Sunday, 23 January 2011

First thoughts on curating the Flare Festival

So this is the start of it - the blog and the process of putting this festival together. Of course it is not really the start, it would be hard to be really specific about that, but if we're talking about the decision to take it on, that was taken at some point in the first half of last year (2010), with some thoughts about it going back a year from even then. But conversations with the venue heads that took place around October/November 2010 marked a significant point when it looked like it could actually happen, securing the involvement of my two fellow directors, Kevin Egan and Lisa Mattocks was another, but the key one happened last week, when the Arts Council confirmed their willingness to give us £10,000 towards it, supported by the Dean of MMU Cheshire's agreement a few days later to give us £4,000.

So what is 'it' going to be? Well the idea is to build on the MIST (Manchester International Student Theatre) festival of 2007 - a performance festival that borrowed Manchester International Festivals' dedication to 'New and Original' work - but to move it way from being a student festival, partly to give it the chance to become a bigger deal as a festival not limited to one, albeit very large, sector of the population, and partly because it is really pretty difficult to establish yourself as someone seriously willing and able to contribute to the future direction of theatre in this country, when you have only really been part of the theatre making community for a year or two at university. The idea with Flare is that it should target graduating theatre makers, or those at a similar stage of development, as these seem most likely to possess the potential to make a significant mark, but have yet to do it.

(I should probably say as well, that Flare 2011 is intended as a pilot for Flare 2013, which will, we are hoping, happen across all the major studio theatres of Manchester, and thus begin to feature on the wider radar that is of course already well tuned in to the Manchester International Festival.)

The questions I really want to take on here, and mostly because I am hoping to work out the answers through the process of writing this, are (for now) the following:

What kind of work will be represented by this festival?
What characteristics will the pieces selected share?
What characteristics will the makers of the selected work share?
What is the job of selecting work for this festival really about?
What criteria will operate?
How sensitive should the curator of such a festival be to accusations that it is all about (their/my) personal taste?
What are the implications of making this an 'international' festival?
What is the political function of selecting for a festival like this? What is the point?

As someone with almost 20 years experience of teaching contemporary theatre at university, and almost that (alongside) of programming professional theatre and performance for a university and public audience, I know I have a good claim to position myself as an 'expert'. But what does that mean? And does it equip me effectively to recognise 'the future direction of theatre in this country' if it came up and slapped me in the face?

And then the worst question of all - is there some great delusion going on here? Does 'contemporary' or 'experimental' theatre really represent the 'leading edge' of the artform anyway? Is theatre (in this country at least) moving in this direction at all, or is this just about throwing un-necessary attention on a poorly supported back water of practice, of little relevance - now or in the future - to what theatre might widely be perceived to be?

I'm sure more questions will arise as well, but the intention broadly, is to offer an 'insider perspective' here, less an expert critique of performance festival curation, and more some (flawed and sporadic) access to the process of doing it, plagued as it will be by a wide range of concerns (as above) around what I am doing, and why. I hope it's worth reading...

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