With long experience of working in Europe, Phillip Parr reminds us that, even in a post-Brexit world, there are still plenty of opportunities for artists. You just need to know where to look.
In the UK we’ve always exported our artists. Shakespeare’s actors were renowned in Europe for their qualities and for their debauchery (it’s not just football fans who give us a bad name). Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro featured a London soprano and an Irish tenor at its premiere in Vienna. Stay in the Hotel Pacific in Hamburg and you’re reminded that The Beatles played more live gigs in that city than in Liverpool.
These artists all followed a familiar journey – being good at they do, taking work out to the wider world and being influenced by it, and bringing that back to enrich the work they create here.
Shakespeare’s actors came back and told him of a castle in Denmark. Nancy Storace and Michael Kelly brought the music of Italian opera into the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, and The Beatles turned into a popular beat combo.
So, Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement is a big problem for artists used to popping across the channel to give a performance. And it’s no less a complication for festivals in the UK wanting to bring in work from the EU. It’s not all doom and gloom however, and we need to work together with our fellow artists in the EU to keep the momentum going.
Collaborating with partners across Europe
My work in Europe with Parrabbola goes back 15 years, but my individual connection is even longer going back to a season spent as a regieassistent at the Staatsoper in Munich just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And my work on Shakespeare, England’s best known artistic export, has been hugely influenced by the interpretations and passion for the bard I have encountered in Gdansk and Craiova and Yerevan and all across Europe.
Parrabbola makes work with communities, chiefly large-scale participatory community plays as part of various Creative Europe projects. Most recently our project ‘Shaking the Wall Walls’ looked at barriers in society and how performance can confront them, in collaboration with partners from Poland, Iceland, Ireland, and Czechia. Even masked and in semi-lockdown, the sharing and learning continued. As we parted to return to our respective homes, we knew we’d been altered by the experience and by what we had gained from each other.
So how do we keep this going? As a company we’re not going to simply drop any thought of future collaboration, and as an artist I know I absolutely need the process of creative renewal that comes from working within different systems and engaging with different cultural practices outside my comfort zone.
Anti-Brexit isn’t anti-artist
It’s important to remember that our work is respected and desired by EU promoters and while the rhetoric is anti-Brexit it isn’t anti-artist. Let’s not fall into a self-generated trap of believing that everything and everyone is against us. It’s more complicated than it was but there are still many options open to us. Most importantly, we can expect a welcome if we simply keep our contacts going and stay open to what’s going on.
While the wonderfully helpful Creative Europe Desk UK is now sadly disbanded, On the Move has picked up the baton as the contact point for information about cultural mobility. Signing up to their newsletter that of the British Council is essential.
That’s the key: we have to work to maintain our place in the networks. For companies already involved with ongoing partnerships, keep the discussions going. We can still be part of Creative Europe bids – only as a third country admittedly, with the restrictions that brings – but to date, for Parrabbola and its partnerships, that has not been a problem.
And other programmes are certainly open to UK artists. Look out for the new PERFORM programme which is tasked with rethinking touring structures within Europe. There are some early project grants coming up there.
It will undoubtedly be harder for emerging companies who don’t have existing contacts. But my advice is get involved with networks and groups such as Culture Action Europe, the European Cultural Foundation and PEARLE. Travel online and seek out the companies whose work interests you and explore their networks. Plenty of festivals looking for emerging work are open for applications and many countries are offering easy 90-day access for performers.
One thing I’m sure of – you’ll be warmly welcomed online and it’s by far the best way in the current climate to forge new collaborations. When festivals and events start again live, then of course go and meet face to face. It takes time but it’s incredibly worthwhile. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
Philip Parr is Artistic Director at Parrabbola.