Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Brian Logan: Sprint at Camden People’s Theatre

By | Published on Wednesday 4 March 2015

Camden People’s Theatre is renowned for staging really interesting, new and innovative stuff, and their annual Sprint Festival showcases a whole lot of brilliance and brilliance-in-development. This year’s programme is no exception; on casting my eye over the 2015 line up, I pretty much wanted to see everything.


That being the case,  I thought it might be a good idea to get an overview of this year’s event from CPT’s current artistic director Brian Logan. So I did just that.

CM: Can you tell us about the history/genesis of Sprint? How long has it been going and what are its aims?
BL: Sprint has been running for a whopping 17 years. It was started as, and remains, a ‘festival of new and unusual theatre’ – ie, a concentrated shot of wild and wonderful shows by (usually) young artists making performance in new and unexpected ways. In some ways, it’s a festival of what we do at CPT anyway, year-round. But it’s a more intense version of that, with more of a focus on creating a festival vibe for artists and audiences, bringing people together, cramming the building (and beyond) with lively goings-on, casting the net wider and more democratically to find the artists and projects everyone will be talking about over the coming months and years.

CM: How do you select what appears as part of the festival? Who controls the process?
BL: The process is mainly controlled by the artistic director of CPT, which is currently me. Some of the shows in Sprint derive from conversations I have with artists year-round. In some cases, they come to us looking for an opportunity to present new work. In others, we ask them if they’ve got new, Sprint-friendly stuff to bring to our festival.

But at least as important as that is our open call for submissions, through which we programme about half of the festival. We distribute this open call as widely as we can over a six-week (or thereabouts) period. We want proposals from artists we’ve never heard of, who haven’t made work at major theatres before. This year, we had 150+ applications to Sprint and over 75 for our associated Starting Blocks scheme, on which new projects get developed from scratch.

I then review all the applications and select the best – the ones that are most exciting, or intriguing; the ones that promise to do something new with theatre, or the ones that seem to have something surprising to say about the world – to participate in Sprint.

CM: Over the years you have provided a platform for a lot of interesting and innovative theatre creators. Can you pinpoint any particular highlights?
BL: CPT has been working with (and helping launch the careers of) great theatre-makers since long before I came on board. But even in my own three-year tenure we’ve had some memorable successes. The ones that leap to mind are Rachel Mars’ solo show about the comic impulse, and its dangers, ‘The Way You Tell Them’, which we helped Rachel develop in-house then programmed as headline act in our festival of theatre/standup comedy crossover work, Beyond the Joke. It’s since toured worldwide.

Alongside that I’d nominate Louise Orwin’s extraordinary docu-theatre piece about teenage girls on social media, ‘Pretty Ugly’, which again we helped shepherd to full production, and which headlined our first ever feminism festival, Calm Down Dear, in 2013. It’s now touring the UK.

Then there’s Common Wealth’s ‘Our Glass House’, a performance/installation about domestic violence whose London premiere we co-produced in a residential house in Camden, and which won an Amnesty International Award; and Tom Frankland & Keir Cooper’s punk remix of Don Quijote, which was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, which played an extended run in our basement and ended up touring to Brazil – and beyond.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about this year’s programme? What kind of shows can we expect?
BL: You can expect several shows addressing the somewhat uneasy state of the nation (or the culture) in 2015, whether that’s Harry Giles interrogating his own consumerism in ‘Everything I Bought And How It Made Me Feel’ or Nobody Move’s exploration of homelessness, ‘Keep Your Coins’.

You can expect plenty of work in the margins between gaming and theatre, like Coney’s interactive audio-tour of the financial district, ‘Adventure 1’, or the latest instalment of Tom Martin and Pat Ashe’s smash-hit videogames-meet-performance night ‘Beta Public’.

But Sprint isn’t programmed to be about anything: that’s part of its charm. It’s a cavalcade of theatre, telling a wide variety of stories and addressing all manner of public and personal concerns. There isn’t a theme to this or any other year’s programme; a profusion of voices and ideas is the point.

