Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Kingston International Youth Festival.

After work I headed over to The Rose Theatre for a drink and a chat with Yel, whose heading up Kingston's International Youth Festival in the summer. It's the second year of the initiative and for the moment the real focus is on building the momentum and raising the cash. She's an impressive force juggling hats, cajoling and dealing with the thousands of problems that hit her Blackberry every day. As part of the fundraising Yel's been involved in a fantastic event in Surbition where the villagers spent the weekend creating a new myth for themselves The Legend of Lefi Ganderson. It couldn't have been more fun.

We were joined for a moment or two by Steve Unwin who as artistic director of the theatre has the unenviable job of keeping the whole show on the road. It's clearly been a struggle to establish an audience and although the presence of Judi Dench, this week, or Peter Brook, whose bringing his show next month provides financial respite; the real challenge is to find a constituency of regular attenders rather than the cultural tourists who'll come in to see a name or reputation. Already there have been some dodgy moments and Yel's festival is partly the result of the council demanding more community involvement in return for a bail out. It's a very positive unintended consequence of failing to pull the crowds and does offer a model of the kind of access that might just sustain the viability of the venue.

I often feel that we're too defensive of the professional theatre and too quick to deride the idea of amateurism. Perhaps the instinct of the latter does in some way threaten the standards set by the former, but I think the theatres of the future are going to have to find ways not just to provide entertainment but also the resources and opportunities for play, participation and involvement. Perhaps rather than seeing education as a lever for grant applications the theatres of the future will begin to organise the parties, the social events and the shared stories of the places they represent as see this as an integral part of their function, making themselves, in the process, as familiar and as welcoming as the local pub. The economics may make this a welcome necessity.

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