Jo Belloli – TakeOff Festival From 1987 to 2017
I reckon I could describe myself as a serial TakeOff delegate. I remember being at a festival at The Riverside Studios in London in 1987. It was called TakeOff. I was a relative newcomer on the scene, somewhat in awe of colleagues I was meeting and certainly inspired by the event and the work that I saw. It was the first TYA festival I’d been to and it was a pivotal moment for me. In the following years, this festival gradually grew into the TakeOff we now know. And over the years I’ve been lucky enough to attend nearly all of them, missing just a handful. l have countless impressions of how attendance at TakeOff can affirm, expand and refresh frames of reference and ensure invaluable contact with colleagues old and new.
So it’s an enormous privilege to have had this opportunity to select the programme for this 30th anniversary year, one which brings with it a certain sense of responsibility alongside a small measure of indulgence. There’s an interesting shift in breadth of focus – and complexity – from programming within a venue to curating a festival; to consider what a festival is, who it serves, how it might fulfil a combination of aims and meet that range of expectations, and how it should leave everybody, in some way or another, satisfied.
Satisfied. That sounds like the Average box on an evaluation form, but here I mean it more in the sense of feeling nourished. Of course, delegates form just part of the festival audience but it’s a hugely significant one. Above all, we are collaborators – not just an audience but a valued collective of contributors, provokers, thinkers, networkers and party-goers with different reasons for attending and with different benchmarks to apply.
As to be expected, within the programme is a mix of productions for babies and their caregivers through to young teenagers, presented by companies and artists some of whom are known within our sector, but significantly, some by artists established in their practice but relatively new to making work specifically for a young audience. In true festival spirit, productions embrace a range of art form, style and content. 14 companies will present a mix of puppetry, acrobatic/circus, storytelling, digital and other media represented within the broad menu that exits within theatre for young audiences and, through Polka and TakeOff’s association with Small Size, we’re thrilled to be including the festival’s largest ever programme of work from beyond the UK, including Teatro al Vacio from Mexico. Performing in the UK for the first time they present their latest production Close (Cerca), a tender and poignant dance and movement focused piece reflecting on the cautious rituals of seeking companionship.
Is there a particular stamp I have in curating this edition of the festival? Yes, but I trust in a measured way. Although I have a long-term association in advocating theatre for the very young – babies, toddlers and Early Years – my radar always remains connected. Older audiences are certainly not forgotten. And although I have a life-long relationship with Polka Theatre, I have also enjoyed a breadth of focus as a freelance TYA programmer. So I have kept my eyes open. We look forward to sharing TakeOff 2017 with you and welcoming both serial delegates and new faces to our very special birthday.