Baltic Circle festival wants you to slow down
As the coronavirus pandemic spans the globe, it is more relevant than ever to consider the social and environmental sustainability of large-scale events like festivals. The number of productions touring internationally has continued to grow throughout Baltic Circle’s two-decade run.
The Baltic Circle International Theatre Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in November. We met up with festival directors Hanna Parry and Hanna Nyman and talked about the challenges of preparing an international festival in the midst of a pandemic.
Hanna Parry, as the new artistic director of Baltic Circle, what goals did you set up for the festival initially?
One of the major things for me to consider was the 20-year celebration of the festival. The number of productions touring internationally has peaked over the past two decades, and we're a big part of that development. The festival has expanded from the Nordic-Baltic region all the way to Brazil and Japan to become a truly global affair. It's grown geographically, and with great speed too.
My goal was to slow down that process, and to make the festival ecologically and socially more sustainable. To that end, one of my first decisions was to extend the intense five-day run and spread the festival over two weekends instead. Our strategy for the upcoming years is to increase the impact of the festival by organising more workshops and facilitating more discussion between artists and audiences and between our environment and our art form. This will give our festival and us a chance to make a fuller impact on our surroundings.
Can you name a few examples of how you have made it more sustainable?
Apart from avoiding air travel, not printing paper programmes and the like, we've also thought a lot about how to make the festival more sustainable for our staff. We've been able to offer more long-term contracts for the people we employ. Our communications manager, for example, now has a permanent contract, which means that she can work for us throughout the year, rather than just for a short while during the festival. It's this kind of sustainable thinking in the broadest sense that now permeates our festival.
… and the same goes for the artists you work with?
Yes, during previous festivals there have been artists who've arrived in Helsinki for just one performance, built their set and spent all their time in Helsinki at their hotel and at the venue, not seeing the city at all. This is often the case for lots of artists. They end up living on sets while travelling all around the world. We want to disrupt this and enable artists to slow down and take in their surroundings while they're in Helsinki.
Hanna Nyman, how has the coronavirus pandemic affected your planning as a managing director?
We were planning to run a sustainable festival anyway, but the pandemic really showed us how important it is to be moving in that direction. The time to act is now, and we feel that we have a clear role to play here. The great thing is that we're a fairly small and flexible organisation, and we can try out new things.
For example, we made the decision that we would run the festival, come what may, this spring, as we have an ethical responsibility towards our artists. We also wanted to avoid having to make several parallel plans. So what we've opted to do is not to have any large gatherings indoors, and we'll be offering more events for individual spectators, there will be digital performances, outdoor performances and performances with limited spectator capacity, as well as spaces for people to gather in in smaller groups.
Of course, we'll have to wait and see whether people will want to interact with each other or not in November. We promise however, that the next Baltic Circle festival will be an intimate festival offering opportunities for sharing time and space with other people.
… will the forthcoming international festival still be an international festival?
We're working with artists who are interested in exploring new digital technologies and artificial realities, but as a point of principle we've decided against streaming. At the same time, it's so important that we don't close ourselves off or make ourselves smaller geographically.
Right now, it's more important than ever to consider how we work internationally. To slow down, explore new practices, and to make our spaces inclusive. It's not necessarily relevant to speak of a division between the local and the global, as Helsinki has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Although there are structures within the Finnish contemporary theatre and performance field that make the field homogeneous, we have been working on shining a light on performers and artists from outside these structures.
Hanna Parry, what can we expect to see this upcoming November?
We've talked a lot about rhizomes when we've been describing this upcoming festival to our collaborators. We're going to be inhabiting many different surroundings and landscapes, without rooting ourselves in any one place. We want to spread ourselves across vast areas.
The performances are very much like this as well. All of them apart from Life as we know it will premiere during the festival, and they all respond in their own unique way to this time that we are living in. Although none of the productions are directly about the coronavirus pandemic, they deal with nuclear waste, change, readjustment, knowing and not-knowing, questions of how to continue living after having experienced physical violence… as well as the aesthetics of night-time.
They all bear traces of this present time, and some may already foresee a new stage in the future. In fact, Life as we know it might actually end up acting as a sort of guide to the festival as a whole, as it contains themes and ideas that resonate across the entire programme.
TINFO / Linnea Stara 20 Sep 2020
The full programme of the Baltic Circle Theatre Festival will be made public on October 5, 2020. All events are accessible in English.