Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TRIBAL GATHERING; Native Cultures Have Long Been an Obsession of Actor Mark Rylance -- Now He Has Assembled a Star-Studded Cast to Raise Awareness of Endangered Tribes, He Tells Nick Curtis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TRIBAL GATHERING; Native Cultures Have Long Been an Obsession of Actor Mark Rylance -- Now He Has Assembled a Star-Studded Cast to Raise Awareness of Endangered Tribes, He Tells Nick Curtis

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Curtis

IAM sitting in Mark Rylance's dressing room, next to one of the three tortoises he uses onstage in his extraordinary Evening Standard award-winning performance in Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem. The tortoise is silent as Rylance and I discuss the end of western civilisation. We started out talking about the charity evening he's arranged to benefit tribal peoples -- but in this protean 50-year-old actor's mind the two events are linked.

He explains. There are 370 million people in the world who can still be described as tribal. They face genocidal displacement, usually for commercial reasons justified by the racist premise that they are "backward" and need to be moved off their lands and "civilised".

However, if governments hadn't shored up the economy when the banks crashed in 2008, he argues, cash would have run out. Since "we don't know how to kill an animal or grow a vegetable we'd probably have been killing each other for food" -- far less civilised than tribal peoples who live "within their means".

"If we could understand these people," says Rylance in his mild, soulful tones, "and stop the extinction we are threatening them with, it seems to me it would be good practice in terms of stopping it happening to us."

It doesn't sound hippyish or odd but eminently sensible when Rylance says this. He is sometimes mocked for his eccentric interests but I'd say he has the gift of revelation. In his career as a Shakespearean actor, he made familiar plays seem fresh, astonishing. He points out now that Shakespeare's world was still rooted in the land and the seasons. It's something we've lost but others haven't -- which is something that Jerusalem, with its exploration of what it means to be an indigenous Englishman, mourns, he says, making a connection few would have noticed.

Rylance's interest in tribal cultures started early. His English parents, both teachers, moved to Wisconsin when he was two. He grew up playing in woods with Native American names, fascinated by wilderness, "loving westerns, more interested in Indians than cowboys".

When he read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, he felt disgusted that people he'd admired, such as Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln, hadn't spoken against the wholesale massacres of the indigenous population.

Years later, he was working with American actor and director Sam Wanamaker to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe. Wanamaker's assistant alerted him to Survival International, a charity founded in 1970 to fight for tribal peoples' rights. (Tribes have no representation at the UN, and Britain has refused to sign a UN charter guaranteeing their human rights.) When Wanamaker died and the still-embryonic Globe was beset by a series of accidents, Rylance contacted a Navajo shaman to address the old and possibly disruptive energies of the place. …

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