An Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation since 2012, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival collaborate with artists both locally and globally to curate a unique line up of artists annually. Taking place over 17 days in May, the festival ‘transforms our public spaces, city streets, performance venues, parks, forests and beaches, bringing people together to experience the same brilliant and inspirational events’. This year’s eclectic line up will witness shows spanning ‘music, theatre, literature, visual arts, circus, dance and free outdoor events’. Responsive to universal issues, this year’s festival looks to explore themes of ‘journeying and crossing borders’ and ‘making and doing ourselves’, two themes incredibly pertinent. Ahead of his year’s festival, festival Director Daniel Brine discussed the planning and creatives who make this vision possible.
Hi Daniel, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival will take place from Friday 10th until Sunday 26th May 2019. How are you feeling ahead of the event?
Excited but a little anxious. We have a great team which works really hard all year round and to be in the spotlight for 17 days each May is a bit nerve wracking. I’m really confident we have a great festival, so while I’m all butterflies, I’m also confident deep down that audiences will have a great time.
The festival will include a mixed programme of performance, theatre, music, visual arts, literature, circus, outdoor and family events. How is it decided what shows/acts will make the line up?
I like to start thinking about five key things; artists, audiences, venues/spaces, partners and money. It’s rarely as simple as programming something you love. The artist has to be available, it has to make sense for your audiences, there needs to be an appropriate space to present the work, ideally you have partners who want to work with you to make it happen and the sums need to add up.
In particular, I think it’s important to think about audiences. We have a good understanding of our different audience groups and the sorts of things they will want to see. My job is to make sure we programme for these audiences – that doesn’t just mean giving them what they want but also thinking about what might grab their curiosity to tempt them to try and discover something different. And we’re also thinking about the people who don’t come and what might get them interested.
What can audiences expect from this year’s event?
The festival is an extraordinary event because there is so much on and so many different types of things. If you want to close your eyes and listen to a fantastic orchestra, you can. If you want an artist-led experience, like being led on a walk through the streets or a garden, you can. If you want to have a drink and dance to great music, you can. If you want a great day out with the whole family experiencing some of the best national and international outdoor arts for free, you can. If you want to be the first to experience great new British performance, you can.
This will be your second year as Festival Director, and the first with a full programme. How have you found the change?
I work with a great team and while this is my first festival programme there is a degree of continuity because we work with Britten Sinfonia, National Centre for Writing and Serious as programme partners. One of the things we’ve begun to do is to talk more about connections between works and I hope audiences will find threads to explore through the programme.
The line up consists of artists local to Norfolk, as well as international artists, with one of this year’s themes being that of ‘ journeying and crossing borders’. How will this be explored?
I like to look at what artists are interested in saying and exploring, and sharing these with audiences. I found a lot of interesting work looking at personal and political journeys. The programme includes The Journey, Chris Bullzini’s high wire walk across Market Square with a soundscape of local voices about how people came to Norfolk; Las Maravillas De Mali who were the pioneers of ‘world music’ with their blend of African and Cuban beats; the premiere of Curious’ Wild Longings a promenade in the Plantation Gardens drawing parallels between our live and lives of plants; and Richard Wiesner’s 28 which looks at our relationship with Europe.
The festival will also explore the theme of ‘making and doing ourselves’, how will this be represented on the line up?
I like it when we have a chance to get people involved and ‘hands on’. This ranges from shows created by and with participants to making workshops. I’m particularly pleased that Andy Field and Beckie Darlington are working with school kids to create News News News a ‘local’ newscast performed live for an audience and broadcast on the web. Stopgap Dance are also working with members of the community to make their work, which will be presented in Market Square. For the adventurous, we have Playing Up a great intergenerational project in which children and adults get to make actions based on seminal works of Live Art. And one of my favourites is that we work with the Norwich Puppet Theatre to offer ‘puppet selfie’ making workshops (I have a secret desire that everyone in Norwich will one day makes a puppet of themselves or a loved one).
Is there anything you’ve learned from curating this year’s programme?
When I started I said to myself that I really wanted to be curious and have fun. I’ve learnt that that’s hard work but worth it.
What advice would you give to any aspiring theatre festival curators?
I’d say to anyone working in the arts to follow your heart. I didn’t set out to be a festival director and my cv isn’t necessarily what you’d expect but I’ve got my experience doing things I believe in and am interested in and this is a strong foundation for any job.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival has officially started, and will continue until Sunday 26th May 2019. To find out more about this year’s programme, visit here…