As part of my time with Imaginate as a Launchpad artist, I travelled with team Imaginate to Krokusfestival for research. I spent 5 days in Hasselt, a town in Belgium filled with vast venues housing and supporting artistic work. Krokusfestival is a performance festival (much theatre and dance) for younger audiences – we saw shows for toddlers right up to 16+. We saw work at all sorts of stages of development from work in progresses to premieres to fully established work that is touring the international circuit - a big ole mix.
Highlights for me were watching a women bin several men into a bin, seeing toddlers’ intrigue and confidence growing in a tactile durational performance, exploring a grief installation and watching an absurdist dance piece inspired by videos of people playing Sims.
I loved every second of the exchange – we are seeing work from artists all over the globe, then we are sharing food with them at dinners, coffees in the huge (and hugely populated with locals) café at the cultural centre.
International festivals as free space for creative exchange
The context that is created by the framework of a ‘festival’ transports both audiences and artists outside of the everyday. Especially for those who are attending a festival outside of their hometown, we are all able to leave behind the social structures and hierarchies that so limit our thinking in many ways e.g the sense of our own ideals, the tastes of those around us, the expectations we hold for ourselves and for others – I really believe that travelling to another place allows many people to be more open to the work, more generous as an audience member and possibly more available to be influenced by new performance styles. Whilst travelling is not possible for everyone (or is something that increases barriers as an audience member), this trip reminded me of the importance of how a work is framed and how that implicates the experience of the audience member. Even for locals, the framing of a festival is that is it temporary, it is already something extraordinary, separate from everyday life.
I think that context also allowed me to be more open with other attendees. We spent a lot of time with the other international delegates (both artists and people from other international festivals). If I was in Scotland, would I have had the confidence to approach artists or festival directors or tour bookers from other countries? Perhaps... but here, it was only on reflection that it became apparent that I might have otherwise (and unnecessarily) found the idea intimidating. At a festival, we are so clearly all in it together (as we are in life anyway) – we are all just attendees, excited to see new work.
Across the festival, many people attended symposiums together. I am often attending panel talks in Scotland that make for rich discussions. I am also often feeling that at those events, there is such tension in our conversations. We all expect so much from ourselves, our work and the industry itself. What we talk about that it does not always lead to us feeling energised, positive or proud of what we do actually achieve. Yes, I understand why sometimes the tension is necessary, just and unavoidable – but at Krokusfestival, perhaps because it is a temporary connection and there is no expected consequence or direct follow through from our discussions, I found I was able to join conversations in a more relaxed environment, which led to me being more vocal, feeling more inspired and excited to just experiment with inciting change.
Both Gerhard (Artistic Director/Chief Exec of the cultural centre and its artistic activity including Krokusfestival and HETLab – a place with many opportunities for artists making work for young audiences – worth checking out online), and Imaginate (also with many opportunities that you probably know about if you are reading this) presented PUSH+, a Creative Europe project in which they are both partners.
We heard discussions about the importance of artists getting to know each other as humans, getting to know each other personally, intimately. We criticise ourselves in Scotland for working regularly with the same collaborators, same companies – I wonder if really we do this because we rarely take the time to honestly hang out and make connections with each other outside of working. Therefore, when we meet someone in which this happens easily, we become close pals, collaborators, it feels special and comfortable and we know that we are able to make great work together. In many of my jobs, I’ve seen the merit of spending the first day of rehearsals in the pub after a first read. (As an often very antisocial person, I will keep thinking about how I might be able to get to know as many folk as possible, within and outwith their work).
Everything I saw at the festival just made me want to get back into a room with collaborators and play. Seeing work from other cultures reaffirmed my concerns that I’m often putting too much pressure on my work to be relevant right now, extremely urgent and politically en point. I’m excited to return to the rehearsal room feeling freer. My work will always be inherently political because that is who I am. I’m accepting more how all of our perspectives and artistic interests are valuable. There are audiences all over the world (g’doi!).. someone, somewhere will be glad you made that piece of work. (we hope).
Having a number of vast rehearsal rooms/performances spaces/cultural sites in mainland Europe seemed directly linked to the freedom of expression I was surrounded by. I will keep thinking and talking to people about how we can create more performance houses in Scotland.. (we all know we have so many artists ready to go!).
I’m back in Scotland with team The Weather Channel working on Which Wires What (originally developed as part of Launchpad, now in further development thanks to Imaginate and The Weather Channel). Which Wires What will be presented as a work in progress as part of Edinburgh International Children's Festival in May this year.
All of the information about Launchpad and PUSH+ can be found on the Imaginate website. Applications for this year’s Launchpad will be opening soon so keep your eyes peeled!