Art and action merge at Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2013

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How far does the growing reach and influence of multinational corporations impact on human rights? What kind of crafted image are we creating online and how does this affect who we really are? What does it take to be a positive role model for a child of the 21st century?

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Art and action merge in a series of audacious, unpredictable and vivid performances that tackle these questions and more during this year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas (23 October – 3 November).
On 26 October, Amnesty International Queen Mary Law Professor Alan Dignam and Cambridge’s Menagerie Theatre Company team up to explore the human rights consequences of the global expansion of private power during their début theatre workshop, Private power in public spaces: a corporate human rights workshop.
Hosted by Dr Stephanie Palmer from the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, the workshop uses forum theatre dramatisations to look at the growing reach and influence of multinational corporations, and the consequences for human rights.
This is not a performance in which to sit back and relax. It offers the audience a chance to get involved in the debate, to share perceptions, questions and potential answers to the problems raised. Focussing on human rights, the workshop unpicks the social, cultural, political forces at play within real-life scenarios and aims towards informed solutions to overturn the democratic deficit with this fun, engaging and imaginative approach to addressing these thorny questions.
Commenting on the event, Professor Dignam, said: “This project aims to explore the nature of private power in a novel way integrating academic research on the corporate exercise of power with dramatisation. The project will explore the growth of the zone of private power and whether private power raises public accountability issues, which are significantly different than the state’s exercise of public power.
“It’s not often you get the chance to bounce on a spacehopper while attempting to prevent human rights abuse. We’re expecting the audience to participate, engage and possibly change the world.”
Patrick Morris, Director at Menagerie Theatre Company said: “This is a unique collaboration between academia, activism and the arts. The workshop asks very simple, but hard-hitting human rights questions and invites participants to think imaginatively. Without giving it all away, they’ll find that their ideas can be brought to life in a very direct fashion!”
On the same day, a workshop, led by a panel of experts, will investigate how the internet is changing the way we relate with one another and what it means to be human: A collective out of body experience? New technologies like Facebook and Twitter invite us to part and parcel up pieces of ourselves and share them in virtual spaces. If ‘all the world is a stage,’ as Shakespeare wrote, then what kind of stage is emerging online?
This event will delve into the role that theatre can play in answering some of these questions, particularly in comparing the embodied performance (theatre) and the disembodied performance (social media) and the effects on our sense of identity. Speakers include playwrights Stacey Gregg and Gary Owen, Marcia Karp (psychodramatic therapist),and Adam Wood (StoptheCyborgs, campaign group against googleglasses). The event is part of the Digital Bridges project at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), in collaboration with the Watford Palace Theatre, and will be chaired by Dr Kathleen Richardson (anthropologist of robots and online social media).
Dr Richardson said: “Increasingly the offline world has become a source of data for a life lived increasingly online. As we spend more time online, what is happening to our body and sense of self offline? What does it mean for the way we fall in love, build friendships, maintain family and work relationships when we are increasingly absent? Are we having a collective out of body experience? New technologies are generating novel kinds of ‘performances’ between participants, but performances that dispense with a speaking feeling sensing co-present audience.
“Much like theatre, the digital world is a reflection, a double and a copy – albeit a distorted copy because images and representations are only available to us as a reduced copy (a site without all the senses engaged) as opposed to the theatre. One consequence of these trends is that people increasingly become actors to perform in the virtual world, which impacts on the sense of self in a locality and the present. Various digital trends encourage people to leave the local/present for a life more fulfilling somewhere else – internet dating, gaming, music sharing, social networking are all examples of these trends. This workshop will explore the idea of embodied performance of the theatre versus the disembodied performance of social networking.”
On 30 October, winner of a Fringe First 2013 award, Bryony Kimmings gives a highly provocative performance in Bryony Kimmings: credible, likeable, superstar role model.
In a daring and chaotic protest against the world’s flagrant attempts to sexualise and commodify childhood for profit, award-winning performance artist Kimmings and her nine-year old niece Taylor take on the global tween machine at its own game.
Taylor invented a dinosaur-loving, bike-riding, tuna pasta eating alternative popstar called Catherine Bennett and Bryony promised to embody her, do everything that Taylor told her to and make her famous. This is their show, expect heavy weaponry and matching Laura Ashley outfits, for those into impossible feats, shouting from rooftops and sticking up for the little guy.
“This isn’t just a piece of theatre, it’s a call to arms against those who profit from selling thongs to children. It also happens to be an entertaining hour that is cool, funny, heartwarming and infectiously optimistic too” – Lyn Gardner – The Guardian
