Interview with Emma Hall on World Problems residency at Theater Oostblok
Emma Mary Hall (1981) is an actor, theatre maker and writer from Melbourne, Australia who makes solo performances and has been described as ‘radically personal’ and compared to the likes of Tim Etchells and Laurie Anderson.
Emma’s first piece, We May Have to Choose, which looks at the political impacts of social media, has been hugely popular worldwide since it premiered in 2015, and her second piece, Ode to Man, received the ‘best emerging writer’ award at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival.
In August this year, Emma will be the first artist to participate in Theatre Oostblok’s new International Artist in Residence summer program to develop her third piece, World Problems, hatched during a Cultureland residency in Starnmeer, North Holland. She will be working with Australian director Olivia Monticciolo and Amsterdam artists Sarah Nixon and Jasna VeličKovi during this time.
World Problems is an experimental performance about ecological change and collective action, where the performer will build a world with the audience each night.
Emma could you tell us why you have chosen to do the second stage of World Problems in Amsterdam East this summer?
There’s a very special energy to Amsterdam, a sense of perpetual motion that I wanted to capture in the physical elements of the performance. So, when Berith Danse at Theatre Oostblok offered us a spot in their new International Artist in Residence program, it meant I could work with an Amsterdam-based scenographer and composer, which is such a rare opportunity for an independent artist. It is a dream!
And Theatre Oostblok is gorgeous, it’s a quirky little venue right in the heart of urban Amsterdam. I love how it is situated between the tourism and business precincts, the university, the parklands and the residential neighbourhoods. It is almost a microcosm of the forces shaping human lives.
Could you tell us more about the urgency of making this project for you?
I’m trying to work out how to stay alive when the future feels so uncertain. Climate change presents an impossible paradox: merely by existing in an overpopulated planet we are contributing to its destruction. And yet we all fight to keep breathing.
I believe we can only talk about future living and dying on this planet if we acknowledge our interconnected lives as world citizens. World Problems is really an experiment in how we can talk about a shared future within and across countries.
What does World Problems mean?
It’s a very literal title. We are articulating, in a 50-minute performance, all of the problems facing the future of our planet: economically, socially, politically, and geographically. It is also a play on the catchphrase ‘First World Problems.’
Which problems that you are concerned about affect us too?
The perspectives you have in Europe, and particularly a commerce hub such as Amsterdam, are very different from ours in Melbourne. The Netherlands itself is a sort of triumph of ‘man over nature’. You built a country out of water. You are world leaders in engineering, and people look to you for advice on how to survive future catastrophic climate change.
Australia offers a very different understanding of land and time. It has been a colony for little over two hundred years, but it is home to the oldest living culture in the world (over 40,000 years). And the story of how this land was violently stolen from its original inhabitants is sadly a sort of secret story. For many Indigenous Australians, environmental destruction began with European colonisation, and we are already living in a post-apocalyptic age.
World Problems is trying to open up a conversation between these perspectives and activate people to understand what it means to fully engage in the world around them.
How do residents from Amsterdam East connect to this topic do you think?
I’m interested in how residents, like young professionals and international people living in Amsterdam East, put down roots in cities that are not their own.
The residency gives us a special opportunity to open up the theatre during a month when most theatres go dark. The restaurant will be open all month and there’ll be special workshops and events in the evenings. We want to provide a space for nearby residents, who might not normally go to the theatre, to come in and have a chat.
What role can Amsterdam residents play in your work?
At the end of our first week (on Saturday 11 August) we will be running a public discussion to get a sense from people who live in the area how they view Amsterdam and what role the city plays in global conversations about land and the future.
We will also be running free writing workshops, looking at various tools and vocabularies for generating and performing text in contemporary performance, and set design workshops. We want Amsterdam residents to enter into this conversation and claim the space and ideas as their own, before the final performances on 31st August and 1st September.
What can participants expect from participating in the process of your performance?
It’s still a mystery! We are experimenting with ways of activating people: energetically, emotionally and imaginatively. We want people to see the communities and connections they are already a part of. This might involve physical participation, or it might be more internal activation and provocation.
How can they subscribe and what they need to prepare for it?
You can contact Theatre Oostblok through the website or simply mail firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no need to prepare anything accept that if you decide to participate that you also finish the period of the project.
It can be both in English or Dutch no problem.
Where will the project go after Amsterdam?
We will be premiering the final work in Melbourne in March 2019 at FortyFive Downstairs, an underground basement space in the centre of the city.
How can they follow the project online?
We will be posting regular updates on my social media accounts (Emma Mary Hall on Facebook, @emmamaryhall on twitter and instagram), and final details will be posted on the Theatre Oostblok website and Facebook as well.
With this project we both want to make the wires visible on how people and especially creative people are connected worldwide.
Berith Danse did a similar thing before in her former company.
Talk and Meet Emma with participants and residents:
Saturday 11th of august: 20:00-22:00
Workshops on contemporary performance writing:
Thursday 9th of Aug 19:00-22: 00
Saturday 18th of August 10:00 -13:00
Workshops on interactive scenography design:
Thursday 16th of Aug 19:00-22: 00
Wednesday 29th of August 19:00-22: 00
Please come and enjoy this opportunity
More info here!
Photo by: Alex Hewitt (2015)