Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.

The Art of Behaving Badly

Still anonymous and still committed to action, the Guerrilla Girls just keep chipping away at the patriarchy. Dorothy Max Prior talks to the legendary masked avengers of the art world about campaigns past and present, including their latest, The Male Graze 

‘Frida Kahlo has joined your meeting’ is possibly the best Zoom alert ever… Especially as also in the room is the German Expressionist painter and printmaker Käthe Kollwitz.

Let me explain. When art activist collective Guerrilla Girls were founded in 1985, it was decided that anonymity was the way to go – hence the iconic gorilla masks worn by the group members when appearing in public spaces. To further hide their identities, each Guerrilla Girl adopted the name of a dead woman artist. Hence me speaking to Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz.

So the first question, quite naturally, is why each chose their particular dead woman artist alter-ego.

‘I chose Frida Kahlo because she’s an artist whose work I’m crazy about,’ says our Frida, ‘and whose life I find fascinating’. She goes on to say that her own personality is quite different to that of the original Frida Kahlo.

Käthe comes in with a reflection on her assumed identity: ‘Käthe Kollwitz, like me, was a political artist – an artist who pushed forward a better world for people, creating anti-war work, work about women’s position in society, using art as a tool to change the world for the better.’ 

Both Frida and Käthe are founder members of Guerrilla Girls, working right at the heart of every campaign – from those seminal early days right through to the current project The Male Graze, commissioned for Art Night 2021, which can be seen on billboards at sites across the UK, and online anywhere, from 18 June to 18 July.

Guerrilla Girls: The Male Graze billboard in situ, Barrowland, Glasgow

So before we talk about the latest work, I take advantage of having two GG founders in the (virtual) room to ask about the origins of the group and those wonderful early campaigns – I’m keen to hear the story, even though I know the story, as I’ve had the posters on my walls for decades, and can recite the headlines unprompted. Favourites include: Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum?; The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist; and Dear Art Collector, it has come to our attention…  

Here’s Käthe: ’Before we formed as an entity, we had the idea to do a new kind of political poster. We were a bunch of women artists in New York in the 1980s who, after a wave of feminism in the 60s and 70s, realised things had gotten worse. We went to a demo outside MoMA’s International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. On the picket line we saw that the strategy wasn’t working, people just walked on by into the museum…’

She feels that people thought that the museum knew best – if you weren’t being shown, it was because you weren’t good enough. ‘We knew this wasn’t true,’ says Käthe, ‘we knew that there were so many amazing women artists and artists of colour left out of this system’. 

That was the ‘aha’ moment. They decided that rather than do the traditional protest thing of picket lines, they needed to fight art with art – to put something up on the streets to show people the stark truth.

‘We didn’t have a plan,’ says Frida, ‘We were angry and wanted to speak out  in the world and transform people’s views. After thirty-five years it’s become a mission… ‘  Thirty-six years, Käthe corrects, and they both laugh. Time flies when you’re having fun and changing the world.

Guerrilla Girls: Poster Campaign, New York and beyond, 1989

Those early poster campaigns are striking both in their graphic punch and their take-no-prisoners political approach. Many are signed ‘A public service message from Guerrilla Girls – conscience of the art world’. A few things to note about these early campaigns: First, that it wasn’t just the galleries being targeted. Sponsors, critics, and even artists themselves are hauled over the coals. What Do These Artists Have in Common? (followed by a long list of names), says one poster. Answer: they allow their work to be shown in galleries that show no more than 10% women artists or none at all. 

Secondly, we note that racism is flagged up alongside sexism right from the very start: What’s Fashionable, Prestigious & Tax Deductible? Discriminating Against Woman and Non-White Artists, proclaims one 1987 poster. Alongside the posters came postcards, calling cards, and stickers, often targeting specific galleries or events. Why in 1987 is Documenta 95% white and 83% male? asks one, and We Sell White Bread says a famous sticker, Ingredients: white men, artificial flavourings, preservatives. Contains less than the minimum daily requirement of white women and non-whites.

In 1990 came the first of the giant billboard posters, and that decade sees an extension of their work: whilst continuing to target the art world, there are campaigns run in collaboration with New York homeless shelters; campaigns supporting A Woman’s Right to Choose; posters highlighting the continuing prevalence of rape; posters advocating a better education system.  

‘When the first posters [about women artists and the art world] worked, we realised we could take this strategy – the headlines, the outrageous imagery, all backed up by facts – and take on any subject: anti-war, issues of systemic racism, corruption…’ says Käthe. 

Frida adds: ‘What was operating – although we didn’t necessarily understand it at first – was the idea of intersectionality. The problems and limitations and issues of privilege are all inter-related. The art world is part of the rest of the world, even though a lot of people like to think of it as its own bubble.  Everything that’s wrong in our larger capitalist society is doubly wrong in the art world, but no one really looked at it this way, as they saw the art world as a refuge from the rest of the world – when in fact many of the awful things that go on [in the wider world] happen in the art world too, maybe even in a more magnified way’. Hence, the art attack goes on – alongside other work.

We talk briefly here about other art activist groups like the Extinction Rebellion aligned group Red Rebels; and other political/social activist campaigns such as Black Lives Matter. So yes, Guerrilla Girls do sometimes do street actions, and also have a performance piece that they take into schools: ‘Students often get really excited and want to do their own work to push things forward.’

Guerrilla Girls at Art Basel, Hong Kong 2018

Which brings me to ask whether anybody can be a Guerrilla Girl – to which the answer is that the collective is actually quite a close-held group, and although there have been times when people (particularly women artists) have been asked to publicly put their names to a specific campaign – most amusingly in the Guerrilla Girls Identities Revealed campaign – for the most part the GGs keep a tight reign on the membership.

‘We’re not as large a group as one might think – you can’t do the type of things we do in large groups. And if we were to work with everybody who wanted to work with us, we’d spend all our time managing people and things. The truth of the matter is, we do things in a very informal way. When we need help or certain skill-sets, we find individuals we can work with. Being in a collective and collaborating is not something you can do with everybody.’

So the bad news is that not every one who wants to work with the Guerrilla Girls can, but here’s the good news:

‘They don’t need us!’ says Frida. ‘We could operate as a model for similar actions in other places. We think the world needs more – more feminist activists, more masked avengers, than just this single group, the Guerrilla Girls. It would be a much scarier place if there were 10, 15, 20 a 100 similar groups…’

We then talk about some of the group’s recent campaigns, and in particular ones that have been commissioned by and placed in British galleries. One that grabbed my attention was the performative Complaints Department hosted by Tate Modern in London (2016) which Käthe describes as an example of creative complaining, ‘because we do do a lot of complaining about what’s going on in the world!’

