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Visionary British Theater Director Peter Brook Dies Aged 97

Peter Brook, one of the world’s most innovative theater directors who perfected the art of staging powerful drama in bizarre venues, has died aged 97, his publisher said Sunday.

The British director used the world as his stage mounting productions ranging from challenging versions of Shakespeare through international opera to Hindu epic poems.

Brook put on plays in gymnasiums, deserted factories, quarries, schools and old gas works in towns around the world.

His 1970 Stratford production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” played all in white and with a huge, garlanded swing, secured his place in the annals of theater history.

According to Le Monde, Brook – who had been based in France since 1974 – died in Paris Saturday.

A statement from his publisher confirmed his death Sunday.

Although Brook was regarded with awe in theatrical circles, he was less well known among the wider public because of his refusal to bow to commercial taste. He left Britain to work in Paris in 1970.

He often shunned traditional theatrical buildings for the “empty space” which could be transformed by light, words, improvisation and the sheer power of acting and suggestion.

“I can take any empty space and call it a stage,” he wrote in his ground-breaking 1968 book The Empty Space.

His quest for inspiration took him as far afield as Africa and Iran and produced a variety of original improvised plays marked by his eye for detail and challenging approach.

Born in London March 21, 1925, his father was a company director and his mother a scientist. He left school at 16 to work in a film studio and then went to Oxford University and took a degree in English and Foreign Languages.

In 1970 he transferred from Britain to work in Paris, founding the International Center of Theater Research which brought together actors and designers of many different nationalities.

Brook continued working into his 90s.

“Every form of theater has something in common with a visit to the doctor. On the way out, one should always feel better than on the way in,” he wrote in his 2017 book Tip of the Tongue.

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London Pride Parade Marks 50 Years, Looks Back on Progress

London Saturday celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first Pride parade, marking half a century of progress in the fight for equality and tolerance but with warnings that more still needs to be done. 

Several hundred people took part in the first march July 1, 1972, just five years after homosexuality was decriminalized in the U.K. 

Fifty years on, more than 600 LGBTQ+ groups danced, sang and rode floats along a similar route to the original protest, in the first Pride since the coronavirus pandemic, watched by huge cheering crowds. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told reporters the event, which organizers said was the “biggest and most inclusive” in its history, was a celebration of community, unity and progress. 

But he said it was also a reminder of the need to “campaign and never be complacent” and the need for “an open, inclusive, accepting world.” 

“We saw this time last week an attack in Oslo just hours before that parade, where two people lost their lives and more than 20 were injured,” he said. 

“So, we’ve got to be conscious of the fact that there’s still a danger to this community of discrimination, bias and violence.” 

Khan’s predecessor as mayor, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said it gave him “the greatest pride to lead a country where you can love whomever you choose to love and where you can be free to be whoever you want to be.” 

The 50th anniversary was a “milestone,” he said, paying tribute to the bravery of those who did it first. 

Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay rights campaigner who took part in the 1972 march, said some from the original event have boycotted the modern-day sponsored version as “depoliticized and commercialized.” 

Campaigning 

In 1972, “Gay Pride,” as it was then known, was a demand for visibility and equality against a backdrop of lingering prejudice, discrimination and fear among many gay men and women about coming out. 

In the 1980s, Pride became a focal point for campaigning against legislation by prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government against the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. 

It also helped to raise awareness and support for people with HIV/Aids. 

Now, with the rainbow flag of inclusion and tolerance spread ever more widely over the spectrum of human sexuality and gender, Pride in London is more celebration than protest. 

Tatchell said that despite victories such as same-sex marriage, “we are still fighting to ban LGBT+ conversion practices which seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

“We’re still fighting to secure trans people’s right to change their legal documents with ease by a simple statutory declaration. And of course, we are standing in solidarity with a global LGBT+ movement,” he told AFP. 

