Festival Le Petits et Grands – Nantes, France
10th – 14th April 2013
Le Petits et Grands is a festival of French work for children and young people held, just two hours train ride from Paris, in the compact and historic town of Nantes. The event was programmed and organised by Nicolas Marc and Cyrille Planson and marks something of a rebirth for ASSITEJ France, which was reconstituted a year ago with Planson as President. The majority of this article is an account of a platform discussion initiated by ASSITEJ France, but it is perhaps best to begin with an overview of the festival itself.
Although 25% of TYA work seen in France comes from overseas (ONDA statistic), the Nantes festival boasted some 53 shows by French companies. The vast majority were focussed at the 5 – 10 year old age range, with a handful of pieces for babies (the earliest age recommendation being 3 months) and no work specifically for a teenage audience, although most programmes specified only the minimum age recommendation. The festival was a layered affair with a main programme aimed at a regional audience and a pathway supported by ONDA (the French Office for Contemporary Performing Arts Circulation) for international delegates. Fabien Janelle, the Director of ONDA programmed this festival within a festival, in consultation with the Petits et Grands team, as part of ONDA’s Focus programme, selecting 11 pieces that reflected ‘the diversity of proposals that exist, whether in terms of aesthetics, artistic disciplines or the age of the target audience’ (Editorial from Focus programme).
ONDA is an organisation that promotes French work across all art forms and Focus is not a TYA project, but rather a platform used in a range of festival contexts to promote French art. In Nantes it sat within a children’s theatre festival, but like much of the French cultural infrastructure it has no specific TYA interest. Vanessa Silvy, who looks after circus and puppetry output at the Institut Francais, was quick to point out over lunch, that for her the work is for all audiences, her only responsibility is to point out when material is unsuitable for a given age group. In this sense French cultural infrastructure is blind to the notion of a children’s theatre sector. A fact that strengthens the resolve of the President of ASSITEJ France, for him there are two main aims: to support French artists; and to engage in a dialogue with French institutions in order to build a stronger awareness of the TYA sector within France. There was, however, no doubting the commitment from ONDA to this Focus event. As well as the 11 performances there was a full programme of platform events and discussion aimed at promoting French TYA and developing international collaboration. This along with accommodation for the three days was all provided free to delegates from a range of countries including Basil, the UK, Madagascar, Canada, Finland and Italy. It was a generously funded affair and the sense that ASSITEJ France was open for business was overwhelming.
International Co-operation from Intention to Action
This debate was organised by ASSITEJ France and Festival Le Petit et Grands in collaboration with ONDA. It took place in a packed, and increasingly hot, room at the top of Le Lieu Unique, the home for the FOCUS event, at 10 am on 12th April. The programme described it as follows:
There are many prejudices concerning the difficulty of developing international dissemination and cooperation projects. We should not minimise these difficulties, for they are real. However, with good knowledge of dissemination networks abroad as well as their expectations and limits, we can more clearly identify the opportunities available to us. The ambition of this debate is to broaden the scope of possibilities for cooperation by asking simple questions and by taking a comprehensive overview of the actions and methodologies involved. What is the ASSITEJ International? What role does it play in fostering exchanges? How can ASSITEJ France help these exchanges? What can we build together? In what way are cooperative projects most relevant?
There were five on the panel:
Cyrille Planson – President of ASSITEJ France and Director of Le Petit et Grand Festival
Maria Ines Falconi – Vice President of ASSITEJ International
Odette Bereska – Literary Advisor for Platform 11+, a pan European TYA project
Claire Massonnet – Non Nova theatre company, France
Fabien Jannelle – Director of ONDA
The debate began with Cyrille Planson outlining the short history of the new ASSITEJ France. In their first year they have some 180 members and have structured themselves into four colleges focussing on the development of artists and the building of awareness of French work. They are keen to understand how French work is perceived internationally, as well as developing a new profile. Planson ‘s vision is one of openness and curiosity: a desire to learn how work is made and promoted in other countries; an ambition to promote a recognition of French work; and a need to create strong links with other ASSITEJ branches. Maria Ines Falconi followed by reminding us of the central role France played in the evolution of ASSITEJ, which is now 50 years old. Thanks to the internet and globalisation, she said, ASSITEJ’s work no longer needs to focus on information exchange, but rather on promoting cooperation; to create spaces where change can be made possible and where the needs of members can be satisfied. ‘It is not our need, but yours that we need to respond to’ she said before the microphone passed to Odette Bereska.
Odette has over 10 years of experience in managing international exchanges. ‘Artistic Discoveries in European Schoolyards’ or Platform 11+ is her most recent project; a collaboration between twelve international theatre companies, including our own Pilot Theatre and Emergency Exit Arts, it is well documented on the website: www.platform11plus.com. As well as providing an outline of Platform 11+ Odette reminded us that the project had resulted in the creation of over 50 new plays for young people and had been supported over 4 years by an EU grant of 2 million Euros. A fact that seemed almost impossible to envisage in today’s funding climate.
