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Steven Atkinson on HighTide Programme 2017 and Two Festivals

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Programme 2017 and two festivals 

Around the same time, HighTide artists, staff and supporters gathered to ask 'what's next'?

HighTide Festival 2016 closed with a ceilidh, split roughly half audience, half the festival team. Though by this point that division between maker and viewer wasn't so binary, as we had by now spent many long days making and debating together. We celebrated the close of a fantastic festival, and in so doing paid homage to the nine previous ones that this had built upon.

Then we all went our separate ways, with the company of Girls straight to Soho Theatre, and the company of Pilgrims to The Yard. On consecutive nights that week, I sat first with audiences at The Yard and then in Soho. And as I sat with them this deep rooted concern returned. Who are these people?  I've often thought that no matter how often you frequent a theatre, you never truly get to know your audiences. Not in the way you do at a festival. And I sat wishing that theatre audiences were more like festival audiences.

Around the same time, HighTide artists, staff and supporters gathered to ask 'what's next'? We were in the midst of a bumper six production year, playing fantastic theatres across the U.K. But I was feeling frustrated that in pursuit of brilliant plays and theatres excited to take them that we were turning to writers more experienced than first-time writers.

So we then resolved to make three new developments, which are now coming to fruition.

Firstly, that the headline festival productions will be worldly and ambitious plays from writers receiving their first commission.  Each festival will also preview the two plays for next year's festival, and our audiences will feed in to their development.

Secondly, that we will produce our productions on a scale and with the technical resources greater than most studio theatres, and for this year we are fortunate to have The Mix, a state of the art 260 seat auditorium unlike anything else existing in Suffolk.

And thirdly, as The Mix is an itinerant auditorium, then we too can become an itinerant festival, and this allows us to also work with new partners to initiate festivals in new places.

Waltham Forest Council is a progressive administration who for several years have placed culture at the heart of their development plans for their residents. The HighTide Festival in Walthamstow is another important step for the borough in its development of a diverse and high-quality cultural offer to its residents. Like in Suffolk, we're excited to be providing a unique experience to audiences where nothing else like HighTide is available. We are grateful to the National Theatre for supporting our marketing and box office to help ensure that we reach as many new audiences as possible.

HighTide has always been primarily concerned with two things: partnering our artists with our audiences in Suffolk, who are the inspiration for our tagline 'adventurous theatre for adventurous audiences'; and giving to our artists the exposure that launches their careers. Aldeburgh will continue to be the home of our work, where we trust our audiences to embrace risk and provide feedback that we incorporate in to our shows. But we think that a second festival in Greater London is an exciting development. And this year we are thrilled that following Walthamstow, our then fully formed productions will continue to tour and entertain audiences across the UK.

We believe that there are many exciting possibilities in this producing model for artist development, new plays, new audiences, and collaboration. We hope that you join us this September and October in Aldeburgh and Walthamstow and tell us what you think we can do to continue to improve our work in years to come.

Steven Atkinson, Artistic Director

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