‘There will always be a home here for artists’: Iris Theatre’s Summer Festival – interview

In Features, Interviews, London theatre, Native by Justin Murray

A few months ago, we reported that Iris Theatre, which operates from St Paul’s Church, had launched an urgent appeal to save their venue from imminent closure after being forced to cancel their summer season. Now, lights still on, they’re shaping up for their Summer Festival, a socially distanced live event in the heart of Covent Garden. I speak to Paul-Ryan Carberry, Artistic Director of Iris Theatre, about what they’ve got in the pipeline. 

When we last talked in May you were fighting for survival – and you’re still here!

Yes! The generosity we’ve seen as a result of that call for support has knocked us sideways. People listened to the call for action and responded, which is incredibly heartwarming. We’re so grateful to those who donated tickets, or just gave a one-off tenner here and there. And after that appeal, our Donorbox account soared through the roof. It all makes a difference. As a small charity, giving even £5 a month in that way is incredibly valuable.  And in many ways, this event is a direct thank you to those who’ve helped us through. 

So, what’s the Summer Festival all about?

It’s almost like trying to cram everything we’d want in a season into a two-week event that celebrates early-career artists in our community. That’s the word we keep coming back to: celebration. We’re pulling together a well-rounded offering of five events, all with different topics and themes, and tentatively welcome audiences back into a live setting.

The majority are new pieces of work, and we hope there’s something in there for everyone – we’ve got a family show, and some music and spoken word as well as theatrical pieces.

Amazing! Tell us a bit about the shows you’ve got in the line-up. 

First up we’ve got Dear Peter, a solo show by Evangeline Dickson. It’s very much a coming-of-age piece where Peter Pan takes a woman on a journey through her early life on her 25th birthday. It’s intimate, honest, imaginative – and a show that we felt just made sense to be in the garden at Iris; we hope it’ll feel quite enchanting. 

Next up there’s Words I’ve Said, a work in progress piece from Asa Haynes and Jesse Bateson. It’s another solo performance, focusing on identity, family, and those we’ve loved and lost. Jesse’s work is always fiercely intelligent and we really wanted to have something in the lineup that was being written right now. 

For families, we’ve got Fiona and the Fox, from Wild Geese Theatre, a new show that uses music and physical performance to explore our environment, the changing city, and the world around us. We know that despite social distancing they’ll make something that feels interactive and engaging. 
On the 22nd August we’ve got Platform, a relaxed day of music and spoken word. This one’s a free event (as long as you reserve a bench online). The bar’s open from 2pm – come down for the acts, stay for the beer and the garden party vibe.

Finally, we end the festival with Saint Anne Comes Home, a new show by Jack Miles, and directed by Martha Geelan. This was one of those pieces of work that just fell on our desk and we knew we had to get it on. It’s a musical primarily using folk music, exploring alcoholism, community, and coming together. This one’ll be on the steps of the church which is the perfect home for it. 

 

Wild Geese Theatre in rehearsal at Iris

 

And what are you doing to make sure the event stays safe?

Obviously we really want people to feel protected, and we’re taking every precaution. It’s all outdoors, and we’ve reduced the capacity of our garden to 72 to allow audiences to remain socially distanced. We’re selling tickets for benches rather than individual seats, meaning two adults from a household or bubble can sit together and still be away from everyone else. We’re also asking audiences and staff to wear masks. Beyond that, all the shows have been rehearsed and performed in a socially distanced way. It makes for some fun creative limitations artistically but the artists have taken those remits and worked with them creatively, which is very much the name of the game at the moment. 

So, what was the inspiration for this event? Why take the risk and put something out now? 

Sure, we could have not done this and saved ourselves the headache. But we wanted to make sure we were standing by the artists who look to us for support, and creating a platform even in the direst of times. Certainly among those n our community, there’s a concern that people are going to lean more on more established artists and names right now, and we wanted to plant our flag in the ground and reassure artists that there will always be a home here for more grassroots work, and stand true to our ethos and our mission. 

Obviously it’s also a reminder that we’re still out here, and we still need to raise money to survive. But this isn’t about financial gain for us so much as about the passion of getting something on. I’d like to think it’s an act of defiance, in a sense – it’s our way of saying no matter what else is happening, we will continue to find ways to make work and support each other.

It’s been an incredibly hard few months for everyone, but when you back artists into a corner they come out swinging. 

Iris Theatre’s Summer Festivals runs over two weeks from the 14th-29th August. Book your tickets here. 

Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).

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Justin Murray on InstagramJustin Murray on Twitter
Justin Murray
Justin Murray is a director and theatremaker whose work has been seen nationally and internationally. He recently directed The Wizard Of Oz at The Scoop in More London Riverside as part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. Justin was associate director of Actors of Dionysus for whom he directed Antigone (R&D and national tour). Justin is artistic director of Catharsis and has directed their previous five shows, Hippolytus (Hope Theatre), Hecuba (White Bear Theatre), purged (Brighton Fringe), The Complete Greek Tragedies (In One Hour) (Rosemary Branch) and Ashurbanipal (The Crypt Gallery). As associate director: FILTH (Camden Fringe) and Rounds (Southwark Playhouse / Bolton Octagon). Other work includes Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Assisting includes Helen for Actors of Dionysus, The Odyssey at More London Riverside, and The Cherry Orchard at The Union Theatre (both for Phil Wilmott).