Babylon Beyond Borders – R&D workshop

November 2018, Bush Theatre, London 


Babylon Beyond Borders is an international collaboration between the Market Theatre Lab in Johannesburg, Harlem Stage in the New York, Pequeno Ato in São Paulo and the Bush Theatre in London.


Four extraordinary theatres, each deeply rooted in its own community, collaborate and explore their relationship to Babylon and it’s meanings, from home and exile to migration and language. The outcome is performance that takes place simultaneously and projected via live stream


To read more about the project: Babylon Beyond Borders, Bush Theatre


In this project we explore the possibility of sharing one space by creating a performance that will happen in four locations simultaneously using live stream. We hope to offer our audiences the possibility a meaningful encounter with audiences and artists in around the world. This simultaneous event will celebrate cross-border solidarity and creativity.


Each theatre appointed lead artist to devise the work. Beside myself, the other lead artists are:

Pedro Granato, Artistic Director of the theatre Pequeno Ato in São Paulo, Brazil.

Mwenya Kabwe , Theatre maker from the Market Theatre Lab in Johannesburg, SA.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Composer and musician from Harlem Stage in New York City, US.


rsz_img-20181107-wa0019 Pedro, Sarah, Ruthie and Mwenya at the Bush Theatre, London. 


Workshop in London

A crucial and exciting moment in our creative process was the only moment when all four international artists met for an intensive R&D workshop at the Bush Theatre in London. Till that moment and after that moment our meetings will take place only online, but for one week, we used the old and beloved fashioned way of sitting together in the same room.


First day  


Visa Application 

Pedro & Mwenya arrived in London. Having Mwenya here on time was kind of a miracle. She had to go through a torturing visa application process and we were not sure if she will get it on time. A day before her flight, she’s got a phone call saying “please come to collect your passport”. To start with a miracle is always a good sign. And also, as we will see later, the visa application became a vital part of the performance. Like they say “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…” new-agee as it might sound, it did worked like that. The visa application and the experience of the UK border control are going to play a great role in our work.


rsz_mwenya_visa_application Mwenya and Sarah exploring light. 

  What they would like to know? Mwenya reading to us the questions from her visa application. 



First discussion was about goals.  We were talking about concept and goals; why we are here? what we would like to achieve? The banal yet important questions… I was talking about the Arab Springs. I know this ended up very bad, but again, this image of squares burnt simultaneously in various places around the world, made me think a lot. Can we create an artistic action that will happen simultaneously around the world? Can it have a powerful impact?

Perhaps I should start from the very beginning – from me doubting my profession, questioning the meaning of theatre.


People ask me why I am so obsessed with international collaborations? Why I must be in one place and speak to another? Is it my Jewishness and my diasporic roots? Is it luck of satisfaction from wherever I am? Is it a childish wish to travel abroad? I think the real answer is that I believe it makes me a better person. I remember very well my first international collaboration with Polish artists. Me, who grew up with Holocaust’s survivors, who were educated to hate Polish people, to never forget and never forgive. I collaborated with the Polish people, performed on Polish soil, and yes – it was transformative and made me a better person.

I believe in the power of the encounter.

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”  (Martin Buber)



Brazil is burning. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro wins presidential election in Brazil . Pedro is worrying. He is going to be a father soon, and he is worrying about the future of his daughter, and about the future of his country.  He sent us a link to their protest We will fight guns with books”. Books. First association that came to mind is Heinrich Heine’s quote “Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned”. Well, history.   An idea comes to mind, we should work with this image. I see a stage full of performers dancing with books. Perhaps an artistic action with books? Audience engagement?


books 3Books on the front line … a Workers Party supporter holds a Brazilian constitution during the second round of the presidential election on 28 October. Photograph: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images


To read about Brazil’s cultural-political resistance



The first day of the workshop ended up with possibility. We all agreed that we would like to end the performance with a sense of possibility.

I imagine a very fragmented work, a collage. I’m not afraid of not having a linear narrative. Life is not linear. Life for me is more fragmented, broken. Identity is fragmented, broken, eclectic. So why a narrative should be linear?

