Interview With…Tom Mansfield

Emma Clarendon spoke to Artistic Director of Upstart Theatre and the DARE Festival, Tom Mansfield about what audiences can expect from this year’s festival at Shoreditch Town Hall… 

Tom Mansfield Headshot.jpg

Hi Tom, thanks so much for talking to me. What can audiences expect from this year’s DARE festival? My pleasure, thanks for having me! DARE is an explosion of new and innovative ideas in the world of theatre and performance. Depending on which day you come to the festival, you could see up to six shows, two installations, a workshop, a discussion event. All the work in DARE Festival is at the very early stages of its development, so it’s a chance to see the egg as it hatches, to meet the artists and writers and performers and directors and find out what’s inspiring them. I always feel like everyone who comes to DARE will see at least one thing that they’d never even imagined before!

What was the idea behind this year’s festival? It’s our third year of the festival and this year we’ve chosen to theme the programme around the idea of ‘power’. Over the last few years we’ve seen so many examples in the world of people feeling powerless. The Brexit referendum revealed this huge political divide and now people on both sides feel like power is being taken away from them in different ways. The #MeToo movement has been all about women reclaiming their own agency in the face of appalling, everyday oppression. And we’ve been seeing people of colour in this country and elsewhere face racism and violence. We wanted to create a space for people to talk about all of these questions in a safe space, but also a joyful space – to celebrate the power, ideas and passion of artists from a wide range of genders, races, nationalities and classes.

What would you say the main highlights for this year’s DARE festival are?  I love the whole line-up so I’m not going to single out any of the shows themselves – but I’m particularly looking forward to Saturday 27th October when we’ll put on the whole lineup in one day! It’s a marathon day for everyone performing, and for the festival team, but it’s so thrilling to see all of the different shows coming together. And we finish the thing off with a cabaret party which is a wonderful celebration of the creativity and, yes, daring of our audience and artists.

How did you go about selecting pieces for the festival? Most of the shows in the festival are selected through an open callout. We asked applying artists to send us a short description of their idea in words or on video, asking them how it related to the main festival theme and giving us a sense of what they’d done before. We invited a shortlist of artists to a selection workshop, where they got to try out the earliest stages of their ideas. We selected the final programme based on having the most diverse programme possible – in terms of the different ideas and themes in each piece, but also types of performance, the level of experience of the artists, and the different backgrounds everyone was coming from. And we chose to prioritise shows that felt like they were taking artistic risks – that’s why it’s called DARE Festival after all!

Was there any difficulties in coming up with the programme for the festival? We had loads of really great submissions and it’s really hard to boil everything down to the final twelve shows! We’re always keen to find the most diverse pool of artists possible so we try to spread the word as far and wide as we can, and there are challenges associated with that. But I’m thrilled with the final lineup and I think it’s a really great reflection of the different kinds of work and artists that are out there right now. Next year I’d love for the festival to get even bigger!

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s DARE festival? Like I said, the Saturday is going to be huge fun. For me though, I’m particularly excited because I’m making my first show in a couple of years – Kerensky Boulevard, which is a show about democracy seen through the lens of a fictional post-Soviet state. It’s quite nerve-wracking as it’s an interactive piece, and it’s quite hard to test that before the show day. But that’s what’s most exciting about it too!

Given the amount of new work that is emerging in general – do you think the festival will expand in the future? It’s a good question! We started off as a one-day festival, then in the second year we did two days, and now we’re onto three – so it feels like there’s a natural development in moving up to four days! The most important thing though is that we present the most exciting range of work that we can, and that we support the artists as much as possible. We work by offering people a small seed commission and then they fundraise for the rest of their costs, which works well at the moment but if funding gets tighter, maybe we need to look at supporting slightly fewer artists but with bigger commissions. What’s most thrilling about DARE to me is its range and diversity, so I’d love to see it expand – we just want to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that supports artists as much as possible.

By Emma Clarendon 

The DARE Festival will take place at Shoreditch Town Hall from the 25th to the 27th October. For more information visit:

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