Way Around the Festivals

Feature in Issue 4-2/3 | Summer/Autumn 1992

Reports from the companies

Inside out on Europe

The Festival Season, summer and travel are often the highlight and most enjoyable work of the year. A chance to see other acts, socialise, catch up on news and gossip.

Inside Out have just finished their first major venture into Europe with a five-week tour of various festivals. We started in France at a festival called Jazz sous les pommiers. It takes place in Normandy; all available large indoor spaces and bars become venues for music. They also programme street entertainment during the day.

We arrived late at night, immediately found somebody to introduce us to the organiser; after a drink and a chat we were assigned a personal minder for our stay and taken to our hotel.

The festival seemed to have one full-time dedicated organiser who assembled a team of seventy people around him to run the festival. Most of them worked on a voluntary basis, taking time off work. Our chaperone, Patrice, was a carpenter with a business restoring country houses.

The team spirit was good and lunch was a ritual when everyone came together for social chat and good food which was provided by the festival. This certainly added to the festivity. Schedules were well observed, worked out and publicised. We were amazed that the empty pitches we were shown during the next morning were full of waiting people at our playing time. There was an anticipation in the crowds which was so positive. People clapped just at your appearance.

Europe is much more at home with physical and visual theatre and we had laughter for things that rarely raise a smile here.

We saw some jazz concerts and met our street partners, A Bout de Souffle, who mix theatre and music. Four men who played brass dressed as shakey OAPs with a determination to show music isn't just a young thing. Great characters and very funny.

We can perform our show in French but not in German. This potentially posed a problem at a large mixed media festival in Bremen. We were a little unconfident at first but the show was fine in English. Again the hospitality was excellent. It's a simple thing but it adds so much good feeling to a festival; we felt good so we could give it back to the public.

In Germany and Holland we were with a group of British and Dutch performers under the collective title of The Heffalumps. It was so good to see talented British performers who have to work so hard in England being so well received by huge audiences of excited people.

The festival was on the banks of a river with music and theatre in tents and sculpture instillations and performances on the grass. Holland was our next step. The Dutch have an incredible ability to speak perfect English which was fortunate for us.

One of the big festivals in Holland is on Terschelling Island. It is called Oerol (everywhere). On this small island there is an amazing array of music, theatre, art and people who are hungry for it.

The Spanish troupe Semola had an enormous open-air theatre tent on the beach and it was great to watch them in that setting, with a packed audience. The show was visually arresting, witty and absurd and gained a standing ovation.

We saw Johnny Melville play there, an ex-pat settled in Europe; he is flourishing there. His show, which largely contains non-speaking mime sketches which are incredibly fast and subtle, is of a cult status here.

It is a festival everyone wants to perform at.

Festivals in England often seem a bit short on the festivity part, the atmosphere of people wanting to enjoy themselves and be entertained. Of course Glastonbury has become a big performance festival and is our leading example, but the size of it makes it a little unwieldy.

As we worked in Holland, Dutch friends of ours flew off to work in England at Glastonbury and the Hat Fair – the grass is always greener on the other side.

The Heffalump tour consisted of: Inside Out, The Uncles – John Fealey and Alex Dandridge, Andre Vincent, Mark van Wees, Pieter Post.

Du Bois Productions – Kingston May Arts Festival

Du Bois Productions took their full-length show, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge to the Kingston May Arts Festival on 20-22 May. The company was specially commissioned by the Festival for their 10th Anniversary which featured theatre companies, opera and art exhibitions.

Sadly despite being a large town, Kingston does not have a Theatre and the performances took place in a specially converted Badminton Court!

Fortunately this proved to be blessing rather than a hindrance to physical theatre – on account of the wonderfully large space. However, with many producing companies participating, large audiences and much local interest and support we would hope that in future years of this successful event the council will consider the necessity of a theatre in this busy, student orientated town.

Dorothy Talk

Who? How do you spell that? Torque? Oh...Talk. ‘Dorothy Talk.’ Am I speaking to Miss Talk? Oh I see. So who is Dorothy Talk? A Mime Company. We've booked our mime slot for this season. Mmmm, so there is some text. You're an all-girl group. But we are looking to a Lesbian and Gay Season in 1998... we could pencil you in for that? You have an opera singer? She only sings in Finnish? Marvellous! How about three nights in November? Right that's confirmed then.

With regards to Festivals which welcome physical theatre there are now many more in which to appear. We've found that these are often a good way of getting more exposure, attracting reviews from the National Press, and getting new bookings and audience members. They have provided the opportunity to show new work to audiences drawn in by better known groups, and to receive valuable critical feedback and encouragement from both audiences and festival organisers. We as performers can see what other groups in the field are doing, although sometimes the audiences are made up solely of fellow performers and people with whom we're on first name terms!

