This article was first published on Exeunt Magazine at the beginning on 18th May 2016.
Some conversations I have not yet overheard in the run up to WATCH OUT Festival:
“I came to see Kim Noble’s You’re Not Alone at the Junction last year coz they’d listed it in it in the comedy programme, and now I’m addicted to morally-dubious, kind of surreal, auto-biographical, film-mash-up confessional performance.”
“Ah… I’ve got just the thing for you mate – Tribute Acts, by TheatreState – they’re newish, they’ll really pick you up.”
“I had one of those great roast dinner sandwiches at that weird temporary café on Bridge Street where the waitresses will shake their bum in your face without wanting any money, and now I’m addicted to finding live art where I least expect it.”
“Well my friend, Hunt and Darton are testing out their newest project – a hyper-local outdoor radio station.”
“I came to see that weird, feisty cabaret-ish show from a company who called themselves Shit but were actually pretty good coz it was in the WOW – Women of the World Cambridge festival programme, and now I’m just DESPERATE to know their early performative ideas on Dolly Parton!!!”
“I came to see that really imaginative version of Around The World In 80 Days two Christmasses ago and now I can’t resist knowing what how that woman who played Passpartout retraced the life of the former owner of her coat, and uses the metaphor to consider the choices we all make in life!”
“I saw that man with the crazy hair spit words at me and then bombard me with noise at Night Watch festival, AND I JUST WANT MORE NOISE COMING AT ME FROM ALL ANGLES!”
“Thankfully you can experience Christopher Brett Bailey’s guitar music project THIS MACHINE WON’T KILL FASCISTS BUT IT MIGHT GET YOU LAID surround you in Cambridge Junction’s gig venue. It’s also in capitals – you seem to like those.”
Did you have a theatre gateway drug? Cambridge Junction’s got a few locked away most months after our 6am raves, but for my part of the programme – the ‘Arts’ programme – though we don’t get to confiscate so much, I really hope people leave the shows we present buzzing. It’s a programme of contemporary performance: usually work which acknowledges the liveness of theatre in some way, that sometimes takes risks, that’s intending to make you think and feel and/or dazzle you at the same time, that makes you feel like the success of the show is teetering on a knife-edge, that’s showing and doing things that I’ve not seen before, that’s structuring narrative in ways that make me perplexed, that embrace confusion and abstract sense over solid understanding, that mean we have to turn our buildings round in unusual ways and turn off all the emergency exit lights, that… that… live performance that makes me, and I hope other people, buzz. And it definitely is addictive, particularly when combined with a generally bad life case of FOMO.
I’ve been at meetings and conferences where venue people have talked about how they either believe in, or completely don’t believe in the idea that audiences need to be ‘eased in’, like a gateway drug, from twee devised theatre to ‘difficult’ contemporary theatre, to live art. It could be a bit like getting into a hot bath that’s actually totally going to sort you out, but really you can just get in deep easily because you know it will be fine. I don’t think this is the only way to programme and widen what audiences are exposed to, and I think it takes a top-down, patronisingly reductive view of the people we call ‘audiences’. People can and will always choose what they want to go to, and if there is no ‘way in’ for an audience once they’ve got there, then that’s a problem with what’s been made.
At Cambridge Junction, we’ve developed audiences for the arts programme without compromising on the contemporary style of work presented – there are no ‘classics’ and very few ‘plays’ – done so by presenting work which clearly has something to say about the world around us (and flogging it as hard as we can). But there is a necessity to present work of a certain size, format, production value, duration – particularly when you’re already dealing with work that isn’t always what people expect. But as a venue that has long celebrated experimentation, innovation and emerging artists with a strong commitment to artist development, we want to be able to present work that doesn’t fit into the 7.30pm evening boxes that we call programming, as well as supporting and presenting work that might struggle alone in Cambridge.
So WATCH OUT Festival is the buzz that you might as well just head straight for, and the hot bath that you might as well jump into. It’s a programme of projects which are all relevant and connected to Cambridge and Cambridge Junction in different ways. They have been all commissioned, co-commissioned or supported by Cambridge Junction by contemporary performance makers who are Cambridge based, Eastern and South East regionally based, or come from further afield.
Looking through the day, Anna Brownsted and Stefanie Mueller live and work in Cambridge; Sylvia Rimat worked with an academic at Cambridge University while in residence at Cambridge Junction; Andy Field is working with year 5s from local primary school The Spinney to share their hopes for the future of the city; local Hunt and Darton have been a resident company since 2012 and their Café began its life in the city; TheatreState had been supported by the now defunct Escalator scheme and spent time making the show here; Jamal Harewood and Sh!t Theatre are this year’s Spring Festivals Commission with Sprint, Mayfest and Pulse; Ira Brand and Rachel Mars are working in our studio, Tim Spooner is premiering a chapter of a new longer piece and when there’s a theatremaker who makes such good noise as Christopher Brett Bailey and you have a gig venue, you’ve got to put him in it. Most have performed at Cambridge Junction before and we’re supporting the creation of new projects. There are 3 work in progresses, 7 premiers and 3 shows that have already been performed elsewhere – and all of that at a price that allows the audience to take a risk. It’ll all be new and fresh and live and risky and that’s what creates the buzz that’s addictive.
“I just want to exorcise my feelings of envy through song and leave feeling liberated!”
“I just crave contemplative experiences of the future with children I’ve never met before.”
“Sometimes I just need to be alone, in the dark…”