Tuesday, 8 March 2011


So, tentative emails are being fired off to any institutions or venues likely to be supporting emergent theatre makers, applications are starting to come in, various conversations are underway, questions being answered. Important and deceptively simple questions too - about the kind of work we are interested in ‘is it experimental theatre or live art?’ (asks a producer in Germany), or about space and scheduling ‘can you accommodate a piece for 10 people at a time that needs to take over 8 different spaces?’

Formal and informal networks are becoming activated. Rumours that there was a lovely two hander in Huddersfield last weekend are dripping in, that there are some great students coming out of Fine Art in Nottingham, that there are loads of great emergent companies in Brighton. Dublin’s looking very promising, Portugal are getting back to us, Belgium’s got a lot of options.

Quite a few solo shows are being mentioned, worryingly as we’re guessing at 22 performance slots and 150 participating artists (that’s an average of 6.8 participants per show), even though some of them look really exciting. We’ve also got four venues centred around largish end-on studio theatre spaces, whilst a lot of the work being mentioned seems to have left that frame behind long ago.

I was going to call this post What’s it for/Who’s it for? or Who needs Who? as questions about the target participants are starting to raise their heads. There seems to be a significant divide between the confident and articulate middle class theatre graduates (you can tell from the group photos on the websites), who will no doubt weigh up the pros and cons before deciding to come, and those who came through access courses into ex-polys, with shakier grammar but an earnest desire to be there, and with work that sounds much more challenging (perhaps no surprise). I haven’t divined such distinctions outside of this country, but I have been reminded of my moral responsibility, particularly given the imminent demise of ‘higher education affordable to all’ in this country, to maintain a breadth of social diversity.

And definitions of emergent are clearly varying – both a German and an Australian have recommended work by (different) artists well established on the small-scale touring network in the UK, work that I have programmed previously at the Axis Arts Centre. It needs to be newer than that, their generation is already up and running – we need folk that will really welcome what such a festival offers, folk that will really contribute to, and really be affected by, the intensity of the communality of experience, the contextualising, the networking, the shared and diverse aesthetics and influences.

Because in many ways we are co-ordinating a meeting, planning a wedding feast, bringing together those who have so much in common and so many differences, those who might share in the sense of occasion, in the optimism, in the opportunity for creative fraternisation (whatever that might be). But still, at the centre of it all, there needs to be really good work – vital theatre that reminds, or surprises us, about what’s possible, of what it can do, of what it can be, and why the moments when such events can happen are worth making, why a lot of people should bust a gut for a long time to pull together all the necessary components. That’s why I’m doing it anyway. Last time, a huge wall of beer crates crashed to the floor as five people in antique costume, gold helmets and squid masks slowly, so slowly, raised their arms. And two boys in high heels kicked holes in the walls. And someone behaved a little too much like a mad dog. I want to know what’s going to happen this time…

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