BE Festival, Birmingham’s European Theatre Festival returns for a second year from 4-10 July at A.E.Harris and mac. The festival will welcome artists, musicians and theatre groups from across Europe. Strangely, I had my first proper introduction to BE Festival during Flatpack over a very welcome cup of tea at one the Co-Director’s families houses (Thank you again Judy!). I knew then that it was something quite special and the community that was growing from it was really quite lovely. I spoke to Miguel Oyarzun, BE Festival Co-Director about the festival and what to expect in 2011.
How did BE Festival come about?
The Arts Council held a seminar back in November 2009 about the future of theatre in the West Midlands, at which we (the three Co-Directors – Mike Tweddle, Miguel Oyarzun and Isla Aguilar) were present. The lack of a dedicated International theatre festival in the region was discussed, and we proposed a European theatre festival for Birmingham – BE Festival was born.
There was a lot of support at the seminar for this idea, so we decided to take on the task, and made a commitment to hold the first festival in the summer of 2010. It was a very intense 7-month period, to design, acquire funding, plan and organise such a festival in such a short period of time. But we succeeded, and the feedback from BE Festival 2010 was incredibly positive, it made us even more determined to continue and improve the festival for this year.
Why have a European theatre festival in Birmingham?
Theatre and performance can speak to everyone, crossing all sorts of boundaries, whether they be physical, cultural, linguistic or otherwise. We feel it is very important to cross these divides and to foster this type of international collaboration, both for artistic and social reasons.
It is important to build meaningful connections between people of diverse backgrounds. Through recognition of shared values and experiences, suspicions and fears associated with the ‘unknown’ and the ‘foreign’ are dissolved. And as periods of economic crisis are so often associated with a rise in racial and cultural tensions or prejudices, now it is more important than ever to celebrate all that we share.
Previously in Birmingham there was little opportunity to see a diverse range of new European theatre. As performers, we feel it is important to continually experience fresh and different ideas in order to maintain an innovative approach to our practice. That said, this isn’t about innovation for innovation’s sake, some wonderful pieces at last year’s festival demonstrated to great effect some relatively traditional theatre techniques.
We feel that Birmingham is at something of a cultural tipping point – there is a real energy here right now and it feels very exciting, it’s a city that has the potential to have a great cultural reputation. Birmingham isn’t saturated with culture in the same way as London, so there is more space and a greater sense of community here.
We hope that BE Festival will further invigorate Birmingham’s theatre scene, encourage exchange and new relationships, and help to strengthen the city’s reputation as a European cultural centre.
What separates BE from other theatre festivals?
BE Festival aims to blur the boundaries between art forms, and even between performer and audience member. Engagement and participation are also key to the festival’s ethos, and the format of the main programme, along with the accompanying programme of talks, workshops, exhibitions and events, will take the public far beyond the normal audience experience.
The main programme sees four different 30 minute shows performed each night for four nights at the atmospheric old AE Harris Factory in the city’s famous Jewellery Quarter. Audience members can have a full sit-down interval meal, and meet the performers following the show. Members of the public can also take part in workshops with the performers and attend the daily Feedback Café to talk about the previous evening’s shows, allowing them to interact on a level not usually seen in the UK.
We hope that this ‘taster’ format will encourage people to take more risks in the type of theatre they see, especially at a time when economic difficulties mean that people are much more careful what they spend their money on.
We aim to create an immersive experience for the visiting artists, staying with local residents so they experience a real and honest slice of the city’s everyday culture. We also provide the opportunities for meaningful interaction with Birmingham’s own performers, creating a real legacy of relationships and opportunities.
What can we look forward to this year?
BE Festival will present the work of 20 from 10 countries (from Russia to Spain), demonstrating an eclectic mix of the most exciting dance, theatre and performance from across the continent.
Groups performing include unique Russian physical theatre company Kotorogo Theatre and Italian ensemble Academia Teatrale Di Roma who will be telling the true story of a group of Birmingham friends who were held in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility, despite their innocence.
We are also delighted that BE Festival will be hosting the UK premiere of internationally renowned performance artist Anne Bean’s new work. The Un-knitted Lives of Young Girls, by Anne Bean and Poshya Kakl tells the story of a group of Iraqi women imprisoned for refusing arranged marriages and who feel safer inside the jail than out.
Birmingham is also well-represented with Kindle Theatre’s modern take on the epic Greek tale of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra – the original tale of rage, envy and revenge.
The festival opens on Monday 4 July with multi-award-winning ensemble Theatre Ad Infinitum (UK) at mac. As a result of winning the BE Festival 2010 Development Prize, they were supported by the festival and by mac to develop their show Translunar Paradise into a full-length production, which is seen for the first time here at BE Festival.
Other events will be running alongside the main programme this year, including Little BE on Sunday 10 July, an international programme of performances and fun workshops at the mac appropriate for kids aged 6-12 (and all the big kids too!).
BE Next, a series of creative workshops for local young people will run alongside the festival, and after the main programme is BEMIX, a ‘scratch’ night of improvisation, collaboration and work-in-progress from the main programme artists, created during the festival itself.