Artistic Director of Shubbak Festival Eckhard Thiemann talks about the event’s 5th year!

Eckhard Thiemann

Celebrating 5 years this June,  the Shubbak Festival continues its tradition of celebrating the nuances of Arab culture with its largest programme yet! From Friday 28th June until Sunday 14th July, over 150 artists will take on a mixed programme consisting of performance, visual art, music and film. Shubbak, meaning ‘window’ in Arabic offers a range of voices from the Arab region, Europe and the UK. Ahead of this year’s festival, taking place at a variety of respected arts institutions across the capital, Artistic Director Eckhard Thiemann talks about this year’s ambitions programme, the theatre programme at The Gate Theatre and what he’d like for audinces to take away from the festival.

Hi Eckhard,the 5th Shubbak Festival will take place from 28th June to 27th July across various London arts venues. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?

I am very pleased that the programme is now out and we have had a good response so far. I am of course slightly scared that we now really have to make it happen and much work about travel, visas, accommodation and planning lies still ahead to us. But we have a great and expanding team – so it’s exciting times ahead.

Shubbak Festival will bring ‘exciting, bold, poignant and urgent work by Arab artists’ to our London stages. The term Shubbak, meaning ‘window’ in Arabic offers many different voices of Arab culture to UK audiences. At present do you feel that Arab voices are depicted enough on UK stages?

London is privileged in that a significant number of venues show the work of Arab artists across the year. But these are often single events. The concentrated and dense moment of our festival can bring a different dynamic and amplify the voices of Arab artists. It can create greater connections between art forms and artists from different nationalities. We also present many artists who will be coming to London for the very first time. We hope that the connections they make to our venues and audiences will lead to future engagements outside our festivals context.

This year’s programme will consist of performance, visual art, music and film. How do you decide what makes the final programme?

We work with the expertise in our partner venues, our team of curators and producers and we see a lot of work nationally and internationally in the years leading up to each festival. In the end you always end up with long-lists which gradually become short-lists and then final decisions are made on the strength and innovation of each artist’s work and also how their work fits in a wider festival context.

You’ve partnered up with the Gate Theatre to stage various readings and seven full productions. How have you collaborated to finalise the theatre programme?

There is so much good theatre writing and not every play is being produced. The Gate is a theatre which loves experimentation and pushes the form forward. So we really wanted in our collaboration to show all aspects of the current creativity in the Arab theatre sector. The productions now include a poetry recital, a visual theatre / dance production, text-based plays and a hybrid between a workshop and a performance. But we also wanted to include readings.  Readings give a first glimpse into a text and the subject matter. They bring the writer’s work to life – and we hope is a milestone towards future full productions. The selection was a combined effort by Ellen McDougall, artistic director of The Gate, myself, and playwrights Hannah Khalil and Hassan Abdulrazzak. We collectively read a significant number of plays and texts to arrive at a selection of powerful works, which we think deserve a bigger public presence.

Shubbak Festival will feature ‘over 150 artists based in the Arab region, in Europe and in the UK’, an increase from last year which featured 130. Do you approach particular artists or is there a submission process?

We do not have a submission process but research artists through our networks, our visits and travels and the expertise in our partner venues. Of course artists write to us, too, and keep us informed of their plans. But we are a curated festival and generally approach artists directly.

This will be the festival’s broadest programme so far in terms of the number of artists and and venues. How since the festival’s beginnings, has the event changed?

The festival has now more commissions. This means we don’t only invite existing works into our programme, but work with artists to create new works. Especially in visual arts we champion artists who work in the public realm and use London and its communities as a source of inspiration and content for their work. Through this approach we stretch artists to try out new ideas and approaches. It also means that some of the works we commission travel and tour to other locations after the festival, including Arab countries.

What can audiences expect from this year’s programme?

A dense and multi-layered programme with many surprises, which does not shy away from offering great fun nights out alongside thought-provoking works with hard-hitting subjects and difficult politics.

What would you like for audiences to take away from this year’s programme?

I think the same as above: a sense of adventure and risk which embraces critical thinking and new insights with sensuous and joyous experiences.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Shubbak Festival will take place from Friday 28th June until Sunday 14th July at a range of venues. To find out more about the festival visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop