable glasses which were later washed, without warning, the family who didn't speak much English broke into song. Looking at Sasha, had the performance begun? Was this all for us? Was this some kind of test an experiment? Our glasses were charged with honey cognac and the singing, a traditional set of drinking songs in A minor key continued. After dinner we learned this family toured the 86 cities in the UK. 

We waited around until we were summoned to an anonymous meeting place next to what looks like an old train station. We drove deep into the night, and gathered, like the beginning of a happening. A large van arrived the anonymous mass of girls poured out, heartily waiting and then hiking into the night.

We gathered at the bottom of a valley, all clutching a small wax candle, similar to one you might light in a cathedral. The flame bestowed on us by Andrei Popov, the gathered to watch a girl wearing white sing, she sang and we looked at the crowd bathed in a soft balmy light. Eventually she made her way down to a beach, now exposed by our shared light, the fragile image shattered by Andrei and assorted teenage helpers gathering a canoe which the singing figure occupied a huge flame billowed and as she sang she disappeared the soft light of the Flames eclipsed by the far away beams of passing cars. Expectation peaked. What was next? Andrei Popov explained the piece in Russian, we were in the shadow of the second church in Russia. We walked back to the car, everyone looked around, we were joined by Yuri's friend, who we were introduced to as the choreographer, Yuri urged us to be quiet as his children were sleeping in the car. The woman's face was frantic, and her eyes wide.

 

We got back in the car after waiting, returning to the house we agreed to stay awake until the next instalment, due for 3am. We sat with Lena slumped on the table. We soon abandoned returning.

In the morning, a scene was set for 7am, we strolled around the town again, at midday making our way to the house. We set off again. This time gathering at a corn field and gathering an adolescent couple as hitchhikers. Many photographers documented every moment. We stole through the corn. Directed by Yuri we sat on the sharp ends of sythed corn, loud electronic music started. Women in the image of soviet realist paintings started flailing and then gathered corn. We watched. Photographers snapped. 

 In a field in Suzdal. 

In a field in Suzdal. 

 

Getting back in the car, we wobbled through fields, chased other cars, observed sets falling off vans, one of the hitchhikers started groping his teenage girlfriend. She pushed his hand away firmly. 

We rode along the large empty roads as the stark landscaped peeled out in front of us, a black Nissan pulled up next to us, Yuri, many women in the back seat, including the choreographer. He blasting out rap and nodding along, we mimed shooting each other as he sped ahead blindly overtaking the two vans in front. Suddenly everyone was gone. 

We stalked through small villages trying to trace Andrei Popov and his hotchpotch crew. We wobbled up and down fields, the scrape of the ground against the chassis of the car, we made our way down to the river, a local swimming spot on the opposite side. A call to Yuri, his 4x4 kicking up dirt as it overtook us again making our way to the wrong place. When we found where everyone had stripped down to underwear or swimming costumes and were standing nonchalantly around waiting. Eventually, almost without instruction, and after throwing all our possessions into the back of the car we lurched down a sandbank into the brown river surging by next to us.

Forty or fifty people including the family we were staying with and all the actors trod water, waiting. The water a relief from the temperatures which would later cause some heat stroke. Some splashed each other, others began gently paddling. Loosened from possession and identity, we became a mass. A long way from home I thought, deep in an alien country but levelled with creativity and curiosity. The current surged and many just floated, people with red hats, people calm, people religious, people flirting and splashing. The sons of the the family we stayed with asserting their macho template while Andrei Popov surveyed. Behind us four actors sang, their muscovite hair cuts the only thing separating them from the generations who had also swum here. As we drifted the women we were staying with also started singing, a surreal bi focal soundtrack. As we approached the bank Andrei Popov knelt in the water greeting the audience members as we left. 

On the shore, Sasha and Yuri were gone. Lying on the sharp ground shoots of corn dug into my back. Later boards of wood were pulled out and the benches formed a platform for fruit which Sasha calmly played providing a needed injection of energy and spontaneity to a lagging non event.  

 Playtronica 

Playtronica 

This was accompanied by a indulgent performance: groups of couples spiralled, swirled, shoaled and mirrored clad in white. A descenting man in blue shorts expressed his personality through throwing grass in the faces of his companions. 

As Sasha played a woman began pawing the ground, he limbs becoming raw against the sharp earth. We tried to talk to her and then she walked off into the middle of the bare scorched field. I have Yuri some water to give to her, he response unexpectantly blissful.  She wasn't identified and it was clear where she came from or went.

We clambered back into the car this time joined by two performers. Neither students. One without pants and one in a footwell. We stopped for a drink at a small shop disguised as a house. The shop filled with drinks and a bottle of coke only cost 43p.