The GGs have always loved to do interactive work, she says, to do things in which ‘we get something back in some way’. They’ve done several installations which have involved big chalkboards, and when Tate Modern asked them to do a special project in their new building, ‘we set up all these giant chalkboards, and big tables full of materials so people could write and do whatever they wanted’. Thousands came and did just that – came along to complain about art, about their lives, about people in their lives, about politics. ‘Every issue you could imagine.’

Guerrilla Girls: Is It Really Worse in Europe? Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2016. Photo David Parry

Another is the Is It Really Worse in Europe? project which came to Whitechapel Gallery in 2016, a continuation of the group’s four-decade-long critique of museum culture. Frida talks of the private investment system of gallery governance in the US, which she says is ‘run like a small poker game. It’s not so very different to the days of kings and queens and aristocrats. A few rich people are deciding what should be preserved and conserved – and that’s a lousy way to write art history’.

For this campaign, they sent out out a questionnaire to all the major galleries in Europe, urging them to identify what their problems were. Close to 400 were sent out, with around 100 responding. The 300 who didn’t respond weren’t left out of the exhibition – their names were on the floor of the gallery, trampled on by visitors. ‘We then took tidbits out of their responses,’ says Frida, noting that they also made a book of all the responses.  ‘The interesting thing is that they mostly thought they were doing better than they actually were’. Like the Reina Sofia of Madrid, for example, that ‘thinks about diversity all the time’ despite its collection being 87% male and overwhelmingly white. 

Perhaps it’s not surprising, with private collectors running the show in the States, that most major exhibitions and retrospectives of the Guerrilla Girls’ work have been outside of their home country. But back in New York the Guerrilla Girls have come full circle recently with a campaign targeted at MoMA – in particular, criticising the naming of the new(ish) Jeffrey Epstein galleries. Käthe has plenty to say on this:

‘There are so many board members on museums who have nefarious connections to all sorts of things – drugs dealing, arms dealing, sexual abuse, sex trafficking. When news started to come out that Leon Black, chair of the board at MOMA, was deeply, deeply involved with Jeffrey Epstein, we started going after him, in many different ways. One way was to put a poster up outside MOMA telling them to fire Leon Black’. 

Another recent campaign saw the Guerrilla Girls helpfully providing wall labels for works of art created by abusers, an example being the Bill Clinton painting by Chuck Close, ‘a portrait of an abuser by an abuser!’. The poster campaign reads: 3 Ways to Write a Museum Wall Label When the Artist is a Sexual Predator. The first is the usual type of label, for museums ‘afraid of alienating billionaire trustees’. The second is the hedging-your-bets type for ‘conflicted’ museums. The third is one for museums who ‘need help from the Guerrilla Girls’. The one for Chuck Close’s portrait of Bill Clinton reads: ‘Chuck Close has had a huge career with prices to match. He has been accused of sexually abusing models, and students he picked up at fancy art schools. How fitting and ironic that he painted the official portrait of Bill Clinton. The art world tolerates abuse because it believes art is above it all, and rules don’t apply to “genius” white male artists. WRONG!’

Which brings us neatly to the latest work, The Male Graze.

Guerrilla Girls: The Male Graze, commissioned by Art Night 2021. Billboard campaign and dedicated website

There are two aspects to this work. One is the billboards in 11 locations in the UK which ask, Are There More Naked Women Than Women Artists in Art Museums? encouraging people to go to any gallery and count the number of naked women in artworks versus the number of women artists (a kind of back-to-their-roots throwback to that seminal Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum? campaign). These figures can be uploaded on to the new dedicated website at   

The other part of The Male Graze is a typically fiery and funny critique of Western art history and flagging up of the intrinsic abuse and misogyny of the art world, explored through other sections of the website, which have racy titles like Flesh Through the Ages and Arts School Confidential. A quick click on Flesh Through the Ages brings up a gallery subdivided into sections that include Sexy and Dead, and Naked with Animals.

Talking of why reflections on the female nude remain pertinent well into the 21st century, Frida says ‘the more you look at Western art work – European and US art – the more you realise that objectification of women is intrinsic, in the work, and in the culture… Often, in the paintings, the women are naked and if they are not being spied upon, they are being acted upon – harassed, seduced, abducted, raped, murdered. Sexual violence is part of our culture and has become part of our artistic tradition. Oftentimes it gets shoved under the table, because the paintings are beautiful. We wanted to focus on that a little bit. We think a deeper understanding of Western art is dependent on talking about the subject matter in art, and what is happening to women as subjects in Western art. Because if we are going to deal with sexual violence in our culture, we have to understand how it has been expressed in our art. So that’s what we wanted to do in The Male Graze

‘When we looked at Western art, there’s this idea about “the male gaze” but when we thought about the male gaze, we saw a lot of grazing, not gazing! That’s the genesis of this whole project!’

Finally, we go out with a mission statement – similar to the one we came in with:

‘We really believe museums must change. As they are now, they don’t represent who the culture is, they represent special interests, and it’s time for all of that to change’ says Frida.

Plus ça change…

‘A lot of people like to believe that art is above it all,’ says Käthe, reflecting on the myth and exaltation of ‘one great genius’ (usually white and male) who springs from nowhere, rather than telling the story of art that reflects the time it is made in. ‘All art is part of its own time. We think that’s important to know about, and that’s why we’re advocates for better museum practices, casting  a wider net and collecting the whole story of our culture and in general changing how things are taught and viewed’ says Käthe.

Frida again: ’Our project The Male Graze isn’t to moralise and censor, it’s merely to inform; to create a richer, deeper, broader understanding of art to culture.’

So, thirty-six years of chipping away at it all, with plenty of work done, but lots still to do. Let’s hope Guerrilla Girls continue to make trouble in the art world and beyond for many more years to come – and continue to inspire the rest of us to also use art to make change.

Guerrilla Girls on home territory, New York City

Dorothy Max Prior spoke to Guerrilla Girls founder-members Käthe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo via Zoom on 15 June 2021.

