Mike Tweddle, Co-Director of BE FESTIVAL, writes about the festival’s desire to genuinely cross boundaries and forge new relationships
Each year BE FESTIVAL brings together around 20 shows from across Europe. It’s a week designed to showcase our continent’s most original and inspiring new theatre. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s a creative community of artists and audiences from a great range of backgrounds. During the week, diverse people and ideas can meet, and lasting new collaborations can grow.
We live in cities and nations that are culturally, racially and linguistically diverse. That’s a simple fact. Whether those cities and nations are ‘genuinely multicultural’ – with all the integration and exchange that the notion implies – is more open to question. Assumed borders – founded on our linguistic and cultural differences – divide us very easily, and never more than in these times of austerity and unemployment, when many are looking for others to blame. However the global economic and ecological crises we now face know no boundaries and respect no borders. And if there is to be a new approach to these international problems, there must be international dialogue, international understanding, international respect. And that’s where the performing arts can play a role.
Theatre is the art-form of human relationships, and if more theatre can be made – and seen – which relates people of different backgrounds, enabling them to delight in their differences and also celebrate the aspects of life they share despite those differences, this can only be for the good. Of course it’s good for the touring prospects of artists who make theatre which can travel beyond borders, and we work hard to make sure the touring potential of such theatre is realised. But it’s also good for everyone to discover how much can be said, taught, learnt, exchanged – how much can flow – between oneself and those who are ‘different’.
You can feel when such work really does this in an audience of mixed languages and nationalities. The feeling is electric: diverse groups of people united in laughter, tears, shock or contemplation. Translunar Paradise, which won first prize at BE FESTIVAL’s inaugural edition in 2010, achieved that without a single word. The two winning shows at our 2011 festival – As the flames rose we danced to the sirens, the sirens (Sleepwalk Collective, Spain/UK) and The Furies (Kindle Theatre, UK) – also did that despite the importance of verbal language in the work, through electric, all-consuming atmospheres and games. Both pieces have toured internationally since. And at last year’s festival, first prizewinners ATRESBANDES (Spain) performed Solfatara, a fully-fledged kitchen-sink drama with a twist, entirely in Spanish. The way their surtitles acknowledged, subverted and celebrated their desire to communicate with their non-Spanish-speaking audience was genius.
A festival is much more than its programme of performances, though. Its overall creative output is the sum total of all that is shared – the workshops, meals, discussions, feedback sessions, coffees and cocktails – through which new border-crossing relationships and ideas can form. We hope that artists and audience alike will leave the festival more open and resourceful, with a better understanding of how the arts can rise above the unnecessary boundaries that too often divide and alienate, and tell shared truths about the world in which we live, as well as the world in which we would like to live.
BE FESTIVAL is Birmingham’s festival of international performance, taking place from 2-6 July 2013. More information, tickets and details of the full programme can be found on BE’s website.
Photos: (remor) by Res de Res and De Oktobertragodie by Urland.