Back to the house. Emptier. Children playing with kittens. Alcohol and drugs forbidden. Smoking weed out the front. Rows of chairs in a field. A fire. This was when Sasha made his balloons. Helped by a Portuguese anarchist who smelled strongly of stale sweat and sculler around after us for the next portion of the evening with a disregard for the performance.

 Balloon-making

Balloon-making

More people gathered, Andrei entertained glamorous men and glamorous wives who had arrived in sports cars. Holding court. More people trickled in, a note of exasperation, we formed a chain to pile bricks on the back of a truck. We travelled again to field. This time we were greeted by a naked boy smeared in clay. 

The boy was a gate keeper to Yuri's performance we trapped across the field. Many more people wearing only clay. Their nudity nothing, the art primarily and sharply coming into focus as we wrapped ribbons around their necks, Yuri stood in the centre directing.

 Yura

Yura

A PA system assembled. Sasha wanted to return to the house to finish balloons, the sun began to set. The roads had a different identity in the dark, we saw local people gathering on the side of the road with vodka and firecrackers. Shouting after the cars, too fancy, too disruptive. Couples met next to the town hall, in a town with one shop. Teenagers with boxer braids. Blonde Boys with angry looks in their eyes. We got back to the house, picked up the Portuguese anarchist and the helium and made our way back, our route obscured. As we arrived back the performance had finished and the group around it melted back towards the cars. More milling ensued. We ate some crisps. We waited for a while on the bridge with some of the performers considering whether to drive 30km to another stop. We decided to have dinner. Portuguese anarchist still in tow, along with other stragglers who thought we knew where we were going. We went to a Bavarian style chalet, out of place on a b-road deep in the mass of Russian countryside. Two people were outside smoking. Going inside it was completely empty aside from a granny mannequin sitting next to a computer playing the worse kind of euro techno. 

We sat, a mild tension passed over the conversation, should we eat or seek out more performance which wasn't made for us or even for anyone to see. In search of meaning. A spectacle to bring people together. To be seen. After eating a pot of meat and potatoes smothered in dill and mayo. We returned to the river to help to assemble clay ovens in the pitch black, then choosing to return home instead of smoking with Yuri and co at the commune. We stole past a bonfire on our way back to bed as Babushka's flew through the air. 

Waking up in the morning Yuri had prepared a meeting with a local Buisness man and Andrei Popov. We ate with the family, who showed us their extensive ceramic creations and then we went to the town to eat. We left after meeting a sausage magnate, seeing Yuri and talking about Rasputin. We set off for Vladimir, a town close. It was so hot we shelter in a bank for air conditioning. Having lunch in a gold lined restaurant Moscow beckoned. 

International Residencies: Part 1 by Felix Mortimer

monica

For the first two weeks of our International Residency programme we were joined by Monica, an actress with the Italian Company Lenz Fondazione and also Lilian Robl and Annabell Lachner who are artists from Germany. All three came with ideas ready to explore and jumped straight into working on their pieces. Monica told us the story of a man named Bruno Longhi. He was a rebel, fighting against the fascists in WW2, who upon being kidnapped and tortured was never seen again. Leading the audience around the space Monica used both Italian and English to tell us Bruno’s story, reaffirming that what he did with his life was so much more important than the bad things that happened to him. Lilian and Annabell presented a live art piece in which they explored internet and media obsessions. Fusing live art with spoken word and projection, they challenged themselves in a way they had never done before – performing in front of an audience.

It was an exciting two weeks for all involved, as our first iteration of the residency programme it was amazing to see it all finally come together and to see the incredible work that all three produced.

Meet the team: Conor by Felix Mortimer

I’m Project Managing the development of RIFT’s outdoor space. We are creating a space that will connect the local community with the new performance space. At the moment we have a huge empty concrete yard, in two month’s time we will have a beautiful community resource including edible garden, wildflower meadow, recycled pallet seating and bar/cafe, Saturdaymarket, performance and exercise areas, and bees! 

I came to be leading this project with RIFT via a long non-linear path taking in degrees in Psychology and Environmental Sustainability, jobs in Autism Specialist Schools and Oxfam Scotland, camping in Argentina and volunteering in Kenya, a failed messiah complex and a whole lot of barstool philosophising.

Meet the team: Chloe by Felix Mortimer

Hello, I'm Chloe. 

What I do: I'm a freelance director and I'm a junior producer with RIFT. Currently I'm helping Francesca with Shakespeare in Shoreditch, and putting my stationary fetish to good use by organising the office.

What else: I graduated from Cambridge last year, where I studied History. 

