the producer of caravan 2016

Heather Rose looks back at her time as this year’s producer of caravan.

Over three days in May, almost 200 artists and delegates descended on Brighton for caravan, a three day showcase that presents the best in English contemporary work to venue and festival directors from the UK and around the world.  This year, international delegates came from over 25 countries including New Zealand, Iceland, Korea and Brazil.  The three day programme included twelve performances, a pitching session and a marketplace, as well as a range of other events and networking opportunities including a chaired discussion on accessibility, and a guided tour of some of the installations at the Brighton Festival. 

Although the showcase has been running biennially (that means every second year, in case you’re wondering) since 2008, I had only been involved since December, when I took over as maternity cover for the producer who has been working on caravan since its inception.  Not only had I never run it, I’d never even been to it, although many of the artists, delegates and staff had, and so would have expectations as to how things would be done.  No pressure, then.  Luckily I had a great team around me, a strong partnership with Brighton Festival, an exciting group of artists to showcase, and an extremely detailed to-do list from the previous producer. 

After five months of planning, and thousands of meetings, emails, and phone calls, I couldn’t wait to get to Brighton.  The first day, I welcomed delegates as they arrived at the hotel, and finally had a chance to put faces (tired faces, as many of them had long journeys) to the lists and spread sheets, and get to know some of them at the welcome dinner.  The following day was the first of the showcase and to be honest, it’s now somewhat of a blur in my memory, although I can say that I don’t remember sitting down much between leaving the hotel at 8am and dinnertime, as I constantly flitted between shows, the registration desk and events, waiting for something to go wrong.  But miraculously, nothing did.  And by the end of dinner, I was feeling a warm glow of satisfaction (or maybe it was wine) – we had pulled it off.  Delegates and artists were deep in conversation over pints and wine in the late night bar, and all the hard work felt worthwhile.

Not that the hard work was over.  The remaining two days were equally busy, but I was no longer dogged by the fear that I had forgotten something but wasn’t sure what it was (you know, that feeling when you leave the house in a hurry on your way to the airport).  I was able to enjoy seeing exciting, contemporary new theatre and talking to venue and festival directors from around the world about how the work might translate to their spaces, their audiences.  As well as connecting with artists, delegates also formed and strengthened connections with each other, those connections which can often be so essential, particularly in international touring.  After all, if a company is going to travel half way round the world, they’ll probably want more than just one or two performances.  Not that all the conversations were so glamorous  – I also spent time explaining what rail strikes would mean for delegates trying to get to the airport, and on hold to British Rail’s Lost Property office.

That’s the heart of what makes caravan so special – it’s not just a list of performances for delegates to attend, it’s not focused on the buying and selling of art as a commercial product.  Instead, it’s about relationships – relationships between delegates and artists but also delegates’ and artists’ relationships with each other, and the creation of an international community.  Many delegates are as interested in supporting development of future work as presenting the current piece.  The showcase includes shared meals, a welcome reception and a closing night party.  The arts may be a business, but that’s not why most of us choose to work in this field.  caravan gave me a chance to recharge my art batteries, and remember why I do what I do.  Roll on 2018!