Head of the Arts in Wales for the British Council Rebecca Gould explores the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for those Welsh companies with productions up there this year, and argues for the far reaching power of the international showcase.
As I look ahead to another Edinburgh Fringe, I feel as excited as I ever did, and also fairly old; it’s been 26 years since my first one as a sleep-deprived 18 year old, thinking I might explode from the glamour of handing out leaflets on a drenched Royal Mile. These days, I often feel tired before I begin, but I’m still fired up by the thrill of being back in the centre of the English-speaking theatre world.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been up to Edinburgh as the Head of Arts for the British Council in Wales. The British Council was a founding partner of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. The partnership has been revitalised several times but has always relied on harnessing the reach of the British Council’s global network of over 120 offices worldwide, many with in-country arts specialists who are central to the local cultural scene.
For me at British Council Wales, the job has been to promote the Welsh talent who are that year presenting in Edinburgh to our British Council Global Network – the Heads of Arts and Arts Officers from around the world who descend on Edinburgh for the Festival and who, like me, want to spread the word about great work, to build connections and support collaborations in their parts of the world for UK artists and arts organisations.
Each of the delegates brought over by the British Council is a key figure in the global market of promoting, participating in or purchasing work. Our job at the British Council Wales is to promote Welsh shows to these international delegates and to widen understanding of the Welsh performance scene by brokering get-togethers, conversations and gatherings to facilitate meaningful new connections. We want each delegate to gain a picture of the unique, distinct and diverse performing arts offer that is coming from Wales and we want global audiences and artists, through the work, to share in our concerns, values and daily lives.
British Council in-country staff are responsible for selecting delegations of people to the Festival; Venue Directors, Promoters, Festival Directors, Artistic Directors, members of staff from Local and National Governments. These are the people who can offer UK artists international shows, tours and future collaborations, but for those of us with our hearts in theatre they are also our global family, who know the importance of sharing artistic work, of interchanging ideas and stories to enable us to understand each other better. This year there will be 187 delegates found, booked and facilitated on the ground by the British Council Theatre and Dance team.
Their visit will centre on the British Council Showcase, which presents 30 examples of the best theatre, dance and new writing that is currently being made in the UK. It is an opportunity for companies to introduce new work to international promoters, to build audiences and to gain new opportunities and feedback from industry professionals.
This year we have two shows from Wales in the British Council Showcase, Jonny Cotsen’s Louder is Not Always Clearer and National Theatre Wales’ Cotton Fingers by the award-winning Welsh Writer Rachel Trezise, from their 2018 season celebrating seventy years of the NHS.
Alongside these shows there is also the ‘This is Wales’ showcase curated by Arts Council Wales. This presents eleven of the best theatre, dance and circus shows from nine ground-breaking Welsh companies. This group demonstrates the diverse work that is being created in Wales at present, and aims to promote Welsh theatre and dance internationally.
Jo Fong and Sonia Hughes’ extraordinary piece, Neither Here Nor There, in the TiW showcase, encourages audience members to engage in a series of conversations that each happen over 6 minutes. It explores how you get people who have never met to speak to one another openly and freely, while being in an entirely stage-managed situation. It’s a blueprint for intercultural dialogue, the right to speak, the difficulty of listening and the complexity of multiple voices, all feel reflective of our new, ancient nation.
Also in the TiW showcase, Theatr Clwyd present Daf James’s beautiful and poignant On the Other Hand, We’re Happy, the story of a single dad meeting his adopted daughter for the first time and then agreeing to meet her birth mother. It is a funny and hopeful play about being a mum and a dad, and as the idea of family changes everywhere in the world, we need to be in dialogue with others, to navigate the way.
And, as if this weren’t enough, separate to both showcases is a range of other Welsh work, some of which is at the long-standing and much-loved Venue 13; expertly run by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Highlights of Venue 13 this year include Shreds – the Jack the Ripper musical written by the amazingly talented James Williams and Lesley Ross.
Earlier this year we published some research into international showcasing International Showcasing Strategy for the Arts of Wales. The research set out the importance of attendance at key global platforms like Edinburgh, not just to sell work but also to become part of worldwide conversations and networks.
The report also stated the need to approach these events with a collective Welsh presence and co-ordinated voice. We seek to join up the various elements which make up the Welsh presence at Edinburgh and amplify to the world’s performing arts buyers, producers curators and makers. Why? Because dialogue is a way of exploring and sharing who we are and facing up to the many challenges and conundrums we face across humanity and across the world today. Arts and culture sparks dialogue and enables inquiry, about how we in Wales fit, or conflict with those elsewhere, it helps us to process communication.
The British Council is about people-to-people dialogue, enabling people to have fruitful, informative, challenging and rewarding conversation with other people.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is often the epicentre of this conversation, the place where the British Council can catch hold of the moment and enable it.
Find out more about the Welsh shows at #EdFringe2019 HERE.