How BE FESTIVAL is transforming the theatre experience

Artistic director Miguel Oyarzun on blurring the boundary between audience and artist.


David Jenkins


At the height of summer 2019, the Birmingham European Festival is celebrating its tenth edition in typical style. It’s the destination to indulge your taste for innovative and unique repertory theatre, as the organisers have brought together a programme of performances, workshops and talks that can be enjoyed in the comfortable (and well catered) environs of a top flight festival.

Highlights this year include: a UK premiere of acrobatic wild west tale ‘Deadtown’ by the Forman Brothers Theatre – connected to the late great Oscar-winner Miloš Forman; ‘PUNK‽’ which is a headbanging dance piece with added pogo sticks; and A Land Full of Heroes, a documentary theatre meets auto-fictional work centring on the life of Romanian writer Carmen-Francesca Banciu. To hear more about how BE FESTIVAL came together, we spoke with one half of its artistic direction team, Miguel Oyarzun.

LWLies: When you were at the stage of building a programme, what kind of material were you looking for?

Oyarzun: As Artistic Directors of a European festival (along with Isla Aguilar), our responsibility is to give the audience a taste of what is currently happening in the European performing arts scene. At the heart of our programme lies our ethos of crossing borders, which isn’t just a reference to the countries that our artists come from; it extends to breaking down linguistic barriers, the traditional boundaries across artistic disciplines and those which may lie between artist and audience.

Each evening has been curated to provide the public with an enriching journey through a range of work that takes risks in its content, explores the boundaries of performing arts, inspires us through its form, or provides us with an incredible and fun ride. This year, as we are celebrating our 10th edition, we have been particularly interested in work around the themes of memory and archive.

How do you get people to see the more experimental pieces?

The evening programme includes three pieces, offering access to a wide range of work as well as minimising the risk taken by coming to see unfamiliar work. This format allows us to present in one evening the experimental alongside the more accessible. We feel it is very important that attendees to the festival are sometimes challenged but at the same time that they are pleased with their experience.

The festival seems to be fuelled by a very positive energy – is this a conscious effort to combat the sense of desolation in the world right now?

We would like to trigger a dialogue in the auditorium on the work we experience and more widely on what is in the art that moves, provokes, inspires, makes us dream, mobilises and ultimately changes us as audiences and as people. At the festival, we create space for the exchange between audience and artists, through meals, hosting, discussions, feedback and workshops, making the festival a week long laboratory to share and explore current issues through art. The festival becomes a temporary community where we can celebrate our differences.

Many of the theatre pieces and performance events involve a lot of interaction with the audience. Do you find that audiences are more inclined to be involved with these types of performance than they once were?

We are interested in work that transcends the fourth wall and that proposes innovative ways of addressing or interacting with the audience, in order to provide an active experience. We are interested – and feel the audience is too – in the community ritual of being all in the same room, which makes it unique compare to what new technologies can offer to us at home. Artists are looking into exploring this too, through relational theatre or simply acknowledging the situation we are all in at that particular moment. Audiences are also more used to this and are looking for immersive proposals.

What do you think is your biggest personal coup in this year’s line-up?

We have looking to include a large scale work in the programme for a while. And this anniversary feels like the right moment to do so. For the first time, we will be presenting a piece in the main house of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. We have been looking for an international piece that is accessible to audiences of all ages where movement is at the core. We found ‘Deadtown’ by the Foreman Brothers, a piece that delightfully brings cinema alive mixing it with circus and paying homage to silent films and westerns.

The 10th anniversary BE FESTIVAL takes place from 27 June to 6 July. For info on listings and tickets, head to

Published 19 Jun 2019

Tags: BE Festival

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