quinta-feira, outubro 06, 2005

Festivals: how to think them

To reflect upon the relation established between a performing arts festival and the works presented in it, is also to think about a theory regarding the reception of the performances, since that same reception is subject to presentation conditions.

Therefore the main question we should ask ourselves is if it makes sense to talk about the creative responsibility of festival organizations, being conscious that there is no action without consequence, and that the transference of similar receptions, from festivals to the execution of the shows, is residual. The contrary has a different importance since it is largely based upon a positive (or argumentative) reception that the proposals arrive to festivals, many times to recover from an incipient career or in order to understand what the real scope of the performance is. For instances, in dance festivals presentations are very much based upon expectations, or the name of the artist, or even it’s previous work.

We should be able to create a division due to normative discipline issues. On one hand talk about festivals organized by companies with their own activity during the rest of the year. Especially because it is important for them to have an audience that will attend the shows, as well as the capitalization of the name through a successful organization. And, on the other hand, we should think about what drives an organization to conceive a festival, without any other programming during the year. Maybe, in these cases, the brand and the reputation of the festival is based upon the direct invitation of creators so they produce shows especially for the event. Shows than can provide and enhance a stronger and more defined ideia of the programatic options of that festival.

The need for this normative division is based on the fact that theatre festivals, and experimental ones in particular, suffer (or benefit, it depends) from an excessive exposure in the media that may harm the proposals. Some of these same proposals are still in a gestation phase; others are completely out of context regarding the creative momentum. The more radical proposals that may need more visibility (not necessarily recognition) can be relegated to a secondary position, even when it is in those same proposals that one can find glimpses of future creative forces.

We should also think at another level about the concept of European Cultural Cities, or world exhibitions, that work as a festival throughout the year, but, as it happened in Portugal (Lisbon 94, Expo’98 and Oporto 2001), the effects are not always the expected ones. Namely artist’s expectations, publics needs, and sponsors goals. It is worth mentioning one of the most important examples of international projection of Portuguese art, Europalia 91 in Brussels, where Portugal as guest country "exported" a large part of its creators, that when the programmers came to the country were confronted with a reality that was far less attractive than the one presented abroad.

The increase of public attendance in the shows does not mean necessarily a stronger interest, but most of the times a provincial attitude towards an event. Meaning that the attendance is related with a sort of ‘been there, done that’ attitude, which rarely establishes a link between the city’s own creative system. Even though we can observe an increase of public, after the end of these major events, the fragilty of the context (political, cultural and economically) tends to reduce the number and variety of shows.

We should then ask not only what benefits can a festival produce in a city or in a country but what sort of ‘disavantages’ can it bring to the public, to the artists and to the context. Especially because reception also depends from that division since the market niches tend towards a more productive dialogue, and hypothetically, towards the evolution of the festival-object-spectator relation.

When preparing this communication I presented a challenge to the portuguese critics, investigators and creators in order to understand, for instance, the level at which the relationships between festivals and creations is established. Is it a relationship based on dependency, partnership, or a construction of a more consistent network of proposals (especially at the level of production means)?

Looking swiftly at the Portuguese reality I can consider that it is not through the profusion of festivals that one can draw the lines that sustain the Portuguese creative forces. Portugal has, according to data supplied by the Arts Institute/Ministry for Culture, 39 festivals during the year, including, among some others, children, adults, puppetry, experimental, live art, comedia dell’arte, and dance festivals. Curious enough, all outside the capital, Lisbon, with the exception of genre festivals (puppetry and commedia dell’arte) and one dedicated to dance (Alkantara).

But the perceptible plurality that this figure indicates, a reality filled with cultural offer, does not correspond to a regular programming. Many of the festivals depend entirely of governmental funding that in years of financial crisis, such has the last ones, forces a profound revision of selection criteria that obviously makes the proposals reception difficult.

