My Lumiere 2019 wish list

I’ve been meaning to write this for several months, but now I’d better get a move on. Next month the programme for Lumiere is revealed, and as this is a 10th anniversary Lumiere, they are going to give this a special theme I’m unofficially naming “Lumiere’s greatest hits”. There will be a few new installations coming, but most of them will be some of the most popular installations over the last five biannual festivals. In which case, here’s a good opportunity to give my own wish list for my dream Lumiere line-up.

Here’s the rules of this game. These installations are all personal favourites of mine, but I have taken into account popularity amongst other people too. I have, however, set myself a rule that it must be possible to put these all into one festival. I loved most of the centrepiece installations in the Market Place, for example, but the Market Place can only have one centrepiece at a time. Very occasionally, I will take the liberty of advocating moving an installation, but that is strictly reserved for cases where there’s two installations in the same place and I can’t bear to let either go.

Footnote: I’ve found out through my channels that one of these on the list is coming, but I won’t say which one because I respect embargoes. But it was already on my wish list before I knew it was coming.

Are you ready? Then here we go:

The best of Durham that I want back

Crown of Light (2009-2013)

Some people said that this installation was overused after coming back for a third appearance – but it would surely be unthinkable to leave out this iconic projection over the first three festivals. The images of the Lindisfarne Gospels projected over Durham Cathedral was the definitive image of Lumiere, and without this I doubt the festival would have catapulted the festival to national fame. As well as the images, the music used for the project – existing music though it may have been – was perfect for the setting. Nothing says Lumiere more than Crown of Light – surely surely surely this has to be in the 10th anniversary lineup. Continue reading

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Green is not a creative colour (or: the problem with mass participation arts)

Yellow guy from Don't Hug Me I'm Scrared with his clown painting

COMMENT: Mass participation events at arts festivals are fun. It should not be used as a substitute for supporting people’s creativity – and especially not by Manchester International Festival.

For those of us with sufficiently obscure senses of humour, there is a cult series online called Don’t Hug Me, I’m ScaredI can best describe this as Sesame Street if David Lynch had directed it, where innocent-looking “educational” songs turn into surrealistic drug-fuelled nightmares in the final two minutes. My favourite episode of all, however, is the first one: a notebook singing a catchy tune to “get creative”. However (ignoring the upcoming drug-fuelled nightmare for a moment), when you listen a bit closer, you notice that this notebook has very exact ideas of what does and doesn’t constitute permissible acts of creativity. Incorrect art is decried or destroyed; even picking the wrong colour is a serious offence, because “green is is not a creative colour”.

This may not seem relevant to what I’m about to discuss, but please bear with me. Continue reading

Sorry Scotsman, but “pop-up” reviewers are legitimate competition

COMMENT: There are valid reasons to criticise independent reviewers – but writing “entertaining” reviews at the expense of saying anything helpful is worse than anything so-called pop-up reviewers are accused of doing.

I apologise for burdening you with yet another anti-Scotsman article. I was planning to let this go after my original article on why you should think twice before letting The Scotsman review you, but then came Kate Copstick’s bizarre passive-aggressive column for Broadway Baby, seemingly unable to let go of her outburst the year before over comedians exercising their right not to give out press tickets for previews. So I wrote about that hoping it would be the last time. But now I’ve come across this article in the Edinburgh Evening News: ‘It’s these pop-up reviewers who haunt festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe that have done much to devalue the review as an art form’. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, this is bad. It’s not entirely clear what is meant by “pop-up” reviewers – most of the time it seems to be independent bloggers such as myself, but it’s vague and possibly extends to pop-up review sites. The only people cited as valid reviewers are – yes, that’s right – the reviewers at The Scotsman, co-incidentally the sister publication of the Edinburgh Evening News.

Even though this piece is a blanket attack on people like me, I’m going to refrain from making personal attacks back. Unlike Kate Copstick and Paul Whitelaw, who both squandered all my respect a long time ago, Liam Rudden, by all accounts, is highly thought of as both a theatre maker and an arts journalist. And yet the way this article is written, it reads like a hit piece sanctioned by the fringe editors of The Scotsman with Liam Rudden acting as a proxy. So let’s respond. Continue reading

Guest post: Flavia D’Avila on Edinburgh Fringe – a Love/Hate Relationship

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Alfredo Jaar’s installation for the Edinburgh Art Festival

The endless growth of Edinburgh Fringe has provoked a debate on two big issues: the affordability of the Edinburgh Fringe, and the conditions for workers at the venues. But there is a third issue that also needs attention, which is what effect Edinburgh has on the locals of the city. Is it a chance to enjoy the greatest cultural festival in the world on your doorstep and take an annual windfall? Or does it make your own city inhospitable for a month every year? I haven’t commented much on this as I don’t live in Edinburgh and don’t know much about this issue.

So let’s get the perspective of someone who does. Flavia D’Avila lives in Edinburgh. Coincidentally, she is directing a play that is coming to Edinburgh this year (which I happened to see at Buxton and loved), but she is more importantly someone who I’ve seen commentate on contentious issues at the Edinburgh Fringe and elsewhere in a fair and thoughtful manner. So here is the perspective of an Edinburgh Fringe local …

I first moved to Edinburgh in 2006. I arrived the day before the Fireworks Concert that year, so I had just missed the Fringe but that was one of the reasons I decided to move here from Brazil. I had never been to Scotland and had no personal connections here but I had my mind set in Edinburgh as a good place to develop my theatre career after the suggestion of an English friend living in Brazil and reading a short article in a local newspaper about the Edinburgh Festivals.