For more about the Guerilla Girls past and present see

Guerilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly – ‘not a monograph, a call to arms’ – is published by Chronicle Books. Punch out gorilla/guerrilla mask included 

Art Night 2021 runs 18 June to 18 July, across the UK and online. Artists include: Guerrilla Girls, Alberta Whittle, Isabel Lewis, Oona Doherty, Adham Faramawy and Mark Leckey. The festival is curated by Art Night’s artistic director Helen Nisbet and this year’s edition is titled Nothing Compares 2U. The programme takes inspiration from defiance in small acts and moments of self-determination, both personal and collective. All details and locations listed on

The Male Graze is Guerilla Girls’ largest UK public project to-date, exploring bad male behaviour through the lens of art history. Eleven large billboards will be on display from 18 June to 18 July in partnership with Art Night, and the interactive website can be found at  

Full list of The Male Graze billboard locations:

345 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT

London Bridge/Borough High Street, London, SE1 9OG

The Anchor Inn, Rea Street, Birmingham, B5 6ET

2 Forfar Road, Dundee, DD4 7AR

Cardiff, Motorpoint Arena A, Bute Terrace, Cardiff, CF10 2FE

231 Gallowgate, Barrowlands, Glasgow, G4 OTP

1 Warehouse, New Orchard Street, Swansea, SA1 6YL

A209, Lewes (opposite Elephant and Castle pub, adjacent to New Road)

1364 Neath Road, Swansea, SA1 2HL (14 June – 27 June)

57 Neath Road C/O Lyndu Street, Morriston, SA6 7BH  (28 June – 11 July)

Compton Verney, Warwick, CV35 9HJ

Headingley Lane, Headingley, Leeds LS6 2AS

Eastbourne Redoubt, Royal Parade, Eastbourne BN22 7AQ   

Guerrilla Girls: The Male Graze hoarding in situ in Eastbourne

Lights in the Darkness

Colliding particles, sunshine on a forest path, overlapping monologues, a beautifully lit empty theatre, and a candle lighting ceremony – Dorothy Max Prior samples the delights of the installation programme at Brighton Festival 2021 

The invitation came in early May for a press viewing of Semiconductor’s latest installation work, Halo. So used was I to everything these days being online that it took two read-throughs of the email to be sure that it meant I was expected to actually go to the Attenborough Centre and experience something indoors, for real. 

And what an extraordinary initiation back into live experience it turned out to be! Halo is a full-on, visceral, immersive installation. You step into a great dark space – the whole of the large theatre auditorium at ACCA has been given over to it – feeling a little uncertain of your footing, your eyes blinking under a constellation of flashing and flickering snow-white lights, a low hum and drone shuddering through the space. Suddenly, the lights explode into a frenzy of activity, and the noise level rises into a cacophony of sounds at different frequencies and resonances.

Semiconductor: Halo. Photo Claudia Marcelloni

Then, emerging from the darkness you make out a large central structure. It’s cylindrical, around the size of a bandstand, but roofless; the sides made up of a large number of vertically strung piano strings, with hammers hitting at the bottom. The lights and the sounds we can hear are apparently ‘triggered and controlled’  by data collected from the ATLAS detector that forms part of the particle-collision experiments at the CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva. No, I don’t understand how either – despite visiting the installation twice, reading the press release and programme, and watching two different films – one by Semiconductor about the making process, and one from CERN itself, in which learned scientists talk of advanced mathematics as a kind of branch of philosophy, saying that both language and visual imagery have reached the limits of their capabilities to explain what’s happening right now with ATLAS and the Hadron Collider. Apparently, we have entered a new reality. Semiconductor’s Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt spent time as artists in residence at CERN, and Halo was then developed with support from numerous physicists (including some from University of Sussex). Having given up Physics age 14 (you could do that back in the day), I readily admit to being completely out of my depth here…

But I should make it clear that any pre-knowledge or understanding of the physics involved in this art-sci collaboration is completely unnecessary. You can, as I did quite happily, experience the piece purely as the visual, aural and physical installation work that it is. A sensory playground. Like a small child, I walked round the outside repeatedly, running my fingers along the wires (they aren’t taut enough to cut, thankfully), then knelt down to watch the little hammers striking, then went into the middle and stood still, absorbing the sounds and images all around me in glorious 360 degree sensurround. I then put my ear to one the metal poles holding the structure up, and got a fantastic echoing and reverberating soundbox sensation. A truly total experience!

From this most modern of scientific developments to that most ancient of environments: the forest. Our Northern European and Celtic lands were once densely forested, and our myths and fairy tales and books and films are awash with stories of the woods and the wilderness – from Red Riding Hood to Sweet Tooth. 

Olafur Eliasson: The Forked Forest Path

Olafur Eliasson’s The Forked Forest Path has been installed in Fabrica gallery for May and June 2021 – the venue’s previous life as a church, still replete with gothic arches and stained glass windows, adding to the fairy-tale feel. The piece is one of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s early works, made in 1998, a few years before his famous ‘sun’ (The Weather Project, commissioned for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2003). It’s kind of what it says on the tin: a path through a recreated forest in which the audience member reaches a fork, and thus a choice of routes. It is a stipulation for its recreation that galleries/festivals must only use branches and saplings sourced locally and sustainably in the making of the piece, which is good to learn.

Although I enjoy The Forked Forest Path (experienced twice) it has to be said that it feels a little tame, and substantially less immersive than other Eliasson works, such as the famous ‘tunnel of fog’ piece, Your Blind Passenger. The route is short, taking just minutes to get through, and you can always see the outside walls of the building from all points inside the ‘forest’, so there is no sense ever of being deep into the woods, nor any danger of getting lost, even for a second – although it is nice to appreciate the architecture of the building, and to see the sun shining through the stained glass windows. I walk in woods regularly, and this didn’t really replicate the experience strongly enough for me, nor add any new insights to the lore of woodlands. Perhaps the piece is aimed at people unfamiliar with woods and walking in them? It’s worth a visit, but I would suggest that going to nearby Stanmer Park (which has supplied some of the wood for this piece, alongside Foxwood Forestry) for a ‘creative walk’ in the woods could prove to be a stronger, more immersive, artistic experience…

Tim Crouch with his installation House Mother Normal

Just round the corner from Fabrica, in one of Brighton’s famous Lanes, a very different sort of installation work is sited. House Mother Normal is a screen work adapted from the 1971 novel by BS Johnson, a darling of the British avant garde literary scene in the mid-twentieth century. The novel is a dark and satirical look at the goings-on in a care home, in which the House Mother and eight ‘friends’ (we don’t call them inmates, or patients, or even clients, sneers Mother, we’re all friends) each tell their story in consecutive chapters, although all occupying the same timeframe. Here, all nine present their monologues at the same time, each framed in splendid isolation, voices cleverly spliced together, so that they rise and fall – sentences, phrases, or perhaps just isolated words leaping out at us. Mother’s voice rises above them all…