Claire Massonnet from Non Nova then offered an overview of her experience of touring the French company’s work to over 40 countries. Their work is largely non- text based and as a result is more accessible to an international audience. She also advised companies who wish to export their work to avoid large sets or intricate technical requirements. You need to plan ahead and be prepared to take risks, she went on. Regional touring may require organisation, but for international performances the lead-in time is greater, which is compounded by the fact that often confirmation can be last minute. Because of the way that some countries plan and fund their programming last minute cancelation is a real problem. Language is of course an issue and one that can lead to confusion, as is time difference. Cultural differences can create a range of problems. Some technical demands can simply not be met by venues where technical staff and infrastructure may be very different from that found in the French theatre. Similarly working practices can differ greatly. France as with many European countries, has a professionalised arts workforce, in some countries this simply does not exist. Working guidelines, health concerns and the obvious cost involved in transportation makes the work challenging and potentially expensive. The cast and crew need also to be on board; for them it is not just another gig or a holiday, they are ambassadors for the company and their country and so the responsibility is beyond the usual commitment.
Questions from the floor began with a query from a French Artistic Director about the commonality of experience of French companies. Is the problem a French problem or something generic for all companies wishing to tour internationally? Fabien Jannlle referred him to the downloadable study available from ONDA, which details findings relating to international touring. Key findings include:
- There is a financial threshold, below which it is easier to export work.
- TYA work fares better internationally if it does not require surtitles.
- Funding is available for French adult work touring abroad, however, the same support is not available for French TYA product
- The sophistication of French work can be a problem for the international TYA sector. Shows are often complex technically and require sets that are prohibitively expensive to transport and lighting that takes too much time to set up and technically rehearse
- French arts practitioners are well paid compared to some other countries making the work comparatively expensive
Katarina Metsalampi from ASSITEJ Finland added that in her experience French proposals are too long, with much time spent outlining the philosophical and aesthetic ideas that inform the work. For international programmers, she suggested, proposals need to be succinct, in English and with clear information about technical requirements, if they are to avoid costly translation fees.
One of the many Quebec delegates then spoke of the great expense involved in transporting shows overseas. The Canadian government funds international companies when they travel to them. Canadian companies, he suggested, would like to see this reciprocated. The point was supported by Karen Acioly of Brasil who requested that ASSITEJ considered supporting reciprocal arrangements between countries wishing to share each other’s work. Maria Ines Falconi responded by making a distinction between business and cooperation. Whilst one may flow from the other, she saw ASSITEJ’s role as promoting cooperation between countries rather than business. She offered the example of ASSITEJ actors who frequently waved or reduced their fees in order to have their work seen internationally.
A French delegate then offered a reaction to Fabien Janelle’s comments. Is it simply not possible to send larger scale French language work overseas? He asked. Vanessa Silvy responded by giving examples of large scale work that the Institut Francais had exported. She spoke of how the companies had successfully integrated surtitles into the aesthetic of the production and offered assistance in negotiating transport deals through the French government’s network of embassies around the world. Adult work can also get funding to meet the cost of translation, although this support, she acknowledged was not as yet available to the TYA sector.
Odette Bereska then reminded the room of the focus of the debate. It is a shame, she suggested, that we are discussing only pragmatic concerns. They are important, but they are secondary to the main issue which remains how we promote cooperation. For Italian programmer and Seznia D’Infanzia festival organiser Cristina Cazzola, it was all about relationships. It is as if you are in love with someone who lives abroad she said. It does cost money but you find a way to keep the relationship alive. She spoke of the desire from Italian artists to perform abroad. There had been a lack of understanding of the value of international work in Italy, but over the last 8 years this had changed and Italy was now keen to receive and export work.
Another French questioner asked if ASSITEJ France could assist promoters to look at work beyond that of its near neighbours. On the issue of translation he talked of the success of a show that had its audience listening to an instantaneous translation on headphones, comparing it to the near chaos he had witnessed at a performance using surtitles, where parents were frantically whispering the translation to their children throughout.
The final comments from the floor focussed on two models of good practice. A foreign programmer advocated the need for repeat contact with companies. She had programmed a French show, but then found additional funding for them to deliver workshops and educational work, which deepened the experience for both partners. The Finnish Bravo Festival routinely teams up overseas companies with indigenous artists, providing an opportunity for mutual learning and contact making. It is a simply way, she suggested, for programmers to extend the potential for cooperation.
The session ended with an invitation from Maria Ines Falconi for the conversation to be continued in Lintz this June, before Cyrille Planson reiterated the need for us to follow our instinctive curiosity as artists and our desire to share experiences. ASSITEJ France, he said, is keen to foster links, but we do not need to wait – use the net and use Skype to continue to cooperate and build informal links across the world.
TYA UK and Rose Bruford College’s Dream initiative was cited by Planson at the event as an example of the sort of cooperation that ASSITEJ France is keen to support. This year sees another Dream event, this time focusing on work for children with disability and complex learning difficulties. It will follow the same format as last year: a five day residency followed by a sharing. It will take place at The Jasmin Vardimon Space in Ashford, Kent from 30th September – 5th October and will be led by Oily Cart. There are spaces for UK practitioners (minimum 3 years professional experience) to work alongside European artists in an exploration of the extraordinary work of this unique British theatre company. Details of how to apply are available from TYA UK and Rose Bruford College.
Director of MA Theatre for Young Audiences, Rose Bruford College
Chair of Rose Bruford College’s Theatre for Young Audiences Centre