Sprint @ Camden People’s Theatre: Matt Ball

Written for http://www.whatsonstage.com

Chatting to Matt Ball about the 14th Sprint Festival it suddenly hits me that Camden People’s Theatre are the Grandaddy of the current contemporary art festival scene. Fourteen years is quite a legacy and this longevity must be encouraging for newer endeavours like Forest Fringe and the Fierce Festival. “That’s a nice way to look at it,” Ball quietly says, “if you look at everyone who’s been through the building, it does seem to be a Who’s Who of contemporary performance.”

Set up in 1994, CPT has long been working at blending the boundaries between theatre and live art. In 1997 Sprint was established out of a desire to widen the audience base for innovative performances with short runs. “If we put it in a festival and we package it that way, more people will see it,” Ball explains.

Running throughout March it’s an eclectic programme and one not driven by a personal taste or agenda, “this year we’ve got everything from a children’s contemporary clown show to someone suspended by their hair in space.” A quick look at the programme certainly seems to reveal a vibrant mixture of challenging and easier to swallow pieces including a one man opera, a travelling sound library, a chance to enact your own kitchen sink drama and a performance encountered entirely in pitch black.

This variety comes from a truly democratic selection process of three strands. Along with work that CPT has had a hand in developing, and work selected during the year (both from London and nationally), they also have an open submission process to the programme. “The open submission allows us to encounter emerging artists we may not have heard about. As an artist I first encountered Sprint this way and it was incredibly helpful to my development.”

That Ball himself is one of CPT’s Sprint successes is a testament to the festival’s encouragement of new artists. This year Starting Blocks has taken this ethos one step further; a peer-supported group of five artists and companies have been given a ten-week period, moulding, shaping and creating new pieces of work together – they will be featured in Sprint in a day of work-in-progress sharings on 13 March. “It’s very much a pilot year for it,” Ball says cautiously, “we’re trying it out and it’s producing some really interesting work. It’s very much not about producing finished pieces for the festival, it’s trying to support people, give them more opportunities to make work and space and time.”

I’m sure he must love all his artists equally, but who particularly is Ball looking forward to most from this year’s Sprint Festival? He laughs Analogue’s Lecture Notes on a Death Scene… they are a really good young company starting to get the recognition they deserve touring nationally and internationally.”

He thinks for a moment and then speaks as though almost to himself “Michael Pinchbeck’s The End, it’s the last piece of solo work he’s going to make so it’s going to be quite strange for me.” He recollects himself firmly, “I’ve seen all of his work, so to see it finish… will be nice to have him do that here.”

Sprint Festival – 2011 runs from 1 March to 27 March 2011. Click here for full listing details for the 2011 festival.

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