Magnetic North Blog

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Demanding immediate release and an end to the targeting of artists

1516856852717 Mustafa Sheta - The Freedom Theatre

We are alarmed by the news that Producer Mustafa Sheta, Artistic Director Ahmed Tobasi (now released), and graduate artist Jamal Abu Joas of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin were detained by the Israeli Defence Force yesterday, along with over 100 other Palestinians.

We join in the demands for their immediate and unconditional release and support calls for an immediate end to targeting of artists.

We also pay tribute to the poet Refaat Alareer who was killed in Gaza last week and, remembering his poem If I Must Die, hope that the UN’s resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza will be enacted.

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Voices from the South - a new online showcase of international work

Voices logo

Magnetic North is a partner on Voices from the South, an international online showcase which will premiere 15 new performance works from Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The showcase features specially-commissioned work from a range of genres, including theatre, dance, music and multi-disciplinary performance. It has been co-curated and delivered by:

MITsp – São Paulo International Theatre Festival (Brazil)

Pickle Factory (India)

La Teatrería and Teatrix (Mexico)

Baxter Theatre Centre (South Africa)

in partnership with Magnetic North and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

The work presented explores a wide range of themes, including identity, community, tradition and history, sustainability and nature, immigration, relationships, femininity and womanhood, and much more. Each work exists within a unique context in the midst of complex histories and contemporary circumstances, yet similarities and shared concerns emerge throughout the programme.

Although conceived initially as digital projects, much of the work will also have a future life as live performances. In a unique low carbon process, all the contributing artists met regularly online to talk about their work and share their progress with each other as the individual projects were developed over the last 16 months.

Voices from the South was inspired by conversations between the partner organisations in 2021 that explored the idea of a purely online showcase at the Fringe. The project aims to break down some of the significant barriers faced by artists from the Global South regions – such as geographical, financial, language and access barriers – when it comes to participating in the Edinburgh Fringe and accessing international networks.

Magnetic North has brought to the project its long-standing experience of partnership-building, international artist development and producing new work, as well as its more recent experience of creating digital work.  

You can read about the 15 projects and the artists who made them on the showcase's website here

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Returning to Walden

Walden Pond in the 19th century

On 4th July 1845, shortly before his 27th birthday, Henry David Thoreau began to live in a hut he had built next to a lake in Walden Woods, on the outskirts of Concord, Massachusetts. For the next two years and two months he attempted to live entirely by his own resources. Walden, his account of his ‘experiment in simple living’, is one of the most extraordinary and unclassifiable - as well as one of the most well-known but least-read - books ever written. 

I first came across it in 2006 when I was browsing at a charity book sale in Edinburgh. I came across a Penguin edition of the book from the 1940s with a lovely woodcut design on the front. The man selling it apologised that it was £2, explaining that this was because it was old. When I read it, I began to develop the idea of adapting it for performance. I asked Tristan Surtees and Charles Blanc (who work collectively as Sans façon) to work with me - we had met at Cove Park, a residency centre in Argyll and Bute, and were looking for a project to collaborate on.  Over the next two years we developed the ideas for the production, always trying to reflect Thoreau’s quest to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  

The production premiered in 2008 as a site-responsive performance at Stills in Edinburgh. The following year, we adapted it to tour by creating a specially-made oval bench made from American pine. This both created a performance space and seated a 40-strong audience. 


(above: the bench in Gilmorehill Theatre, Glasgow in 2009)

I started thinking about the production again in 2022 when I saw Fruitmarket’s new space, the Warehouse, and felt it was an ideal place for the production. In preparation for reviving it 7 years since it was last performed, I began to think again about the background to the book. I knew about Thoreau’s relatively privileged background - his family had made money from its pencil-manufacturing business - and degree from Harvard. This privilege allowed him to spend two years living in the woods without having to worry too much about making ends meet. He was aware of this and knew that less-advantaged people generally went unnoticed by others from his background and class. Elise Lemire, in her book Black Walden - published since our original production - suggests that, because of the history of Walden Woods as a home to the disadvantaged, he was consciously siding with those less fortunate than he. His thinking was deeply influenced by Hinduism – he refers to the Bhagavad Gita in Walden - and Buddhism, and by Chinese philosophy. This was unusual for someone of his background in the 1840s, but Thoreau was quietly radical, and his writing on Civil Disobedience (a phrase he coined) was hugely influential on many activists, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, throughout the 20th century.

In coming back to Walden, we want both to celebrate Thoreau’s legacy - his radicalism and influence – but also to explore his paradoxes. He acknowledges the history of the land he occupied in the book, writing of “disturbing the ashes of unchronicled nations who lived under these heavens long before we did” when he digs the soil, but, despite being an active abolitionist, he barely mentions the community of around 15 formerly-enslaved people who had lived in the same woods within living memory.  

After reading Black Walden, I felt it was important to amplify the voices that are less present in Walden. The result of this was an open-call for artists who identified as being from the Global Majority to propose a response to Walden. The resulting project by Harvey Dimond takes its title from Thoreau’s description of slavery as having “so many keen and subtle masters”.  In his installation, Harvey will explore the subject of Black Ecologies in relation to Walden, and it will be exhibited alongside my adaptation at the Fruitmarket. 

I also decided to take a broader view of who the performer might be. When we developed the play, we always felt that the actor was not "playing Thoreau", but was someone speaking his words. The most important thing to me was that the actor was of a similar age to Thoreau (27-29 during his stay), but that otherwise what they really needed was a connection to the text and its themes. After an open call, I met a wonderful group of actors who all brought something unique to the text when they read it. I am delighted to be working with Shakara Rose Carter on the play, and am looking forward to starting work with her next week. We have already fascinating conversations about the book and about Thoreau and talked about the strong connections we both feel to the work.   

Book tickets

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Opportunity: Artistic Assistant on 'Walden'

Walden-Pond-pic A 19th century photograph of Walden Pond

We are recruiting an Artistic Assistant to work for four weeks on a project at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh next month. The role will support the creative team for the revival of our production Walden, written and directed by Artistic Director Nicholas Bone, and the accompanying installation so many keen and subtle masters by Harvey Dimond.  

Full details are available here. The closing date is 10am on Monday 20th February.

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Recruiting: Artist Employee

We are recruiting for a new role of Artist Employee. The job is offered flexibly, as either a contract of employment or freelance, for the equivalent of 2 days a week (40% FTE) for one year. This can be worked flexibly according to the applicant’s pre-existing commitments or practice (for example four months full time, in designated windows throughout the year, or two days a week for a year), working flexibly according to a work plan that will be developed between the selected individual and the company.

Recruitment Pack

Applications are now closed.

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