Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thoughts On Outdoor Art On A Hot Day At Lincoln Drill Hall

It’s hot. Summer has arrived. Every possible window and door is open here at Lincoln Drill Hall and it is still sweltering. Everyone across the UK is feeling the heatwave today and I imagine everyone at work or school right now is wishing they could be sat outside under a parasol eating an ice cream – I know I am, especially when a lot of the work I’ve been doing this week has been on the series of outdoor theatre events happening at Lincoln Castle this summer. Illyria are an award winning theatre company that specialise in outdoor shows and we’re lucky enough to have them visiting Lincoln with three of their productions over July and August.

The idea of staging theatre outside is definitely not a new one, in fact it’s indoor theatres that are more of a new thing. From its roots in Greece and Rome, to Shakespearean theatre in the 17th century theatre was traditionally performed outdoors or in open air auditoriums and amphitheatres. It is only relatively recently that theatre moved inside, the first wave of indoor theatres emerging in the renaissance period in Italy which – according to some – served to make theatre more exclusive as now only the people allowed inside could experience the shows. As often happens in culture and art, trends circle, resurge and reappear and now, a few hundred years after theatres grew roofs and closed their doors, people are bringing art outside again and taking it back to the masses.

There is something inherently democratic about an outdoor performance. You may have to pay a small fortune to get into a festival like Glastonbury or Latitude but their atmospheres remain steadily independent. Yes, a weekend at a music festival may end up costing you more than your monthly wages when you factor in your travel, food costs and the price of getting in (let alone the money you spent on that last minute tent), but once you’re there you can see whatever you’d like with no extra costs involved. You could plan out your weekend to the minute, or just wander around and let chance take over. You can spend your time running between stages to see every band you love, or you could sit in the poetry tent for an afternoon and see something you never thought you’d enjoy. Festivals provide you with the choice and freedom to experience art the way you want to, and a large part of that freedom comes from their outdoor setting. Of course there are some indoor festivals too – Dot to Dot Festival which happens nearby in Nottingham features bands playing in various central city venues with one wristband allowing you access to whichever sets you want to see, a similar set-up to Austin Texas’ SXSW (South By Southwest) which brings music and film to Austin’s many indie venues for a week long celebration. However indoor festivals all have a common problem with queues and overcrowding – there are countless survival guides to SXSW online warning attendees to ensure they have water at all times and prepare to spend most of your day queuing if they want to see any of the big name acts. This isn’t a problem when your festival is in a massive field like Glastonbury or a desert like Burning Man, even if you’re the very last person in the crowd and Kanye West looks three inches tall, you can still hear the music and you’re still part of the audience.

Outdoor art pairs particularly well with summer. Given a choice between a crowded sweat filled auditorium and a picnic blanket with the chance of a cool breeze a 30 degree day, there’s not much competition. Of course, this being Britain, we don’t get much of a chance to move into the open air outside of a few weeks in summer if we want to avoid the rain, but there’s still a feeling that comes with summer – whether it’s actually sunny or not – that inspires us to go alfresco. There’s something that feels very English about sitting outside with a ’99 or eating sandwiches from a Tupperware under a shady tree. We as a nation have a resilient tendency to do summery things once the clocks go forward regardless of whether the weather shares our sentiments. Of course outdoor art works best when it’s sunny and dry, but as many years of Glastonbury will attest, we’re perfectly happy to pull out some wellies and an umbrella if things get rainy. If we’re lucky, the sunny weather may last the season this year (but hopefully cool down a tad so we don’t all melt) allowing us all to drag ourselves away from our screens and sofas and into the light before storms and high winds force us back inside come autumn. And whilst we’re relishing what summer we do get, there’s plenty to keep us entertained whilst we’re out and about. Outdoor theatre and music festivals besides, there’s street art in almost every city and it’s usually completely free. Lincoln’s Magna Carta Weekend gave the city a great few days of free art, music and culture and the Baron’s Trail will continue to delight right up to September.

The three outdoor Illyria shows that Lincoln Drill Hall is helping bring to the castle are a great example of how breaking down the theatre walls and using outside spaces as venues can put a new spin on an old classic and get people out and about and involved with the arts. There’s a great mix of genres – a Shakespeare performance in The Taming Of The Shrew, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Iolanthe and a fun and family friendly performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice drawn from the original poem, Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem and the Disney adaptation from Fantasia. The use of Lincoln Castle’s grounds as a venue is not only a great way of drawing more people into one of our cities most famous landmarks in its renovation year, but also provides an interesting and unique space in which to demonstrate how versatile art can be. Where you watch a piece of theatre can have a bigger impact on your experience of it than you might think, and there is an interesting trend in finding more and more original and surprising places to perform. There’s the “floating book” stage on Lake Constance in Austria whose various set ups are well worth a quick google, there’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s Udderbelly – the comedy venue shaped like a giant purple cow – and Cornwall’s Minack theatre which stages shows in it’s open air cliffside venue. And that’s just the theatres; there’s also a whole host of outdoor cinema screens who’ll be enjoying the hot weather this summer too. 

It seems we’re no longer content with being contained. There’s a definite urge for freedom and space that’s manifesting in the popularity of these alternate venues. We’re demanding more than just a room with some chairs in it, and more choice than the usual purpose built theatres with their gilt arches and red velvet curtains. We don’t just want to experience art, we want that experience to be somewhere that tells a story itself. Whether that be in the hull of the Cutty Sark, an old water mill, on the surface of a lake, or even perhaps in an old drill hall…

1 comment:

  1. Really sounds great! A lovely venue too.