Sharlit Deyzac and Amy Clare Tasker are Co-Directors of Voila! Europe 2019.
The festival, which this year welcomes new support from the Hungarian Cultural Centre London and Rich Mix, will present twenty-three expertly curated works of theatre and dance from twenty-six different countries. Continuing its legacy as a safe and celebratory space for European theatre makers to push artistic boundaries, it will interrogate the myriad realities of what it means to be European today, with shows covering everything from Brexit robots, to a clowning Anna Karenina, to ecological disaster and what would happen if Magda Goebbels’ shoes could talk.
Voila! Europe 2019 is at The Cockpit and Rich Mix 4th – 17th November 2019. The full schedule can be found here.
Voila! Europe is returning for 2019, how would you describe the festival?
Voila! Europe is a festival of multilingual, multicultural, and multidisciplinary theatre, dedicated to cultivating European arts in London. We showcase an eclectic mix of themes, styles and stories, and this year’s festival features a bit of everything: from new writing to wordless aerial performance, with interactive shows, improvisation, cabaret, comedy, and plenty of devised theatre.
As a curated fringe festival, we work with many emerging artists, or more established artists creating emerging work. We love the energy of this ‘emergency’ – the work is urgent, highly motivated, and it must be made right here, right now.
Why do you think it’s so important to bring European work to London?
With everything that’s going on in the UK these days, it feels vital to keep London a European city. We’re more interested in the cultural identity of Europeanness rather than the politics – but of course it is undeniably political to be producing a European festival in defiance of Brexit.
We are taking a stand against the rise of isolationism and xenophobia, by contributing to London’s culture of openness and exchange. We hope the festival will encourage and challenge other arts organisations to look for ways to collaborate across the channel – and to make international work accessible to more audiences. It can be complicated and expensive to bring theatre productions from abroad – one of the benefits of Voila being a fringe festival is that audiences can see European shows in London for just £8 or £10.
And actually, only about one third of the programme is made up of shows we’re bringing from outside of London – the rest are companies of European artists who are already here and are bursting for opportunities to show their work.
We still seem to be no further forward with Brexit since the last festival, what impact is that having on theatre making?
Many Europeans have already left the UK due to uncertainty and unwelcoming attitudes, so Brexit is already having a big impact on our sector. On the other hand, Brexit has galvanised those who have decided to stay, as well as open-hearted British theatre makers, and we have redoubled our efforts to ‘keep the Channel open.’
Even though Brexit is continuing to hang over us, we’re not seeing many artists making work directly about leaving the EU – we received submissions this year for shows that are tackling climate change, war, burnout, racism, mythmaking… artists have a way of looking ahead to what will be the next big cultural conversation.
How have you gone about curating Voila Europe 2019?
We respond to trends that we see in the proposals from artists, and the themes of our partner venues. The Cockpit is a ‘theatre of ideas and disruptive panache’ so we look for shows that fit with that ethos. Rich Mix’s motto is ‘culture for a changing city’ and their autumn season theme is ‘press play’ – so we focused on interactive work at that venue, especially for the brand new shows developed in Voila! residency there.
We programme the festival from an open call for submissions (the next one will open in March 2020) and we also work with cultural attaches of various European countries, collaborating with those partners to bring shows from abroad.
We don’t choose a theme for the festival in advance, but rather we get a feel for the zeitgeist as we read through the proposals. This year, we noticed a strong trend towards environmental themes: The Medea Hypothesis combines the ancient Greek myth with a modern scientific theory challenging the notion of a nurturing Mother Earth. Once Standing is a playful circus show about resilience, imagining how humanity might pick itself up after an apocalypse. Lighthouse is a solo aerial performance exploring our entanglement with plastic.
Once we have an idea of these kinds of trends, we look for shows that bring in other ideas, themes, and performance styles. We aim to put together a balanced, varied programme that showcases the great variety of work that falls under the umbrella of ‘European theatre.’
What are you most excited about for the festival this year?
We’re particularly excited to bring the first Hungarian show to Voila thanks to our developing partnership with the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London. With their support, we’re able to present a cutting-edge contemporary Hungarian company, STEREO AKT, with their new interactive show European Freaks. The show places a focus group of audience members in the centre of the performance, exploring questions of democracy, justice, and the future of Europe – with hilarious ‘Euro-humanoid’ robot characters, live illustration, and dynamic sound design.
This year, we’re also working with Rich Mix for the first time, presenting four full productions in their Studio and offering development residencies to three brand new works in progress in a non-traditional performance space, The Mix. We’re really excited to create a home for these companies at Voila, and connect with Rich Mix’s multicultural audiences in Shoreditch.
We also love discovering the unexpected connections between shows in the programme: for example, shows that grew out of companies’ research within local communities. Forbidden Stories uses interviews from Greek and Turks living side by side in Cyprus to reveal true stories of collaboration and solidarity between neighbours, countering the prevailing political narrative of division. Similarly, Mags grew out of conversations with communities across Wales, and became a show about motherhood, home, and belonging. Though they have much in common, these shows take wildly different forms: Forbidden Stories is a mix of storytelling, video-mapping, and shadow-play, while Mags brings together a bilingual cast of actors and dancers with a live band.
However Brexit turns out, what do you hope will be the result for European theatre?
Freedom of movement is crucial for the spread of ideas and for connecting artists across the continent. If it becomes more difficult for artists to bring their work across our borders, then European theatre will become less and less accessible for both theatre makers and audiences in the UK. Small fringe organisations like Voila! will not be able to support the infrastructure needed for visas, and Brits will lose out on emerging urgent theatre from Europe.
So that’s our biggest concern, but you asked about hope! We hope that outward-looking Londoners will band together and find ways to stay connected to our European counterparts.
Theatre makers have a long history of working around political barriers, so whatever happens with our border, we know the Voila! network will continue to be a resource for artists and audiences who are open to cross-cultural exchange.
What would you say to anyone thinking of catching some shows at Voila Europe 2019?
There’s something for everyone in this programme, with artists tackling many different topics and using many different forms of performance. We invite audiences to take a risk on something new – a great way to do this is with our double bill deals, where you can see two shows for only £16. Pick something you know you’ll like, and then stick around to check out the second show that evening.
And don’t worry about any language barriers – most shows are performed in English, or have creative ways of translating other languages so that everyone can understand.
Both venues have comfortable bars where you can grab a drink and chat with fellow festival-goers after the show. We also have a festival opening party on the 4th of November – all are welcome to meet the artists and celebrate the European community around some bar games and multilingual karaoke – See you there!