Bristol theatre bounces back

From Guardian Blog – posted by Matthew Austin – Mayfest Producer

The citywide Mayfest proves the closure of the Bristol Old Vic need not be a disaster – and could yet prove to be a golden opportunity

The Mayfest 2007 festival was in full swing in the Bristol Old Vic Studio when news broke that the theatre would close indefinitely for refurbishment. It was the end of a turbulent few years that had seen ticket sales and confidence in the theatre’s artistic output in sharp decline.The evening stunned staff were told the theatre was closing and they were losing their jobs, a few of us had a solemn drink in the Royal Naval Volunteer pub opposite the theatre in King Street. At 8pm I headed across the street to watch Al Seed and Ben Faulke’s show, The Endurance. Suddenly, live theatre felt sharper, more acute, full of meaning and strangely euphoric. My co-producer, Kate Yedigaroff, and I realised that Mayfest should continue. And so we set about making that happen.This year’s festival is one of the first exercises in working in partnership that Bristol has seen since the its main subsidised theatre shut its doors. With Southville’s Tobacco Factory as the festival hub, we have made new friends at Arnolfini, with whom we’re presenting a weekend of category-defying performance, and also at the Alma Tavern, Circomedia and the Wickham Theatre at Bristol University. With Dick Penny now at the helm at the Bristol Old Vic, we have been able to make the whole thing happen with hefty support from our old home.We’re presenting a range of work from local companies such as Action Hero, Precarious, Lost Spectacles, Tinned Fingers, Kettle of Fish, The Special Guests and Search Party, alongside more established artists such as Gravity & Levity, Al Seed, Tim Crouch, Mem Morrison, Rotozaza, Ridiculusmus and the legendary Russian company BlackSkyWhite.As Lyn Gardner wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, Bristol is on the crest of a new wave of theatre and performance activity. With Arnolfini’s superb Inbetween Time returning in February 2009 and a revitalised Tobacco Factory launching new initiatives for writers and devised companies, Bristol is turning what could have been a disaster into a golden opportunity.Perhaps the closure of the city’s largest theatre is a blessing in disguise. Its enforced absence has allowed policymakers, funders, artists and, most importantly, audiences to reconsider what they want from theatre in 21st-century Bristol. Penny has said the Bristol Old Vic should breathe out as well as in, meaning it should give life to a range of activities across the city, from new writing to circus to experimental theatre. A more varied and diverse theatre ecology is beginning to emerge – and the programme for Mayfest 2008 hopefully shows that in action.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s