Ipswich: Why you should give SPILL Festival of Performance a visit

Okay, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Not a literal elephant, although with SPILL you never know. I’m talking about some of the content of the 64 events.

“It’s very easy to be offended by something you don’t understand or that challenges your value system. I think it’s a little bit braver to take a moment, take a deep breath and think about the other person’s position. That’s the most I can ask for the way that SPILL lands locally,” says artistic director Robert Pacitti.

“These are artists who are trying to offer something up as honestly as they can, who are trying to find ways to stand in front of you stripped bare as themselves. I say stripped bare because some of them do work naked, some of them work with the very edges of what we might consider acceptable around the body, some work in a very careful, crafted way perhaps with bleeding, tattooing, eating lots or starving themselves.”

Going to see this sort of work may be the norm for most people in Europe, but necessarily in the UK. He knows some will brand the work nonsense before the festival even starts, adding it’s all about context; what about the artist’s idea makes it impossible to be performed as, say, a well-made play?

The work on show from October 31-November 4 is raw, but experimental theatre is hardly new. People have been making live work like this since the 1950s, before even.

“Some of the festival work follows the energy we’d have had through older rituals, tribal ways of coming together in a way where the body becomes the vehicle for something else to happen; the images or ideas might travel through the body, sit on and around the body in a very different way to a play. As to whether that’s shocking...

“This is not a renegade group of people just going crazy in the corner; these are very established ways of working. The audience has be prepared to be challenged, but in a festival of this size... there’re 64 events across five days; there’s no way you’re going to like everything. I probably won’t like everything and I’ve curated it all,” he laughs.

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“These artists I’m working with, I’m only interested in supporting those people who are able to convey eloquently, intelligently why they’re doing what they’re doing. The point is all of those works are there for different reasons and if I knew exactly how everything was going to play out it would be quite dull.

“The other important thing to say is SPILL is five days in Ipswich every two years; there a lot of other cultural things going on the town, now more than ever before. If you bring a set of values or principles to the table that you’re shocked before it even starts then the chances are high you’re going to be. There is a bit where I have to say that’s your responsibility of what you bring...

“For those who might huff and puff and think this shouldn’t be happening I’d respectfully suggest it’s perhaps not for them – and yet I’d still encourage them to try to come and have a go with something. Very deliberately I’ve tried to put some work in that will appeal to different types of people – home sweet home is a lovely family one, one of my absolute top tips.”

The Subject to_change production is an installation show. Audiences are invited to select a plot of land and a flat-packed house to turn into a cardboard home. The development boasts a number of services to help settle you in – a notice board, postal service and even a local radio station.

“Residents” can come and go as they please and on the final night there’s a street party for neighbours to celebrate the formation of the unique community before taking your cardboard home, well home.

Since its inauguration in 2007 in London, SPILL Festival of Performance, created by Suffolk-born performance maker and Robert, has achieved national and international recognition from industry experts and is known worldwide for supporting radical new work.

He never consciously set out thinking he’d make the festival in London, then take it somewhere else.

“I grew up here. I’m 45 and a few years ago made a decision in my personal life that I was going to move back here and I split my time now between Ipswich and London. It struck me there was the potential to do something different here that would augment what I do in London but have its own identity, serve local audiences. The opportunity to do something different is very rich here; an example of that is the development of work we do through our think tank building.”

Based in the newly refurbished Victorian Wing of the former Ipswich Art School for the next three years, it will include both arts industry focused and public events examining contemporary culture.

“We’re going to be able to support local artists, artists from around the country, international artists and bring them to Ipswich.”

Mainstage work by some of the world’s leading experts in performance theatre will be supported by a programme of talks, feasts, salons, films and coffee mornings where people can talk about what they’re seeing.

“Let’s talk about it, not in an academic or theoretical way but just normally because I take money from the public purse to put this work on so it must serve the public. If people can only see emperor’s new clothes no one’s going to win. The types of work we show are new, radical and complicated so that means you’re likely to have some questions...”

The festival’s putting its money where its mouth is in terms of bolstering Ipswich’s economy; working with local guest houses, hotels, taxi and railway company, food outlets and bars and employing local arts graduates to work behind the scenes, on SPILL TV, etc.

Sixty-four shows, five days; what are his top tips?

“There’s a really great show by a company called 11.18. [Set on an actual train journey] performances may or may not start to happen in the train or outside on the platforms of any stations you go through.

“Forced Entertainment are famous around the world; they are our biggest experimental theatre export. Their work The Coming Storm coming to the New Wolsey is a huge buzz for me because I used to be in the Wolsey Youth Theatre when I was a kid,” smiles Robert.

Empress Stah in Space is one of the wilder shows. Director Ron Athey is one of the world’s leading exponents on radical body modification, music is by Peaches, a Berlin-based electroclash superstar, taking care of text and narration is frontline punk poet Lydia Lunch. Stah herself is a burlesque and aerial specialist who’s worked a lot with people at London fetish club Torture Garden.

“It’s a work about zero gravity and her attempt to experience it. It’s on stage at DanceEast, there’s going to be projections of animation, live performance, music, it’s going to be wild, that one is definitely adults only.”

Robert’s wild card recommendation is Good Friday: The Clinical Depression Concept Album Show by David Parkin.

“He lives with clinical depression; his way of dealing with that, in part, is he’s made this show. There’s something about him... I think that show is going to be awesome.”

Bedding In by Liz Crow, which sees her lying in bed beyond a red rope barrier for three days, is one of those shows likely to split opinion.

“I absolutely expect somebody’s going to go ‘Arts Council money, disabled artist lying in bed three days’. That’s one of the works that is a good example of the type of risks SPILL takes where the risks aren’t necessarily like ‘I’ve a chainsaw and I’m swinging it around in the room’,” says Robert.

“The risks are more considered, more quiet and ask of the audience to respectfully engage in other ways.”

Um, whipping a chainsaw around?

“None of them [the acts] are... I don’t think,” he laughs.

For full details about SPILL shows visit www.spillfestival.com