Location Location Location

Feature in Issue 20-2 | Summer 2008

Donna Close takes a look at options for outdoor performance presenters.

Presenting outdoor work comes with a number of challenges – there’s the weather, for a start! Then there’s the question of location: urban or rural?

Most established street arts festivals take place in big urban centres. With a shift in terminology (from ‘street arts’ to ‘outdoor performance’) comes the acceptance that there is more to ‘street arts’ than ‘streets’. There’s also countryside hills, villages, parks, and beaches.

Just a couple of examples of the shift: Desperate Men have toured a show performed exclusively on beaches (Eco Pirates, in which themes of recycling, beach litter and maritime pollution are all explored and exploited by the fearsome Pirates of the Carry-Bin); x.trax is now presented not in Manchester’s city centre, but in Platt Fields Park.

Another example of this shift was seen at the inaugural Inside Out festival, which took place last September with an ambitious programme presenting some of the best UK and international outdoor work in a variety of urban and rural locations across Dorset. The work was beautifully chosen to respond and resonate with the particular sites. The most powerful aspect of outdoor performance is the way in which it can make us re-engage with place. This can be profound enough in urban settings when artists transform a dreary commercial shopping centre into a village farm or underwater kingdom. But when the performance responds to the particular identity and heritage of a space and its denizen then something really magical can take place. Inside Out wove this magic through coasts, villages, towns and hilltops across Dorset.

The dramatic cliffside Nothe Fort in Weymouth became the backdrop for Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s anti-war stilt and fire performance Carmen Funebre; the traditional gardens of Bournemouth seafront were transformed into contemporary fire gardens by France’s Cie Carabosse; An ancient hill fort on Hambeldon Hill became resurrected as a place of communion and journey through Red Earth’s site specific environmental performance Enclosure: West Bay is celebrated as a bustling harbour with artists from all over the world imported to mix with home grown performers.

The festival opened with one of the most exciting UK sitespecific companies Periplum presenting their show Arquiem in the picturesque streets and squares of Wimborne in Dorset. Arquiem is a dark promenade piece that tells the tale of a boy driven by desperate fear and consuming passion to kill his lover to preserve the intensity and purity of their love.

Under the spell of a charismatic and devilish provocateur and amidst a chorus of ‘hups’, the villagers become vigilantes dragging the boy to a violent trial and ultimately to a beautifully written and performed gallows monologue. The performance wound its way through the darkened narrow streets to the Minster where the judges passed sentence before a torch-lit baying mob took the boy to his death in the village square. And the real villagers and visitors loved it. We had a glimpse of life in a brutal mediaeval village; Wimborne may never look the same.

Inside Out is one of a number of new initiatives that demonstrate the huge interest there is in outdoor and site-specific performance. It attracted large audiences of both locals and visitors, many of whom went to see most of the shows across the county. It also demonstrated that the audience want to see groundbreaking high quality ‘difficult’ work. If it’s a good show at an interesting site they will brave weather and distance to get there. It’s a challenge laid down now to outdoor arts practitioners and festivals to reward this loyalty with exciting, challenging and excellent work that celebrates our landscapes and cityscapes.

It's all out there: let’s go get it.

Additional reporting by Dorothy Max Prior

The Inside Out festival was produced by Dorset Theatre Promoters’ Consortium working with Bournemouth and Poole promoters, local authorities and arts organisations and under the artistic direction of Simon Chatterton and Bill Gee.

Periplum’s Arquiem was presented at the Brighton Festival (May 2008), alongside new show, The Bell (created in collaboration with The World Famous). The Bell was presented as part of Caravan Assembly and Without Walls. It can be seen at x.trax Manchester, Greenwich & Docklands Festival and Hat Fair Winchester. See www.periplum.co.uk

Without Walls is a consortium of seven major UK festivals presenting outdoor performance. For information on their supported artists for 2008, see www.withoutwalls.uk.com

This article in the magazine

Issue 20-2
p. 18