Excitingly my full name is a sentence ... Chloe May Storm France.

Meet the team: Felix by Felix Mortimer

felix

I run RIFT with Josh. Together we decide where we're going to steer the energy of the company. Usually it's into telling stories. At the moment it's a lot to do with best mobilising 5 Ashley Road and making it a destination for Tottenham and London. 

I'm also a big fan of the LIDL cheese twist. 

Meet the team: Hilary McCool by Felix Mortimer

 Hilary from the kitchen flat in Balfron Tower. 

Hilary from the kitchen flat in Balfron Tower. 

Hilary Mc Cool has worked across multiple aspects of both theatre and film appearing on stage and screen as well as producing and supporting work behind the scenes.  She has also researched, workshopped and assisted in the development of new and devised work; which is a particular interest, as well as involvement on more formal productions.  She is a milliner and costumiere who is always willing to explore new challenges.  She has an interest in clown and is also a burlesque.  For her the show is the thing and what it takes to make it work.

International Residencies by Felix Mortimer

 Anne and Vera, The Netherlands

Anne and Vera, The Netherlands

Today we spoke to several artists from across Europe about getting them over to London to start our international residency programme in Tottenham. We're giving them the chance to come to London to explore their practice, Tottenham, London and the theatre landscape.

It should be a really valuable thinking space and network for these international artists. 

If you are interested in applying to our rolling open call - please apply here  - or share this with others who might be interested in joining us:

http://www.r-ft.co.uk/residency/ 

 Ana, Portugal / Berlin

Ana, Portugal / Berlin

 Ricardo, Portugal

Ricardo, Portugal

 Sasha, Russia

Sasha, Russia

Meet the team: Annie by Felix Mortimer

I’m simultaneously shed woman and Francesca’s helper for Shakespeare in Shoreditch. During the first festival in October I sat in a shed writing tiny little plays and chatting to YouTube about how I was writing tiny little plays. You can read them at www.annies1000plays.com if you like!

I did drama at Manchester and graduated in 2013. I’m currently avoiding redrafting my real length play. 

 

Meet the team: Francesca by Felix Mortimer

My name is Francesca and I am the Projects Producer for RIFT

My primary role is producing the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival. The Festival reconnects the Shoreditch that the young playwright worked in with its 21st centurary counterpart. Shoreditch has an incredibly rich cultural history and yet most people only think of the area for its flat whites. We work with writers and enourage them to be inspired by Shakespeare's universal stories to see how they are relevant to Shoreditch today. Last years Festival saw 10 plays being performed in 10 venues across Hoxton with 100s of people coming to films, talks and workshops over the course of 10 days. This year's Festival promises be even more exciting....

After studying English at University I was worked as a freelance director and performer, primarily with devising companies. I was involved in lots of residencies and at one point I was running workshops for the NHS. I gradually fell in to producing as I always wanted to see the bigger picture and be involved the creative process from the very start. Between projects I used to run away and volunteer on farms to get muddy and listen to episodes of Desert Island Discs. I accidentally moved to London when I started working with RIFT but the more time I spend here the more I like it. 

Meet the team: Josh! by Felix Mortimer

Who I am: Joshua Nawras / Uri

What do I do: 

I co-founded RIFT with Felix Mortimer, I am RIFT's creative producer. With Felix I shape the direction of RIFT and oversee the production of our projects. I often take a lead on set design, physical production and the build of our projects. In the run up to a production can often be found looking sleep deprived in dungarees with a power-tool.

What else have I do: 

I have helped to set up and run several large scale events and music festivals, I've produced performances in London, Edinburgh and for UK tours, I have at times performed in various production, acted with the RSC and toured the states. I also like bicycles and lego. 

Email Josh@r-ft.co.uk

Meet the team: Dan Thompson! by Felix Mortimer

Hi! I’m Daniel and I am currently working with RIFT as a Junior Producer and I am co-ordinating the 2015 International Residency Programme. Having graduated from a Theatre Arts degree last year I have jumped straight into the industry joining RIFT during Macbeth last year. Since then I have also worked with CoLab Theatre on their debut production Fifth Column. I am currently working on a trilogy of shows that blur the lines between gaming and theatre, allowing audiences to take part in real life video games.

A brief trip to Birmingham by Felix Mortimer

On Thursday 18th March - Josh and I visited the heartland of the Midlands - Birmingham - to spend the day exploring ideas around Digital Art courtesy of the Arts Council / BBC project The Space. 

The day was shaped around two panel discussions - the first exploring the most innovative digital projects showcased on The Space, the second: Failure. 

We played on Oculus Rift, Minecraft and bumped into a lot of pals. All in all a good day.