Analysis. Behind the scenes of two leading performing arts festivals in the world

Oana Vasiliu 13/10/2017 | 15:39

In the artistic scene of superlatives, I was lucky enough to attend two of the most well-known performing arts festivals of the world this summer: the 70th edition of The Edinburgh International Festival (Edinfest), the world’s leading multi-genre arts festival, and the 24th edition of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival (FITS), in the top three of the world’s most famous theatre festivals. But, are the two events comparable?

The highest level of excellence

On both scenes, top performing arts companies come from all over the world to present their work to a large and diverse audience, both connoisseurs and the general public. While Edinfest’s brings together theatre, dance, opera, contemporary music and classical music under the same main event, not to mention literature, arts and film with their own festivals within the main festival, FITS manages to attract new international artists mainly from theatre field yearly, some of them for the first time in Romania. I was extremely happy to be one of the people who had already seen Maria Pages Company’s performance Yo, Carmen on the Sibiu scene, while critics applauded the same performance during Edinfest. Furthermore, in terms of dazzling performances on the Sibiu scenes, I was proudly able to boast to Edinfest’s communication team that Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Batsheva Dance Company and Vertigo Dance Company were in Romania, not to mention the astonishing performance of Mikhael Baryshnikov presenting Brodsky/Baryshnikov show.

 Taking a look at the numbers

Incomparable, to say the least. Although the official numbers for Edinfest 2017 haven’t been released yet, for the 2016 edition, 58 percent of income was generated through earned income, 42 percent came from public sector grants and earned income included 30 percent from ticket sales and 25 percent from fundraising, including corporate, individual giving, trusts & foundations and international partners, while 3 percent was generated from sources such as trades and publications. The 2016 International Festival welcomed audiences from 84 countries and over 2,400 artists from 36 nations for a very successful program. The overall attendance was over 452,000, with ticket sales income surpassing all previous records by reaching nearly GBP 4.3 million (GBP 3.58 million net). According to their data, each year the festival grows by 1-2%, so, you do the math for the 2017 edition.

In 2016, FITS had only a budget of EUR 9 million, having on stage 2850 artists from 70 countries within 449 events. In terms of growth, FITS 2017, on the other hand, presented 503 indoor and outdoor events this year, whereas 3,278 artists from 72 countries were on stage in 71 venues. There were approximately 68,000 visitors per day, while the total budget was EUR 12 million, out of which only 24 percent came from public sector funding. For all indoor performances, 27,000 tickets were on sale. As I said before, the festivals are incomparable in terms of numbers, but highly comparable in terms of quality and program.


Closing theatre performance of Edinfest 2017

Giving back to the community

People come to visit Edinburgh from across the globe to share their passion for arts, culture and ideas. In their official presentation, Edinfest mentions that “the International Festival strives to be resolutely international in its outlook and it remains grounded in the city of Edinburgh and is committed to delivering extensive cultural, economic and social benefits to Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK”.  And citizens of Edinburgh seem extremely proud of what’s happening in their city.

On the other hand, people come to visit Sibiu and find out that the entire medium-sized city is actively participating in the festival, making the streets of Sibiu the biggest cultural spot due to the proximity of each and every location of the festival. Furthermore, the lack of traditional cultural spaces “forces” the organizers to find alternative spaces, moving the vibe of the festival to the suburbs, making it a complete experience of a rather small, but highly important festival.

Feedback form from me as participant

In many ways, Edinfest is breathtaking. What I would like to see at FITS, in line with the Edinfest model, are some communications lines. It’s absolutely incredible to see that the entire town has the same visual identity – the yellow surface written with simple black, as well as festival’s bars numbered from 1 to 520 (as far as I remember, I saw a pub with the number 520), as well as something as provocative and moving as Letters Live’s performance. And why not, more music – whether classical or contemporary.

In all ways, FITS is still an enigma for me because each and every year the program is more and more impressive, taking into consideration the lack of vision and investment for culture in Romania. However, what I missed at Edinfest was the Balkan spirit, the warmth of the people, the joy and the feelings that I captured during our local festival. Although no Romanian representation was staged at Edinfest, I was happy to read the outstanding reviews for the new version of Romanian Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, probably one of the best plays that theatre has at the present.

Photo credit: Lucian Popescu

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