When I met my friend Zelis Niegaard first time at a summer party and she told me that she earned her living by being an organizer of an international street theatre festival, I only had a faint idea, what street theatre was. I visualized something similar to the street acts I have seen on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, LA and the street performers in Covent Garden, London. I was yet to learn that street theatre is a performing art which is richer in its form and content and has a very different purpose and outlook than the tourist traps, that I thought it were. Last March, Zelis offered me to become her PR Consultant for the festival she was organizing in 2017. As a curious culture lover, I could not let this opportunity pass.
What is street theatre exactly? Some sources indicate that street theatre originates from India and some point to Southern Europe. Regardless of the historical roots, today’s street theatre art has these things in common: The audience comes unprepared to the performances, which take place outdoors in social spaces in urban settings. There are almost no props involved in these short performances of 30-40 minutes of duration; there is no stage and hence no hierarchical demarcation between the audience and the artists. The audience is people from all walks of life, who happen to be in the radius of the performance. The shows are free, no tickets required. There can be audience involvement, making the shows very dynamic and impromptu. The performances can be from a palette of different genres such as street parades, new circus, acrobatics, dance, live music, physical theatre, human specific shows and more.
Rue des Dames by Cie Passante (France)
In its very essence, street theatre is about taking ownership of the public space to give cultural and political messages to the people. The performances create a sense of belonging and community for the people of the urban area. It helps build a common reality, where people from all ages, social and economic classes are equal. In that sense, it is a very democratic form of art. The spontaneous nature of this art makes it the perfect ingredient to create a temporary suspension of all duties in the urban life: A time-out.
Les Tonys by La Compagnie de Albedo (France)
At a more abstract and symbolic level, street theatre is an instrument of social change. It is a platform where everybody has the opportunity to participate in a performance and influence its course. As opposed to established theatres where only those who can afford the ticket can become culturally “enriched”, street theatre gives everybody the opportunity to get a cultural experience and to get involved in the acts.
Nois Um by Cia dela Praka (Brazil)
I am glad to have been introduced to this niche art through my work at Denmark’s International Street Theatre Festival, which has enriched my life this summer with more than 10 different performances in each of the 12 host cities, interacting with international artists, volunteers and local politicians.