Festival Fifty: Producers' Standout Moments
In our 50th year, five producers look back and share their personal highlights of past festivals, from hunting around the globe to find and reconstruct the score to Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, to wiping sheep sneezes off Anish Kapoor’s C-Curve.
Philip Morgan, producer (1991 – present day)
One of my most memorable Brighton Festival moments was Gaudeamus by the Maly Theatre in 1996. This devised show was directed by Lev Dodin - considered to be one of the best theatre directors in the world. It’s based on a Russian short story about life in the army in 1980. It was a steeply raked stage covered in artificial snow and honeycombed with traps which the cast of twenty literally dived in and out of. We flew a grand piano across stage with a couple making love on top of it. It was an incredibly exciting show demonstrating ensemble work that no longer exists in the UK and we built a temporary theatre in Brighton Dome Corn Exchange to show it.
Pippa Smith, producer (1990 – present day)
In 1990 I was working at Same Sky when Brighton Festival director Gavin Henderson asked us to take over the organisation of the annual Children’s Parade. In my previous job I had been involved with Notting Hill Carnival so I was able to bring many of their ideas to Brighton; it was a really exciting to see them work with children and train teachers to make the parade the amazing spectacle it is today! In the early years the entire event would end up on the Café lawn of Pavilion Gardens; all the children, their parents and teachers could gather on the one lawn and there was still room for the Millstones – the Blatchington Mill Big Band! The parade now features dozens of bands, every single school from Brighton and Hove and many from outside the city.
Beth Burgess, producer (2015 – present day)
A producer’s first festival is always memorable, but in 2015 there was a great moment when I was sitting in my office which overlooks Castle Square. I had run up to do some quick e-mails and the Children’s Parade was still going past… I had been on the ground, so to speak, as it began and that made me smile from ear to ear, but seeing it from above, it was amazing. As I leaned out my window to watch all these amazing costumes, sculptures and children marching past, I could not believe that I was part of something so huge, so joyous and this was just the beginning! There were all sorts of wonders but, later that week, sitting with Agnes Varda - my all-time heroine of cinema - was my dream come true. She was such a lovely human being and delightful to work with. I learned so much from her and her work. What could be better?!
Gill Kay, producer (1985 – present day)
One of my most memorable festival moments was the 2007 performance of Laurence Olivier’s film Henry V with Carl Davis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing the famous Walton score live. That year was Olivier’s centenary and Granada Film/TV were issuing a new celebratory HD print of this iconic 1944 film. The original score had been lost, and so began a hunt which took us, literally, around the world to the US, via Italy and back to Christie’s in London. Finally, along with a brilliant composer/transcriber Dominic Sewell we managed to reconstruct the score… only to find that all the sound on the film had been put onto one track so extracting the music to enable ‘live’ performance became a mammoth task. Dominic, myself and some dedicated Granada technicians spent hours going through the film frame by frame to produce this new version of the score and film. It can now be performed by any orchestra anywhere in the world so definitely worth all that effort!
Tanya Peters, producer (2007 – present)
In 2009 bringing Guest Director Anish Kapoor’s C-Curve to Brighton was definitely one of my most memorable Festival experiences. The location was up on a South Downs hill that overlooked the Chattri and down across the city to the sea. For such a stunningly simple-looking piece it was deceptively complex to do in terms of agreeing the site, transporting the valuable sculpture across farmland, the meticulous installation and maintenance. One unanticipated issue was the local lambs sharing the field would cuddle behind it as a windbreak overnight – they’d keep sneezing on it and I’d have to go back up there at 6am to remove the evidence and buff it up! One day I remember looking down toward Brighton and seeing all these dots on the hill. After a while it dawned on me that they were people; it was the first day of the Festival and lots of people were walking up to see the sculpture! This continued throughout May – people arriving throughout the night and at dawn, from campers to cyclists and poi jugglers. You’ve got to love Brighton people haven’t you – we are going to put an amazing sculpture in the middle of absolutely nowhere and everyone comes along - I love that! What amazed me, and this is really what Brighton Festival is all about, is how the piece inspired so many people, with many then creating their own works of art. Beautiful photography and portraits created in response to it were being shared online and across social media. It was amazing and Anish loved seeing that too. I miss my days starting with a walk in the Downs and sheep sneezes.
Anish Kapoor's C-Curve
Photo by Matthew Andrews