2016 – Goodbye to all that?

There’s been a lot of dismay at the events of 2016.   The deaths of David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, the dramatic political events of BREXIT and that US election result … we lived it, we’ve all been there. But, the dismay is a rather over-stated I feel.

Take time to reflect on this bubble.  There have been worse years.

Look up and look out!

Imagine the horror of populations facing the onslaughts in Aleppo?   What was it like for those who faced Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane?   What about the terror experienced by populations in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas facing invasion and genocide from the 16th C onwards?  Let’s face it, the British in India were hardly civilised and still fail to acknowledge that the benefits they have today spring from the looting of the 200 years priotr to 1947.

Again, the list is long.   I don’t buy the convenient focus on one year and one part of the world.   It maintains selfish Eurocentrism and trashes the achievements and aspirations of billions who live outside that bubble.

I have some suggestions based on the efforts I’m making daily to escape such narrowness and negativity.

Think about what you could do to prevent the awfulness you’ve diagnosed – it doesn’t have to be big

A combination of small, simple actions can change things – be kinder, think about your fellow human beings, do more for the communities you live in, escape consumerist traps (you don’t really NEED that smartwatch/internet enabled fridge etc) and focus on the many positive things that are happening.

Perhaps things like BREXIT and Trump happen because of the failure to connect, because of the bubbles people live in and choose to attack others from?   Dismay can become a self-perpetuating pool of despondency.   Negativity breeds negativity.

Negativity can become a self-sustaining spiral.   Once you start down that path it can be hard to stop.   Look up – look out.   There is a wider world.   Embrace it.

On a personal level it’s been a year of exciting challenges.   Work has been all-consuming, as has a longer term ‘life’ project.   Both have been immensely rewarding.

Work

I have the great privilege to be part of the small team at Talawa Theatre Company, one of the UK’s leading theatre companies.   We have produced and performed work at the National Theatre as well as the main houses of large regional theatres like the Royal Exchange Manchester, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, the New Wolsey in Ipswich etc.

2016 was our ‘King Lear year’ – planning began in 2015 and rehearsals in 2016.   The results created an unstoppable rollercoaster – sold out shows across the entire 9 weeks of the run, blanket 4 and 5 * reviews, a film of the stage production which hit BBC iPlayer (June to September), followed by free nationwide screenings, and a broadcast on BBCFour on Christmas Day.

In June 2016 we had a three week long Festival of new work – Talawa Firsts.   In August 2016 we commenced rehearsals for a brand new devised show – no script, no set, nothing … leaving the cast and company to create something by supporting them with a small budget.   The results astounded everyone who came to see HATCH, the TYPT: 16 show from Talawa’s young people’s company which played at Hackney Showroom to sold out and hugely appreciative audiences in early September.

Of course, at Talawa we’ve started plannng ahead for 2017 (and 2018 / 2019 – when we will have a three month West End Season and wrap around Festival of new work).   I’ll save the details for the press announcements!

Life

Alongide King Lear, I was part of a very small team running a local arts festival in my community.   Given that we use the Church and a local Community Centre, the Festival has to take place before Easter each year.

Organising the Festival is a hugely time-consuming task – the equivalent of taking on a full-time job – all voluntary.  This year, we secured the support of Goldsmiths, a globally recognised arts university on our doorstep.   We also generated more sponsorship than ever before, secured a much higher profile for the Festival among local people and – despite every effort to spend money – ended up making a significant surplus!

With a lot of effort, the festival is finally engaging with everyone.   But all the hard work was made harder with Easter being unusually early in 2016, pushing everything into two weeks in early March.   We did it all the same.   We created the most successful festival so far with a greater and more diverse local audience and participating body than before, and with events peppered across the whole of Spring.

The effort we all put in, of spending time to talk with local people who felt discouraged from taking part, paid off.   More people were engaged by and with the Festival in 2016, and especially looking ahead to 2017, there will be more again.

But a more important life project has also been taking place.   My mother died in unexplained circumstances 25 years ago.   With the help of my (then) local MP, Simon Hughes and the FCO, we were able to establish some of the circumstances of her death.   That we were not close by when she died, and that we didn’t find out till some time after her death was a source of deep hurt and upset to our family.   You have to continue with life – you have to.   I don’t know how we all did.   We just did.

Throughout the 90s and noughties my career involved taking on ever more senior and strategic roles within the corporate sector.   With the mortgage paid off in 2010 and an increasing sense that I needed to reappraise my life, and fast, I changed the way I work.

I began my project to explore more about the life of my family, with my family.   It’s ongoing.   And it’s very rewarding.   And in tandem I also do a heck of a lot for my local community.

I am happier, a little more, day by day, but it’s an ongoing piece of work.  A recent trip to India, joining the ancestral dots, made a huge difference.  Seeing where my mother died helped a little too.   I may have been born elsewhere, a product of a culture from even further away, but I am defiantly here to stay.

I hold to my life lessons – work hard, live modestly, enjoy yourself, don’t fall for the rat race of consumerist competitiveness, do more for the community, continue to be sensitive to people around you … be a decent human being.   It’s what my mother would have wanted, and it also makes me happier.   Try it, it can’t hurt.

Here are some images of what 2016 meant to me: