Cork Midsummer Festival 2007

Feature in Issue 19-2 | Summer 2007

Franc Chamberlain interviews festival director William Galinsky.

The Cork Midsummer Festival was a civic initiative in 1997 and has grown considerably since then, attracting a large number of visitors during 2005 when Cork was the European City of Culture. In 2006 there were nineteen international projects and over fifty performance-based ones in all.

Previous Midsummer Festivals in Cork have had plenty to interest the reader of Total Theatre and last year saw a range of artists from Stan's Cafe and NoFit State to Pucá Puppets showing their work. In January 2007, William Galinsky took over as director from Ali Robertson.

Franc: What was it that particularly interested you in this post?

William: Essentially I've always wanted to run a festival. A few years back myself and Ben Harrison, the director of Grid Iron (fantastic site-specific company based in Edinburgh), made a joint application when the artistic directorship of LIFT came up. It was a long process and really focused me on want I'd want to achieve if running a festival. I suppose it made me realise that a festival was more attractive to me than either a company or a building. I imagined a festival which was both local and international, presenting work and commissioning new work which pushed the boundaries of live performance and was made by the most interesting practitioners but which did not lose its sense of being rooted in a particular locality and having a huge sense of popular appeal. When Cork Midsummer Festival came up and I saw what had been achieved here over the last few years; it really chimed in with the vision I had conceived of what a festival should be like.

Is this vision similar to the one that's guided the festival in the past? Is it the same vision as Ali's?

No, it isn't. But Ali's vision has planted a very fertile seedbed for me. Of course it's all of the companies and practitioners Ali worked with as well. Companies like Corcadorca and successive companies like Hammergrin and Playgroup have been making popular work which really pushes the boundaries and the audience response has been phenomenal. For example, I am so excited about Corcadorca choosing to do Woyzeck this year. And because they have such a following I can be pretty sure that what to a Cork audience is a relatively obscure play will be a huge hit. The appetite has been created for unusual work, for theatre as an 'event' – something out of the everyday. Where the vision differs slightly is that I will focus on at least one big-scale international theatre premiere for Cork this year (and this will be a regular fixture, I hope, for the festival). In addition, for the future I am very interested in establishing co-producing relationships between artists on a local, national and international level.

What else is on the programme for this year?

We will be presenting Stan's Cafe's new piece, The Cleansing of Constance Brown, straight from the Vienna Festival. It's an installation theatre piece for an audience of 25 people at a time, set inside a self-contained corridor which arrives on the back of two articulated lorries. The corridor measures 20m by 5m by 3m. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's been quite a task to find a space that can take it – the only possibility is the Millennium Hall.

The international piece is the Experimental Theatre of Syria/Theatre Babylon Beirut with their production of Bath of Baghdad. It's a tragicomedy about the Iraq war set in a public bathhouse. I saw it at the Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre last year and was really blown away by it.

Adrian Howells (Salon Adrienne) is also coming back with a very daring new piece called Held, for which we're renting a house. And then there's Stephen Mottram and Fabrik Potsdam. We've also Fidget Feet, a wonderful Irish aerial theatre group, whose piece will be a spectacular family event – and a disco for toddlers called Baby Rave.