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Michael Attenborough (photo: Rob Bodman)

Director Michael Attenborough (Photo: Rob Bodman)

Exclusive: Michael Attenborough on programming the Almeida Festival

Published 29 June 2009

The Almeida Summer Festival 2009 brings an eclectic and innovative group of theatre-makers to the Islington venue for a three week period. Talking exclusively to Official London Theatre, the Almeida theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Attenborough, explains how he programmes this exciting event:

“Around Christmas time, my Artistic Associate Jenny Worton and I began to plan our new Almeida Summer Festival of Theatre, which is now about to open. July marks the moment when we open our doors to other companies, extending invitations to theatre artists working in different ways to ourselves, but clearly achieving consistently high standards.

“So in that curious period between Christmas and New Year, while the phones were quiet and the emails were only trickling in, we compiled our ‘alternative’ Olivier lists of our Best of Theatre for the previous 12 months.

“At the end of 2008, three companies stood out on our list, not just for their shows from that year but for appearing regularly on our annual round-up. What these companies had in common was a fascination with storytelling and a dynamic relationship with their audience.

“It was the combination of these two particular qualities that has led to the Almeida Summer Festival 2009. We chose to work with the companies that had delighted us most as audience members; those people who had carried us off to new worlds and then returned us safely back to our own. These are the companies we are welcoming to the Almeida Summer Festival 2009, which opens on 8 July.

“Slung Low don’t just make theatre, they create tiny universes. Their last show, Helium, asked the audience to piece together the fragments of a story through five boxes, each containing a perfectly constructed moment for the audience to step into and experience one at a time.  When we asked them how they would like to collaborate with the Almeida, they shunned the auditorium and took to the streets. Last Seen will walk you into an aural world of people you never notice and stories that pass you by; a journey into a world where anything could be part of the show.

“The TEAM are Theater of the Emerging American Moment, which feels like quite a claim until you see their shows. They are an ensemble of performers who make theatre through extensive research and rigorous devising. They have delighted us time and again with their intelligent and humane shows about weird and wonderful beliefs and aspirations of modern America. From the Mid Western certainty of ‘the end of the days’ in Particularly In The Heartland, to the blues of Hurricane Katrina and the South in Architecting, we now have the chance to see the bust and boom of Vegas and the Wild West in the first public outing of The American Capitalism Project.

“The third company that made it onto our ‘Best Of’ list for the entire experience they give to their audiences is Tiata Fahodzi, who thrilled packed Almeida theatre audiences last summer with a week of new plays about the British African experience.  This year they return with a staged reading of Alfred Fagon Award-winner Michael Bhim’s new play, The Golden Hour. And, because they created such a spirit of musical celebration last year, Tiata Fahodzi will be closing the festival with a Concert of African Music. This company creates a vibe so warm and engaging that once you discover them, you will be hooked.

“Looking at these three companies it was clear that at the heart of the festival was a commitment to emerging talent… and then it became obvious that something was missing. For six years our educational Projects Department has created ways to engage young people with the Almeida theatre. The Young Friends of the Almeida are the product of this work: a committed group of 15-21 year olds collaborating with the Almeida independently of their schools. With the assistance of playwright Tanya Ronder and director Vik Sivalingham and under their newly established company Gulp, we have invited 15 of our Young Friends to take centre stage. They have created Or Nearest Offer… a show of startling poetic energy with an insight into their worlds.

“Throughout the Festival we have engaged two Resident Artists, Lu Kemp and Paddy Molloy, to create an Installation in our foyer entitled Lost Property, which will harness the creative energies and aspirations of our audiences.”

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