XTRAX Artist Spotlight: Stockton International Riverside Festival

Welcome to the August XTRAX Artist Spotlight. A new platform to showcase brilliant Outdoor Art.

This August we caught up with Jeremy Shine, Artistic Director at Stockton International Riverside Festival (SIRF) who gave us an insight into his programming approach and his pick of artists to keep your eye on over the next year. Read on to find out more and scroll to the end of this post to check out each artist selected this month. 

SIRF is one of the U.K.s biggest and long-established street arts festivals – this would have been our 32nd edition. Consequently many local people have been attending for decades and now coming along with their children or grandchildren so they are well informed and articulate – as anyone who has eaves-dropped during SIRF will know. Like many other leading street festivals, SIRF takes place in a small town so it takes over the whole town creating a fantastic atmosphere.

My approach to programming is based on four factors:

  • Quality
  • Variety of art forms, scales and types of work (from the experimental to the populist)
  • Animation, achieved by presenting a dense programme to create a sense of excitement
  • The townscape and how shows relate to the local environment.

This year I planned a focus on puppets so was pleased to include one of my favourite shows of recent years  – Tete de Mule’s Parasite Circus. It features a disreputable couple in a dysfunctional relationship and is based on the old trope of using puppets as circus performers. But there’s a twist as each puppet is killed horribly after their star-turn  – e.g. the high-wire walker is cut in half on her own wire as blood spurts over the audience – children love it! Black comedy at its best.

I’m particularly keen on contemporary dance but mainly work created for the outdoors rather than bringing ‘platform’ performances outside. Given the importance of the River Tees to Stockton, I was looking for shows taking place on the water so Studio Eclipse with Two Sink. Three Float which takes place on, off and under a raft was an ideal choice for SIRF.

Personally I think that small-scale work is more interesting than bigger shows but also believe that festivals need an opportunity for large audiences to enjoy something together which Gorilla Circus’, Altitude delivers. A thrilling aerial spectacle with skills as good as anything to be found across Europe.

Walkabout is a problematic area in street theatre as it’s dominated by ‘fluffy chickens on stilts’ and acts that do little more than ‘meet and greet’. Consequently, I was delighted when The Flying Buttresses told me about their new show What the Tortoise Taught Us – eight years ago! It’s been a long wait (well tortoises move slowly) but it’s finally here and will be everywhere next year.

It’s always a delight to come across a new group doing something different so I was excited to find Just More Productions recently and was looking forward to presenting Do What Yah Mama Told Yah especially as I was expecting to be fed at the end of the show!

A defining characteristic of street arts is that audiences see familiar locations in a new way, usually because of the crowds and sense of occasion or the way a show uses a site. In Johannes Bellinkx’s production Reverse, audience members walk slowly backwards through the townscape – a focused journey in which you really do see a place you know well differently.

Find out more about each of the artist selected by Jeremy this month below. 

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