With our Assistant Producer of Theatre Jodie Ratcliffe currently at The Act Festival in sunny Bilbao, we asked her to report back from a European festival attempting to solve some of the art sector’s biggest challenges…
Bilbao sits comfortably in the warm embrace of the surrounding mountains. Much like its landscape, the people of Bilbao open their arms and welcome you into their beautiful city with a hug and a continental kiss on either cheek. In a city where it is often extremely hard to find funding for culture, ACT Festival is thriving in its 14th year, celebrating short pieces from around the world. Its organisers have done an admirable job of inviting a diverse selection of performances as well as programmers and guests from all corners of the globe and I am lucky enough to be representing HOME’s theatre team.
The theme of this years festival is ‘Shock Therapy in the Arts’ and they claim that “this edition pretends to be an escape, not as an evasion from reality but as a door to another world”. If this is what they set out to achieve, they have gone above and beyond their expectations. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty, this festival feels not like a ‘pretend escape’ but like a much needed rehab session (one where wine and pintxos are compulsory). Each day we meet to diagnose ‘symptoms’ within the arts; lack of funding, accessibility, the introduction of technology, space, etc, and then in small groups we figure out a ‘treatment’. It seems like such a simple premise but sat amongst people who come from different cities and speak different languages it is quite a beautiful moment to be able to discuss and treat the issues which we are all facing and make steps to change the arts for the better.
ACT prides itself on creating a global artistic community and I truly feel like I have met long lost relatives here. We eat dinner together on the stage of Kafe Antzokia, an old cinema that has been taken over for the festival. The simple act of sharing the bread and the wine is one which instantly creates a safe atmosphere, to chat to your neighbours, learn about their hometowns and their work, hear about their thoughts on the shows we have seen and make connections both professional and personal.
It has been a true pleasure to be able to bask in the Basque Country, experiencing the city through art, dance, music, newly formed friendships and exchanges that we will all take back with us. To me, this festival is the treatment that the whole world needs.