Features Published 23 June 2011

The Devils Festival

The Print Room's Devils Festival is a showcase for new work by four talented young artists who, for the past year, have been resident at the west London venue as ‘Printer’s Devils’ –which, appropriately, was originally a slang term for the apprentices in printing houses. The devils are Dan Ayling, who is directing Martin Crimp’s collection of three short dramas, Fewer Emergencies; Hubert Essakow, who has devised a Haiti-inspired dance piece entitled Kanaval; Jeff James, who is staging Swan Song, Anton Chekhov’s first play; and Petra Jean Philipson, who has created Of The Things We Do Not See, an all- encompassing sound installation.
Tom Wicker

Tom Wicker: How did you decide on the festival’s programme?

Dan Ayling: We were given free rein to come to the table with our ideas. I’m directing a Martin Crimp play [Fewer Emergencies], which came to me via a circuitous route. I had four or five projects which, for various reasons, we couldn’t get off the ground. So I was looking for something that would fit the right bill. It needed to be about 40 minutes long and have a small cast, which sounds practical and mundane. But it also had to comment on the world today; it needed to have an urgency about it. I wasn’t about to do the umpteenth revival of an Ibsen, partly because it wouldn’t fit the festival format but also because what I chose had to say the right thing. So I jumped through many hoops and ended up on a podium!

Petra Jean Philipson: Mine was predicated on the fact that, originally, I thought I’d be repeating City of Lost Angels. Because there was so much to do last time, I thought, ‘Right, I’ll do something really simple that I can prepare way in advance and won’t be stressful.’ Also, I was really interested in taking the opportunity to do something that wasn’t singer-songwriter based; to do something more abstract.

Hubert Essakow: I was inspired to create my piece by Leah Gordon’s book of photos, which is all about masks and the people of Haiti. That was my starting point. I was also watching a film made by Maya Deren’s in 1941, called Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, which is about ritual and the whole tradition of voodoo.

Tom Wicker: It seems to me that what unifies all four pieces is how multimedia they are. Would you agree?

Dan Ayling: That’s the connection. It’s about presenting an eclectic mix and saying, ‘Look, we can do all of these things and do them well.’ That’s what makes the Print Room exciting. It’s not just a theatre or somewhere to have a gig; it’s a proper performance space. And that’s why it’s exciting to have an exhibition like the one of Leah Gordon’s photos at the same time. It says that we work in all of the arts.

Tom Wicker: You’ve had to produce your pieces within a tight budget. Has this made you more creative?

Dan Ayling: Oh, totally. It’s incredible what you can achieve with a constraint. It makes you creatively agile. You have to think, ‘What do I absolutely want? What’s the most important thing on the stage?’ Is it a texture or a particular colour?’ You have to decide what you want to put your money into. It’s a virtue in a way.

Tom Wicker: What do you hope that audiences will get out the festival? Each piece is very much about subjective engagement, isn’t it?

Hubert Essakow: Dance is quite an elusive language and has incredible power; the power of movement. Just watching someone move is ritualistic and instinctive. There’s something quite spiritual about it. I was greatly inspired by the photographs and the film and I want to transport an audience. There isn’t a particular narrative to it; I just really want to show people the power of dance.

Petra Jean Philipson: You can go away from a performance that’s moved you and feel really changed. My piece is about possibility of sound-healing. I actually trained as a sound-healer after being a musician for a few years and I’m really interested in sharing that. Some people have sound treatment and it does nothing; it doesn’t go in and it doesn’t affect them. But for some people, five minutes of it changes their lives; they don’t need drugs or to have to go to the doctor or to spend hours meditating. I feel quite evangelical about sound healing and I think that the arts are a really interesting way of filtering it to the masses.

Tom Wicker: So not only are you blurring the lines between theatre, dance and music but between disciplines as well?

Petra Jean Philipson: Yeah, between art and health and education. I started out with fine art, then music and, now, with this installation, something I’ve studied as well. It’s all come together for me in this piece. It’s like, ‘Whoah, dude, it all makes sense.’ I’ve fulfilled a life’s ambition.

Tom Wicker: In folklore the term ‘Printer’s Devil’ also refers to a mischievous spirit that would disrupt the order and routine of a print shop. Has dealing with the Devils challenged you and Lucy, Anda?

Anda Winters: Well, first Lucy and I had to learn how to deal with each other! But as for working with the Devils? I’ve enjoyed every minute with every single Devil. They’re marvellous people, full of warmth. And they have so many ideas. It’s like, you know, opening a can; it’s wonderful to see. I was glad that Petra did something new in the end because I think, ‘What’s the point of doing something you’ve done before? You can’t have the same idea twice.’ And this installation is so different to what she’s done before. And with what Dan, Hubert and Jeff are doing as well, I’m already thinking: ‘More, more, more – when can we have the next project?’

The Devils Festival is at the Print Room until 2nd July. For tickets and more information, visit the Print Room website.


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Tom Wicker

Tom is a freelance writer and editor, based in London. He has acted in the past, but the stage is undoubtedly better off without him on it. As well as regularly contributing to Exeunt and OffWestEnd.com, he reviews for Time Out, has reviewed Broadway productions for The Telegraph. He has also written for The Guardian and the online world affairs magazine openDemocracy.

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