I skipped 2015 because of issues with the Home Office (that’s another story that you can read on my personal blog here), so 2019 is my 12th Edinburgh Festival Fringe and although I am sadly still not entitled to a Scottish passport, I feel very much like a local here. That said, during the Fringe, I’m not just a local. I’m part of it. So when Chris kindly invited me to write this guest post reflecting on the Fringe impact on the Edinburgh locals, I gladly accepted but I feel the need to warn readers that my experience is that of a local theatremaker who is very much embedded in it all. That part of me absolutely loves the Fringe. Part of me also hates it.

I can’t tell you much about the experience of the other locals, those who just want to be able to get to work in an office or need to pay a bill or go the library and get annoyed because the Fringe keeps getting in the way. I got little insights here and there, like when I was speaking to a bouncer who sometimes works at the venue where I work year-round. He rarely goes to shows that he’s not working at and doesn’t really care much for it. He enjoys some music gigs and has done some private security for Kylie Minogue in the past so he was delighted to see her at Edinburgh Castle last month. He isn’t super keen on how busy the city gets but he also acknowledges that August is his best month for business so he works his ass off and then he takes his family away for a 4-week holiday in some remote beach resort in January. Although he doesn’t engage with the Fringe, it allows him to have some quality family time a few months later. Continue reading

There, I’ve said it: think twice before being reviewed by The Scotsman

COMMENT: The Scotsman is a highly-regarded arbiter of high-profile fringe theatre, but the service they offer groups on their first fringe venture is a different matter.

Edinburgh Fringe is about to begin. And where there’s an Edinburgh Fringe, there’s Edinburgh Fringe shenanigans. This year, the first shenanigan to hit the headlines is The Mumble, who charge people for reviews. I am in agreement with, well basically everyone, that you should have nothing to do with them, especially if you are starting off on the fringe circuit. The good news is that few people appear to have signed up to their schemes – most people, it seems, know better to put their trust in someone with such a dodgy reputation.

However, I am coming to the view that there is another publication you should be wary about, and unlike The Mumble, they are very highly regarded; and plenty of performers, beginners and veterans alike, invite their reviewers along. And that publication is The Scotsman.

It’s not got to the point where I’m telling everyone to have nothing to do with them. Their Fringe First awards are something to take seriously, and if you’re already a big name and you’re in with a shot of awards of that prestige, The Scotsman is as good an option as any. But if, like the majority of performers who read this blog, you are trying to make a name for yourself, it’s a different story. Any review request is a gamble, heavily swayed by a reviewer’s personal tastes that you have no control over. But this particular gamble is one where the odds are not in your favour. There is a high chance a Scotsman review will be useless, or worse than useless.

Continue reading

Interview with Richard Stamp on fringe ethics

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I’ve been covering a lot of thorny issue on this blog recently, particularly regarding how fair festival fringes are. But I’ve been giving my own views quite enough. I’m keen to get other perspective on the issues I’ve been covering. So last weekend, I took the opportunity to get the views of the editor of FringeGuru.

This interview is a near-verbatim transcript of what we discussed. But I genuinely had no idea where this would go. And was an interesting discussion it was:

The expansion of Brighton Fringe is the most dramatic change to the fringe scene in the last few years. It’s now said by some that Brighton Fringe now is comparable to the Edinburgh Fringe thirty years ago. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, I wasn’t at the Edinburgh Fringe thirty years ago so it’s hard to draw a comparison, but I do think Brighton Fringe as it has expanded has lost a bit of its individual character. It used to be a place where local performances and local performers were very much at the fore, with some invited guests. Now the balance has shifted and it’s about shows visiting the city, with local companies forming just a small part of the programme.

I think that is a shame, but on the other hand, I do think there’s a need for a counterbalance to Edinburgh. It really makes very little sense for the Edinburgh Fringe to carry on growing any further – I think everybody recognises that – and Brighton has its own place on the festival circuit that it occupies well.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether I think it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s going to happen, and the question we should be asking ourselves is how we try to nudge it gently in a more fair and ethical direction, rather than trying to stop an unstoppable force. Continue reading

Guest post: Jake Murray on starting from scratch

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The big theatre news in Durham over the last two years has been the appearance of Elysium Theatre Company. Set up by Jake Murray after moving from Manchester to Durham via London and using a core cast he already had links with, the company began with three productions in the Assembly Rooms: Days of Wine and RosesJesus Hopped the A Train and a Samuel Beckett double bill. This was then followed by The River at the City Theatre.

But 2019 is the year that marks the transition to bigger stages. Miss Julie is being performed at the Gala Theatre as well as three other venues in the north-east. Most notably, Queen’s Hall Hexham – who originally took on a single performance of The River in their studio space the week after the City Theatre run – are acting as co-producers for this play.

Starting your own theatre company from scratch: a brief introduction.

I am a theatre director of 25 years experience. I have worked freelance during that time, been part of the artistic team of several different theatres, most notably the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I have run my own small theatre company three or four times – Allende Theatre Company, State of Unrest and Panache Theatre Company. In 2017 I founded Elysium TC with my actor friends Danny Solomon and Hannah Ellis Ryan, with a view to directing new plays and classics in the North. Based in Durham, we have split our work between the North East – Durham and Hexham hitherto – and Manchester. This March and April we embark upon our first North East tour with a production of Miss Julie which will play at Queen’s Hall, Hexham, the Gala, Durham, the Exchange, North Shields and the Majestic in Darlington. Continue reading