Twist or Stick: Views from the Theatre Forum and TheatreNI conference

Published 11 Jul 2017 by Theatre Forum
Notice Content

At a time of heightened uncertainty just days after the new Cabinet announcement and Brexit’s official start, the largest gathering of performing arts professionals from Ireland and Northern Ireland took place in Cork during the City’s Midsummer Festival.


At the conference, co-producers TheatreNI and Theatre Forum posed a question to delegates: how, in a fast-changing environment, will they play the hands they’ve been dealt? Built around a call to action, the Twist or Stick conference programme explored how the wider performing arts sector might negotiate a rapidly changing economic, social and political environment. Several themes including change, festivals’ return on investment, the value of artists and creative industries as big businesses shaped the conference conversation.


Increasingly, festivals act as catalysts for change in their communities to reflect social, political and economic changes, big and small, within that community. Along with national and local arts funding, regional and cultural tourism support, it’s people who make festivals happen. To bring arts and culture events to life, lots of people employ their resourcefulness and creativity for the benefit of their community and festival visitors. There’s a huge positive knock-on effect with most visitors enjoying their interaction with people far more than with places, no matter how scenic. Festival people Lorraine Maye, Director of Cork Midsummer Festival and Shona McCarthy, CEO Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, shared their experiences of how festivals renew, rejuvenate and reward their communities, offering very attractive returns on investment and effort.


The value of artists to society goes far beyond the artwork or performance. In times of accelerated change with its attendant risks, artists are vital to telling new and complex stories about identity, personal, national and international. As the pace of change quickens, artists are our lookouts. They look around and ahead so we can keep making sense of our world. To experience the work of internationally acclaimed choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, most recently his profoundly moving production of Swan Lake/Loch na hEala blending dance, theatre and music, is to appreciate the ancient and the new, tragedy, joy and so much in between. It’s one of the ways we come to a better understanding of ourselves, others, the world and our place in it.


The Creative Ireland 2017-2022 programme sets out the ambition that Ireland grows to be a global leader in film production, TV drama, documentary, children’s storytelling, and animation for screen. Conference delegates heard from award-winning producer Andrew Eaton, whose recent credits include The Crown for Netflix, that the creative industries are big business. Policy makers must be made aware that consistent, planned support to theatre and dance production companies, producers as well as festivals commissioning and making work is the essential bedrock on which expertise for international stages and screens is developed. Vibrancy in the performing arts at home is how talent and expertise for international stages and screens will be developed.


Looking ahead, the conference recognised the constant need to respond to change while protecting the independence, originality and livelihoods of artists and arts organisations. The performing arts sector, along with its funders, is adapting strategies and plans building on the inherent strengths of people to be agile, resourceful and adaptive. Art and artists have a lead role in enabling us all to see things anew and, more importantly, to encourage us to take decisions to act in new ways.

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