Julian Hows, now 67, was at the first march. He said, “progress is always incremental,” criticizing curbs on LGBTQ+ rights around the world. 

“We have to be vigilant. The price of liberation and to keeping people’s human rights intact is vigilance,” he added. 

 

Visibility 

Padraigin Ni Raghillig, president of Dykes on Bikes London, a motorcycle club for gay women, said the event retained part of its original campaigning spirit. 

“It’s still important, I think, to at least once a year to be out and about, and to say, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going shopping,'” said Ni Raghillig, astride a Harley Davidson. 

Among those marching was a contingent from Ukraine, who criticized homophobia in Russia.  

This year’s Pride saw warnings for people with monkeypox symptoms to stay away, after public health officials said many cases in the U.K. were reported among gay and bisexual men. 

LGBTQ+ campaign group Stonewall said everyone had a part to play to stop the spread of monkeypox, which is passed through close contact regardless of sexual orientation.  

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Rock Star Randy Bachman Reunited With Beloved Stolen Guitar

Canadian rock legend Randy Bachman’s long search came to an end Friday when he was reunited in Tokyo with a cherished guitar 45 years after it was stolen from a Toronto hotel.

“My girlfriend is right there,” said Bachman, 78, a former member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, as the Gretsch guitar on which he wrote “American Woman” and other hits was handed to him by a Japanese musician who had bought it at a Tokyo store in 2014 without knowing its history.

He said all guitars are special, but the orange 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins he bought as a teenager was exceptional. He worked at multiple jobs to save money to buy the $400 guitar, his first purchase of an expensive instrument, he said.

“It made my whole life. It was my hammer and a tool to write songs, make music and make money,” Bachman told The Associated Press before the handover at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

When it was stolen from the Toronto hotel in 1977, “I cried for three days. It was part of me,” he said. “It was very, very upsetting.” He ended up buying about 300 guitars in unsuccessful attempts to replace it, he said.

Bachman talked frequently about the missing guitar in interviews and on radio shows, and more recently on YouTube programs on which he performed with his son, Tal.

In 2020, a Canadian fan who heard the story of the guitar launched an internet search and successfully located it in Tokyo within two weeks.

The fan, William Long, used a small spot in the guitar’s wood grain visible in old images as a “digital fingerprint” and tracked the instrument down to a vintage guitar shop site in Tokyo. A further search led him to a YouTube video showing the instrument being played by a Japanese musician, TAKESHI, in December 2019.

After receiving the news from Long, Bachman contacted TAKESHI immediately, and recognized the guitar in a video chat they had.

“I was crying,” Bachman said. “The guitar almost spoke to me over the video, like, ‘Hey, I’m coming home.’”

TAKESHI agreed to give it to Bachman in exchange for one that was very similar. So, Bachman searched and found the guitar’s “sister” — made during the same week, with a close serial number, no modifications and no repairs.

“To find my guitar again was a miracle, to find its twin sister was another miracle,” Bachman said.

TAKESHI said he decided to return the guitar because as a guitar player he could imagine how much Bachman missed it.

“I owned it and played it for only eight years and I’m extremely sad to return it now. But he has been feeling sad for 46 years, and it’s time for someone else to be sad,” TAKESHI said. “I felt sorry for this legend.”

He said he felt good after returning the guitar to its rightful owner, but it may take time for him to love his new Gretsch as much as that one.

“It’s a guitar, and it has a soul. So even if it has the same shape, I cannot say for sure if I can love a replacement the same way I loved this one,” he said. “There is no doubt Randy thought of me and searched hard (for the replacement), so I will gradually develop an affection for it, but it may take time.”

Bachman said he and TAKESHI are now like brothers who own guitars that are “twin sisters.” They are participating in a documentary about the guitar on which they plan to perform a song, “Lost and Found,” together.

They also performed several songs at Friday’s handover, including “American Woman.”

Bachman said he will lock the guitar up in his home so he will never lose it again. “I am never ever going to take it out of my house again,” he said.

