There’s just two weeks to go until the Dialogue festival at Ovalhouse, and we’re finally ready to announce our full programme. But rather than give away too much about what everyone will be doing, we thought we’d describe why we wanted these people to talk/make/take part with us, and what makes them special.
Both mornings begin in the main theatre space with a discussion hosted by Andy Horwitz of Culturebot – the person who inspired Dialogue to begin, and continues to inform the work we do. Andy is brilliant at many things, but not least running Long Table discussions: informal events in which, instead of a panel, there’s a big table at the centre of the room, and anyone who wants to ask a question, make a contribution, or get involved in any way, can take a seat and join in without needing permission.
There are no speakers as such, but we have invited four key people to bring particular perspectives to the table to turn over in the discussion. On Saturday, they are Jess Thom, who performs as Tourette’s Hero, and has often been made to feel unwelcome in theatres, yet from her seat in the audience makes theatre more alive; and Hassan Mahamdallie, a writer, director and policy-maker, who was instrumental in developing Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity. On Sunday, they are Jo Bannon, a Bristol-based artist and producer, who is part of the Residence collective and makes remarkable participatory work that reveals the unseen and speaks the unspoken; and Julia Taudevin, a playwright, actor and feminist, who travelled Scotland encouraging people to get involved in the Scottish Referendum.
Each day we’ll have lunch together in the cafe, which we’re providing free. Maddy spent a long time thinking about how the lunch should feel like a pot-luck party, or a big family celebration where Mum does the meats and salads, one aunt brings stuffed vine leaves, another aunt brings baked pasta and baklava, and so on. But those aunts mostly live in Greece, so all the cooking has fallen to Maddy’s Mum. Who is possibly more excited about this event than anyone else.
Inspired by Chris Goode’s argument for theatre as a place where people live, play, eat and dream together, and model a better way of living, lunch will happen at the same time as the one-on-one work. The cafe and nearby studios will be full of artists inviting participants to have a conversation, play a game, share a story or moment, recognise something about themselves, envision the future – there are as many approaches in this bit as people. Here’s the full line-up:
None of Us Is Yet a Robot will be in the cafe both days with doodle: a work Maddy experienced at Forest Fringe in August, which involved a knotty, considerate and properly useful conversation about feminism, gender binaries, coming out as trans, and queer experience – and ended with a massive illustration of this and other conversations, drawn over the course of the day. As an added bonus, these doodles will act as our festival documentation, alongside other ephemera.
Rachel Mars (Saturday), Laura Mugridge (Sunday) and Brian Lobel (an absent presence) are people whose work Jake has encountered in various festival contexts: they’ve gotten him to dress up, dance around, be naughty and take a harder look at what passes for “normal” in social and cultural interactions. We thought they would bring lots of serious humour to the festival.
Sheila Ghelani (Saturday), Rajni Shah (Sunday) and Peter McMaster (Sunday) are people Maddy has worked with in other contexts: they’re warm, generous, and brilliant at making spaces for quiet contemplation.
Hannah Nicklin (Saturday) and Andy Field (another absent presence) are generally among the most thoughtful, and politically sharp, people working in theatre today, but specifically were invited for participatory work they’ve done outside London: Hannah for a piece she made in a swimming pool in Shipley, getting its users to tell her stories from their lives; Andy for a piece he made in Stockton, getting people to tell him about different kinds of loves. The kindness of these works, not least in the way they encouraged people to tell personal stories, is definitely a quality we want at the heart of the Dialogue festival.
Ehsan Gill (Saturday) and Vijay Patel (Sunday) are people Maddy discovered online, looking for unfamiliar and, in particular, BAME theatre-makers to join us. Ehsan has performed at Hatch and other excellent festivals in Nottingham; Vijay is a recent graduate from Chichester, who has worked with Duckie. It’s been great getting to know them a bit in the run-up to the festival and we hope to stay acquainted with them long after.
Samantha Ellis (Saturday) and Rosalie Schweiker (Sunday) are contrasts. Maddy and Samantha have known each other since they were 11, bonding over the weirdness of our immigrant parents; Samantha is now a playwright and author, who wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing. Rosalie is a conceptual artist Maddy came across very recently on the Artsadmin website: she runs events called “Why do it at the Tate when you can do it in your living room?” which makes Maddy very happy indeed.
Chris Goode (Sunday) wasn’t going to be part of this festival, because a lot of Maddy’s favourite work already happens with him, but the closer we got to it happening without him, the less conceivable that felt.
At about 2.30pm, we’ll gather in the cafe for what we’ve called Afternoon Ideas: another informal discussion session, led by some of the people we most admire and enjoy collaborating with. On Saturday, that person is Tanuja Amarasuriya, who is a producer with Theatre Bristol and co-director of her own company, Sleepdogs; on Sunday it’s Mary Paterson, a producer, extraordinary writer and lead artist of Something Other, a new creative project rethinking how live art is documented online.
Each day of the festival will end back in the main theatre with an hour-long interactive show. On Saturday, it’s Class Act by Harry Giles, which Maddy saw at Camden People’s Theatre last year and vividly remembers for its playful approach to discussing the fraught issue of class, and excellent use of sweets and Lego. Maddy and Harry have been quietly working on the show to create more games, more space for fragility, and more incitements to revolution, so we’re looking forward to finding out what people make of it. And on Sunday, it’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? by Ellie Stamp, which Maddy and Jake both saw when at the Edinburgh fringe, and is a really subtle look at tricks of the mind and what might be described as mental illness.
The festival should be finished each day by about 4.30pm – but on Saturday, as a bonus, we’ve organised with the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill a block of tickets to see the third preview of Chimera (please use the code DIALOGUE when booking), part of their season of work by and about women. We’re hoping those who see the play will join us on Sunday morning for a Theatre Club (like a book group) discussing the show.
And that’s it! Writing it all down, it feels even more astonishing that so many ace people are involved. We really hope you’ll join us – and, better still, take advantage of the low ticket price to encourage a friend or sibling or work colleague who wouldn’t normally take a chance on a festival like this to give it a try. Thank you for reading, we look forward to seeing you there.