Part of the Brighton Festival, 'caravan showcase' presents contemporary English theatre to international programmers. Catherine Love explains how English theatre companies can benefit from the showcase and other year-round activities.
For three days this month Brighton will play host to theatre programmers and promoters from all over the world. The fourth 'caravan showcase' takes place from 11 to 13 May during the Brighton Festival, presenting a varied programme of site-specific, interactive and incidental English performance, with the hope of nurturing international relationships. The event aims to connect artists and programmers, encouraging future collaborations, commissions and creative partnerships. Caravan’s co-director Gavin Stride explains: “Our ambition is to support artists to work and think internationally. To consider our place in the world and what is unique about the contemporary theatre being made in England.” The showcase does this by presenting a selection of the best contemporary English work, chosen by an experienced curatorial group, and offering it on an international stage.”
But caravan’s ambitions go further than just allowing these shows to be seen by international delegates. The showcase is as much about exploring new ways in which theatres and artists might develop work and connect it with audiences as it is about transporting work abroad. Lyn Gardner recently suggested in The Guardian that “theatre has changed more in the past decade than it did in the previous fifty years.” If theatres and programmers are to keep up with these changes, they need to look to new, more flexible models, and the same goes for international touring.
The great benefit of this shift is that it enables more meaningful relationships to develop between artists, theatres and the surrounding communities
Alongside the biennial showcase, caravan runs a mentoring and support scheme for its selected artists, as well as a series of one-day training symposiums throughout the year, which enables its expertise to be shared with a wider audience of artists. Last year saw three symposiums around the country, at Warwick Arts Centre, Arts Admin in London and Northern Stage in Newcastle, offering contributions from the British Council, Arts Council England, Independent Theatre Council (ITC), UK Trade & Investment and EUCLID.
Each company selected for the caravan showcase, meanwhile, is offered the opportunity of three hours of mentoring with Andrew Jones, the British Council’s Senior Programme Manager for Theatre & Dance, and Gary Hills, who has experience as an international promoter and runs the ITC’s Touring Abroad course. This mentoring tends to consist of a mixture of face-to-face and Skype conversations and emails, tailored to the needs of the individual artist or company.
As for outcomes, caravan has a strong track record of generating tangible international opportunities for participating artists. Following the last showcase in 2012, 76% of companies have continued a dialogue with one to three delegates, while 92% of those involved felt that being part of caravan has raised their touring ambitions, and 84% have been able to initiate new dialogues based on the experience of participating in the showcase. Previous showcases have enabled artists to tour work to countries including Norway, Hungary, Australia, Sweden, Romania and Iran.
However, it is not simply about numbers and easily measurable results. What has been noted in recent years is a move away from a simple exchange relationship, where shows are sold to international programmers, and towards more long-term collaborations based around residencies and festivals. The great benefit of this shift is that it enables more meaningful relationships to develop between artists, theatres and the surrounding communities, rather than a model where shows parachute in for a few days and struggle to make a lasting impact.
One of the most successful partnerships to emerge to date is with PuSh Festival in Vancouver. The festival presents both Canadian and international work, with an emphasis on artists who cross genres, disciplines and national borders. In 2013, supported by the British Council and Arts Council England, caravan piloted a new model with PuSh which is part performance, part residency and part collaboration. The aim was to test out a form of collaboration which might go on to work elsewhere in future, with potential partners including Under the Radar Festival in New York and the Pazz Festival in Germany.
The partnership gave three artists – Action Hero, Dan Canham and Victoria Melody – the opportunity to spend two weeks in Vancouver, during which they performed twice and participated in a programme of exchange designed to offer benefits to everyone involved. This included workshops, time spent with local artists, and visits to residency centres. On a slightly more idiosyncratic note, the residency programme also allowed Dan Canham to explore the Canadian wilderness with a park ranger, feeding into research for the new show he will be presenting at this year’s showcase. And Victoria Melody visited Canada’s biggest beauty pageant dress shop as part of a project called Major Tom.
The same aims and ambitions explored through last year’s training and residency programmes carry over into this year’s showcase. The 2014 showcase will present 20 English-based companies to an audience of international delegates, as well as offering a wider platform for conversations and collaborations at the caravan marketplace on 13 May. It is caravan’s hope that the event might connect artistic aspirations, spark new conversations and cultivate a forward-looking attitude of international sharing.
Catherine Love is Associate Journalist with Farnham Maltings.