Category Archives: news

While the Clock is Ticking

What’s it like when the Anthropocene is your day-job?

How is it to live with climate change, not as a thing you read about in the newspaper or go on a demonstration about, but as what’s waiting for you on your desk at nine o’clock each morning? What does it do to you as a person, to your relationships with those around you, to the decisions you make about your life?

Last summer, four of us were commissioned by The Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm and Riksteatern, Sweden’s touring national theatre, to write a play about the realities of life for the scientists who find themselves at the frontline of climate research.

As writers, we were each paired with a researcher. Four researchers working in different fields, at different stages in their careers, with different backgrounds, whose work has brought them to confront the scale of the impact of human activity on global systems.

We met for coffee, then again for longer interviews, and out of this research came the beginnings of four fictional characters, each telling their own stories, and questioning each other about how they got here, and what kinds of hope are left when you’ve swum with dead coral reefs and watched the failure of negotiations at close quarters.

Yesterday, our play – Medan klockan tickar, While the Clock is Ticking – went into rehearsals. If those four researchers handed us their knowledge and their stories to work with, now it was our turn to hand on the results to the four actors who will bring them to life, under the direction of Sara Giese.

I was there for the first read-through with the cast yesterday morning – and having never written for the stage before, it is both a nervous and a magical experience, hearing the words start to take shape in someone else’s mouth.

I need to give a shout out to my experienced co-writers for their support and encouragement – Anders Duus, Ninna Tersman and Jesper Weithz. The four of us got to know each other through the Dark Mountain Workshop that I ran for Riksteatern during 2015-16 and the common ground we found through those sessions gave us the starting point for this collaboration. Big thanks also to Gustav Tegby, the dramaturge who wove our texts together, and Edward Buffalo Bromberg who, together with Sara, translated my text into Swedish.

Medan klockan tickar is being produced as a directed reading, with a first performance for staff at the Royal Dramatic Theatre next week, then a tour of Swedish university cities over the following month. Each performance will be followed by a discussion with the audience.

Tickets are available for the following public performances:

Work In Progress

It’s been quiet on this site for a year or so – and given how much else is going on, I figured I owe anyone coming here an update.

For almost the only time in my life, since January 2015, I have had a job title, an office and a regular income, as leader of artistic and audience development at Riksteatern, Sweden’s national theatre. (A touring national theatre owned by a democratically-structured ‘popular movement’.) It’s been a weird trip, not least because there hasn’t been much to show on the surface yet for the work I’ve been doing – though that will change soon.

As it does, I’m getting ready to move on. I’ll still be working with Riksteatern, but less intensively – and the plan for 2017 is to spend more time writing. (Also to give this site an overhaul – including gathering up a bunch of my older posts that have disappeared from other corners of the web.)

For now, if you want to know what I’ve been up to… Continue reading Work In Progress

Crossed Lines: An occasional email newsletter

Writing is terrifying. You have no idea where your words will go or how they will come back to haunt you. It freaked Plato out twenty-five centuries ago and it freaks me out today.

Your only hope is that the reader will assume good faith. That she is willing to step inside the text and feel through your words, rather than put them on trial and find them, as they will always be, wanting.

The internet is wonderful in more ways than I need to tell you, but it does not abound in a willingness to assume good faith. Words unaccompanied by bodies are more easily misunderstood. It is easier to be careless or unpleasant through a keyboard than in the flesh. Mailing lists go to war over which way to open a boiled egg. Comment threads sprout into a hydra of misreadings, some wilful, some innocent. Not always, but often enough to make us wary.

Years ago, at an exhibition opening, I staged a battle reenactment of a (pretty tame) mailing list fight. Twelve of us sat around a table and read aloud twelve minutes of extracts from what had been twelve thousand words of mails. The guy whose attack on me had triggered the original episode agreed to read my words and I read his. It shook us both.

The internet is not often a safe place to be vulnerable. Good writing, unless it is well-armoured polemic, requires vulnerability. I suspect this is why so many of the writers I know have an angst-ridden relationship to the internet.

To write with no fear that your words will be held against you, that is what it takes for written words to come alive. And the model for this, I think, is the letter you write to a friend. There are certain books which started life as letters and they come alive in this way. I am thinking of John Berger’s ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’, parts of which must have been written as love letters, but I realise that I could be thinking of any of a dozen of Berger’s books or essays. I am thinking also of Hugh Brody’s ‘The Other Side of Eden’ which grew out of his letters to his friend Ted Chamberlin. Where technologies open gaps between us, whether the technology is the internet or the alphabet, friendship can make those gaps disappear into irrelevance. When you write to someone you know to be a friend, you don’t worry about whether they will assume good faith.

