Theatre Critic and Journalist

LIFT Blog: On Festivals

LIFT Blog: On Festivals

Published on LIFT blog, July 2010

All festivals, whether overtly religious or entirely secular, are somehow holy. Holiness is the mark of otherness and festivals are periods of time set aside for something. Those days, weeks or months are ring-fenced from usual proceedings and everyday life. They’re designated for something else, something extra-ordinary, something other than.

That quality of segregation also implies a singularity of some sort. The ‘other than’ of a particular festival doesn’t refer to anything other than, but a specific other than. The different elements of or within a festival are tied together by their existence in this consecrated space/time, by their presentation under a collective label. These different events and occurrences make up a whole, inferring that the sum is more than its constituent parts, which collaborate and converse with one another, like songs on a well-considered mix-tape. Our challenge, as audience (or, rather, as festival-goers), is to find a route through and make connections.

Sometimes the object of celebration (or investigation or distillation or clarification) that binds the individual parts of a festival together is immediately obvious. Festivals such as the RSC’s Complete Works Festival or the BAC’s forthcoming One on One Festival make clear their overarching objectives from the start. Other festivals, such as the uncurated free-for-all that is the Edinburgh Fringe, allow their own definition, recurring themes and motifs to emerge as they take place. LIFT, it seems to me, sits somewhere between the two.

The events that will pepper the next four weeks have been deliberately chosen to sit alongside one another and yet the (most basic) criteria behind their selection – theatre, international, London – make for a broad church. Some will chime harmoniously together (like distant ice-creams van crying their peculiar whale-song across a suburb) and others will be discordant and antagonistic. At the same time, each of us will have our own peculiar route through. Where some of us will experience only one of the festival’s offerings, others will see the entire programme.

But a festival is much more than a collection of works presented. For most of LIFT’s duration, in fact, you won’t be able to actually experience any of the work at all. Even then, though, we remain in the consecrated space of festival mode; still celebrating, still investigating.

All of this makes the gaps between and around the works – of which this blog is a particular example, so please do comment, connect and polemicize – massively important. When explaining the principles of open space, Phelim McDermot, co-artistic director of Improbable Theatre, always stresses that the most important conversations often happen by the coffee machine, at the bar or on pavements strewn with cigarette ends. It is these conversations that will make sense of LIFT as a whole by emerging out of and building connections across the gaps.

LIFT, then, is whole, holy and also full of holes. That’s where we – the audience, the festival-goers – come in. Please mind the gaps.

Photograph: LIFT

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