So here we are – Ron, Rosetta, Ivy, Charlie, Gloria, Sarah, Sioned, George and House Mother herself – nine lives in a day at the care home. God save us from this. Craft sessions. Pass the parcel. Exercise. Meals. Bums and poos and piles. Dribbles and drools. Grudges and gropes in the toilets. Corporal punishment, paedophilia, bestiality – it’s all here, in its nasty nakedness. All the actors are excellent. The eight characters suffering from various degrees of deterioration, degradation and senility give us resignation and resistance in equal measure. House Mother’s cruelty and perversion – shouting abuse, switching her ‘twitcher’, and panting at the thought of Ralphie the dog’s ‘long probing red tongue’– is appallingly credible. I cringe away from the screen as she breaks the fourth wall and draws us into her confidence: ‘Friend (if I may call you friend), these are also our friends…’ 

I saw it twice, once here in Duke’s Lane and before that online, and got a very different sense of the narrative each time – to the extent that I had to check with the invigilator that the piece did have a fixed soundtrack and wasn’t variable. The piece has been adapted and directed by Tim Crouch, with the films made by Shared Space and Light, and sound by Thor McIntyre. I can’t fault it conceptually or technically – the nine talking heads locked into their boxes is a brilliant way to present Johnson’s sordid and darkly funny narrative. It’s clever as can be, but leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It feels good to leave Mother behind and get out of this oppressive dark room and back into Duke’s Lane, gulping the healing and cleansing fresh air.

Neil Bartlett: Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness. Photo Summer Dean

Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness, on the other hand, leaves me feeling energised and nurtured, despite it being a lamentation for the past year of collective loss. Beauty can grow out of darkness, we learn. The soul is fed, and there is catharsis. The piece, which director Neil Bartlett describes as ‘a love-letter to an empty theatre’ is created with sound designer Christopher Shutt, and lighting designer Paule Constable, working in collaboration with a team of writers, singers, and musicians. 

Fifteen local writers were commissioned to write poetic texts in response to 2020. These texts (or parts thereof) are presented as pre-recorded spoken word pieces, integrated into the soundscape – the audience experiencing them in darkness from seats on the stage of the Theatre Royal, looking out at an empty auditorium that is animated by a most wonderful scenography of lights that emerge from the darkness, highlighting a balcony or a door or a row of empty seats, then fading away gently. It is hard to imagine a more moving metaphor for the past year’s losses than this gorgeously lit empty auditorium. The texts are weaved together expertly with the sigh of a cello, and the melancholic lament of angelic voices, moving around the spoken words.

Some writers focused on the obvious losses of the past year: ‘the longest year in history’ as Lucy Naish calls it. ‘We see a woman slip from a graveside,’ says Maria Amidu, ‘She is hiding her grief, gripping her house keys’. Mark Price says: ‘In this city I see so many people. I see their pain, their fear, their anger / Held within a a jutting jaw, fidgeting hands, downcast eyes.’ And Oliwafemi Hughes Jonas says, ‘I saw us seek words to explain silence, echoes of aching loss everywhere…’

For others, the subject broadens out to embrace issues heightened rather than eased by the pandemic: the environmental crisis, Black Lives Matter, homophobia, the ongoing refugee crisis… But there is hope: ‘Our spirit will never go dark’ and ‘together our stories will be told and heard’. Then, ‘ I was able to breathe again. Suddenly, I was able to shoulder the burden and carry on.’

‘Things won’t be the same when the lights come on,’ says Sam Kenyon Hamp, ‘What is important is we’re here when they do’.

Abigail Conway: The Candle Project

Light in the darkness is an obvious metaphor for both the collective mourning process and the current emergence from the pandemic, so it is not surprising that more than one work in the Brighton Festival explores this. And also that religious or quasi-religious experience is a point of reference.

Where Neil Bartlett’s Tenebrae takes its cue from a church ritual of alternating light and darkness, using all the resources that contemporary theatre lighting can offer, Abigail Conway’s Candle Project is set in an actual church (the Spire is the deconsecrated St Mark’s Church) and mostly uses that most elemental and sacred of light forms, the candle.

Throughout the last week of May, anybody who would like to can come along to the Spire to make a traditional beeswax tapered candle, with a message for a stranger placed inside. These candles are then placed into the nave of the church.

On the last day of the installation, a small invited audience, and a much larger online audience, watch as the candles are ritualistically lit: ‘As a candle slowly burns, remnant messages left behind become glimmering beacons of hope, whispers, for others to discover and take home’. This burning-down happens over an hour. Seeing the little lights gently go out is meditative and very moving. The candles provide most of the light in the space, with just a soft wash of stage lighting enhancing the beautiful architecture of the church. The secular ceremony is accompanied by choral singing, a number of local choirs involved, the voices built into a soundscape created by the artist. All well and good, with some lovely sound design in evidence – although the choir’s choice of material is sometimes suspect, and occasionally downright cringeworthy. Do any of us ever need to hear John Lennon’s Imagine ever again, be it the original or a cover version? Not I! That aside, a really beautiful and nurturing event. 

The day after the communion ceremony, participants are invited to ‘evacuate and receive’ a message from a stranger. A message in a candle rather than a message in a bottle – how lovely!  A fitting finale to a rather gentle and subdued Brighton Festival 2021 – a festival which has placed installation work at the heart of its programme.

Featured image (top): Abigail Conway: The Candle Project. Photo Rowan Briscoe

Brighton Festival 2021 ran online from 1 May, with live events from 17 May. The guest director was poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay.

Semiconductor: Halo was presented 19 May to 4 June 2021 at Attenborough Centre for the Creative arts, University of Sussex 

Olafur Eliasson: The Forked Forest Path opened 18 May and continues at Fabrica until 20 June 2021

Tim Crouch: House Mother Normal ran online 1 May to 9 June 2021, and as an installation at 8 Duke’s Lane from 17 May to 6 June. 

Neil Bartlett: Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness installation ran from dawn (4.45am) to 5pm on 22 May at the Theatre Royal Brighton, with a live performance of Couperin’s Leçons de ténèbres at 7.45pm. The writers’ texts are avialable as online short films, here:

Abigail Conway: The Candle Project ran candle-making sessions 24–28 May, 12–7pm. The Lighting Ceremony Livestream was broadcast live on 29 May at 8pm, and is currently (June 2021) still available online 

Neil Bartlett: Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness. Photo Summer Dean

News Release 21 January 2021

Announcing the relaunch of the Total Theatre Magazine website, the successful conclusion of the Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2020 programme, and new projects planned for 2021

For over 30 years, Total Theatre Magazine has been at the forefront of the advocacy, celebration and documentation of contemporary theatre and performance – with a focus on physical and visual theatre, circus, outdoor arts, site-responsive performance, puppetry, and live art. Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and that of other theatre-makers.

