We have been working for about the last 8 months pulling this together, gaining the generous backing of Arts Council England, Manchester Metropolitan University, particularly the Contemporary Theatre and Performance degree at MMU Cheshire, and the performance directorate at Salford University, and the Opal Foundation attached to Opal Student Housing.
We are also hugely grateful to our venue partners – Contact here of course, Zion Arts Centre and Capitol Theatre in the MMU School of Theatre - without whom this festival simply couldn’t happen. It has been fantastic to work with people who have been so enthusiastic and patient, as we have pulled our schedule together, and gradually put all the components of the festival in place.
This festival is about the future of theatre, where theatre might be going and who is going to take it there. This is new theatre by new theatre makers, artists re-imagining the form of theatre to create live performance experiences that speak to the times in which we live. Perhaps against the flow of recent developments, most of the work will happen in theatres, on theatre stages – this festival is not about moving away from theatre and theatres, but re-invigorating what theatre can be in the future.
Over 120 experimental theatre companies applied to be part of this festival – we had over 20 applications from Russia, as well as some from Chile, the Philippines, the Ukraine, Latvia and all over Europe. And we have selected just 24. 24 artists and companies who have made theatre events that we believe people will find hugely engaging, entertaining, challenging, funny, moving and thought provoking. We have packaged the work so that everyone can get to see a good range of pieces, even if they can only come for one night.
Being fundamentally about live performance this work doesn’t really transfer to TV or video, so doesn’t get beamed into peoples homes and develop the mass audience and the financial backing that goes with it. Being separate from most of the long established traditions of theatre means this work can’t assume established theatre-going audiences are going to flood in too.
And yet there is boundless creativity, and energy, and intelligence in this work. It needs to be celebrated, and the artists making it need to be given contexts, not just to show the work, but to benefit from being around their artistic peers. They need to share and exchange their stories, their practices and their experiences, they need to work together, talk together and yes party together too. And thanks to the generosity of the Manchester International Festival we will be taking all the Flare artists to the Live and Death of Marina Abramovic, directed by the world’s leading experimental theatre director Robert Wilson.
We are also bringing together some acclaimed speakers including Andy Field, writer for the Guardian and Co-director of Forest Fringe, and Terry O’Connor of Forced Entertainment for a panel discussion on the Future of Theatre, and some acclaimed practitioners including Karen Christopher of Goat Island, to run workshops.
This is an international community of artists, sharing a belief in the creative potential of theatre, and the theatre experience. And this community needs to reach out too, to new members and new contexts. In line with this, the festival is running workshops targeted at the young performers of Manchester. We have included two pieces performed by groups of current UK undergraduate students, directed by acclaimed theatre makers Oliver Bray of Until Thursday and Mole Wetherell of Reckless Sleepers, and we are bringing over a group of Croatian students who have been blown away by the limited amount of experimental work they have seen, and who desperately want to re-invigorate the theatre scene in Croatia.
So, many of the artists showing at Flare have graduated recently from universities, here and abroad, and are trying to make their way as professional theatre companies. You’re going to hear from Darren White shortly, a theatre maker who graduated from Salford in 2010 and has just performed at the prestigious Spill Festival in London.
But the schedule includes Paula Varjack and Martin Bengtsson from Berlin. Paula’s a trained filmmaker and a performance poet who will have just performed at Glastonbury. Martin Bengtsson is a musician, novelist and artist who used to play football for Inter Milan. Together they’ve started to make highly distinctive cabaret style theatre events.
The programme also includes a new work by a smith. Andy Smith has been working as an associate of the acclaimed Tim Crouch, co-directing his recent hit theatre piece ‘The Author’, which played at the Royal Exchange last year, whilst being based in Norway and holding a position as Artistic Fellow at Lancaster University. His is the most stripped down theatre I have ever seen.
And Irina Kondrashova, from the Moscow Art Theatre, has been directing plays in Moscow since she graduated in Cinematography in 2006, and will be bringing a piece for 2 silent performers, a torch, a cardboard miniature village and a live feed video camera.
This is work that doesn’t get seen enough, and always runs the risk of disappearing forever if it is not given a proper platform. It’s work that any open-minded audiences will relish, and with Manchester’s reputation for supporting all things new and original, this is work that deserves to be given the highest possible profile here in July alongside the big names in the Manchester International Festival.
So Flare has some big ambitions. It will be back again in 2013 and 2015, spread across more of the studio theatres in Manchester, again alongside the Manchester International Festival and again bringing the best of the newest theatre and newest theatre makers that we can find.
But for now we have a month to finalise everything, and with tickets going on sale tomorrow, the people of Manchester have a month to chose how they will make the most of what we hope they will see as a fantastic opportunity.