World Stages London is the first time a group of London theatres have worked together. It may be surprising but it’s true.
By luck, we chose our moment well. When we began four years ago, we sensed – within the small world of London theatre – a spirit of collegiality in the air. We talked to almost every theatre in town. It felt as though they’d been waiting for someone to suggest something like this.
What were we looking for? Generosity, ambition, friendship. A willingness to explore the possibility that together we could achieve things impossible on our own. Everyone had experienced a longing to produce a particular show – or to work in a particular way – which for one reason or another they couldn’t achieve. So a group of us decided, just for once, to act together.
Over months of conversation, ideas and then themes emerged. Should we do one huge show together? What would give coherence to the work we made? Was coherence even necessary? As things have turned out, we are a core group of eight: Battersea Arts Centre, the Bush, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Royal Court, Sadler’s Wells, Somerset House, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Young Vic. And we’ve been joined by the Actors Touring Company, Kneehigh, The Opera Group, Wildworks and King’s College London.
The theme that binds us is London: London in the world, the world in London. Together we are creating a season of shows each of which draws on one of the great cultural traditions which together make up the most cosmopolitan city in the world. And each show is a further collaboration with a company or an artist of the country from which the story – in each case what we’re calling a ‘deep’ story – originally came. So we’re working with theatres in Paris, Munich, Tallinn, Brussels, Boston and Haifa as well as artists from Cuba, Brazil, the USA, India, China, South Africa and Nigeria.
Why can’t people from different parts of the world work together? The reason most often given is: language. At the heart of World Stages London is a retelling of the story of Babel – but it’s a Babel in reverse. Four of the World Stages partners are together creating a pan-London community show which, we hope, will bring together more Londoners with more mother-tongues than have ever before made a collective work of art.
World stories for a world city in London in Spring 2012.
David Lan and Nicola Thorold, co-directors of World Stages London.