Paul’s Blog: St Petersburg: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on” … an Icelandic Peace Treaty”

En route to St Petersburg….

Activity; both theatre and training has severely dropped off in Russia.

I hope to be back teaching at Meyerhold Theatre Leaders School in Moscow soon – but who knows.

I have been teaching at Meyerhold for last three years at The Theatre Leaders School but times are tough so may not be back! The Rouble has literally halved in value so now I am twice as expensive!

We at Menagerie ( are also hoping to tour our new play bloominauschwitz ( to Russia but again economics make it almost impossible at the moment – ah well you can see bloom on tour in the UK and various parts of Europe in May and June!

I actually can’t wait for ‘bloom’ – what an extraordinary configuration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the idea of Concentration camp tourism (with jokes!) let’s see how it pans out … but it should be a triumph and hopefully one which will see us touring it…in Russia even!

Today I will be visiting staff at Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg

( the new international terminal, before hooking up with colleagues Ludmila Murgulets and Olaf Hauer my partners in the Russian training company iNTG (see photo of me looking very arty – off into space!)

We worked with Pulkovo last year when the creative team-building exercises we facilitated took place in Reykjavik. It was really like being in some kind of Cold War Peace treaty scenario – half the group was Russian, the other half German and together they were building a new airport in St Petersburg!

And there we were – the iNTG team plus actors Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen from the UK – all in Iceland, all trying to broker peace through the power of theatre!

It was truly bizarre but also lots of fun. Mark and Jasmine had recently finished a run of the Menagerie play Why Can’t We Live Together? In London

So they were a tight acting couple and we used this to work scenes, show characters and build up a communication skill set for our Russian /German delegation… For Jasmine it was an experience she had been through before working with us in Dubai and Hong Kong but for Mark it was – what the F**k am I doing??!? Is this an acting workshop or an audition to be in an episode from The Office ??!? The answer was probably … a bit of both.

But as always the objective was to challenge thinking, stretch minds and engage hearts … and working with actors as good as Mark and Jas does really bring things to life as well as adding a spark and positive dynamic into the whole training experience. Essentially bringing a bit of drama into what can be a mundane learning experience.

I can guarantee that when I meet the folks from Pulkovo later today that they will remember many of the activities we undertook and hopefully will have retained and used some of the learning –we will see; maybe they won’t even recognise me! Or maybe I will have to take my clothes off for them to remember me ????

…. bizarrely after our training sessions in Iceland the whole group went to The Blue Lagoon where we stripped off and got into the warm waters… it was certainly a different ending to most training – half naked soaking wet and drinking a beer. Actually this is how most of our training sessions end up..!

So we will see how the Russian market is shaping up and hold our breath for future opportunities half naked or otherwise …

PAUL’S BLOG Russia: Culture Clash at the Consulate!

Following on from our anti-bullying theatre project in Germany (see previous post) it reminds me of a classic scenario from May last year …

…running training for The British Consulate in St Petersburg, focussing on Bullying and Harassment in the workplace (how did I ever get here..?).

This is a serious issue for many companies and organisations (whether they know it or not..) but somehow it just makes me smile… Bullying and Harassment for the British Consulate..??!!

Staff surveys at The Consulate in Moscow and St Petersburg show there is an issue. This is not unusual nor surprising. And actually the fact they are addressing it is positive and unusual. When you dig a little the idea of harassment is not so much dignity based but more about workload and expectations placed upon each other and of course the dynamics of workplace culture.

Culture clashes are most interesting I find with organisations that work internationally. Bullying and harassment is very interesting when it comes to mixed cultures… what goes for acceptable in Italy is going to cause great angst in UAE… most cultures create a positive collision rather than a clash but it is always interesting. I found this working on projects in Romania, South Africa and Central Europe with international partners having very different expectations of behaviours, but the Russian/UK work cultures provide particularly challenging scenarios

Most staff working in The Consulate will be Russian. They will speak English of course, and most of their interaction will be with fellow Russians both in the workplace and with the public.

So as a theatre director coming in and not an expert in B & H I have to do my research …Particularly on the legal situation. The legal employment contracts in Consulate are Russian but influenced by British standards and thinking. Feedback during the session is that Russian employment law is lacking focus on areas such as Bullying and Harassment so the boundaries here are blurred. This is clearly part of the challenge. What are the rules and how are they interpreted (literally) and enforced?

My workshop time is limited to just under two hours. So all I can do in this short time is look at case studies, challenge thinking, and get some personal pledges in place. Mostly it is about un-blurring the edges of acceptability. It is a bit like “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it” (as in Potter Stewart The United States Supreme Court Justice on his definition of Pornography…)

However we have to create some firmer rules of ‘engagement’ as well as support a culture shift.

Most people can broadly define Bullying and Harassment but as you focus down into specifics then personalities and context get in the picture and definitions of acceptability become more challenging. One interesting area that came up was workload – was it bullying to get people to work late or ask them to come in on the weekend to complete work ? for some no, for others yes – it is about the amount of workload, how it is managed, how it is shared out and most of all expectations and communicating with each other.

For me this subject comes down to broad understanding for an organisation then specific context for individuals – it is about creating a culture where people have empathy and understanding and where perception is taken into consideration as well as rules.

It comes back to the core fundamentals of all organisations and people that work for them – can you bring to life two key dynamics;

  1. Have a great attitude
  2. Do the right thing

In the world of B and H the second dynamic is key…

I left with them inspired (I hope) to at least focus on the one thing they can control – look after themselves – and if they are bullies (real or perceived) to challenge their own behaviour…

I would tell you more – but then I’d have to kill you…


Blog: No Poo? Well bully for you!

