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Annet Henneman - The Radio: Voices from the Territories of Conflict

When theatre director Annet Henneman came to Glasgow in the summer of 2012, she and her international collective of activists and performers that form her Teatro di Nascosto (Hidden Theatre) company worked with refugees from Sri Lanka, Africa and Kurdistan to create a new performance piece. Created over several days of improvisation, and using techniques inspired by Polish theatrical guru, Jerzy Grotowski, Refugee School was devised with Henneman leading a group who couldn't speak each other's language, but who went on to create a series of presentations that enabled them to find common ground by acting out and sharing their stories.

By the end of the first day of what was an understandably emotional experience for all involved, the group, who had only met hours before, were dancing in unison to recordings of Kurdish music. For those involved, it was both a relief and a joy to indulge in such seemingly simple pleasures which they'd previously been denied prior to their flights from their respective countries.

Three and a half years on, and with the world in the midst of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War as thousands upon thousands of Syrians seek sanctuary, Henneman's plight to change people's lives through their own stories has intensified even more. As has too her methodology of what she calls theatre reportage, a technique which mixes theatre and journalism to try and create a deeper understanding between people living under oppressive regimes and with people in the west.

The result of this is The Radio: Voices from the Territories of Conflict, an online initiative that aims to host testimonials and reportage from those still living in areas of global conflict. These stories will then be translated, interpreted and presented in English, Italian and Arabic languages by actors, where they will sit along an ever-expanding archive of films, music, field recordings and interviews with both those living in war zones and those who escaped them.

“I hear stories every day,” Henneman explains of some of the thinking behind The Radio, “and in a way, people living at the frontline of war are so much more isolated than refugees. I see people who want to stop Isis, but who don't leave their country, because they have a dream for their daughters to be free.

“I hear that all over the world, and these stories need to be heard at a deeper level, whether it is one of our actors in Beirut telling the audience what it is like to be a Palestinian woman having a baby, or actors in London telling the story of what it is like to go to school in Palestine. There are stories and songs that can be shared in a way that they can't in the person's own country, which may ban open broadcasting, or where there is only an hour of electricity a day. The Radio can be a platform beyond all of that.”

The Radio was launched in October of this year at a two-day event in Volterra, Italy. As well as screenings and live broadcasts of performances, the event also featured a mini conference, in which Henneman and others discussed the ideas behind Theatre Reportage.

Attending the event was Carrie Newman, the UK-based director who first came into contact with Henneman in 2011 through her work with Glasgow Theatre Arts Collective, and who was instrumental in bringing Henneman to Scotland.

“Annet isn't just a director,” Newman says, “but is a conductor who brings together the various expertise of each individual and their narratives to create theatre that strips away the theatrics in order to re-sensitise the performer and the audience, and democratises the space.”

For The Radio, Newman is operating more in a journalistic capacity, a role which has given her a different perspective on things.

“It's been a huge learning curve for me,” she says. “Normally I've worked with Annet as an actor or director, so with this I've come with a different head. Rather than being in the thick of the creative process, coming at things from a different perspective has helped me to try and work out what theatre reportage is in terms of giving people who really need to tell their story a voice."

The Radio is the latest in a series of projects which Henneman has created with Teatro di Nascosto during the last eighteen years. During that time, she has travelled around some of the globe's most perilous spots, where she has continued to develop her theatre reportage.

As well as Refugee School, Henneman and her twenty-two strong ensemble presented a piece called

Voices from Baghdad in Basra,, Pisa and Volterra. Another work, Dream Lottery, was performed inside the Brussels parliament. A follow up, Dreams from Beyond, which imagined the dreams of refugees killed at sea while trying to escape their homeland, was performed outside the same building in 2013.

As indicated by Newman, democracy is key to Henneman's work. During a project, the company eat together and sleep in the same room, working together communally in a manner that is more a way of life than a theatre company per se.

The rehearsal room is almost a model for a way of living internationally,” according to Newman, who sees Henneman's notion of theatre reportage as “an anti-capitalist model, which embraces true participation by performer, activists, journalists and audiences through a shared goal. That goal is about moving towards intercultural acceptance, peace and a greater historical understanding of the Middle East and why people become refugees, and The Radio is a platform for this sharing.”

As Henneman, Newman and Teatro di Nascosto continue their journey, plans are afoot for another international conference, with Scotland hopefully being a key component.

“When I came to Scotland,” Henneman says, “that taught me something about how to work with refugees, and that it was important that their stories were told in a very direct way. That's where The Radio comes from, and the possibilities for that are only just beginning. But by sharing stories in the way that we do, it becomes about hope for something better.”

For more information on The Radio: Voices from the Territories of Conflict, go to www.teatrodinascosto.com

The Herald, December 29th 2015

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