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Fierce Festival, Birmingham. Aaron Wright Interview: “I think we need more young artistic directors in the arts in the UK.”

Basically, right, Fierce Festival has announced the full programme of live art, theatre, dance, music, installations, activism, and parties taking over Birmingham from 16 – 22 October 2017

The festival explores themes as diverse as the rituals of clubbing, mental health, “fandom” and fan art, activism, queer culture and climate change the 2017 programme contains fifty events with five World Premieres, twelve UK premieres with artists hailing from ten countries across four continents.

I had a chat with the Artistic Director of Fierce, Aaron Wright about a whole manner of things.

Here is what we discussed.


Aaron Wright

Aaron Wright

Hello! Can you tell us about an average working day in the life of Aaron?
My day usually starts with a Berroca. Then I POWER WALK to the office with my head phones in listening to Diana Ross. I usually schedule meetings for earlier in the day, and then go and get my head down in the office with admin and emails in the afternoon. It’s a small organisation so I have a hand in everything, from long-term planning meetings and research to day to day office up keep, admin and production stuff. This week we’ve had to source a massive block of ice and a load of live flies for the festival. It’s rarely dull.

What are you secretly most excited about in this season?
I’ve personally selected everything in the programme, so I really do love it all. However I’m most excited for the debuts of the international artists who’ve never performer in the UK before – so Erin Markey’s cabaret show Boner Killer, Michele Rizzo’s incredible club dance piece HIGHER and Quarto’s brilliant Durational Rope piece, amongst others.

Bearing in mind that obviously all arts folk say “well I just do what I do” and so on, do keep an eye on the movements of directors you perceive to be your competitors?
I’ve only recently stepped into a director role, but I am aware that I’ve now got some brilliant director peers across the country. I love what Mike Pony is doing with Submerge Festival in Bristol and Amy Letman with Transform in Leeds. I think we need more young artistic directors in the arts in the UK. Fierce is quite distinct though, and so we don’t really have any direct competitors, not in the UK anyway. I love our “cousin festivals” In Between Time and SPILL, but they’re both very different – we complement each other really well. There are of course curators in Europe who I really respect and follow their programmes for tips on interesting artists, but Fierce also has a finger in really underground scenes of hard-core performance art and club stuff which isn’t being presented so much by publicly funded organisations. I think there is a culture in Europe of certain festivals all working with the same artists – and I don’t want to fall into that trap, but also – that’s how big work gets commissioned! Pooling resource is no bad thing. But I also hate artists being commodified; I don’t sit looking through brochures ‘picking’ which artists I want to ‘book’ for fierce. It’s all done through dialogue and relationships.

How important is access and inclusion when you are producing Fierce festival?
Access is fundamental. If people don’t feel comfortable enough to attend, then really why are we bothering. At Fierce we’re really trying to challenge dominant art hierarchies – asking lots of questions about what can be art, who it can be for and where it can happen. In this respect I think Fierce is pretty hot. The programme contains some challenging work but it’s all presented in quite an approachable way. Language is key. We’ve done a lot of work on that this time, but it could still go much further, which we’ll aim to do for the next one. The brochure is fun, a lot of the work is free, it’s presented in quite an informal style that tends to appeal to young curious audiences.

What is the most ambitious part of this programme?
Everything Fits In The Room is this incredible immersive dance work by Simone Aughterlony and Jen Rosenblit requires a big brick wall to be built in this colossal warehouse space in Digbeth – that’s going to be challenging. There’s also a new commission by artist Preach R. Sun from NYC which will see a procession from one venue to another, which involves an awful lot of planning. Luckily the Fierce team are brilliant at this sort of stuff! Also just the sheer scale of this year’s programme – we’ve consciously scaled things up, it felt like the right thing to do following on from the years of brilliant work Laura and Harun did establishing Fierce internationally and cementing a brilliant brand.

Where do you start organising 50 events, with 6 world premieres, 12 UK premieres and artists from 10 countries, across 3 counties?
As this is my first festival I’ve really been drawing on a lot of the research and relationships I built at my last job as Programmes Manager at the Live Art Development Agency – it’s great to be able to commission and programme artists that I got to know whilst I was working there. I also knew there were specific things I really wanted to do with this festival. I wanted to have a well-supported strand of Performance Art, which is often neglected by institutions, and I wanted to continue this enquiry into club culture, so quite quickly strands started to emerge which I then shaped the festival around. There are also loads of brilliant partners we work with in Birmingham, so speaking to all of them and what they all might be interested in collaborating on is a fundamental first step for each festival too.

Can you tell us a secret? 
The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein is a fake ass bitch with fake hair and sleeps with animals. Actually, hardly a secret. She’s Notorious (World Premiere at Fierce 2017!).

Birmingham has a lot going for it doesn’t it – what are your tips for visitors to the city? 
Food is my favourite thing in Brum – some great independent restaurants. There’s a fab stall in the Bullring markets selling vintage sportswear dead cheap, there’s lots of nice concrete too and canals. Some other rad organisations too – BCMG, Flatpack Film Festival, Supersonic Festival, Grand Union gallery etc. There’s a thriving arts scene. There’s a brilliant new wave of club kids here too, centred around the gay village – people like Yshee Black, Ginny Lemon, China Dethcrash, Lacey Lou and Auntie Jamie – all fierce people making Brum a more vibrant place to be with their nights Second Self and Church of Yshee.

What will success look like for you with Fierce Festival in 2017? 
That we might inspire a few people to quit their dull day jobs and become full time performance artists/X-rated cabaret artists/experimental theatre makers. You know you want to.

Fierce Festival runs between

16 – 22 October 2017 across Birmingham.


Fierce Festival intro from Fierce Festival on Vimeo.