Our focus in the future will be on longform, reflective writing on contemporary theatre and performance, and our website has been restructured to reflect those changes. We are delighted to announce its relaunch at 

We are also announcing the successful conclusion of the Artists as Writers Programme 2020, in which a new cohort of contemporary theatre artists interested in writing about their own and other people’s artistic practices received training and editorial support. The project, free of charge to participants, ran September to December 2020, and was led by editor Dorothy Max Prior and associate editor Beccy Smith. A new body of writings on contemporary theatre and performance generated from this project will be published online over the coming months at 

The diverse (in every sense of the word) group of participating artists included people at very many different stages of their career, from recent graduates to artists with over thirty years’ experience. Their fields of practice span the breadth of Total Theatre Magazine’s interests.

In 2021, Total Theatre Magazine will be developing a programme of workshops, talks and continuing professional development initiatives. There are four strands: the Artists as Writers mentoring programme, The Writing’s on the Streets one-off workshops, the Total Theatre Talks series of informal symposia on topical issues, and the Total Theatre Training programme. We are seeking partners in these ventures, and welcome enquiries from arts organisations interested in potential future collaborations on any of these projects.

The Total Theatre Magazine Print Archive website features every print issue of Total Theatre Magazine (1989–2012), available as a PDF, with the original design preserved; together with all of the magazine’s feature articles and reviews reformatted into a fully searchable archive that can be explored via issue number, writer, artist or company, artform or topic.

Online at 

See our print archive at

More About Total Theatre Magazine:

Total Theatre Magazine is published by Aurelius Productions CIC.

The Artists as Writers Programme 2020 and the Total Theatre Magazine website relaunch have been funded through support from Arts Council England Emergency Funding and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, whose support we gratefully acknowledge.

Total Theatre Magazine also relies on the support and goodwill of partner organisations, and is seeking new collaborations for 2021 and beyond.

Please note that the Total Theatre Awards at Edinburgh Fringe are managed independently to Total Theatre Magazine. See

Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2020: List of Participants

Paschale Straiton makes playful outdoor performance that blurs the edges between the performance and the audience. She is artistic director of Red Herring and is a regular collaborator with a range of companies. 

Isaac Ouro-Gnao is a dance artist, multidisciplinary creative, writer, poet, and freelance journalist. His impact in the dance world has been multifaceted; working as a performer, scriptwriter, producer, marketer, and reviewer for esteemed Hip Hop theatre artists and companies.  @isaacourognao

Anne Langford makes theatre as a director, performer and facilitator. Anne makes theatre happen as producer, mentor and coach. She works extensively in different models of co-creation and participation, with artists aged 5–85. She is driven by her values: creativity, generosity, integrity and rigour.   @langg

Yael Karavan is an award-winning performer, dancer and artistic director of the Karavan Ensemble. Yael’s work is often described as visual/physical poetry, drawing on elements of Butoh, dance, mime, clown, physical and visual theatre. Since 1999 she’s been touring her work, teaching and directing worldwide.  @karavanensemble

Katy Pinke is a New York-based artist whose multi-disciplinary practice spans music, visual art, poetry and embodied performance. Their work inquires into nature of language and the translation of liminal, spiritual and emotional territories as-of-yet uncharted by language. 

Maddie Haynes is a writer and performer living in Manchester. Her work combines storytelling and dance with accessible science communication, and she is currently developing her solo work 69, a queer retelling of the first moon landing. Insta: @itsmaddiehaynes | Twitter: @maddie_haynes | Facebook: @maddiehaynespoetry

Marília Ennes is founder/co-director of ParaladosanjoS (Brazil) and a PhD researcher at Unicamp (University of Campinas, São Paulo). Her work embraces visual and physical theatre, and much of her creation flirts with hybrid fields of art. Currently, she is involved with walking as an aesthetic practice.  @paraladosanjos

Lila Robirosa is a performance artist, theatre-maker and writer based in Suffolk. Her often autobiographical work uses storytelling, vulnerability and risk-taking to challenge the limits of her comfort zone, creating work that aims to liberate herself and her audience.

Eloina Haines is a London-based performance artist. Her work is bold. It tests society’s boundaries, and her own. It makes audiences laugh and cry together, leaving them empowered and dancing. It focuses on the taboos around the non-cis-male body. @eloinaaart

Tom Brennan is a director, writer and co-founder of The Wardrobe Ensemble. His work includes 1972: The Future of Sex, The Last of The Pelican Daughters, and Drac & Jill. He is a creative associate at The North Wall Theatre.  @TBrennanBristol @WardrobEnsemble

Antonino Giuffré has had the luck of working on both sides of a stage: after studying drama in Italy he has developed his practice in the contemporary circus world, writing, producing and performing with the UK-based company Lost in Translation Circus. @ninno87

Martha Brown is a multi-disciplinary artist who enjoys weaving together found objects and text, sculpture, costumes, storytelling, and performance. Passions for Carnival Arts, community empowerment, street busking acts, and magical moments in daily mundanity currently inspire her work.

Insta: @marthasmilesbrown  Facebook: 14 Smiles

Sascha Goslin is a freelance producer, focusing on circus, outdoor and accessible shows. She’s about to embark on creating her own work. Passionate about circus, physical theatre and politics, she believes that performance has the power to change people, perspectives and hopefully, the world.  @saschagoslin

Total Theatre Editorial Team:

Dorothy Max Prior, editor

John Ellingsworth, web editor

Beccy Smith, associate editor

Thomas Wilson, contributing editor

For further information, press enquiries, interviews or photographs contact:

Dorothy Max Prior, editor, Total Theatre Magazine      +44 7752 142526

Featured image (top): Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2020: participant Paschale Straiton

Almost There

Celebrating the launch of his newly commissioned short film for London International Mime Festival 2021, Dorothy Max Prior meets performer, choreographer and theatre director Andrew Dawson, an artist whose eclectic career has taken him across the world – and even to the moon and back

‘Our human essence lies not in arrival but in being almost there, we are creatures who are on the way, our journey a series of impending anticipated arrivals.’ David Whyte, Close

These words from poet David Whyte were the starting point for the latest work by Andrew Dawson – a poignant performance-to-camera piece with a beautiful soundtrack that is one of five specially commissioned short films for London International Mime Festival 2021.  

