Since its establishment in 1981, London International Festival of Theatre – or LIFT – have been bringing bold and ambitious theatre to the capital with its bi-annual festival. This year’s festival included work by Forced Entertainment, Belarus Free Theatre, and Dmitry Krymov, as well as David Rosenberg and Frauke Requardt’s video-game-meets-theatre piece, The Roof. For many, LIFT is the highlight of the theatre calendar. Now it has been announced that producer David Binder will join their team as Artistic Associate, having helped bring Deblozay, a promenade production exploring Haitian funeral marches, to the streets of Greenwich as part of the 2014 Greenwich and Docklands festival (GDIF).
“I feel like it’s a great honour for me,” says Binder, perhaps best known for his work on Broadway producing shows such as the James Franco/Chris O’Dowd Of Mice and Men – chosen by NT Live as the first New York show they have ever broadcast – and the recent revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “I feel very honoured to join forces and be an artistic associate there, so I have the opportunity to join them in the exciting work they are doing.”
Binder established his connection after bringing Deblozay, “this incredible French show”, to London with LIFT AD Mark Ball in collaboration with GDIF. “We produced the show in June, and it was a terrific success and the collaboration was really exciting,” he tells me. “Out of that collaboration came this opportunity to work with LIFT in a more ongoing manner.” What exactly will his new role entail? “I think as an Artistic Associate of LIFT, I’m going be working to develop projects for future festivals of LIFT, and also be another set of eyes and ears on behalf of LIFT, especially in North America where I’m based in New York.”
When I ask him why it’s important to establish these sorts of connections, Binder’s answers are enthusiastic. “It’s a big world!” he says energetically. “There’s interesting work happening all over the world, so it seems like international networks are really important. By having these networks we’re able to uncover all sorts of exciting work all over the world. That’s why I’m interested to work with LIFT; that’s why I’ve produced work in Sydney: it’s a big world, and it’s a big theatrical world.”
Binder has a history with festivals – he has spoken excellently and eloquently in the past about his experience with them. We broach the topic of the contrast between arts festivals and simply going to the theatre, and Binder is brimming with refreshing opinions. He describes to me how “a festival asks for much more of an ongoing conversation” than a singular, self-contained show, after which the audiences are set off into the night and the conversation with the theatre can stop there. “I’m always interested in having a deeper, more meaningful conversation with audiences in a theatre festival format, where an audience sees more than one thing, where an audience can engage with lots of different things, where an audience can engage with some unexpected things.”
He also marks the great element of surprise festivals can entertain. “In the festival format, someone might come across a piece of modern dance, or see modern dance interweaved with a piece of theatre, and become enamoured with modern dance. A festival like LIFT provides opportunities for an audience to find itself surprised, for an audience to find itself new experiences which it wouldn’t otherwise come across.” Binder is enjoyably assertive on the way festivals open new doors to festival-goers. “That’s what a festival should do: it should provide a lot of possibility,” he says. “It should provide opportunities for the festival-goer to find genuine surprise in new art forms, in new disciplines, in new work, new artists.”
In this vein, he notes how the traditional way in which we decide on the theatre we are going to see can be restrictive. “If you open the paper and say ‘I’m going to see this one thing on Broadway or on the West End, or off-Broadway or on the Fringe’, you’re making a very concerted choice about what you’re engaging with. The festival format blows that up. It blows up that concept, and allows for a lot more possibility about what you as an audience member might engage with. And that’s exciting for me,” he adds.
It seems that this passion for new horizons in arts festivals, then, as well as his talent and appreciation for “trailblazing” LIFT that make the two go hand in hand to work together. “LIFT has always been interested in new forms, new work – work that needs new language to describe it,” Binder explains. “So it’s a really interesting, innovative, amazing organisation that I’ve long admired. I think Mark Ball is doing incredible things.” With such a level of talent, energy, and commitment, it’ll be exciting to see the ventures Binder and LIFT end up on together.
To find out more go to LIFT’s website