I stumbled into blogging more than ten years ago. I was living in wild west China, one of maybe two dozen foreigners in a city of 400,000. This is not the place to try to explain how the experience changed me, but some days it was all too much. I started writing “round robin” emails to friends back home, then I got guilty about clogging the inboxes of those I never heard back from, so I started using a site called LiveJournal instead. After a couple of months of posting there, I realised with a jolt that two people I’d never met had started following my posts.

For a long time, though, blogging still felt intimate, a place where I could talk through whatever I was working on and assume that anyone who was interested enough to be reading would assume good faith. Then it didn’t feel like that anymore. Lots of other things happened, I moved countries and changed the shape of my life, and I let my online life drift for a couple of years. Then this year, as I found my feet in Sweden, I started this site as a place to write about the work I’m doing.

I think it works. It’s a public home, a place for publishing things. But lately I’ve been feeling the itch for a more personal way of writing over the internet. Around the same time, I started reading email newsletters from people like Warren Ellis and Deb Chachra – and I was struck by how different a newsletter can be to a blog.

A newsletter arrives in your inbox without demanding any response, which makes a pleasant change from most of the rest of the email you get. Still, it has to be interesting enough to actually make you want to read it. There’s no comment thread. Often, there’s not even a public archive, so it lives somewhere just a little more intimate. Sometimes it can feel like a personal email a stranger has sent you by mistake.

So, because clearly none of us has enough words in our inboxes already, I thought I’d try joining in the renaissance of the email newsletter. I give you Crossed Lines, an occasional letter about what I’m reading, writing, thinking and talking about. And about what ever else I feel like writing about. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

The first letter will go out at sunrise, one morning in the near future.

Sign up for Crossed Lines here – make sure you click on the link in the Confirm email from TinyLetter.

(Image from here.)

Haunted by Shadows of the Future

On Sunday 30 March, I’ll be travelling through time and space to be part of HORIZONS at the Tensta Konsthall.

Twenty minutes ride on the Blue Line from downtown Stockholm, Tensta is one of the ‘million programme’ suburbs, concrete estates thrown up at an alarming speed in the late 1960s. Over the past six months, the Konsthall has been hosting exhibitions, conversations and events under the banner of Tensta Museum: Reports from New Sweden.

As part of this, STEALTH.unlimited are bringing together what they describe as ‘a jam session on future scenarios for Tensta’:

HORIZONS is an attempt to
 re-set Tensta into probable, speculative, or perhaps rather unseemly futures in the year 2030. Will this, yet unknown Tensta be an autonomous zone, where the residents of this disregarded part of Stockholm have successfully taken their destiny into their own hands? Or 
will its multi-faceted society prove so vital that this ‘new Sweden’ comes to dominate the entire country by 2030? Or will Tensta’s original but unfulfilled mission – of creating an environment that acknowledges and gives space to a fully liberated and democratic model citizen – ultimately be re-created? And what would such a citizens’ liberation and equality mean if we could live it today?

When Ana and Marc from STEALTH invited me to be one of the four contributors creating scenarios for the event, I asked if they were sure they had the right person.

But while I don’t know Tensta as a place, I do have some sense of the new Sweden, because I’ve spent much of the past year surrounded by fellow immigrants, learning the language and working out how to make a life in this country. Without giving too much away, my scenario for 2030 is about the difference that the New Swedes – my classmates included – could make to this country’s ability to adapt to a future in which the age of mass prosperity has become a distant memory.

Having checked out the other contributors, it promises to be an exciting event:

Adam Tensta (hip-hop artist, challenger of vested cultural norms and laborious creator of one’s own realities, born and based in Tensta)

Gunilla Lundahl (cultural journalist, writer and editor with a long-standing commitment to urban culture and discourse since her start at newspaper The Worker in 1955)

Tor Lindstrand (architect, assistant professor at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-A), and a cross-disciplinary performer, editor and thinker).

HORIZONS is free and open to all. It’s happening at 14.00 on Sunday 30 March, 2014. You can read all about it on the Tensta Konsthall site – and there’s also a Facebook event.