The resulting film – available from 18 January 2021 online and free via the Festival’s website – is called We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity. Or Proximity for short… 

For Andrew Dawson, this is a particularly special project – a film made with his son, Roman Sheppard Dawson – and he muses on the fact that without the pandemic, he may not have made the film. Even terrible events bring blessings. In lockdown with his partner and their two adult children, who returned home for the duration, Andrew found that when he was offered the commission he just happened to have a professional filmmaker resident in the house, making the whole thing far more do-able. Roman is not only a Moving Image graduate from St Martin’s art school, he has also grown up with his father’s work, and has often travelled with him, teching the shows – so they work well together. In many ways, Andrew muses, this new piece is as much his son’s work as his own – a true collaboration, enhanced by the soundtrack by composer Jonny Pilcher, who is another person Dawson has regularly worked with, although in this case the collaboration was online. As for its themes:

‘It is for those who are reaching for something more but can’t quite grasp it. For those on their journey, not yet at their destination,’ he says, ‘We set out to develop a visual poem, as we searched for what is intrinsic in our relationship with others.’

Andrew Dawson. Photo Sarah Ainslie

The film was shot locally, in a park near the Dawson residence in London. It’s a movement piece that’s about both the intimacy of touch in nature and the loss of touch between human beings that the current pandemic has precipitated. It is presented as a split-screen work – the two screens not quite touching, emphasising the ‘almost there but not quite’ underlying theme. We see hands gently waving or undulating against the sky, a small plane moving across the screen, tree branches stark and still. As the camera pans out, we realise that Dawson is standing on a chair, swaying gently – secure but alone, in splendid isolation. In some shots, we just see his torso, clad in black, a single hand opening and closing slowly, or a finger slowly tracing down the side of his torso. Sometimes the screens mirror or echo each other. Sometimes they are literally a split screen – a tree spreading across both like an X-ray of lungs. Sometimes one stays blank, or gives us an almost-identical repeat of a shot seen earlier. The camera sometimes pulls right back, leaving the little figure standing on a chair with a backdrop of trees less the focus of attention than one integral part of a whole landscape. A feeling of delicacy and vulnerability pervades every shot, with the washed-out colour grading adding to that feeling. Central to the piece is the constant motion of Andrew’s hands, which are rarely still – circling, flowing, carving shapes in the space.

Andrew Dawson: Space Panorama. Photo Roman Sheppard Dawson

Ah yes – those famous hands! So much of Andrew Dawson’s work is focused on and around them. His first show, Space Panorama, gave us that now famous ‘triangle’ shot which was featured on the cover of  a very early edition of Total Theatre Magazine (Autumn 1989), previewing his LIMF appearance the following January. The show has returned to the Festival numerous times since, and can be seen in this year’s videotheque – a programme of filmed shows from previous editions that gives us the chance to catch up on seminal shows we might have missed, or may want to see again. The version we’ll get to see is a 2016 ‘bespoke’ recording: created in Dawson’t own studio, and filmed with a fixed camera and no editing. The piece lends itself very well to the static format. ‘And it’s just 30 minutes long, so a tolerable length,’ says Andrew, with a characteristic gently self-deprecating humour.   

Space Panorama is a solo recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing, using only Dawson’s hands, a re-enactment of the entire mission that is set to sections of Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, with narration by Gavin Robertson. It was only after making it that Dawson noted to himself that he’d chosen a piece of Russian music to accompany the story of an American mission! It’s a piece of music he loves, with ‘an epic quality that carries the story’ but he finds it hard to listen to in any other format than the version used in his show, as ‘it’s all in the wrong order!’ – an allusion to his deconstruction and rearrangement of Shostakovitch’s work when making the piece. Dawson takes us from Houston to the moon and returns us safely to earth, conveying the colossal distances and the risks involved simply through the extraordinarily skilled movement of his hands. Space Panorama has been performed at theatres and festivals throughout the world, including for the  marking of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing at the Kennedy Centre. ‘It was fantastic to perform it there, and to see all three Apollo 11 astronauts at the air and space museum – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins brought back together for the occasion,’ he says. the occasion,’ he says. 

Looking through Andrew Dawson’s website, I’m interested to discover a piece called Landscapes, created in response to the 1948 John Cage work In A Landscape. This very lovely piece came about when Dawson and Sarah Ainslie, from whom he rented studio space, decided to create an Open Studio event. Sarah, who many know of as Complicité’s photographer, mounted an exhibition of her photo works; whilst Dawson chose to create this new piece inspired by Cage’s gentle piano work – if you didn’t know it was a John Cage composition, you might believe it to be by Erik Satie or Alan Hovhaness. As a former Merce Cunningham student and dancer, Andrew already had an interest in Cage’s work, and when played this piece by a friend, found it to be the perfect inspiration for a performance-to-camera work that was improvised rather than meticulously choreographed, performed in one take. ‘The only time I performed it was for the making of the film – and I decided never to do it again,’ he says. There’s something so beautifully Cage-like about all this! The John Cage Trust saw the film and loved it, and added their blessing. Landscapes is available on and although very different, is a beautiful companion piece to Proximity, the new film commission.

Andrew Dawson & Hos Houben: Quatre Mains. Photo Nitin Vadukul

Another of Andrew Dawson’t legendary ‘hands’ pieces is Quatre Mains, a collaboration with Jos Houben, who provides the other pair of hands. This one, like Space Panorama, will be shown in the LIMF 2021 videotheque 1, 1990-1999. Quatre Mains is described on Dawson’s website as ‘an intimate dance for four hands… an evocative visual poem of finely tuned movement and gesture.’ Much later, the piece was recreated with Sven Till, and this, as Andrew remarks, ‘allowed Jos Houben to see it from the outside for the first time!’ Again, as a piece that takes place on a table, it transfers very well to film. We’ll get the 1998 version at LIMF 2021 – and like all of the rest of the videotheque programme, it will be available free to view online from 18 January at 

Talking of Sven Till takes us neatly to Andrew’s other main strand of work, as a choreographer and director. In recent years, he has worked as movement director on a number of plays and operas, including MET/ENO productions Doctor Atomic and The Pearl Fishers, which were both directed by filmmaker Penny Woolcock, the working relationship between Penny and Andrew brokered by designer Julian Crouch. But long before these big-cast large-stage successes came the far more compact and contained Pandora 88, a multi-award winning piece co-created by performers Wolfgang Hoffmann and Sven Till with Andrew Dawson in the director’s seat. It sits somewhere between dance and theatre, and is set inside a bespoke ‘box’ that is just 1.5 sq metres. This box is ‘their playground, home, prison, and their sanctuary, source of light, sound and memories. A place where their lives start and finish, to which they’re bound for better or worse’. The piece was inspired both by Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling (about his experience as an imprisoned hostage) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey. ‘It is about restraints and confinement,’ says Andrew, noting that in its investigation of confinement, it it suddenly seems prescient, foreshadowing our lockdown days. Pandora 88 was presented at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Aurora Nova festival-within-the-festival produced by Wolfgang Hoffman. It was created at Fabrik, Potsdam – a venue and creation centre run by Wolfgang (he’s an enterprising person who wears many different hats!). 