We are currently working on an interactive theatre piece in Germany.

It is truly right up there in terms of bizarre ..

So … I have been several times to Germany (alone and with Playwright Craig Baxter) to visit US Army military bases where we are delivering an interactive workshop and play script around bullying!?!

Designed for Middle and High School aged children this is an opportunity to bring youngsters from military families together to watch a play then to ‘forum the action’.

The script is finished, the workshop designed and piloted – all we have to do now is put it in front of kids. If it works it will then be rolled out as an interactive education package that will be developed for Military communities all over Europe then hopefully in The States.

It is a pretty simple model whereby the youngsters get to own the action. One of the key factors is that the performers of the script are local actors (to each community), who themselves may have experienced or been exposed to Bullying.

The approach thematically has been to be universal – with some tweaks specifically for the military context – extended periods of parental separation, stress of environment and dynamic of rank and status. But mostly we have tried to put together a fun universal piece – which as far as I can tell is the first play Craig has ever written which does not involve poo – well not yet anyway!

The interactive activity is of course adapted from our working knowledge of Augusto Boal’s Theatre Of The Oppressed

The power of ownership of ideas sits very much in the centre of my whole approach to using theatre as a tool for engagement – get people involved, get them caring, get them challenging the material and each other and you have a dynamic which has value, depth and impact.

We will see how the project pans out but right now it looks like it will work well – and it actually feels pretty good to be doing a piece which can make a difference to young people who are bullies or being bullied. Certainly as the parent of two teenage children I can see the pressure youngsters are under particularly with cyber-bullying. This element features heavily within our workshop performance – and if we can raise awareness and the participants can establish tactics to prevent and counter cyber-bullying then that has to be a good thing.

Certainly this project is one of those “How the hell did I ever get here?” scenarios… on an American Military base in Germany helping teenagers to not send abusive messages on Instagram!?!

… and as Craig said during our second visit – how the hell did you ever bully me into doing this project .. “ Craig, just fucking do it, or else…”

What lies Underneath?

So a quick catch-up blog which will have to cover December…

At the end of December I had two key events – Creative Team building training in Zilina (Slovakia) and visiting Limerick to see a new piece of theatre …

Zilina was the residential training event supporting Akademia Zilina.

Working with Peter and Suz of NaPerone Theatre Company of Kosice.

The training was for 25 secretaries from a German automotive firm. Most of them worked as PAs and all were female…It was an interesting dynamic!!!

Peter and Suz were the Actors and the task was to work with the secretaries on their communication skills. We did some fun role-plays which mostly seemed to involve the girls abusing Peter (the boss) or instructing Suz (the PA) to abuse him!! Mostly I think they used the opportunity of training to say and do all the things they wish they could in the real world.

It was fun when the girls instructed Suz to give the boss an annual review on his own management style and skills  – it was very funny and very harsh… and who knows maybe some of the fun stuff will seep through to have an impact on how they work in a challenging environment when so much is expected of them?

Our training partners Akademia Zilina provided the translation and support for me and I worked with the actors to bring the whole thing to life in a dynamic way – and they were very good.

Peter and Suz also ran exercises – which included two classic moments. Firstly we went outside  of the hotel onto a terrace (it was a Ski Resort) and did some vocal training which included projecting our voices towards the mountains. After ten minutes of throwing voices we heard a voice come back from the other side of the mountains “Help!” – maybe they were training too???

The other classic moment was also outside when Miro (one of the other trainers) was trying to do a creative thinking exercise – with eyes closed “imagine yourself doing… so and so..” but the whole time we were doing the exercise we had one of the other trainers shouting “Kubo” “Kubo” “Kubo” as her dog ran madly in between 25 bemused (and hung-over secretaries).


Overall less about art and creativity and more about team-building and dog handling but an interesting challenge.

And most importantly I trained up actors to deliver this type of training – this is now an income stream for them as we build up Arts and Business Connections in Slovakia as part of Creative Kosice.

As 2015 evolves I will be training more and more artists to use their skills in Arts and Business cross-over activities which we hope will expand with international projects galore – watch this space!

The end to the Zilina trip was a three hour wait on the train station  to get the train back to Kosice – very cold … but i did feel like i was in a European Art Movie … stuck in a station in the middle of nowhere…



In December I was also in Ireland for the premiere of Underneath by Fishamble Theatre of Dublin.

Limerick is … well… who knows I spent the entire time in bars or in the hotel spa!!

But I am sure the rest of it is very nice!

Pat Kinevane was the actor starring in Underneath a one-man show he has penned about life death and judging (or not…) the book by its cover.

I love Pat as a performer (and writer) having produced his last two solo plays Silent and Forgotten at Hotbed Festival over the past couple of years:

One first viewing I was not totally convinced by Underneath. It appeared to be covering familiar (similar) ground in terms of both subject and particularly style,  as the previous piece Silent.

However I got sucked into it enough to care and to be challenged by the notion of how we see each other –particularly physically. And to be honest it has been a slow burner for me – watching it on opening night is always a little difficult and material needs to settle, but the material has stayed with me – now six weeks later I am still with the heroine as she battles societal ‘norms’.

Pat is a truly mesmerising performer and the material is strong and relevant. My only true criticism is the insertion of jokes which don’t come directly out of or feed into the story. They are unnecessary and really break the rhythm. This aside, Underneath is a modern parable brilliantly told that will challenge the way you view ‘beauty’ .

I hope to grab it for Hotbed – and I know it will be in Edinburgh at the fringe in 2015 – so definitely catch it before it gets its Fringe First!

OK, travels since Limerick include Czech Republic, Germany and Holland – more to follow… let’s see what lies beneath…