By Ethan Taylor, Stagedoor Team.
Croydonites Festival of New Theatre is underway!
The festival, now in its second year, aims to present the works of bold and intrepid theatre companies whilst also providing a platform for local artists. At the helm is Anna Arthur, director of the festival with twenty five years’ worth of experience within the industry.
Arthur talks passionately about the London borough which has faced numerous cultural setbacks in recent years, including the closure of beloved venues as well as the loss of certain artistic programmes and initiatives. However, since the riots of 2011, Arthur talks about a “turnaround” within Croydon that has sparked the conception of various new ventures as the borough looks to shake an undeserved reputation:
“Croydon is going through such a potent time, with lots of change, and is really finding a confidence and identity that was hidden before.”
She’s not wrong. The Croydonites Festival of New Theatre seems to be at the forefront of a cultural reinvigoration happening throughout the borough. Arthur reels off numerous projects currently underway; from rooftop cinemas and community gardens to new galleries and live outdoor performances taking place in Wandle Park. In her words “there is clearly a desire for this activity” and it is not audiences she is struggling to find but aptly sized venues to put them in. Although she praises the smaller fringe venues and the work that they produce (Spread Eagle and Theatre Utopia getting special mentions) Arthur is looking to expand and hoping that the Festival is the first step in showing councils and investors that there is a real demand for theatre throughout Croydon.
It is clear that Croydon is at the very heart of this festival and this is something that Arthur takes very seriously indeed. The billing this year includes three local acts out of a total of eight and this is only set to continue with Arthur expressing the desire to commission a local artist each year whilst also reaching out to schools and colleges, as she puts it “the audiences of the future.” Marrying theatre and community is essential if theatre is to remain alive and unmissable and the Croydonites Festival is taking powerful strides towards keeping the arts open and accessible to all. In Arthur’s words:
“I want us to have a really great theatre ecology in Croydon and that can only happen by working locally. We have all the right ingredients and some fantastic local theatre practitioners working in lots of different genres.”
But remaining accessible is wholly different to remaining relevant. Arthur regularly travels throughout London and beyond in search of alternative and experimental theatre makers whose work challenges audiences; work that, like Croydon itself, may well “confound a few expectations along the way.”
So, when it comes to sourcing acts for the festival what is it exactly that she is looking for?
“I want artists to reinterpret the world for me so I see it afresh and I find experimental work does this so much more effectively. Artists working in new ways often ask more questions, more difficult questions. I want to be provoked, even outraged, I want to lean forward and not slump in my seat.”
This year’s bill includes shows such as Adventures In Noggle Noggle Land and Oral as well as companies such as GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN and Sh!t Theatre. Whatever it may be, it is certainly different. But that is wholly the point. Anna Arthur and the Croydonites Festival of New Theatre are looking to break down commonly held perceptions of people, places and theatre. With their help Croydon is kicking back against its naysayers and proving itself as a cultural hub complete with innovative theatre makers and even Arts Council funding. With revolution in its grasp and community at its heart this is without a doubt one of the most exciting festivals in London. Watch this space!
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