Andrew Dawson: Absence and Presence

A year or two later, Andrew returned to Potsdam to create Absence and Presence – which like Pandora 88 won a Total Theatre Award, amongst many other accolades, at the Edinburgh Fringe. This highly personal piece is very different to most of Dawson’s work, an homage to, and dialogue with, his dead father. It’s a wonderful bringing together of movement theatre, object animation, video, and spoken text, enhanced by a lovely score by Joby Talbot – and it was a long time in the making. Dawson senior died in 1985, when Andrew was in his mid-twenties, but the piece only saw the light of day two decades later, in 2005. For a long time, it was a gestating idea at the back of his head, or explored in brief notes. Eventually, the time was right – a grant from Arts Council England, plus the offer of creation space at Potsdam, meant that the project could be given the time and attention it needed. When Dawson senior died, his body lay undiscovered for ten days – a fact that Andrew mused on constantly over the years: ‘The idea that he lay dead, but life went on all around him – next door, outside his window, even the food in his fridge going mouldy. Nothing stops, but there is an absence, a silence…’ This constantly replaying thought became the catalyst for the making of the show. 

He spent a year working on it, ‘drilling into that time…quietly pottering’ reading and re-reading his father’s letters, recording them for inclusion; creating short video pieces to be played on an old TV monitor; making a ‘chicken-wire-man’ sculpture of his father that is gently danced with onstage. He worked alone a lot of the time, but had collaborators in Graham Johnson and Jos Houben. He talks of Jos’s role being to come in and ‘rupture’ the procedure, saying: ‘Ah yes, you’ve tried this, but have you thought of that?’

When finally it was made, he realised that it was a piece about ‘a missed relationship with my father,’ going on to say that ‘you never quite know what you’re making until it’s done.’ He very much valued the special time and space that Fabrik, Potsdam provided in the early stages of the process: ‘I stayed in a little room at the back of the studio – I could go in and work on the piece at 2am if I wanted to.’ Sometimes the intensity of it all got too much and he would leave the studio for a couple of weeks, only to come back to find something – a half-made sculpture, or one of the key objects ‘his glasses, his pipe, the letters’ – would ‘talk’ to him in a different way to before, and provoke the next stage of the work. ‘I don’t see at as a solo piece – I feel I made it with my father’ he says.

Which leads him to muse on the fact that here he is now, another two decades on, creating a piece of work that could be seen as his own son’s dialogue with his father. ‘It was just him and me – and it’s almost more him than me…’

Poet David Whyte’s line We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity is the starting point and title of this new film. But it also serves as a comment on that earlier work, Absence and Presence, and on the relationship between Andrew Dawson and his now long deceased father.

Seeing both pieces of work together, we can readily grasp the connections and continuity. Life goes on, quietly. There is absence, there is presence – and there is the space in between.

Featured image (top): Andrew Dawson: Space Panorama. Photo Nidin Vadukul

For more about Andrew Dawson and his work, see  

See for full details of the London International Mime Festival 2021, including the new film commissions by Andrew Dawson and others; and the full three-part videotheque programme which includes Space Panorama, Quatre Mains, Pandora 88, and Absence and Presence.  

Long Live LIMF!

It’s January, and we know what that means – the London International Mime Festival is back with another wonderful array of ‘image-rich performance for an adventurous and curious audience’. Dorothy Max Prior reflects on the 2021 programme

London International Mime Festival is the longest established international theatre festival in the country. Founder and co-director Joseph Seelig has repeated this claim often, and ‘nobody has ever contradicted me,’ he says – so it must be true! 

LIMF is most certainly an institution – calendars marked annually for this eagerly anticipated London-wide event that brings together an extraordinarily varied range of physical and visual theatre shows, workshops and screenings, presented in venues across London throughout the month of January.    

This year, for very obvious reasons, there are changes. Joseph and co-director Helen Lannaghan took the decision mid-2020 that LIMF 2021 would run online. At the time the decision was taken, lockdowns were easing and there was talk of theatres re-opening – but the wise directors knew that it would be better to make a call that would mean an online programme could be properly curated and delivered, regardless, rather than risk a live programme which would need to be hastily re-arranged at the last minute if the situation worsened. Which it has.

Apart from anything else, how can you issue proper invitations to international artists to come to the UK to present work when you can’t get out of the UK to see their work, and you have no idea if the artists would be able to travel in to the UK? Quite apart from Covid-19 restrictions, there was the fact that the 2021 edition of the festival would come to town mere weeks after Brexit, with the risk that the situation on international visas, work permits and carnets for artists would be unresolved. Which it is. 

But let’s accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. (Thank you, Johnny Mercer.)

Jacqui Beckford’s BSL interpretation of Nothing Compares 2U from Kiss & Cry. Photo Jaco von Dormael

With activity switched online, LIMF 2021 is offering a series of five new short films, a videotheque of documented shows by renowned artists, a truly outstanding package of workshops led by top industry professionals, plus a series of ten talks by distinguished Mime Festival participants from recent years, delivered digitally.

Starting with those film commissions: what a brilliant decision this was! Mime, clown and physical performance has always had a symbiotic relationship with film – from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton’s silent classics, through to the legendary Les Enfants du Paradis (starring one of the godfathers of mime, Jean-Louis Barrault), and onto Jacques Tati and beyond. Then, there’s the noble tradition of filmed puppetry and object animation, with a particular nod to the Czech innovators, including Jiří Trnka and Jan Švankmajer.      

It feels right and fitting, therefore, for LIMF to commission contemporary physical and visual artists to make their own word-free works. Of the five free-to-view short films, four were created especially for the festival during lockdown. The four commissions are: movement director/performer Andrew Dawson; puppeteer/animator Gavin Glover; multimedia artists Kristin & Davy McGuire; and movement director, actor and War Horse choreographer Toby Sedgwick. 

Additionally, there’s Jacqui Beckford’s British Sign Language interpreted version of Little Jimmy Scott singing Nothing Compares 2U from Kiss & Cry (Barbican, LIMF 2017). And what a gem this is – proving, if we didn’t know it already, that BSL is a beautiful physical performance mode in its own right, especially when in the hands (and arms, and face, and body) of an artist as expressive and communicative as Jacqui Beckford. It’s a dance of love, nothing less.

