BY HARRY REID
It is early morning and the café at Belfast’s MAC arts center in the city’s Cathedral Quarter is slowly gearing up to greet the day ahead. Yet despite the early bird hour, there’s not even a scintilla of sluggishness from the woman sitting thoughtfully sipping a flat white coffee at the only occupied table.
Emma Jordan is a decidedly singular person. Attending to the series of questions posed to her, she emerges as an intensely focused force of nature tempered by a beguiling sense of humour.
As she locks on to each subject raised, I am glad to have put thought into the selected topics for discussion. For while generous with her time, it becomes apparent during the hour and a half of our interview, that a frenetic schedule means time is at a premium, and that time wasting is not something that Emma has time for.
Our conversation begins with the recent announcement that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation has awarded her £295,000 in a no strings attached four-year investment in her theatrical endeavours.
“This money comes from the Breakthrough Fund established six years ago by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. They set it up to support the work of what they call ‘exceptional cultural entrepreneurs’, which I basically understand to be people who can make stuff happen in terms of the arts within their role in society.’
“This kind of money is exceptional as it’s given without restrictions to help artists get to where they want to be and do the work they most want to do. It’s both humbling and liberating. I’m delighted to be only the second person from here to get such an award, the other being Stuart Bailey back in 2008 to support his work with young people and music at the Oh Yeah Center.
“My award will be going on a mixture of helping with Prime Cut’s existing core costs, supporting the development of a group of emerging artists and in terms of making it possible for me to have time to develop new approaches to making theatre and integrating it with film, choreography and sound.”
The form that such new approaches to theatre will yield can only be guessed at, but judging by Prime Cut’s two decades plus track record, it’s a fair bet that four core elements will be part of the mix – that the work will be politically charged, involve considerable spectacle, and have significant degrees of both locally based community engagement and international collaboration.
All of these elements were for example interwoven in Prime Cut’s recent large-scale production ‘The Conquest Of Happiness’.
Produced collaboratively with the Sarajevo based East West Theatre Company and jointly directed by Emma and legendary theatre and film director Haris Pasovic, this large scale production was performed in, amongst other venues, Belfast’s T13 cycle park and under the iconic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia.
‘The Conquest Of Happiness’ featured a wide ranging series of vignettes from scenes of conflict and repression ranging from Nazi Germany to the Rwandan genocide, by way of Derry’s Bloody Sunday and the Balkan calamity and counterpointed these events with the work of philosopher and peace campaigner Bertrand Russell.
Emma says: “Every year one of our three productions is a show based on lengthy community engagement to develop the confidence and trust of, and relationships with, people in the most economically deprived areas here. My vision is for theatre to simply become part of what people, irrespective of background or economic status, do.”
Fresh from performing a trilogy of plays about Pinochet’s Chile, Prime Cut have already moved on to devising their next production which will satirise middle class life in Belfast.
Emma adds: “Watch out for something special staged in forests and bogs, something dreamlike where innocence and horror collide.”