‘LIFT audiences are really very curious about the world’ by Mark Ball

OPEN FOR EVERYTHING / Picture: Thomas Aurin

As the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT)  launches its 21st edition on June 1st with a jam-packed month of performances and installations, we had the pleasure to ask a few questions to its Artistic Director Mark Ball, on why European arts and culture matter to LIFT and to London audiences, his favourite festivals in Europe and waking up far too early to see shows abroad.

Lyn Gardner once wrote in the Guardian that ‘Probably no theatre organisation in the UK has done more to break down the distinctions between artforms than LIFT’. With performances and artists from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy Netherlands and Poland, the LIFT programme is full of gems from continental Europe. How do you select them and why do you think it is important to show European works in the UK?

Wherever it’s from in the world I always look for three things when I select work; firstly will it speak to London’s audiences? We know our audiences are really very curious about the world, that they like new ideas, that they’re up for something new and risky and that they like to be both stimulated and entertained – so the work our artists make or bring needs to satisfy the curiosity of our audiences.

, I’m always looking for artists who are doing something different, who are prodding and poking at what art can be and how it can be experienced by audiences, which is often why we put so much work on that takes place in unusual nooks and crannies of London and that places the audience at the heart of the experience.

Thirdly, it’s about genuine quality and work that is world-class, an overused phrase but it has to be outstanding.  Sometimes it’s provocative, sometimes just entertaining and often both – like the brilliant Phaedra(s) from Poland’s great theatre director Krzysztof Warlikowski with Isabelle Huppert at the Barbican to OPEN FOR EVERYTHING from the German-based choreographer Constanza Macras, exploring the experiences of young Roma people as they journey across Eastern Europe.


Isabelle Huppert in Phaedra(s)
Isabelle Huppert in Phaedra(s)

What is the added value of working at the European level for LIFT?

The benefits of working at a European level are immense. Our participation in European networks and projects has changed the culture of our organisation because we are regularly working with partners and people who do things differently and who have other perspectives.  It’s educated and informed us about the world.  It’s also given us an amazing network of 40 like-minded organisations across and beyond Europe and enabled us to support the transnational mobility of artists.

What have you learned throughout all these years of European collaboration?

To be open minded and to respect the opinion and practice of others.  And to be patient, to build relationships and not be too transactional.  The British way of doing things isn’t always the best way of doing things!

Any festivals you’d like to recommend to our curious and adventurous readers?

I really love some of the smaller festivals in Europe that seem to take over the whole city and create a real sense of energy and excitement for all its inhabitants. Festivals like Nordezoon in Groningen, La Strada in Graz and Donaufestival in Krems.

And finally what’s your worst experience in Europe?

Any time I have to leave Stansted airport on a 6am flight to see a show that day.  I’ve done that too often…

Thanks Mark, and all the best of luck for this 21st edition!

Find the LIFT full programme and book your ticket here: https://www.liftfestival.com

Main picture: OPEN FOR EVERYTHING / Photo Thomas Aurin. Interview: Marie Proffit