04/06/18 The Gift of GIFT
Updated: Jun 7, 2018
It’s exactly a month since I attended GIFT festival under a brilliant Artist Bursary scheme – encouraging artists from outside the north east to experience this wonderful festival. The hype and excitement of the aftermath of the festival have died down, but only slightly, and with an (almost) clear head, I can recall my reflections on all the festivities.
Gateshead International Festival of Theatre is GIFT by name and a gift by nature. I knew a little about the festival beforehand, following the festival online, watching the programme come together piece by exciting piece. I first met the festival director Kate Craddock, whilst producing FLARE Festival 2017and she invited me to experience the festival under an artist bursary scheme. The scheme offers a small number of artists from outside the North East to experience the festival with a small financial contribution to help towards travel/tickets. Being invited along to experience the festival and develop a relationship with the festival was brilliant, I quickly went from friendly flirting with the festival on Friday to full blown unadulterated love for the festival by Sunday. But GIFT festival isn’t just a three-night stand – it’s an opportunity for artists to return, to measure their growth, to be programmed alongside established, international artists, to become part of an exciting family. It also felt like I became part of another family by staying in a ‘friend of GIFT’’s house for the durationof the festival. It was a really lovely gesture (and a really lovely home) that made me feel really welcome in a city I had never been to before. And it’s these small gestures that really make GIFT special.
Then I come onto the festival itself. I really tried to experience everything I could in the festival. I stepped off the train and into the festival welcome event and as Kate introduced herself and introduced the artists of the festival by giving them an individual gift, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, it became increasing evident how friendly, informal and accessible this festival was. There was no pre-penned speech about how brilliant everything was, it really was just Kate saying welcome accompanied by MA students giving us an informal performance re-enforcing the relaxed feeling of the festival.
Then that evening was one of my festival highlights; the incredible Wallflower by Quarantine. This five hour durational performance has really stuck with me and sees performers trying to recall every dance they’ve ever danced. The most wonderful thing about this performance is just how well handled the material is, it oozes with an honesty and playfulness and becomes simply joyous. Another highlight was the final performance of the festival, Situation with Doppelganger by Oliver Zahn / HAUPTAKTION. This was also a show probing into dance, but unlike Quarantinethis was performed through a lens of analytical academia. The sharp repeated choreography being hammered into our conciseness accompanied by a rigorous structure and, like Wallflower, the material was well handled, thoroughly thought through - a lean performance void of fat. These two performances book-ended the festival really neatly and made me think about how well programmed the festival had been. Durational pieces, Like Adam York Gregory and Gillian Lees Present Tense sat alongside a short, intimate Danish piece, Robust by CHACMA Performance. A really wonderful one-to one performance, in the form of Hannah Sullivan’s Draw to look, was followed later in the day by a series of 20-minute scratch performances. But no matter the length or type of show these pieces were all remarkably polished; people making theatre at the top of their game. Acclaimed theatre companies working on a large scale, like Quarantine’s Wallflower, was followed the next day by emerging talent form the North East in Rosa Postlethwaite’s Composed. Celebrating really intriguing makers and excellent performers – Rosa has an incredible stage presence that was wonderfully alike Tom Cassani and his skewed look at deception in Someone Loves You Drive with Care. These connections between the shows of the festival was a real treat and something difficult to achieve in a programme only lasting three days but everything was really well considered, neatly stitched into a programme that is both cohesive and variant. All this with a few workshops thrown into mix.
Everything in the festival leads back to Kate Craddock, with the help of her small, dedicated and wonderfully down to earth team, they have achieved something special. The festival is the perfect scale, squeezing a lot into three days but also manging the programme so that nothing is missed. The artist bursary scheme was also a brilliant way for me to meet other artists but also feel valued and appreciated. It was my first visit to Gateshead and I got a feeling for the spirit of the place too. It’s hard to critique a festival that has given so much. GIFT is the perfect title for a festival that’s dedicated to giving so much to the local community but also to emerging and established artists, both inside and outside the north east. As I write this I have become increasingly aware of how many plates the festival keeps spinning and still being able to do that whilst creating the most friendly, informal and relaxed festival setting is truly a marvellous thing. I really encourage people to seek out this festival (also at £25 for a concession festival pass, it’s incredibly accessible). GIFT has quite simply been a gift!