Creating 24 hours of peace

Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou reports from the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Twenty-four hours of peace was an unusual performance to celebrate 100 years since the end of World War One. Starting at 11am on Sunday 10/11/19, it lasted for 24 hours and ended with a minute’s silence at Remembrance Day. 

Neil Bartlet, the creator, spent the last few months interviewing 100 people that have been involved in peace and reconciliation processes. The performance consisted of actors and non-actors dressed in ordinary clothes, reading and performing the transcripts of the interviewees. It was, in a way, a collage of spoken word, rather than the creation of entirely new text and plot with which we are familiar in the theatre.

Attending the performance made me reflect on how important metaphors and paradoxes are in both peace and creative processes. Creating something new typically involves bringing together or juxtaposing things that were previously considered unrelated (Kiene, 2018). Creating peace typically involves finding reconciliation between views and parties that are, at first sight, non-reconcilable. In this performance, viewing a young scruffy person reading the words of a House of Lords peer, or a white British woman without apparent disability reading the words of a Britishman from a minority group with a disability, brings to mind the importance of trying to step in each other shoes to understand other people’s point of view. At some point an actress, the creator and a member of the audience whose words had been spoken by the actress, spontaneously exchanged smiles, hugs and warm words very close to the on-going performance, breaking the barriers that usually exist between performers, writers and the audience; a metaphor for the need to break barriers if we are to make any progress. In several instances, the words of people that had been interviewed in different occasions were spoken in turns, as if they were in a conversation with each other – perhaps a metaphor for the need to come together and discuss solutions to complicated problems. The idea of a fruit kebab consisting of just grapes was used to make children understand the value of diversity by one of the interviewees. 

The performance took place in the Royal Exchange Theatre, a building formerly linked to the cotton trade and thus to conflict, slavery and injustice; a building that was damaged in the Manchester/Christmas Blitz and the IRA bombing in 1996. The spaceship-like structure that housed the sermon of these remarkable peace-warriors, is in stark contrast to the classical style of the Cotton Exchange building that envelopes it. If only we could liken this to a peaceful future emerging from an unpeaceful past.

This moving performance managed to bring vividly and innovatively to our attention the difficulty of maintaining peace. Perhaps it would be interesting to use a similar method to present quotes from qualitative studies in conferences – although probably not for 24 hours! 

One of the pressing issues I was reflecting on was: should I stay the whole night? I decided against it as I did not wish to subject anyone to a grumpy, sleep-deprived Aspa. It turned out to be a mistake as I not only missed a very special night at the theatre, but I also had to cycle in the freezing rain and wind all the way back home. A metaphor for the questionable fate that awaits us if we stop fighting for peace.

- Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou is a Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

Kiene, B. (2018) The Creativity Paradox: An Introductory Essay. The Journal of Creative Behaviour, 53(2), 127-132.

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