Interview with Artistic Director of SACRED: Francis Alexander, Chelsea Theatre, London

Interview with Artistic Director of SACRED: Francis Alexander, Chelsea Theatre, London

SACRED, Chelsea Theatre’s exploration of live art and contemporary performance launches in October for an exciting new season. SACRED will run throughout the year, the first season beginning in October and running until February 2013, the second taking place from March to July. As well as a brand new format, a SACRED event will take place at Battersea Arts Centre this autumn adding another dimension to the programme.

Aesthetica spoke to Artistic Director Francis Alexander about SACRED and his excitement over the project.

A: SACRED’s programme encompasses a rich blend of exhibitions, performance pieces and art events, allowing a comprehensive examination of contemporary live art and performance. Where did the initial idea for the season come from and what factors informed your programming choices?
I love answering this question. The central idea’s in the name, SACRED. It’s a wry, raised eyebrow cast at the seriousness within which mainstream British theatre seems to dwell. We think the broad span of contemporary performance – in contrast – makes more than equally valid points about the world we love in, and the ideas we hold dear, and – to be quite frank – in a more original way. Todays performance makers – like Karen Christopher and Dominic Johnson, though they may have few stylistic approaches to unite them – don’t define themselves in the narrow old-fashioned ways of the past but succeed in telling quite new stories, in quite new ways.

A: 2012 sees SACRED extend across a whole calendar year, with the first instalment running from October to February and the second from March to July. In what ways has this enabled you to develop and build on the scope of the project?
FA: We’ve been struck by the number of people forced to budget for what they can see, and what they have to miss. I’ve never really understood the almost obscene way festivals seem to have to pack so much fantastic work into relatively short weeks. It’s a thrill to see regularly packed audiences for live art at Chelsea, and it’s unforgiveable that people can’t get to see the work for financial reasons. We’ve, simply, just relaxed and put some breathers into the programme so that pay packets – or student loans – can bear the (low) cost. But it’s also meant that we can collaborate with other artists and producers whose work won’t be cooked and ready until next spring, with the likes of James Tyson and Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, or Dance4 in Nottingham. They’ll bring really great shows to the programme with Peter Suart’s Melencolia and Guy Dartnell’s Inward Out.

A: Can you tell us a little about the SACRED event taking place at Battersea Arts Centre in November on which you are working with Tim Etchells, artistic director of Forced Entertainment?
“Working with Tim Etchells” seems a bit grand for us. It’s Tim who’s worked. He made a great new show which I saw at Mark Russell’s Under the Radar Festival in New York three years ago, and fell in love with. I can’t believe it’s taken so long to get it to London. When bright David Micklem at bac kindly mentioned that we could get together on it, we jumped at the chance. Oh, and of course – and at last- it’s a great opportunity to include in SACRED the work of Jim Fletcher of whom I’ve long been a fan. Jim’s work with Elevator Repair Service obviously hit the West End in GATZ this summer, but he’s a devotee of the “post dramatic” theatre genius Richard Maxwell who we presented the year before last. Geniuses coming home to roost.

A: Chelsea Theatre provides the backdrop for the majority of the SACRED season; how will you be utilising the layout and character of the space there to best advantage for the project?
Um… well we’re a black box so our space has absolutely no character whatsoever. I mean it. Anything coming at you from a show here is what an artist has lovingly crafted. At least that’s the theory behind 1970s theatre architecture and I kind of agree. There are times when the space makes itself felt. In 2007 the new air conditioning system leaked in the middle of Goat Island’s last ever show, right on the head of performance artist Kazukho Hohki who was sitting in the audience. Embarrassing for me, but she remained seen to her best advantage for the project…

A: SACRED is, by its very nature, a hugely collaborative undertaking. Can you highlight some of the key performers and collaborators you have on board this year, and what in particular they contribute to the season as a whole?
It’s a real thrill to be presenting all of the artists this year. Mentioning one of them by name would just be crazy. They all, I guess, represent the incredibly broad spectrum of contemporary performance, or live art, or experimental theatre, and they’re all very different. We’re working with artists with very established careers and young artists like Sian Ni Mhuiri and Jamilla Johnson-Small who are bright and new. I guess that’s a particular thrill – when a performance maker appears with whom you have little experience, and you feel inspired by their work. I’ve long been a fan of Shabnam Shabazi’s – I loved her work as a director of text based new writing and I’m excited by her personal journey into even newer ways of telling stories. Having Michael Pinchbeck’s The Beginning in SACRED is a great addition and serves to add to the contrasted practices we’re trying to bring out. Incidentally both Dominic Johnson and Sian Ni use tattooing as central themes in their shows but they couldn’t be more different. Gender, family, motherhood, pain, all addressed in pinpoint, razor sharply differing ways.

A: Following the expansion of SACRED this year, what are your plans and ambitions for its future?
I guess that we have to be thankful we’ve got this far. We have loyal charitable trusts supporting us and we have to pray that Arts Council England survives as a really arms length, properly funded lighthouse for the arts. In addition to that I just have to hope that we can embed ourselves as a building even more into our neighbourhood. We’re at the wrong end of Kings Road, the interesting end, where Turner and Wilde and Punk lived. We have great ambitions to link some of SACRED’s contemporary makers and artists much more with local schools and neighbourhood clubs. Social engagement is our future. I was inspired by Duckie’s Simon Casson who said everybody involved in their recent project with homeless men, everybody, was an artist; homeless or not, trained or not, paid or not. Live art meets the challenges of this century really well. There’s nothing SACRED about it.

SACRED, 19th October until 1st February, Chelsea Theatre, 7 World’s End Place, London SW10 0DR.

Credit: Jeremy Reed, Piccadilly Bongo, SACRED, Chelsea Theatre

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