[Festivals Stories] Voila! Europe Theatre Festival
When the UK entered lockdown in March 2020, we were already accepting applications for the festival, so we had to adapt quickly to create an online platform while also planning socially-distanced performances on stage. Then in November, a week before the start of the festival, the government announced a second lockdown in England, meaning that our on-stage shows had to adapt again, either to be filmed and broadcast on our website, or to be performed live on Zoom. We're proud to say that our 2020 festival went ahead with no cancellations, thanks to the resilience and dedication of the artists and the team at The Cockpit, the London venue which produces Voila! Europe Theatre Festival.
Since 2012, Voila has focused on independent artists and quirky, risk-taking shows that respond to the urgent themes of our times. It was no surprise to us that our community of artists was ready to dive headlong into the possibilities of online theatre. New technologies offer an opportunity to think more deeply about the audience relationship and how the format of the show affects the way people engage with it. We realised that "liveness" was the most important element, because of the sense of community that builds between audience members watching the performance together in real time. In online interactive shows, audience members can affect the performance, and the live interplay can be just as thrilling online as it is in a traditional theatre space. For pre-recorded shows, we hosted live watch party and discussion events, which were remarkably successful at creating the fun and welcoming festival vibe we always strive for at Voila.
The new online programme presented a huge opportunity because it meant we could bring together audiences from anywhere in the world, in any timezone, at any time of day or night. We're really excited about the idea that an independent theatre show could be a shared cultural reference for someone in London, someone in Italy, and someone in Hungary. Theatre doesn't usually have that kind of reach without extensive touring. In the end, we reached audiences in over 30 different cities from Berlin to Bogota.
It's not easy to see the path ahead over the next few years, as many Covid restrictions are still in place in the UK. Our 2021 festival arrangements are full of crossed fingers and back-up plans, but we're going ahead with the aim of presenting a hybrid festival of on-stage and online performances in November. The silver lining of pandemic-proofing last year's festival means that now, when Brexit is making it more difficult to cross national borders, we have a strong model for digital collaborations, and we'll always be able to include artists despite geographical or political barriers. One thing we know for sure is that we will remain very close to independent European artists who have been so resilient, inventive and bold. We are inspired by them every day and will continue to find ways to bring their voices to the London stage.
More information: https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/...
(General Editor: Simon Mundy)
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