Gavin Glover’s Bleak House is as darkly demented a piece of work as you’d expect from the former co-director of Faulty Optic Theatre of Animation. Scenes of domestic discord are played out, with miniature three-piece-suites and shaking fridges moved around by ominous giant woolly-gloved hands, or dragged along desolate corridors – particularly disturbing is a fast-moving little cot tied to a length of string. All augmented by an excellent soundtrack from sound designer and Foley artist David Moré, scratches and screeches vying with the discordant tones of an old fairground organ.

In Toby Sedgwick is Bernard Knowles, we encounter Sedgwick in Commedia half-mask as the wonderfully eccentric naif Knowles – a ‘personal play on the play of life’ that sees him dancing around his garden with a mannequin that falls apart in his arms, playing musical saw, coaxing some vintage jazz from his wind-up gramophone, or flirting with flowerpots. It’s shot and edited beautifully – the piece is created with filmmaker Genevieve Stevenson and features a vintage Kodacolour home-movie aesthetic, with a colour palette of gorgeous faded rose pinks and golden yellows, and lots of flickering Super-8. ‘We do diddly do what we must muddly must’ sings Toby/Bernard as he revs up his ancient motorbike and rides off into the sunset…     

In complete contrast, Kristin & Davy McGuire’s dance-to-camera piece Vertigo gives us an ultra-slick duet between digital technology and the physical body; a pole-dance performance paired with projections onto gauze, the holographic projection becoming the dancer’s partner. Giddying physical skills!

That just leaves Andrew Dawson’s intriguingly titled We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity, inspired by the words of poet David Whyte. Andrew Dawson, working with his filmmaker son Roman Sheppard Dawson and composer Jonny Pilcher, ‘set out to develop a visual poem, as we searched for what is intrinsic in our relationship with others…’ Filmed in a park close to Dawson’s London home, and using a split-screen format that lovingly frames the waving branches of the trees and Dawson’s undulating hands, the piece is indeed a visual poem – a dance with nature, and an exploration of the liminal space between things. 

LIMF 2021 videotheque: Cie Les Antliaclastes: La valse des hommelettes. Photo E Dubost

Also onscreen: the Festival’s videotheque programme, whilst not intending to replace the experience of real live theatre, gives audiences the chance to catch previous Mime Festival shows they might have missed, or to see much-loved favourites again. Divided into three batches representing the last three decades – they feel that work from the first two decades of LIMF can’t be adequately done justice by the poor quality of filmed documentation from those years – the impressive list includes Compagnie Philippe Genty, Josef Nadj, Mossoux Bonté, Akhe Theatre of Engineering, Ockham’s Razor, Les Antliaclastes, and Thick & Tight, amongst many others. 

One of the most renowned of all LIMF presentations, Peeping Tom’s 32 rue Vandenbranden (a 2015 Olivier Award Winner), and the company’s later shows Mother and Father, will be available for three nights over the weekends 22-24 January and 29-31 January. 

Phew – that’ll keep us all busy for the rest of January!

The programme of ten artist talks – which includes juggling supremo Sean Gandini in conversation with Thomas Wilson, Gecko’s Amit Lahav in conversation with Hoipolloi’s Shôn Dale-Jones, and Told By an Idiot’s Paul Hunter in conversation with himself – kicks off on the festival launch night, 18 January, with Mime Festival founders Joseph Seelig and Nola Rae talking about 1977 and All That. Expect reminiscences on the legendary Friends Roadshow and working with Marcel Marceau, musings on the merits of structured chaos and the importance of international collaboration, the Festival’s rise from the Cockpit to the Barbican via the ICA, and the magnificent success of its workshop programmes – always a vital part of the LIMF programme, from its humble beginnings to the present day. 

The PappyShow: How We Play and Move workshop

Talking of which: the workshops in the 2021 programme include offerings by many dearly beloved LIMF regulars, including a magnificent posse of clowns and mimes: Nola Rae invites you to Upgrade Your Clown; Avner Eisenberg leads An Introduction to Eccentric Performing; and Les Bubb offers Playing with the Invisible – A Crash Course in Mime

Then, there’s Theatre Re’s corporeal mime-based Falling Man; The PappyShow’s How We Play and Move; and David Glass Ensemble Learning’s Devised and Physical Object Theatre. Told by an Idiot’s weekend workshop will explore Building the Chaos; and Mark Down of Blind Summit offers two different workshops, a one-day How to do Puppetry Home Alone; and a five-day What’s So Special About Zoom – An investigation into the possibilities of puppetry on live internet platforms. All of these workshops are taught online, and all are sold out, with waiting lists.

‘We have students joining from all around the world,’ says Helen Lannaghan, ‘Belgium, Canada, Canary Islands, China, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Renunion, Spain, Switzerland, USA and the UK. Really rather marvellous and a feature we shall keep, going forwards.’

So, workshops, talks, commissioned short films, and the wonderful archive material of the three videotheque programmes – that’s the fantastic array of work on offer at LIMF this year. 

But what will be happening in the future? Helen again:

‘We’re waiting to hear what the implications of Brexit will be on our ability to present international work from January 2022. We’re also waiting to hear from our venue partners how their re-opening plans might affect our programming – at the moment, realistically, it’s just too early to be able to plan for live performances with any certainty, but we will push forwards in whatever way we can. The bottom line is that we’re supporting the creation of new work by ten British companies which we hope will help carry them forwards. We also hope we’ll be able to programme much of that new work in LIMF 2022.’

The new commissions Helen mentions will include work by Nikki Rummer, Dik Downey’s Opposable Thumb, Theatre Re, The PappyShow, and Thick & Tight.

Finally, on the eve of the the launch of its 44th edition, here’s a last word from Joseph Seelig on LIMF past, present and future:

‘Those early years now seem so risky and chaotic. I’m sure they were. But it was great fun, an endless journey of exploration discovering extraordinary artists and work so different from mainstream theatre. I never dreamed that the Festival would become an institution, still gathering new followers year after year. I can’t tell you how proud that makes me. Long live LIMF!’

Peeping Tom: 32 rue Vandenbranden. Photo Herman Sorgeloos

Featured image (top); LIMF 2021 workshop leader Avner Eisenberg aka Avner the Eccentric.

LIMF 2021 runs online 18–31 January. For full details of the programme and information on how to book talks and access the free online film screenings and videotheque content, see