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Drag and Size-Inclusive Fashion on Display for Pride Month

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride month. In the Western U.S. city of Denver, a museum exhibition features fashions from the gender-inclusive DCR Studios. VOA correspondent Scott Stearns caught up with designer Darlene Ritz at the show.
Videographers: Scott Stearns, Jodi Westrum

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Ghana Hosts NFL’s First African Development Camp

The National Football League (NFL), the top league in American-style football, has hosted its first African developmental camp in Ghana’s capital, Accra. The weeklong program was aimed at finding fresh talent and building the sport’s popularity across Africa. Senanu Tord reports from Accra, Ghana.

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Thailand Hosts Transgender Pageant as Equality Drive Hits Parliament

Held for the first time since the pandemic, the world’s biggest transgender pageant pulled contestants from as far apart as Honduras and India to Thailand, a country where gender equality law is under the spotlight. For VOA, Vijitra Duangdee has this story from Pattaya, Thailand.

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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Ordered to Trial Friday in Russia

Shackled and looking wary, WNBA star Brittney Griner was ordered to stand trial Friday by a court near Moscow on cannabis possession charges, about 4 1/2 months after her arrest at an airport while returning to play for a Russian team. 

The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist also was ordered to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial. Griner could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned. 

At Monday’s closed-door preliminary hearing at the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months. Photos obtained by The Associated Press showed the 31-year-old in handcuffs and looking straight ahead, unlike a previous court appearance where she kept her head down and covered with a hood. 

Her detention and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already-high tensions with sweeping sanctions by the United States and Russia’s denunciation of U.S. weapon supplies to Ukraine. 

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had taken a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the U.S. government’s chief negotiator. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, urged President Joe Biden in May to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.” 

Her supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy. 

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. 

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case — she allegedly was found in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the U.S. 

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question. 

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.” 

Any swap would apparently require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT. 

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Hong Kong’s Last Hand-painted Porcelain Factory

 Step into Yuet Tung China Works, Hong Kong’s last remaining hand-painted porcelain factory, and you find yourself surrounded by stacks of dinnerware, each piece painstakingly decorated by hand with vibrant motifs of flowers, fruits and animals. 

Joseph Tso, the third-generation owner of the factory, and his small team are among the few people in Hong Kong who have mastered the traditional technique of painting “guangcai,” or Canton porcelain. 

It is a fading art in this modern metropolis, as fewer young people are willing to put in the time and effort required to master the craft or to work at the factory full-time. 

“The business environment in Hong Kong is not suitable for labor-intensive industries,” Tso said. “Hong Kong’s traditional handicraft industry is gradually declining. It will eventually disappear.” 

Guangcai, which comes from the nearby Chinese city of Guangzhou, is characterized by an overglaze technique in which the painter sketches a design on white porcelain and then fills it in with color using thin brushes before firing the piece in a kiln. 

Tso’s grandfather established the factory in Hong Kong’s Kowloon City in 1928. It rose to prominence over the years, becoming famous for its delicate craftmanship and custom dinnerware. 

The factory is known for its Canton rose porcelain painted with a pigment called “xihong,” which means “Western red.” Its ingredients include lead oxide, quartz and gold dust. 

“Hong Kong’s export sector was booming from the 1960s to the 1980s, and many well-known department stores came to buy products,” Tso said. “Foreign trade firms would bring us business from (American) department stores.” 

The factory sometimes paints family crests on dinnerware for foreign customers. 

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong before the city was returned to China in 1997, visited Yuet Tung China Works to buy some porcelain before returning to Britain. 

The factory is an important part of Hong Kong’s history, said Yim Wai-wai, founding president of The Hong Kong Ceramics Research Society. 

“The porcelain factory breathed at the same pace as the development of Hong Kong,” said Yim. “If it ceases to exist, it will be an immeasurable loss.”

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