CM: ‘The Litvinenko Project’ (pictured) is obviously quite timely. Can you tell us how the show approaches its topical subject matter?
BL: It re-enacts and theatricalises the moment of Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning. It’s inspired by the incongruity of it all: the gentility of taking tea versus the brutality of (state-sponsored?) murder. It’s fuelled by anger at the crime never having being solved, at the way we seem content to accept a parallel, criminal world in our midst. And it’s made, too, by two recent graduates in International Security and Terrorism, who’re making a theatre show because it seemed like the best way to communicate what they felt and what they’d discovered about this extraordinary incident.

Oh, and it happens not in our theatre space but in our cafe – the better to evoke Litvinenko’s terminal experience of taking tea.

CM: As a parent, I am mildly intrigued by the mums and babies ensemble show. Can you explain what that is all about?
BL: I’m a parent, too, and likewise intrigued. A couple of years ago at CPT we programmed ‘relaxed performances’ (ie, performances you’re allowed to bring your baby to) of Laura Mugridge’s show ‘The Watery Journey of Nereus Pike’. That’s subsequently become popular at CPT and beyond, and part of a wider conversation about how theatre extends a welcome to both audiences and practitioners with babies. The Mums and Babies Ensemble are engaged in the same enquiry: it’s part-workshop, part-performance, part-place to come and share your experiences of motherhood, and explore together what performance (and making performance) can be when there are babies present. As I say, I’m intrigued; it sounds like a recipe for a fascinating and fun afternoon.

CM: As well as finished articles, you’re staging some works-in-progress. Can you tell us about those?
BL: Several of the shows in this year’s Sprint, as in previous years, are works-in-progress. It’s very common in independent theatre to share your work with audiences while it’s being made – so artists gets a feel for what works, and what doesn’t; so audiences can feed in to the creative process. That’s usually fun for an audience: you get a sneak preview of what may become a great show; you get, effectively, to watch the creative process as it actually happens; the tickets are usually cheap; your opinion is enthusiastically solicited. Things might go wrong – which can be memorable. There’s usually a friendly, confidential relationship established between performers and audiences, more so than with finished shows.

It’s also cool for us as the host venue – we get to show off hot-off-the-press (or, strictly speaking, not yet off the press) performances to our audience, and are given the chance to identify projects that we may want to get involved with, and help develop, as they progress towards full production.

Some of the most exciting shows at Sprint – Rachel Mars’ ‘Our Carnal Hearts’; Jamie Wood’s ‘O No!’; Ira Brand’s ‘Be Gentle With Me’; Andy Smith’s ‘The Preston Bill’ – are all as yet unfinished. One of them, ‘Wrecking Ball’ (yes, it’s about Miley Cyrus) by the justly acclaimed Action Hero, has been commissioned by us as part of the annual Spring Festivals Co-Commission, and will be having its first ever public sharing and post-show discussion as part of Sprint. I can’t wait to see it.

CM: I know it’s probably impossible to narrow it down but are there any events you are particularly looking forward to?
BL: Yup. I’m excited about Simon Farid’s – sorry, Michael Green’s – ‘Don’t Hate the Rich’, which looks in advance like a masterpiece of prankster-hucksterism, a satire and a sermon on identity fraud all in one. Everyone’s buzzing about Jamal Harewood’s ‘The Privileged’, which arrives at Sprint with a big buzz around it, and which is bound to ruffle feathers.

I’m excited that my own company, Cartoon de Salvo, is previewing its brand new show for village halls, ‘The Powercut Compendium’; and everyone at CPT is looking forward to our One-on-One Night, a mini-festival of intimate theatre encounters, which in an earlier incarnation was an unforgettable highlight of Sprint 2014.

Plus, the last night of Sprint is always a big night in the CPT calendar, because it’s our Starting Blocks showcase – that is, first glimpses of the six cutting-edge new projects we’ve hatched as part of our Starting Blocks artist development scheme. It’s always a thrilling night in its own right – all the more so in that the shows premiered at that event in many cases go on to form the bedrock of our programme over the months and even years to come. So: something for us to get genuinely excited about.

Sprint runs from 5-29 Mar. There are many, many promising events, so have a look at this page here for more info about them all.

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