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The Introduction begins with a vignette illustrating the productive tension between a festival’s stated goals and the cultural work performed by its constituent parts. It introduces the book's main problematic: the ways and degrees to which international theatre and multi-arts festivals stage, represent, exchange, market, and negotiate cultural difference, broadly understood to include ethnic, national, Indigenous, queer, disability, and other cultures. It proceeds to outline the book’s major definitional fields (festivals and interculturalism) and scholarly debates around the key characteristics of festivals (their liminality, transformational qualities, and cosmopolitan aspirations). It then outlines the contexts (festivalization, eventification, creative city theory, globalized neoliberalism) within which festivals operate, the scope, methods, and theoretical frames within which the book operates, and the chapter breakdown and festival taxonomy that gives the book its shape.
Beginning in the 1980s with LiFT and other festivals mainly based in continental Europe, and expanding in the 2000s to include North America, a new form of 'curated live-arts festival' responded to globalized neoliberalism, challenged the cafeteria-style programming of 'the circuit', and began to purposefully bring artists together in generative juxtapositions or collaborations rather than as signal representatives of their nations of origin. Downloading risks and responsibilities to artists-as-entrepreneurs, this model has nevertheless also transformed festival programming into a creative rather than merely administrative activity, while also imagining new roles for festivalgoers as participants and often enabling social as well as artistic experimentation to cross political and cultural as well as disciplinary borders. Finally, they find ways of exploring the inter-imbrication of the work of international guests and the life of the host city both inside and outside of traditional theatrical spaces. They tend, that is, to address local rather than tourist audiences, to engage directly with local issues and neighbourhoods, and they often exceed traditional festival temporalities.
Chapter 5 focuses on a phenomenon I have called 'The Intracultural Transnational'. It concerns itself with a type of festival that brings together an identifiable cultural, regional, or linguistic community across continental, hemispheric, or international borders. These festivals represent an emerging decolonial paradigm that has much in common with the one I have identified as developing from an Indigenous tradition, with festivals serving as sites at which generative debates internal to their specific communities can cross latter-day, enforced borders and forge transnational solidarities while acknowledging, celebrating, or mediating intracultural and historical differences. These festivals of intracultural encounter, however vexed, might serve as alternative models of the kinds of negotiation and exchange across difference that this book sets out to track down. They work to bring audiences together across their differences, most often to address historical divisions brought about by colonialisms and neocolonialisms of various kinds, to constitute trans- rather than international communities, and to ally with the Indigenous festival paradigm in compatible ways.
Ric Knowles' study is a politically urgent, erudite intervention into the ecology of theatre and performance festivals in an international context. Since the 1990s there has been an exponential increase in the number and type of festivals taking place around the world. Events that used merely to be events are now 'festivalized': structured, marketed, and promoted in ways that stress urban centres as tourist destinations and “creative cities” as targets of corporate enterprise. Ric Knowles examines the structure, content, and impact of international festivals that draw upon and represent multiple cultures and the roles they play in one of the most urgent processes of our times: intercultural negotiation and exchange. Covering a vast geographical sweep and exploring festival models both new and ancient, the work sets compelling new standards of practice for post-pandemic festivals.
The Conclusion makes recommendations for 'Festival Futures'. It consists, in part, of a kind of summary and compendium of 'wise practices' in hopes that it might ease the way at festivals to come for the kinds of transnational, intercultural, multilingual, and intersectional work that International Theatre Festivals and 21st-Century Interculturalism has set out to promote. The book ends where it began, reiterating its proposal of an alternative creation story for international theatre festivals in the communal, performative, inter-nation gatherings that predate the Festival of Dionysus and model a different kind of festival experience.
Chapter 4 considers the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Adelaide Fringe Festival as examples of the global proliferation of 'open-access' fringe festivals, and considers these festivals as exemplary models of the neoliberal free market with all of the inequities, precarities, and exclusions such markets inevitably encompass, constituting their artists as entrepreneurs and their audiences as experience collectors. It then considers the Toronto Fringe Festival as an example of fringe festivals that have emerged with no mainstage to be alternative to that have taken on broad representational mandates that have led to modifications to the open-access model that allow them to privilege certain types of difference. In addition to the official fringe circuit this chapter also looks at fringes of fringes, counterfestivals, 'alternativos', and 'manifestivals' that have emerged with more explicitly political, intersectional, identity-politic, and social-action mandates that include privileging underrepresented populations. These have often staged generative dialogues and contestations across various kinds of difference.
Chapter 2 begins with the Edinburgh Festival, traditionally understood to be the progenitor of the revival of festivals in the mid twentieth century. It examines the Edinburgh, Avignon, Adelaide, Luminato (Toronto) and other destination festivals and the international trade routes they constitute as having largely outlived their usefulness for anything other than city branding, and as consistently problematic in terms of their use and representation of 'otherness'. It also considers negative and positive examples of the types of show typically featured on the festival circuit (productions/adaptations of canonical work, dance, and international collaborations). The chapter then proposes alternative and evolving destination festival models as represented by the Festival TransAmérique, the 2020 New Zealand Festival of the Arts, the 2009 Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires, the Interferences Theatre Festival, and the twenty-first-century iterations of Germany’s Theater der Welt. These festivals have more successfully served as sites for intercultural negotiation and exchange.
Chapter 1 begins with a new (and ancient) festival creation story grounded in pre-contact Indigenous ceremonial and performance practices that may be considered to be festivals, such as the Midē’wiwin 'White Earth Scroll', the potlatch (Tloo-qua-nah) , and the corroboree It proceeds to survey and analyse the subsequent representation of Indigeneity in western festivals, fairs, and mega-events (such as Olympic ceremonies), theatre and arts festivals run by non-Indigenous peoples, destination festivals with and without Indigenous leadership or participation, Indigenous cultural festivals in Australia and the Pacific, and twenty-first-century Indigenous theatre festivals. The chapter’s focus is primarily on festivals in Aotearoa, Australia, the Pacific, and North America, and it pays particular attention to the contributions of key productions and trans-Indigenous collaborations to contemporary festival cultures, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It ends by proposing that Indigenous festivals might productively be considered to provide an alternative creation story and festival paradigm to the competitive model of ancient Greece.