SADIE JEMMETT tells Nick Awde the latest news from France’s Footsbarn Travelling Theatre
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Footsbarn Travelling Theatre is based at La Chaussée, a beautifully renovated farm set deep in the rolling green countryside near Maillet in the Allier départment of Central France. As well as being home to Footsbarn, La Chaussée is also a venue and arts centre with a theatre, rehearsal studios, meeting rooms, office space, a bar and a café – www.footsbarn.com
Sadie Jemmett: It went really well. We collaborated with music venue Green Note – they’re based in Camden, London – who curated the music stage for us and brought us, amongst others, the weird and wonderful Lunatraktors, Michele Stodart (of the Magic Numbers) and the legendary Hank Wangford. Considering the post-pandemic struggle that a lot of arts festivals experienced in general in 2022, I was very pleased with the weekend’s turnout and it proved to be a magical event for the local community, audience and artists alike.
You must have faced some challenges in putting on a post-Covid festival.
Well for a start, this was my first year organising the festival as their new artistic director. We also launched the first of our new productions, La petite Gerda, which I directed and composed music for, so it was a busy time for me. There was a heatwave going on which proved challenging, especially rehearsing and setting up in our big top tents in 40-degree temperatures – lots of ice was needed. Also, sadly, some of the artists arriving from the UK were unable to travel at the last minute due to Brexit restrictions on their passports, so we had to improvise. Luckily this is something Footsbarn knows how to do.
Did any of that change the nature of the festival?
It’s always a fine balance of wanting to attract international artists to the festival as well as keeping the local community happy. I think we managed it this time, although there is still a lot of uncertainty around UK/European travel and performance agreements for artists – and this will certainly affect future planning.
As the new kid on the block, what have you brought to the mix?
I wrote, directed and composed music for Gerda, and also used my music connections in the UK to partner with Green Note and to bring in international artists. I also invited three up and coming young stand-up comedians from the Paris comedy circuit to perform at the festival, which went down especially well with the younger crowd.
What makes the festival relevant to the changing landscape of European theatre?
As a company, Footsbarn itself has an international reputation of over 50 years of performance, and Footsbarn en Fête has been running for around 20 of those years so it is now well established, and it continues to attract leading companies and artists from all over the world. The festival takes place at our home in France, a converted farm with land that enables on site camping for festival goers, and also our two big top tents which provide unique 500-seater venues. Because of this and the funding we receive for the festival, we’re able to continue to curate the event on an independent basis. Footsbarn has always been community-orientated, whether travelling itself to other communities or inviting communities to stay. The festival is therefore an extension of Footbarn’s unique heritage.
What can the industry here in the UK learn from the Footsbarn model?
Footsbarn is an Anglo-French company that settled in France, but its has always had a global outlook and welcomes artists from all cultures and nationalities into its community. One might say that Footsbarn has no borders, and right from the beginning it has never been afraid to take risks, whether it is multilingual performances or playing in remote areas to an unsuspecting audience. The core belief is that everyone should have access to and be allowed to take part in the world of theatre. Inclusivity and community must remain a core value in any theatrical endeavour.
What’s next for Europe and for the UK/Ireland?
At present we are programming our 2023 Footsbarn en Fête, which is scheduled for mid July (details on our website www.footsbarn.com). We currently have two new productions up and running: En attendant Godot (Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in French) and La petite Gerda (Little Gerda, in both French and English). Godot will tour, for the moment, locally in France, and we are planning to bring the English version of La petite Gerda, a new adaptation of Hand Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for summer 2023 followed by a UK tour. We are also planning rehearsals for our new Shakespeare production Twelfth Night, which we hope to open in 2024.