But you won't be seeing us at any festival for a while – at least not as performers. Dorothy Talk has received Arts Council development funding. This is specifically for exploring ways of combining the physical, visual and textual elements of performance with a writer and director, a process whereby the text develops from the improvisation which in turn inspires further physical and visual material. That's the theory. The results can be seen when Dorothy Talk tours again in Spring 1993.

Dorothy Talk are Hilary Ramsden and Jude Winter. Previous productions include Fried or Boiled and Walking on Peas.

Ra-Ra Zoo

Ra-Ra Zoo tours extensively around the UK, and is well-known on the circuit. Our overseas work tends to come via word of mouth or from people who saw the company several years ago when the majority of our work involved touring outside the UK. At Glasgow's Mayfest '91 we did three performances and workshops of Fabulous Beasts at community venues and at the New Atheneum Theatre. We had been contacted directly by Mayfest Office. Our participation was very successful, performers particularly enjoying the community element.

During the Brighton Festival 1991, we again performed Fabulous Beasts. We did a showcase performance in the Big Top, to a capacity audience of approximately 1000. Unfortunately we felt we could have had better technical support and facilities but they worked hard on publicity. During the Burnley Summer Festival in June '91 we were engaged to perform outdoors following our successful shows at the Burnley Mechanics Centre earlier in the year but unfortunately these had to be cancelled due to rain.

We were very well received during our tour of Germany in July and September of 1991, dates were booked through our German agent and we played the Humour and Satire Festival – Leipzig, the Kultursommer '91 – Hanau, the Gaffenberg Festival – Heilbronn, the Summertime Festival – Frankfurt, and the Hambach Festival – Hambacher Schloss, Recklinghausen. The Bermuda Festival was a real treat for us; we gave five performances of Fabulous Beasts having been booked directly by the Festival Director, after recommendation from the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. We were very well looked after, they were extremely organised, and it was very successful with capacity houses.

We returned to Mayfest in 1992 with our new production Angels and Amazons, where we did one week of community venues and workshops which were very well received by both performers and participants.

Not so successful was a visit to the Clown Festival in Sweden during May this year with The Gravity Swing. Although staff were very supportive the festival could have been organised a lot better and poor publicity led to very thin audiences. We then went on to perform in June at the York Festival with Angels and Amazons and The Gravity Swing and at the Bradford Festival with three performances at the Alhambra Studio Theatre.

Our most recent venture was a very successful visit to the International Theatre Festival in New York in July where we gave five performances of The Gravity Swing with full houses and very supportive audiences. The Festival was very well organised with good publicity and media coverage and we received a lot of interest from promoters in USA.

Tottering Bipeds

Katie London from Tottering Bipeds talks about their Spanish Tour of The Overcoat.

Edinburgh '91. Just as we were bemoaning the sorry state of the Festival a rather tired Spanish man appeared at the end of one of our performances. ‘I want you for my festival in Madrid.’

If this had happened in '89 when we started we would have been over the moon. As it was we were extremely sceptical but arranged a meeting for the following day in Kinnell's – at least we could have some decent coffee.

Of course it turned out that Alfonso not only wanted us for his Festival but that, in conjunction with the British Council, he wanted us to arrange our visit. We were very fortunate that same week the British Council also saw our work and were prepared to support a full tour of Spain.

Our tour took in eight major cities including Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Without the financial and administrative support of the British Council it would have been impossible.

In a sense the tour of Spain was a dream come true – foreign touring adequately financed and administratively supported. The contrast with British Touring could not have been greater. In Las Palmas one of our famous tea chests was lost by the airline – containing THE overcoat! It is not easy to obtain a heavy Russian-style overcoat in the Canary Islands so our British Council Representative with tact, wit and style persuaded the airline to locate the tea chest (which had been conducting its own international tour) in time for the evening's performance.

We played to large enthusiastic audiences – selling out in venues with a capacity of up to 600 seats, and with the help of the Spanish venue managers and the British Council, we were able to concentrate on the show which went from strength to strength. Its really hard to describe the pleasure of playing to a large audience in Seville who, despite the fact you are not speaking their language, are on their feet at the end.

What else can other companies learn from our experience? Although our tour looks like an immense stroke of luck it was actually the fruit of two years’ hard work. The British Council were in the audience to see us because we had been in contact with them for some time and had begun to establish a good artistic reputation. The Overcoat was only possible because the Arts Council had supported us with a small sum for development. And in order to be seen by international bookers you have to be playing in decent venues. (Don't try hassling the British Council – they will only support you if someone from abroad wants you.) There's really no point in hoping that a miracle will happen – but as you're slogging away remember that it's the groundwork that may get you there in the end.