During the first day of the Festival (23 October), international trailblazers Forced Entertainment’s latest performance, ‘Tomorrow’s Parties’, imagines a multitude of hypothetical futures, such as the possibility of the world being only one gigantic city, or people living underground, or war as a sporting or entertainment event. Two performers wreathed in coloured lights, like a strange fairground attraction, speculate about what tomorrow might bring and intrigue audiences to question and imagine.
Exploring utopian and dystopian visions, science fiction scenarios, political nightmares and absurd fantasies, the audience is carried along on a flowing tide of conjectures, possibilities and dreams. Sometimes collaborative, sometimes competitive the two performers enjoy the pleasure of invention as their suppositions take them in different directions. Tomorrow’s Parties is Forced Entertainment in intimate and comical mode – a playful, poignant and at times delirious look forwards to futures both possible and impossible.
Forced Entertainment’s trademark collaborative devising process has made them pioneers of British avant-garde theatre and earned them an international reputation.
Tim Etchells, Forced Entertainment Artistic Director said: “Shifting through science fiction scenarios and half-baked idiosyncratic fantasies of what’s to come, to the familiar terrors and dreams we get daily via the news, the performance jumps from angle to angle, weighing up the different stories we tell ourselves about where we might be headed. At the heart of this game, we get to see the two performers very clearly, moment by moment, taking turns, competing, riffing off each other, out-doing each other and at times supporting each other.”
Terry O’Connor, Founder Member of Forced Entertainment and performer in Tomorrow’s Parties, also commented: “What I like about the piece is that the meanings aren’t very fixed and each of the suggestions about the future shimmer with possibilities.”
In Quantum2 on 27 October, dance, music and film interact using body tracking camera technologies and bespoke sensing environments to expand our understandings of the interrelationship between the body and its environment, between science and art, culture and nature.
This event is led by composer Dr Richard Hoadley, Senior Lecturer in Music at Anglia Ruskin University, and Turning Worlds Dance Company choreographer, Jane Turner. It is supported by Arts Council England and presented by Anglia Ruskin University.
Richard and Jane said: “For us, the amazing technological possibilities that enable dancers’ bodies, through interacting with digital sensors, to create musical notation and thus instantaneous live music, echoes that hard-to-get-your-head round truth at the heart of the universe, that matter is also energy. Art and Performance are similarly created from smoke and mirrors, beautiful bodies and odd ideas, substance and transience….. And hopefully we convey this in Quantum2.”
Further theatre and performance-based events taking place during the Festival include:
New Cambridge writers Poets vs rappers (24 October). Take three poets and three rappers. Take away the music, the props, bands and beats and leave their words. Give them 15 minutes each on stage and let the audience decide who the true lyricists really are.
Malik – a performance by George the poet (25 October). George the Poet is a spoken word performer, public speaker, writer and recording artist from north-West London. At twenty-two, he offers social commentary through poetry, drawing on his life in the inner city as well as the Politics, Psychology and sociology course he studied at the University of Cambridge.
While you wait (26 October – 3 November). A series of podcasts created by artists in collaboration with academics from King’s college London, installed in a bespoke listening station in the Faculty of Law foyer.
The Magic Flute (29 October). A showcase of some of Cambridge’s finest vocal and instrumental talent. This is an opportunity to experience a rare ADC performance of Mozart’s score with its original crowd-pleasing intentions and sense of theatrical spectacle.
Crossing the language barrier: bringing Greek drama to the contemporary stage (30 October). Two members of the Cambridge Greek Play team talk about the challenges of bringing ancient Greek drama to the contemporary stage.
Wonders of the Night (31 October). Drawing a salt circle around the chaos of Halloween, FLACK presents an evening of scientific, literary and musical perspectives on the idea of night. Where else are you going to find a filmmaker, biographer, astronomer, performance poet and a neuro-scientist on the same bill?
This year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas is bursting with over 200 events for people of all ages. Those taking part include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, artist Quentin Blake, author MJ Hyland, columnist Owen Jones, George the Poet, teen writer Anthony McGowan, comedian James Mullinger and academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans.
The Festival, which runs from 23rd October to 3rd November, was the first public engagement initiative by a UK university to bring together an extensive programme of public events exploring the arts, humanities and social sciences. Events are held in lecture halls, theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge and entry to most is free.
Malavika Anderson, the Festival of Ideas Coordinator, said: “The Festival of Ideas has grown significantly over the last few years, in terms of both the number as well as the diversity of events on offer. We were delighted to have hosted over 14,000 visitors at the festival in 2012 and look forward to welcoming even more over 12 days this autumn. The theme this year – Frontiers, which explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world – has inspired the development of some truly exciting events.”
The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University, who also organise events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums, RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival’s media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and its hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel.

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