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Director Nathan Curry of GDIF

18 June 2013 Charlie Kenber

Ahead of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival's return to London, Charlie Kenber caught up with Associate Director of the festival, and Co-Artistic Director of Tangled Feet, Nathan Curry

For the last couple of years Nathan Curry has been Associate Director of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. Opening on Friday, the Festival’s 2013 iteration promises – as always - eight days of top quality outdoor theatre, all for free. It continues to be a fantastic platform for new and emerging companies to present work in an accessible form. As well as helping to organise and programme the festival, Nathan is co-directing its spectacular finale, One Million.

London Calling: What is it that makes GDIF so special?

Nathan Curry: It’s a unique festival in terms of the way audiences engage: for free, in public spaces. The work is of the quality you’d expect at places like the Royal Court, National and Barbican: these are Fringe First-winning companies, critically acclaimed. The audience happen upon the work, there’s something surprising and exciting about that. It’s a celebration of space and of community.

A lot of thought goes into the programming of work: who the artists are and why they’re making the work. We curate quite carefully to tie into the themes we want to explore. This year a big theme is about young people and unemployment, and also climate change and sustainability. We’re looking at citizenship – what does that word mean? What does it mean to be a citizen of the UK and of Europe?

LC: What’s your favourite thing about the Festival?

NC: When the work meets the public. You spend a huge part of the year preparing, and we’ve got quite a few surprises this year. Seeing the audience turn the corner and see someone bouncing on a trampoline, climbing on ladders or flying through the air is quite special. Last year was my first at the GDIF – it was a special moment for me when the audience meet the festival.

LC: How do you manage to keep the festival free?

NC: It’s a huge fundraising challenge, we have to depend on our supporters for help: the Arts Council, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Also a number of trusts and foundations have come on board as supporters of free-to-access work. This year we’re also looking more at corporate supporters.

We need supporters to believe. That’s what subsidy can do. We have no box office income, so we’re asking audiences to get involved and donate some money, what they think the performance is worth. If you see something remarkable, then we’re asking people to donate maybe five or ten pounds to the festival.

One of the bases of the festival is that it’s free. There’s something important about free work: when you put art in public spaces then you’re not creating boundaries to it. That way everyone can believe it’s for them. We should be able to go shopping and see something that changes our day. We’re not trying to organise how art is displayed or viewed. As soon as you put a price on it you organise it – even if it’s cheap only a certain part of society will go to it.

LC: You are also Co-Artistic Director of Tangled Feet. How would you describe the company’s ethos to someone who hasn’t heard of you?

NC: We work in buildings and outside of buildings. Our work is about people and themes of the public realm. Most of our work in recent years has happened outdoors: we got slightly bored of the audiences we were meeting indoors. We were also concerned about how much we were being charged renting spaces. We weren’t being as creative as we could be. We created a show that we could do anywhere, that didn’t need power, called Home. It was a really good turning point for the company – we found we could go out and meet the general public.

LC: What is outdoor theatre especially good at that more traditional indoor work perhaps struggles with?

NC: We have this amazing thing outdoors: the landscape. When you’re doing a play indoors you have to create a context for it. Most plays are in rooms because they are indoors already. One of the things outdoor theatre is brilliant at is exploding public space in a spectacular way. We’re not limited by height, width or scale. We can celebrate the scale and physicality of it.

In most indoor theatre the audience is sitting down in the dark watching the stage; in outdoor theatre the audience is in the picture, part of the show. You can leave, shout, go on your phone, talk to someone. It’s ok because you’re part of the picture. We don’t want the audience to be still, sitting, in the dark. A huge part of the joy is watching the audience reaction. Their presence is very keenly felt.

LC: Do you think that theatre in general – and your work in particular – is innately political?

NC: As soon as you have the power to tell a story, and are creating the platform or context for that you are being political. As soon as you are able to communicate it is political: as soon as you give stories circumstances and characters. The audience will leave the space in some way changed, seeing the world in a new way. What Tangled Feet do is we choose subjects that are also political: so both story telling and the way we are telling the story are political.

That’s what I think theatre is about: changing people’s day. That might be through humour, if you laugh for 90 minutes you forget what’s happening.

LC: The festival’s grand finale this year is your production of One Million, about youth unemployment. What are the challenges thrown up by such an ambitious show?

NC: The challenges are about the scale. Over 45 people work on show, and 110 are in it. We do a lot of planning around a model box first, talking about moves. The set is just a bit smaller than the size of a football pitch: we have two large moving staircases and a structure 10 metres into the sky people hang off. It takes a long time to do anything!

Another challenge is financial. We can only afford to rehearse for two weeks, as the space is so expensive and the team so big. Whereas doing a show at the Cottesloe Theatre in the National you have six weeks! It’s completely exhausting, but we’re half way there.

LC: Certainly sounds challenging! So what can people most look forward to from the festival?

NC: I promise that if you come to the GDIF you will see something never seen in London before. There’s a specific surprise this year that I can’t give away!

The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival runs from 21st June until 29th June. Further details available here.

One Million is on at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich SE18 6ST (outside the Firepower Museum), on 28th and 29th June at 10pm. Further details available here.

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