The ones that are not cancelled choose to schedule more than one show proposed by the same company, or change and reduce the festival duration, or do not even schedule any international proposal. Some festivals, such as the ones dedicated to children and young people live every year under permanent asphyxiation. This situation occurs due to financial problems that lead to the attainment of extra funding (the patronage law is not applied fully in Portugal), at the same time contract deadlines are not complied with and the commitment with the audiences is many time neglected due to proposals with a doubtful educational content.

One should nonetheless mention the projection the FITA – Almada’s International Theatre Festival has achieved during the last 22 years, even when some of the editions were slightly unbalanced, and the presentation of new Portuguese artist is not as strong as it should be, especially because of the brand that the festival carries. The only study done about theatre festivals in Portugal concerns this festival, near Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Its conclusion mentions the valuable creation of spaces for the cooperation of creators and spectators, the possibility of revisiting national shows performed during the previous seasons, and the close connection with the city of Almada, which made some people during many years schedule their holiday time during the festival season in order to see the shows.

Another project worth mentioning is the Po.N.T.I. Festival organized by the S. João National Theatre, in Oporto (Portugal’s second city) which integrated last year the Union des Thèâtre de l’Europe network, after three editions (1997, 1999, 2001). At a more experimental level one could mention the CITEMOR Festival (27 years of existence), in the centre of the country, which is closely connected with foreign creators, namely, Rodrigo Garcia, or the A8 Festival (this year on it’s second edition), the most recent one dedicated to what may be called hybrid performance. In the puppetry area, one should mention the FIMFA Festival – Festival Internacional de Marionetas e Formas Animadas (Puppetry and Animated Forms International Festival), since this festival has created in it’s last edition and without any governmental funding, a programme that transforms a preconceived idea surrounding this kind of proposals through shows that discuss the place of the puppet in a creative pluridisciplinary context.

Moreover the quantity of festivals does not reflect necessarily an interest on national creation since the Portuguese programming of some of the most famous festivals is hardly consensual, while as a peripheral country international proposals tend to cause an exaggerated reaction.

Consequently festivals can be seen as isolated moments in time for which are summoned fruition conditions, analysis grids and a properly structured reception, based on aesthetics and intentions created by the programmers cultural, political, social or historical strategies. Therefore it can dangerous to establish direct connections between the festivals and the creative forces of a country since these hardly reflect common realities. It is urgent to reflect upon the way festivals include themselves in a reality that is already fragile in itself, and think about the creation of relationships between shows and organizations that, due to not finding a correspondent outside the festival environment, tend to harm the involved parties notwithstanding expectations, artistic recognition, or causing ambiguous reactions.

I would like to end this presentation posing some questions (some of them rhetorical): Are festivals a construction of the image of a reality, or a superficial display to be consumed rapidly? Is it possible to find the profile of a festival spectator without thinking about what he will see during the rest of the year? Is a theatre spectator the one that only sees what the festival has to offer? Can we attribute responsibilities to a festival when it comes to audiences training? And what kind of responsibilities ?

Translation: José Luis Neves

Comunicação apresentada a 27 Setembro 2005, na conferência internacional THEATRE FESTIVALS AS A GENERATOR FOR A EUROPEAN CULTURAL NETWORK, organizada pelo FIT - FESTIVALS IN TRANSLATION, no âmbito do Festival Internacional de Teatro Divadelná Nitra 05. O texto será publicado na Bulgária em Outubro e, brevemente, na Eslováquia. Será também disponibilizado no site do FIT - FESTIVALS IN TRANSLATION, a par das outras comunicações e debate.

A participação no festival Divadelná Nitra 05 decorreu na qualidade de membro do Conselho Consultivo Internacional, e com o patrocínio do Instituto Camões.

Brevemente serão disponibilizadas as críticas aos espectáculos apresentados durante o festival, bem como um texto sobre o prórpio festival. Os textos integrarão um dossier dedicado ao festival Divadelná Nitra 05.