Festivals – vital champions new work

Festivals can be a vital platform for emerging artists to present their work; from the wider audiences festivals can bring to the diverse pool of companies and artists they attract, those involved can benefit hugely far beyond the simple economic factors we often measure things by.

With A Young Theatre’s Incoming Festival opening at the New Diorama Theatre in London today, the companies involved will have a fantastic opportunity to showcase their work in a venue with a developing reputation – and with a number of companies involved not based in London, they also have the opportunity to reach an audience in the capital under much less financial pressure than they typically might face. Furthermore, with the shows forming part of a full festival programme the appeal to audiences is much greater than it might be for an independent run – audiences may be shared between shows, and with A Younger Theatre and the New Diorama advocating for the work there is already a seal of approval that the work is of a high standard. Add to that the highly professional print and marketing for the festival, and you’re looking at a huge opportunity for those companies and artists involved.

When talking about festivals, it’s inevitable that the Edinburgh Fringe will come up. In its present state, it is the subject of some valid criticisms regarding the false economy it perpetuates and a sense that the perks of taking a show to Edinburgh are not all they may seem to be, but it still has enough of an appeal to convince huge numbers to take shows to the festival each year – any suggestion that it is losing its lustre appear to be greatly exaggerated. There’s no great mystery as to why it continues to entice so many with no guarantee of success – everyone dream of having that breakthrough show, which gets the five star ratings, the Fringe First and the big (inter)national tour afterwards. It’s human nature to be drawn in like this; from the family waiting for their lottery numbers to come up to the scientist aiming for the Nobel Prize, we’re frequently looking for a reward for the time, effort and money we put into things – and that won’t come if we sit at home doing nothing.

But it’s more than just this which draws us to festivals; as stated before, it’s a great opportunity to be around like-minded people and form friendships and professional relationships. Although there is a competitive element to making theatre in terms of fighting for audiences, by-and-large the companies and artists themselves are not directly competitive with each other (at least, not in my experience). When you put theatre makers in a room together, you’re more likely to see the, all have a drink and a chat together than you are to see something akin to the news channel battles in Anchorman; it’s one of the joys of making theatre that you can meet so many great people, and it benefits audiences when artists support and advocate for each other.

This June, I’ll part of a team from Plymouth running the City Gate venue at Exeter’s Ignite Festival. For me, this will be the first time in five years that I’ve been on the programming and management side of the table (the last time being for the Turbulence Festival at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama), and it’s already been a hugely exciting thing to be involved in – to be able to offer companies and artists the opportunity to be a part of an annual festival with a growing reputation is incredibly rewarding, and to programme work which we think will excite and audience and increase the offer across the festival requires a huge amount of planning. There’s a huge amount all of us involved have been able to bring to the table from our own experiences of taking work to festivals, and also through understanding the challenges of working in a regional setting – the potential reach of the work in the festival is undoubtedly far greater than if it was being presented as a stand-alone production.

What’s particularly exciting in terms of being part of Exeter Ignite is that we are able to present work by emerging companies and artists based in Plymouth; having previously talked of trying to establish an independent theatre scene in the city, being able to give this work exposure beyond the city walls is a huge step in the right direction and will hopefully help the artists in their own professional development. As ‘interlopers’ at an Exeter festival, we’re aiming to strike a balance between celebrating our Plymouth identity whilst not ghettoising ourselves in another city’s festival – the potential benefits of beginning to being the artists and audiences of each city to one another are immense, and we’re particularly keen to encourage this as well as more diverse and far-reaching relationships. If anyone is interested in being involved or knowing more about our plans or the festival itself, I encourage them to get in touch.

Making work in the current climate is challenging in a number of ways, and as great as festivals are they are only one way to get your name out there. If artists continue to make exciting work, though, there will always be people keen to create a platform for them – we should salute the efforts of those making the likes of the Incoming Festival happen for giving exciting, emerging companies a fighting chance to have their voices heard.

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