We are finishing the first day with a list of inspirations, from Mujica – the mythological president of Uruguay, through Afrotopia and the Zambian “Afronaut”- who wanted to join the space race, till Charly Chaplin.



rsz_afronaut[/still-images] Conversation about Afrotopia. The Zambian “Afronaut” Who Wanted to Join the Space Race


  Mujica – an inspiration


  Chaplin – a possibility 


Second day

We have started the day with “meet and greet” with the Bush Theatre’s staff. This is a beautiful tradition when all staff members are coming to welcome new artists/company who are coming to work in the building. Really beautiful and inspiring. We will meet the staff again for a sharing at the end of the workshop. Many people have helped me to make this workshop happen and to realize my vision for this international collaboration, many people also thought that it’s too ambitious, too conceptual, and mainly depend on budget. If there is something that I have learnt from doing international collaborations is that I must imagine that it’s already happened. There is no question about it, it’s already happen.


Then each one of us shared his/her vision, gave some background and political and social context to his/her location. What is the Market Theatre? Harlem Stage? What does it mean to work in the heart of São Paulo? And in the middle of London – the modern Babylon? From post Apartheid to Brexit to Brazil’s elections and to gun in school in Harlem. Is there a link? 



We had prepared a list of questions for people from our communities. We answered those questions ourselves, Sarah was thinking of writing a song out of it. Questions. Mwenya was sharing with as a Ted lecture by Taiya Selasi, who suggested to ask alternative questions. Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.


 Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local | Taiye Selasi


Afternoon we invited Julian Mayard Smith, the Artistic Director of Station House Opera to speak with us about his telematic performances. Their interesting works Dissolved and Home in London & Gaza are very inspiring. Julian explored how to do something using technology that you cannot do on stage? How to occupy another space? Using live stream, you can allow one performer in London to walk in another space in Gaza, as if you are a ghost.


Card & Rules

We put all the “cards” we had on the table. Actually, I should say on the wall. By cards I mean scenes, ideas, fragments. And we were starting to discuss them, refined them, and choose the best.  We also agreed on our “Dogma rules”.

 rsz_4_dogma_rules Our Dogma Rules version 1

 rsz_20181107_154259 Our Dogma Rules version 2

 rsz_5_cards  Cards


Towers of Babylon 

We suddenly realized that we all have Towers connected to a traumatic event. Towers that evoke stories that tell something meaningful about our communities. Towers that evoke critical social and political topics. We shared the stories of our towers. Johannesburg has Ponte, São Paulo has the antique building of the federal police, New York City has the Twins Tower, and here in London, we have Grenfell Tower




rsz_7_topics_towers  What our towers tell us? topics around our towers


Third day

Live stream. Heather, our live stream producer, explained us how it is going to work. We are going to perform live in four countries in front of live audiences, to capture what is happening on stage and live-stream it simultaneously to other three locations.

 Beside it, we will live stream the all event on social media.

What is important for me is not the live stream itself, but rather the artistic and political possibilities that it allows us. So, we played with form, played with layered images from different locations, and with the relationship between the projected image and the live body etc. Live stream is a virtual journey of image and sound. 


rsz_20181209_013123 Live stream is a virtual journey of image and sound. 


Heater shared with us a hilarious video of the talkback of the Eurovision in 1977.  How to not do it…  



During the process we came across the amazing poet Warsan Shire. In her book “Teaching my mother how to give birth” , she has a wonderful poem “conversations about home”. We read the poem and worked with it. Sarah loved the poem and composed it.



We were trying to understand what the performance is all about. To tight the concept. Perdo said it is not about towers, it is about home.

We were sitting around round table in a wine bar next to the Theatre. We were thinking about home, asking questions about home, understanding the differences between our homes, sharing our issues with our home. We were playing with words. We were looking for words with ‘home’ inside them:

Homeland, Homesick, Homeless, Homemade, Homage, Homeward, Homecoming, Hometown, Homebound, Homerun.



On Friday morning we had a sharing with the Bush Theatre’s staff . We sent over a link, so that people could watch it online. Testing the live stream… We were facing one camera towards half of the audience, and a second one toward the other half, as if they were in two different countries. We performed two scenes and shared the concept with the team. We got warm and interesting feedback. Obviously, the fear growth as it became more and more real.  We were planning ahead, wrote a work plan, scheduled our next online meetings and rehearsals . We put together all the materials we had and said goodbye. We won’t see each other anymore, at least before the performances. It is strange but also beautiful. This is what we explore – how can you create a meaningful encounter without being present in the room, how to connect to a person who is far away, how to care about another country, how to feel for other communities?

Now each of us goes away to work on its own and we will meet each other online on a weekly basis. The workshop was very good. It was very intensive, but also fun and meaningful. I’m so glad it happened. I am so looking forward to seeing what will come next. To end with possibility. 

 rsz_img-20181110-wa0002  Sharing with the Bush Theatre’s staff


Sarah’s voice, R&D workshop in London, November 2018