The Metropolist Recommends - - by Liam Fleming

Playing in a Field: The rise of theatre at festivals

Playing in a Field: The rise of theatre at festivals Les Enfant Terribles at Latitude Festival [Photo: Marc Sethi]

When you think of a festival, what are the first things that come to mind? Mud? Definitely. Rolling fields. Of course. The music. Yes. That’s the focus isn’t it? Going to see bands putting on a show, playing their thumping hits. But as the demand for more unique, artisanal experiences increases, festie’s have been getting their thespo on and injecting their line-ups with a hearty dose of theatre. All we can say is… about time.

Until recently the British festival scene was dominated by the Big 4: Glastonbury, Download Festival in Donnington, Reading and Leeds, and the Isle of Wight Festival. With the exception of Glasto’s wonderfully diverse output, the others were always first and foremost about the music.

The rise of smaller festivals has given the opportunities to creatives from around the world to come and join in on the fun. Latitude has been a key game-changer a full theatrical list of events, and for the first time at Latitude this year, there will be more than one stage offering up these delights.

The argument in favour of focusing on the certain genres is not just simplicity, but accessibility. One thing festival promoters have always been scared of is rocking the boat. They work hard to make sure that they choose the right line-up for their target audience, this takes the whole year and they rarely take uncalculated risks. So if you tell them to give over a major part of the festival to theatre that can’t have the wide appeal of say, The Rolling Stones, then they are going to be wary. Even with the inclusion of big names like The Old Vic, The National Ballet and companies like Les Enfant Terribles, it could still be considered a threat to their bottom line. But this is changing with people mixing up how they enjoy a festival and numbers to the alternative options growing over the last few years.

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Bestival’s theme this year: The Future. [Image:bestival.net]

For many, going to a festival is a holiday. Some time away from the realities of life where they can escape, be a bit silly and enjoy everything that’s on offer to them. There is nothing better than letting go of the real world for a while and enjoying some of your favourite musicians for a few days. But that isn’t exactly escapism and theatre can truly transports you to a another world.

Picture yourself in a forest, away from it all, lying in a bed with a stranger as they whisper you a story whilst the sounds of the birds tweet around you. That is a possibility if you head to Latitude and experience Everything By My Side, a performance by Argentinian Director, Fernando Rubio. These kinds of once in a lifetime experiences add so much to your overall festival experience, that it’s hard to knock those kind of opportunities.

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Everything By My Side by Fernando Rubio [Image: Latitudefestival.com]

It’s not just Latitude that are getting on board the theatrical train. Festivals all over the world are realising that by diversifying they can appeal to a wider group of people. Places like Citadel in London’s Victoria Park have just this year, added a new stage, The Meadow, to their line-up that will be chock full of immersive and pop-up performances throughout the day.

There are even festivals that take the theatricality into their very being by giving the whole weekend a theme or a story and this creates even more opportunity for collaboration between music and theatre. Secret Garden Party and Bestival are both well known for giving their participants a theme that usually culminates in a huge parade. Previous themes for Bestival have included: Rockstars, The Future and the nautical theme of S.S. Bestival. But all of these are trumped by one festival that is taking the mix of theatre and music to a whole new level, and that’s Boomtown.

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Comrade Jose, leader of Boomtown held up by Cowboys in Old Town [Image:festicket.com]

Found in a field near Winchester, Boomtown is a relatively small festival that is now going into it’s 8th year, or Chapter as they call it. Boomtown is unique as it gives the whole weekend a storyline that develops over the 3 days, but also over every year. Something that happens in chapter 6 will affect chapter 7 and then chapter 8. This is creativity in a whole new light as audience members are walking around, going to their favourite bands, but also interacting with the story. Whether that be going to the Town Hall to register for a Boomtown Passport or heading to Mayfair to find out more about the upper etalons of society, they are constantly engaged and that is something special.

There has always been a place for the mediums of music and theatre to collide constructively. If they couldn’t, then musicals wouldn’t exist. But seriously, the collaboration between mediums has been a long time coming, and as always, it takes the smaller guys changing the norm and making it credible to let it actually take off, but we are at that point and there are exciting times ahead indeed.

Viva la theatre revolution!

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