Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland: Calm Down Dear

By | Published on Friday 2 June 2023

Readers may be aware that we are big fans of Calm Down Dear, Camden People’s Theatre’s annual festival of new feminist theatre and performance, which is now celebrating its tenth year. We usually select lots of events from it in our Three To See recommendations. 

This year, the festival is being curated by one of our favourite companies, RashDash, and I thought it would be great to get an insight from them into what it’s like to oversee the programme of an event like this, as well as a bit about what to expect from the line up.  

So I spoke to RashDash’s Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland. 

CM: For any readers who aren’t fully up to speed on Calm Down Dear, can you explain what the festival is all about, its aims and ethos?
HG+AG: Calm Down Dear was originally set up to platform extraordinary feminist work that CPT was supporting at the time. The first festival was such a hit that it kept running year after year.

The programming always happens through an open call for submissions and has featured amazing artists such as Bridget Christie, Figs In Wigs, Racheal Ofori, Sh!t Theatre, Adrienne Truscott, Charlie Josephine and many more. 

CDD retains a commitment to supporting and platforming early-career artists – well, usually early-career – who are making bold and innovative feminist theatre and performance. And by doing so, to creating a space for conversations about feminism and gender equality.

CM: How did you come to be curating it this year? What made you want to take it on? What’s it like working with CPT?
HG+AG: When Brian Logan – AD of CPT – approached us about curating the festival it was a bit of a no brainer, even though we’ve never done anything like this before.

Engaging with other artists’ work in this way felt like an exciting new creative challenge and a real privilege. It’s great working with CPT – everyone’s passion and commitment to making everything happen is palpable, even though we’re yet to meet in real life…

CM: Can you tell us a bit about what curating an event like this involves? What’s the job like? 
HG+AG: The main bit of the job so far has been reading all of the brilliant applications, discussing them at length and creating our shortlist.

Since then the work has centred around programming the extra events of the festival – such as the brilliant So La Flair’s ‘A 1973 Bonanza: 50 Years Of Feminist Theatre’, with its focus on intergenerational conversations through a panel discussion and networking event.

Once the festival starts, the job will be about seeing as much work as possible and being around to meet the artists and celebrate their incredible work. 

CM: How difficult was it to make decisions about what would go on as part of the festival?
HG+AG: It was really difficult to make decisions about the festival programme. There were many more brilliant applications than there were available slots.

We tried to balance the programme with as much variety as possible… it was definitely an insight into the challenges of being on the other side of the table, we learned a lot from it. 

CM: There are loads and loads of events so I won’t expect you to tell us about all of them, but can you give us a taste of what kind of range of work to expect? 
HG+AG: The range is huge… During the three weeks you can expect to see comedy, live music, circus, new writing, live art and cabaret. What the shows have in common is feeling political, personal and contemporary in a really exciting way. 

CM: I know this is probably an impossible question, but is there anything you are especially looking forward to?
HG+AG: Both of us have young children and neither of us get to the theatre as much as we’d like to, so we’re both looking forward to being out and seeing as much as possible, and finding out what’s new.

But with a festival like this, where lots of the work is made by artists we haven’t seen before, I’m looking forward to one of those moments when you think – this person/these people are special and they’re saying something new in a new way. That always feels amazing to be in the room with.

CM: Why is it important to you to support emergent artists?
HG+AG: Being an emerging artist is hard and, with months of lockdown and uncertainty, this current group have had a particularly hard time. We want to support them because they deserve it, and they are the future.

Some of these people will be the leading artists of the next fifty years, they will shape culture and conversation, and they’ll be studied. How exciting to see them at the beginning of their journey?!

But we also all have lots to learn from emerging artists. Seeing their work isn’t a courtesy or a favour, it’s necessary to keep making engaged work. 

CM: Can we talk a bit about RashDash now? We’ve been following your work for some time, of course, but it’s been a while since we ‘spoke’. How have the last few years been for the company? Did COVID have a big impact on you?
HG+AG: COVID had a massive impact on us, as on so many. We’re not core funded so we only get paid when we’re making or performing work and, without the ability to do that, it was tough.

We also all had children, which has had an even bigger impact on how we work. We have to shift how and how often we can be together in a room and make work, and that isn’t going anywhere, so there’s no return to normal. 

CM: What new projects do you have in the pipeline?
HG+AG: Our pipeline looks very different. We used to have lots of ideas for theatre shows lined up and be making making making. Now we’re working on digital projects and writing projects and we’re also starting to work more individually as well as together.

Changing priorities with kids arriving and the changing landscape in terms of funding and venue commissions means we’re not returning to the way things were. We’ll only make live performance together when we can make it work for us all.

CM: What’s coming up for you next after this?
HG+AG: We both have babies due this summer so we’ll be doing that. We’re doing some work with other companies and having a long think about the next show we want to make, and making it slowly.

People have only just stopped calling us emerging artists, but being a ‘mature’ or a ‘mid career’ artist feels very different and it’s taking us a moment to work it out. 

The Calm Down Dear festival runs at Camden People’s Theatre until 17 Jun. See this page here for all events.

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