Pros: Being given the chance to talk about theatre in an encouraging and welcoming environment was as inspiring as it was enjoyable.
Cons: Dialogue achieved what they set out to do brilliantly and I’m not one for quibbling!
Creating a two-day event is no small feat, as the broad and varied programme indicated. Talking/Making/Taking Part included informal discussions, interactive performances and inspiring installations that invited participants to “play, chat and share” in a friendly, non-intimidating environment that set out to prove that experiencing theatre is and should not be a passive experience. Both days kicked off with a discussion led by Andy Horwitz of New York’s Culturebot. The format of the debate was the Long Table, where anyone was invited to sit down and join or leave the discussion as they chose. Sunday’s topic was participation in theatre, and while I found much of the discussion thought-provoking and interesting, I might have liked a little more structure to it. I realise that not having a formal chairperson was a conscious decision and one that fitted in with the format of the discussion, but it did mean that the conversation went all over the place, and I, for one, got rather lost on the way.
The forty-odd participants who took part in the festival on Sunday were then invited to share a wonderful, pot-luck type lunch together which Maddy Costa’s mum had lovingly prepared, and in the spirit of the day even the food was “participatory” with vegan and dairy-free options. Interactive and one-on-one performances ran alongside, and while I cannot list all of them (I tried but didn’t manage to visit everything!) here are some of the installations and performances that stood out to me.
Artist Rajni Shah created a space for strangers to talk openly about topics ranging from fear of childbirth to the origins of applause. One does not often get to confide personal ideas and feelings with a group of people whom one does not know, but are nonetheless engaging and understanding, and it was a moving and thoughtful experience. Brian Lobel (an absent presence) created the interactive installation You have to forgive me You have to forgive me You have to forgive me which involved a questionnaire in the style of Sex and the City’s fictional columnist Carrie Bradshaw and led to much reminiscing, musing and laughter. Tom Frankland invited discussions through live doodling on topics that had been talked about during the day, and in a session labelled “Afternooon Ideas” live art experienced online was debated.
A brilliant performance of Are You Lonesome Tonight? about numerology, delusion, Elvis Presley and our true selves by Ellie Stamp rounded the weekend off. A captivating performer with a beautiful voice, Ellie involved the entire audience in this entertaining and clever one-woman show by breaking the imaginary boundary between the stage and the stalls and keeping eye-contact which was as charming as it was awkward. Scientific and surreal proofs demonstrated why we are the way we are, and why Ellie must be the secret love-child of Elvis. I was convinced.
Dialogue’s festival set out to inspire new relationships between people who make, write about and watch theatre, grow new ideas and encourage debate around participation in theatre, and I ended up wishing the festival could have gone on for longer. It’s so rare that one had the time to think about theatre in such an encouraging and welcoming environment. I hope this was the first of many festivals to come.
Talking/Making/Taking Part: a festival of theatre and discussion was created by Dialogue in collaboration with Ovalhouse, Culturebot, Something Other and Theatre Bristol and took place on the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of November.