Without Walls

Feature in Issue 19-3 | Autumn 2007

Dorothy Max Prior reports on a new consortium of festivals set up to improve the lot for touring street arts companies.

So what’s the best way to increase the opportunities for existing good work to be seen, to encourage the development of interesting new work, and to share costs and resources so that the best use is made of funder’s contributions?

Enter Without Walls, a consortium of five of the country’s ‘most strategically significant street arts festivals’, with the aim ‘to develop and strengthen the landscape of outdoor performance in the UK’. Specifically, to present and develop work from a new and emerging generation of street artists, to encourage artists from outside this sector to venture into the water, and to prioritise the development and presentation of work from culturally diverse artists and disabled artists. There’s also an advocacy role within the context of the 2012 Olympics, and an intention to foster innovation, and new collaborations, both within the UK and internationally.

The ‘odd quintet’ as it has been dubbed (by Frank Wilson) comprises: Streets of Brighton (director Dave Reeves); X.trax Manchester (Maggie Clarke); Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (Bradley Hemmings); Hat Fair Winchester (Sian Thomas); and Stockton International Riverside Festival (the aforementioned Frank Wilson, who made a presentation on the new initiative at the Street Arts Meeting in Brighton.)

Frank explained that it was early days as the group had only just had funding confirmed, but that much had already been done through mostly face-to-face meetings and a commitment from the five to get a programme up and running for 2007. This has indeed happened, with a healthy cluster of artists and companies out on the road.

At the breakout session after Frank’s presentation, the Famous Five (or four anyway – Dave Reeves being absent with the reasonable excuse that it was the opening day of his festival) had more to say on their reasons for clubbing together and their expectations. ‘ There was a feeling from the Arts Council that something needed to happen’ said Bradley Hemmings, and ‘It was important for street arts festivals to get supported in the ways that indoor theatres get supported’ said Sian Thomas. Maggie Clarke felt that it was ‘important to have a formal grouping for street arts that is like the dance or live art agencies’ and that ‘this sector deserves a touring platform’. Frank Wilson summed it up succinctly in saying that ‘the most important thing is to create a model of good practice’.

Going on the shows I’ve seen to date (at Brighton, Manchester and Winchester), the eclectic mix of work gives some indication of both the group’s intentions and the real range of work that goes out under the ‘street arts’ tag. Without Walls 2007 touring artists include installation artists Aswarm, whose tree-inhabiting jellyfish-like sculptures cum sound installations provide a gentle and ambient intervention to the natural environment. Chaser by Motionhouse is a short sharp acrobatic dance piece, full of exuberant flights and catches; Orkestra del Sol are a band of musicians, inspired by the marching bands of Eastern Europe, who play an exuberant mix of tunes – ‘the swagger of a Balkan wedding band with the flair of Latin carnival’. Having seen them at both Brighton and Manchester, I can testify to their ability to get the crowd waltzing on pavement or parkland, their work proving that’ theatre’ and ‘narrative’ can reside as happily within song as anywhere else. The Alexandras (appearing at all five of the consortium’s festivals) are an example of a company who would perhaps never have taken to the streets without a bit of pro-active prodding. Their director Jenny Sealy hopped up at the end of a panel session at x.trax in Manchester to say, with refreshing humility, that she was on new territory with outdoor performance and would welcome any feedback from anyone on the show. Mimbre’s The Bridge is a fine example of the sort of work that both Without Walls and the new ACE strategy own to wanting to support: it’s a collaboration between a company with a good track record in street arts performance with an established physical/devised theatre director (Joseph Alford of Theatre O) more used to working indoors – thus ticking all those boxes on developing the range of work for an existing company, encouraging artists from other areas into street arts, supporting interesting new collaborations.

Without Walls Consortium 2007: Streets of Brighton (10-12 May) www.zapart.co.uk
x.trax, Manchester (1-2 June) www.xtrax.org.uk
Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (21-24 June) www.festival.org
Hat Fair Winchester (29-30 June, 1 July) www.hatfair.co.uk
Stockton International Riverside Festival (1-5 August) www.sirf.co.uk
For further information see www.withoutwalls.uk.com

This article in the magazine

Issue 19-3
p. 13