Voila! Europe Festival Director Amy Clare Tasker talks about this year’s programme which will mark the initiative’s 10th year!

Established 10 years ago, Voila! Europe was created as a means of showcasing the works of independent European artists – starting life as a festival hosting shows featuring the French and English languages, before broadening the criteria to include all European languages. Set to stage its 10th year edition from 3rd to 13th November at The Cockpit Theatre, the festival’s director Amy Clare Tasker tells us more about what to expect and the festival’s significance post the EU referendum.

Hi Amy, Voila! Europe celebrates 10 years this year, and will take place from the 3rd to the 13th November at The Cockpit Theatre. How are you feeling?

Excited! The festival is always full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store.

Founded in 2012, Voila! Europe started out life as a festival hosting a dozen performances featuring the French and English language before broadening its criteria to European languages. What has the festival’s journey involved within the past 10 years?

The festival started with Dave Wybrow, the director of The Cockpit, and Voila co-founder Sharlit Deyzac. I joined the team in 2018, and by then the festival had already expanded from a bilingual festival to a multilingual celebration of Europe. In the wake of the EU Referendum, this was our declaration of solidarity with our fellow Europeans, and our intention to maintain the cultural connections between “the continent” and the UK. With the thematic expansion came new venue partnerships with Applecart Arts, the Etcetera Theatre, Theatre Deli, the Tristan Bates Theatre, and Rich Mix between 2017 and 2019.

Then in 2020, we couldn’t allow audiences into a physical venue at all – but thanks to The Cockpit’s ingenuity and the determination of the artists, we were able to present a digital programme. We’ve been delighted by the power of online performances to bring together artists and audiences across borders and time zones to share a simultaneous live experience. Digital work has remained an important part of our programme in 2021 and 2022, not only for the convenience and accessibility of online shows, but also as an eco-friendly and visa-free alternative to international touring.

What from the 10 years have you learned/taken away?

Throughout the last decade – and surely through the next one too! – we’ve grown and adapted with the times, but the unchanging foundations of the festival are a community of creative, innovative, and resilient artists and our commitment to providing them a platform for multilingual, multicultural, multidisciplinary theatre.

Voila! Europe is produced by The Cockpit Theatre and has embraced an entrepreneurial fringe model in order to platform emergent theatre. Can you explain what this model entails?

The UK has a thriving Fringe Theatre landscape, where independent artists and companies can test out brand new ideas without waiting for permission from elite institutions and gatekeepers – but European artists are not well represented on the fringe. In the rare instance when we can see European Theatre in London, it tends to be large touring productions presented at major theatre institutions. Elsewhere in Europe, many cities are dominated by well-funded state-run theatres but have little artistic activity on a grassroots level. Voila! Europe aims to fill a gap in this landscape, providing a platform for grassroots artists and companies to present their work, raise their profile and access new opportunities.

Our entrepreneurial model is based on a box office split, designed for the company and the venue to take a risk together on new work and share the ticket income. The Cockpit provides the space, technical support, and box office operations, with marketing support, mentorship, and networking opportunities through the festival. It’s then up to the artists and companies to create and produce their show.

This year’s festival will host 13 shows featuring 12 different languages. How have you approached curating the line up?

We programme from an open call in March and April each year. We look for a balance of themes, languages, cultures, performance styles, production sizes, and stages of development… the rest is the logistics of what will work well in our venue, and personal taste.

We don’t set a theme for the festival in advance – “European Theatre” is specific enough, and we’re always curious to see what ideas are popping up in the zeitgeist. This year, as you might expect, there were clusters of proposals about urgent themes like the climate crisis, the pandemic, and war. Whenever we see strong trends like this, we make sure to include those topics in the programme, along with more lighthearted pieces and contrasting themes.

I mentioned earlier that the festival is full of surprises – and that’s because we have a commitment to risk-taking in our programme. Some shows are complete and touring, with performance videos we can see in advance. Other shows are in development to premiere at the festival, so we will be seeing them for the first time alongside the audience. We’re proud to say that this risk-taking pays off: over the years, a number of Voila! Europe premieres have gone on to critical acclaim, award nominations, and successful runs at other venues and festivals. Most recently, Elisabeth Gunawan won the Stage Debut award for her performance in Unforgettable Girl at Voila! Europe 2021.

What can audiences expect from the festival?

Our digital programme offers you the chance to travel the world from the comfort of your sofa, with a range of online shows available for free (donations encouraged). The festival begins with A Visit to the Minotaur, an up-to-the-minute documentary of the war in Ukraine, performed live online by those living through it. For the next three days, we present digital watch parties, live screenings of pre-recorded shows with post-show discussions between the artists and the audience. Those recordings will also be available on demand throughout the rest of the festival.

In person at The Cockpit, you’ll find a scratch night with a variety of new short pieces on the 7th of November, followed by a week of double bills, so you can catch two shows in one night at the venue.

Returning to Voila! Europe after a digital presentation in 2020, Webcamming Chronicles explores a labyrinth of desire and consent, with performers Maud Madlyn and Andrés Montes Zuluaga, who went undercover as webcam models to create the show. For something completely different, Jaka Škapin’s mesmerising solo performance E – man – A combines vocal looping, autobiography, and video projection to create a ritual of challenging patriarchal masculinity from within.

Fresh from their successful Edinburgh Fringe run, Bradán Theatre brings us My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse, a gig theatre call to arms inspired by Irish mythology and the climate crisis. Chance of the Hunter takes a different approach to the theme of environmental emergency, with their apocalyptic dark comedy 999, making their UK debut with the support of the Liszt Institute – Hungarian Cultural Centre London.

All that is not even half of the programme – the rest ranges from clowning, masks, and physical theatre to poetry, storytelling, music, and paper rockets. You can find out more about all of the shows at www.voilafestival.co.uk

What would you like for audiences to take away from the festival?

I hope you’ll feel inspired and connected – with the artists and their ideas, with your fellow adventurers in the audience, and with the identity of London as a European city.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Voila! Europe will show from Thursday 3rd to the Saturday 13th November 2022 at the Cockpit Theatre. To find out more about the festival, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop