This July as part of the European-funded Open Out Arts project, of which Theatre Bristol is a partner member, two Bristol companies, Pangottic Circus Theatre and Search Party, had the opportunity to present shows at Les Tonnerres de Brest, in Brittany, France.
In July I had the opportunity to perform at a French Street Theatre Festival in Brest with my Circus-Theatre company PanGottic, having performed at many other street theatre festivals in lots of other countries France was one we had yet to perform in properly.
Here are 10 Tips for performing at a French Street Theatre Festival based on our experience in Brest (and a few other European festivals!).
Learn the Language
Ok, so let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you know a little French this will make things run smoother and save time. The French are very organised though, so if you can’t speak the language it’s no biggie, it’s highly likely they’ll provide you with a French/English speaking chaperone (of sorts). If you have text in your performance it’s definitely worth translating some, if not all of it
Respect the programme and timings
The French run a tight ship, you will be given specific times to perform, stick to them and try not to over run. This ensures the programme runs smoothly, the audiences know who they’re watching (They will no doubt have a festival programme to hand) and won’t cause any friction between you, other artists and the organisers. If you have a problem don’t be afraid to voice it, they are very accommodating and have the resources to help in many ways.
Expect to be well looked after
Following on from the previous tip; from my experience at this particular festival they were very well equipped and resourced. You can expect full support from the festival team who will do everything within their power to make sure your show is performed in ideal conditions with no stress. They take care of every issue and you never need to worry about asking for help or support. They understand that for you to give your best performance the conditions need to be the best they can be and they will endeavour to provide you with the best conditions they can. This is something I noticed is very prominent on the French Street Theatre Festival circuit compared to other festivals elsewhere in Europe. They know how to look after their artists.
Be Prepared to Adapt
Being prepared to adapt is something which naturally comes with performing Street Theatre and is sometimes the essence of the performance. But, no matter how organised a festival is there will always be something they can’t do anything about, be able and willing to adapt when needed, they do their best for you, you can only do your best in return. Keeping yourself on your toes keeps it fresh anyway; it can’t be a bad thing!
Prepare your stomach for...
...an absolute treat. If there’s something the French know how to do well (apart from Street Theatre), its food. By far the best food provided for artists than at any other Street Theatre Festival in any other country (in my experience), Italy comes close but there’s only so much pasta one can take. Expect at least 2 freshly cooked hot meals every day. Breakfast however, was a little disappointing; baguettes with jam have got nothing on a good old full English.
Audiences: Unexpected laughter, Spontaneous clapping and Attentive
Every audience is different. I think it’s true for almost every show from one town to the next. It does become slightly more obvious though when you start to cross into other countries and the French surprised me more than I expected. I had much more applause during the performance at very unexpected times, it took a while for me to get used to it. Laughter sometimes came when I expected it, when I didn’t or not at all. Humour is the thing that varies the most from country to country and it takes time to get used to it. It’s nice to “work” a new audience though, to find out what makes them tick and adapting your show accordingly. It’s possible to do this at a Street Festival because you would usually perform the show more than once, so stay alert and feel your audiences reactions, then you can tailor the show to give them the most you’ve got to give - it often only takes a small tweak or a small change in timing.
Take the Applause
French audiences like to clap a lot and show their appreciation at the end of a show. Take it.
Watch other shows (Especially French ones)
The wonderful thing about performing at Street Theatre Festivals is there are lots of other shows to see, it’s a great place to be inspired. Generally on the European street theatre circuit there is a consensus that; unless you’re French it’s very difficult to “break in” to the French circuit. After watching shows by the French companies who were in Brest I can now understand why. The shows I saw blew me away, in terms of quality, scale and originality. It’s easy to see why French promoters don’t really need to look outside France to programme their festivals; it seems they’ve got the pick of the best on their door step. I couldn’t recommend highly enough how important it is to see other shows at festivals, especially French ones.
Accommodation is almost always provided at Street Theatre Festivals and generally it’s pretty good. On this occasion though the plastic bed sheet and a blanket weren’t quite enough for me, I’m glad I had my sleeping bag in the van. If you’ve got room for one it’s always handy to take a sleeping bag in case the accommodation isn’t quite up to scratch.
Speaks for itself really, take time to enjoy the experience and explore the town/city/village you’re in. It’s something I didn’t manage to do this time round, but wish I had!