Well, the second day AYT spent at Gateshead International Festival of Theatre certainly lived up to the first. Sunday was the last day of the festival and, just like the others, was jam packed with a mix of work from emerging and established artists. Projects that had been running throughout the festival came together for a finale that saw a screening of a film by Bandicoot, starring festival-goers, and Coney’s Tassos Stevens lead a pub quiz based on work done in his “Playful Documentary Unit” workshop.
This afternoon, Tenderfoot got the GIFTed performances (the strand of the festival that gives new performers a platform) off to a cracking start with Homage en trios, their three-part meditation on life, time and Kate Bush, split over the course of the day and culminating in a participatory night-time dance on the bank of the Tyne and a toast (with beer or hot chocolate) to the singer. Chloë Smith’s I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a boy was the other GIFTed show of the day: a solo piece about the artist’s time spent living at Occupy London, with a thought-provoking debate on activism and community at its centre.
The evening performances all took place in the large space of Gateshead’s Old Town Hall (until the quayside dance and jaunt to the pub) and included Firm Drip by Roberta Jean: Mystery Skin, a beautifully executed dance piece with an intense physicality that lived up its promise to present the body as a “fluid statue”. Dance was turned on its head by Oliver Bray and Rachel Krische though. Their very funny, but downright wayward, T. Hanks – a pseudo-homage to the movie star Tom Hanks – chipped away at the gloss of such Hollywood icons, humorously and with plenty of surprising turns along the way.
It says a lot about the experimental nature of the GIFT programme that the most conventional (in terms of staging and delivery) show of the day was Our Fathers, a play about fathers and homosexuality, told in three different languages, in which members of the audience are required to go on dates with one of the actors. The highly inventive piece, by Birmingham-based international theatre group Babakas, used projections, shadows, dance and stand-up comedy to tell a touching story with a few welcome surreal kinks.
It’s hardly surprising that after all this there was a real buzz in The Central (the GIFT pub venue) for Tassos’s pub quiz, which tested our knowledge of Gateshead and offered a look back at the festival through Coney’s playfully interrogative lens. For performers, the end of the festival marks the end of what is designed to be a period of artistic development, offering workshops and the chance to meet other theatre-makers in a lively atmosphere.
I caught up with Festival Director Kate Craddock and GIFTed Director Jenny Duffy. Jenny is currently undertaking a practice-led PhD investigating notions of participation in contemporary performance practice at Northumbria University, where Kate – a Senior Lecturer – is her supervisor. They tell me that GIFT wouldn’t be what it is if it didn’t give emerging talent a platform: “It’s a two-way relationship,” says Kate, “beneficial to both the young ones wanting to be seen, and to the established artists interested in seeing the upcoming young theatre-makers.”
GIFT’s small scale is in this sense its strength; people get to know each other. Hopefully this kind of meeting will lead to creative collaboration – at the very least it should mean there’ll be plenty of performers looking to come back again next year.