Interview Mayfest – MAYK – Director Kate Yedigaroff: “Do we doggedly keep on trying to deliver although we would have had to compromise extremely on quality scope, breadth and impact?”

Kate Yedigaroff

Mayfest is Bristol’s unique festival of contemporary theatre, dedicated to presenting a broad range of unusual, playful and ambitious work from leading theatre makers from Bristol, the UK and beyond

Kate Yedigaroff is co-director of Mayfest.
We are at the Watershed in Bristol – total brilliant cinema & digital creativity hub–  by the docks. Amazing.

Here is what we discussed…

Kate Yedigaroff

Kate Yedigaroff

Hi Kate, first thing is first: can we talk about THAT The Stage headline and the whole Mayfest Festival going bi-annual thing. 
We have made the decision to pause and we made it for lots of reasons. Of course, the thing that was picked up was that part of that reason was to do with the current funding landscape. We decided to pause because although we are an NPO this is only a part of the picture and we had had a bad year in terms of additional fundraising amongst other things. These decisions are hard – do we doggedly keep on trying to deliver although we would have had to compromise extremely on quality scope, breadth and impact?  Or do we take a breath and give time and space to strategic thinking and creating a really good festival for 2018 and beyond.  We’ve been going year on year for some years and there is a kind of breathlessness to that – it was getting to a point where we were being responsive all the time, rather than looking at where we actually are, contexts are shifting, the world is changing etc etc. Also our other producing work is growing and growing.

Would it be accurate to say that Mayfest may have become a of victim of its own success? 
It feels entirely appropriate that this festival goes bi-annual. Our intention is that this festival spreads right out across Bristol. So, another reason for delivering every other year is to build relationships that are going to take time, planting seeds for really exciting collaborations to grow and extending our national and international relationships too.

Talk to me about Bristol. I love Bristol. Do you? 
Bristol is an extraordinary place and I’ve found it impossible to leave. There is an ever shifting gang of artists making work, and a strong core. Strong networks and great audiences. Mayfest started at BOV in 2003 and at that point it was a programme of work in the studio that was deliberately being the alternative offer to a classical main house programme. It very quickly became clear that there was a huge community of artists and audiences that wanted to engage with it.

It seems like there is a lot of joined up thinking and collaborative team spirit, no?
There is a generosity here, and people’s peripheral vision is quite good but there is a lack of resource and at the moment there is not a lot of space to actually do stuff in. It’s tough for mid-career artists who are beginning to want and need to make work of scale and there isn’t enough hard cash and real opportunity to make those things happen.

What are the biggest challenges that you are hearing from the mouths of artists?

Lack of decent commissioning, co-production potential and proper supported development time, the scratch culture reigns supreme. Naturally people are frustrated as it’s getting harder to take risks on work that hasn’t been seen or artists that are ‘unknown’.  But if nobody’s going to take a punt how the hell are we going to move on from here.

You are co-director of Mayfest alongside Matthew Austin. What’s that relationship like? 
Matthew and I are very good friends and I suppose the ethos of the company is built on that – we are very different creatures but our tastes are mostly similar and we share a leaning to leftfield with a desire to not exclude. We are different spirits and we have different backgrounds. At work we pretty much share responsibility for everything but crudely speaking I’m more likely to be in a rehearsal room or having long meetings with artists about new ideas and he’ll be gathering speed with the important practical stuff that makes the work happen. It isn’t possible to think of doing this without him. We seem to make sense.

So, no festival this year. What have you got coming up?

Part of not doing a festival this year is a load of other projects that we are producing – in May we are premiering a show with a company called Firebird theatre. They are a company of disabled actors and they are making an autobiographical show that amongst other things celebrates 25 years of them making theatre. There are also the beginnings of a really exciting project with Stillhouse and LIFT. New works in development with Sleepdogs, The British Paraorchestra, Jo Bannon. And we are developing a programme of presented work outside Mayfest –  new ways of staying in touch with our audiences and experimenting with new things.

What is the Fringe culture like in Bristol?
The Wardrobe Theatre is a great project that’s becoming a big deal quite quickly. A lovely space with a really lively theatre. Brunswick Court, Residence and Interval – groups of independent artists who are co-working and experimenting with new ways of peer to peer support etc.

Who has been your mentor? Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
I feel quite lucky to have been well supported in Bristol – Dick Penny – CEO of Watershed – really backed me when I needed it –Tom Morris and Emma Stenning at the Old Vic too.

As we are all running to stand still and spinning plates, do you ever stop and take time to think about your own professional development?
I am more and more interested in finding new ways of creating unusual projects with greater and deeper public engagement. I’d like more time to explore this.  I find it quite easy to have a crisis of meaning – is this all enough?  There are so many people really being fucked over.  What can we do? Let’s not sit in an echo chamber etc etc. I wonder if there will become a way that my theatre producing can connect more overtly to these questions.
And I want to make sure that I keep trying to be a good mum. And that is constant learning. I have a son. I want to help him to be a happy man. Able to be vulnerable and silly and to find power in that too.