I saw a really fucking good film last week. Divines. Written and directed by Houda Benyamina. It takes beyond the Paris banlieues (a familiar landscape from La Haine) to the Roma camps on the outskirts of the outskirts, and it finds a story about teenage girls chasing a dream to get rich quick. It's sparky and it's stylish.
After digging into Houda Benyamina and her practice, I quickly discovered that, shortly after the 2005 French riots, Benyamina had set up 1000 Visages – an initiative to teach filmmaking and acting to 'those excluded from the cultural mainstream'. In a crucial connection between education and resistance, she says, “In 68, the anger was understood and translated by an intelligentsia: authors, intellectuals, artists, who then formulated demands, and so made progress. In 2005, that same anger didn’t find an echo; it just got worse. There was no intelligentsia who took it up, no one created anything out of it, so we ended up with the Roma camps and more misery and poverty than we started with.” Benyamina's political convictions led this world-class filmmaker to commit to developing a future generation of artists.
Theatre director Sebastian Nübling's practice demonstrates a comparable dynamic. Alongside the acclaimed plays that he makes with Germany, Switzerland and Austria's leading state theatres, Nübling makes about one show a year with the Junges Theater Basel – a youth theatre based in his home town of Basel. During a visit to the Junges Theater, Ashley Scott-Layton wrote that Nübling's “productions might often be violent and challenging but, in this environment at least he has a gentle and kind presence. The girls seek hugs from him when they are tired the boys seek to impress him with stories and their latest musical treasures.” It's no secret that Nübling's work is one of my main influences as an artist, and so it's major for me that this inspirational director keeps a regular appointment with young people.
Something that Benyamina's work and Nübling's work have in common Is an affinity with and an authenticity in relation to youth. American artist Sister Corita Kent produced a much-shared list of 10 Rules for Students and Teachers (often mistakenly attributed to John Cage, as it quotes him directly, but Cage and Merce Cunningham reportedly kept copies in their studios). I like them all, but especially Rule 3 - “General duties of a teacher. Pull everything out of your students.” This, to me, has a double meaning. It means to pull all the talent and potential out of your students (the more traditional teacher/coach side) but also to pull out of them all the things that they know that you don't (the vampire side). I always try to find out about new music and new TV shows from the young people I work with, but also to get a sense of what their lives are like.
Between directing shows and text projects for East 15 and working as Associate Director for NT Connections, I've done a fair bit of teaching and working with young people over the past 12 months. And I take it every bit as seriously as I do when making work with professional actors for a public audience. Of course it's important to develop a future generation of artists, but there's a more selfish side: it's also an opportunity to shape a future generation of artists. It's a chance to act on the question what do I want the next generation of actors to act like?
To me, Tim Etchells takes the same opportunity in his remarkable video for companies performing his Connections play Status Update when he says “The thing that I would say, advice-wise, about performing this piece or indeed any other is about taking time. This moment that you're in is more exciting than any other moment. It's got to be now.” (emphasis mine).
When you teach, when you work with young people, not only are you making great work, not only are you making all your work more authentic in the short-term, but you're also working to ensure that the collaborators you want in the future will be there.