EFFE Laureate - Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre
The General Manager of Tbilisi's International Theatre Festival agrees that there are probably easier places in Europe to run such an event. The festival started just after the latest (but brief) war with Russia in 2008 and the stresses of the Caucasus region's politics are never far away. “We always have to be flexible about things during our festival,” Ekaterina Mazmishvili says, “because our dates [September/October] often coincide with elections and there can be big demonstrations in the streets outside our venues. So sometimes we have started an hour late but the audience still turns up.”
“When I look back I am pleased that we have managed to make ourselves free from any pressures – economic or political – and that is, I think, because of the support of our audiences and the importance of our Georgian Theatre Showcase.” This is the scheme the festival uses to integrate emerging local groups into the programme and introduce them to the usually more famous companies from abroad that come to perform in the main festival. It is described as a big networking space to build new relationships, create co-productions and exchange artists; to which are added workshops, master-classes and a residency programme.
One of the EFFE jurors was impressed by the leadership of the festival, “always going out there, keeping in touch and looking for the best to bring back to Georgia on the very small budget they have, They're very dynamic young people, very driven and aggressive – in a polite way!”
This is echoed in the rapport Ekaterina and her colleagues have built up with audiences. She says, “only artists can be so bold and create new questions, not just the answers people think they want – and so we have become much bolder too in our relationship with the public. Recently we have been going much more for the unknown and finding that the public is ready for anything – in fact they are ahead of us. The more we match the issues of our time, the more they come – we sell 80% of our tickets. We are not afraid to talk about the things we used to avoid and we find we don't have to be afraid about whether people come or not. They do. Great things happen when you stop worrying!”
By Simon Mundy for EFA