Symbolic Capital and Relationships of Flow: Canada, Europe, and the International Performing Arts Festival Circuit

By Ferguson, Alex Lazaridis | Theatre Research in Canada, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Symbolic Capital and Relationships of Flow: Canada, Europe, and the International Performing Arts Festival Circuit


Ferguson, Alex Lazaridis, Theatre Research in Canada


Introduction

An expanding North American circuit of interdisciplinary performance festivals has become increasingly important for showcasing and developing new work by Canadian artists. This network is in part an extension of an older and much larger European network and is connected to similar festival networks around the globe. For artists creating certain types of hybrid performance, often categorized as "live-art" or interdisciplinary (e.g. hybrids of theatre, contemporary dance, and installation art), the local, national, and international festival circuits represent markets in which to sell product. Establishing a presence on the circuit by getting successive bookings at various festivals can help make a career as an interdisciplinary performing artist financially possible. A Canadian artist's reputation is enhanced when she is presented at such festivals. This, in turn, gives her leverage when applying to state arts councils and private foundations for funding. A successful funding application provides money for the artist to develop and produce work, and strengthens the artist's position when trying to form partnerships with festival curators. The relationship is circular: presentations can lead to successful funding applications, which can lead to further presentations. The festival curator is a powerful figure in the loop: she writes letters of recommendation that are attached to the artist's funding applications, applies for funding in coordination with or independently of the artist, recommends the artist to other curators, and ultimately decides whether the artist will be presented at her festival. As the festival network expands, more presentations of the artist's work become possible, sometimes in the form of a coordinated tour. This allows the artist greater promotional opportunities and potentially increases the longevity of her performance product.

Three prominent nodes on the North American circuit are Vancouver's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (PuSh), Montreal's Festival Transameriques (FTA), and New York City's Under the Radar. Certain works travel a circuit that also includes a major performance series such as Seattle's On the Boards and festivals such as Calgary's High Performance Rodeo and Portland's Time Based Arts Festival. Some performance platforms focus on a single discipline, such as Dance in Vancouver, which showcases local contemporary dance for national and foreign presenters. Others such as PuSh, FTA, and On the Boards have a broader mandate. Much of the work occurs in venues that seat fewer than three hundred people, though some festivals also present larger works. The North American festivals have also become destinations for international performance, much of it originating in Europe. European companies that are well known within the global live-art/theatre/contemporary-dance world, such as Societas Raffaello Sanzio (Italy) and Forced Entertainment (UK), are hot tickets on their North American stops. (1) Through showcasing and personal networking at the festivals some Canadian artists are able to export their work to Europe.

The following essay is an exploration of some of the factors that motivate individuals to contribute to the exchange of performance works between Canada and Europe within the structure of the "field of cultural production"--as the art world is called by Pierre Bourdieu. To this end, I have conducted interviews with a number of artists and curators on both sides of the Atlantic. Of artists I ask, "Which works have inspired you? In what way has this inspiration influenced your practice?" and "In what ways have you benefitted from the presence of the festival network? In what ways has it impacted negatively on your opportunities for work?" Of curators I ask, "What is it about a performance that moves you to program and promote it? What are the practical considerations involved in selection and presentation?" And finally, "Is there a general distinction between Canadians and Europeans, in terms of what each gets from the exchange? …

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