An interview with Kerstin Schroth, the new artistic director of Moving in November festival, Helsinki, Finland. Done on April 9th, 2020, during the lockdown.
How are the preparations of the festival going?
Luckily, we have started quite early with the preparations and a lot of decisions have already been made. I spent some time in Helsinki in the end of last year and in the beginning of this year getting to know the festival, artists, and partner organizations. I engaged in many conversations about the festival, sensed the atmosphere, and built bridges that allow us now to continue working from a distance.
I feel that the preparations of the festival are a life saver under the circumstances we are in right now. To continue thinking this first edition of my three-year term as the artistic director puts my concentration mostly elsewhere, allows me to think about the future and artistic content.
What are the leading questions that are reshaping the direction of the festival?
When I started to think about the festival while being present in Helsinki and getting to know everybody, the question of the local in relation to the international started to become more and more important for me. Moving in November has been a festival that brought first and foremost international artists to Helsinki and engaged each year in one local co-production together with the production house Zodiak. I am interested in questioning how a festival that has so far invited mainly contemporary art from abroad, can engage with the local artist scene in a stronger way. I would like to give space to the local art scene in an equal way as to the artists coming from abroad.
Another question that I have been busy with is the question of time and temporality. I like to play around with the notion of time. Giving time has been always an important factor in my working and private life. For this year’s edition I also looked for pieces that play with another temporality. Pieces that take place in other spaces than the classical black box and that propose another relation to the audience. The idea is to make space for pieces, that often fall out of the usual logics of festival programs, in terms of time, space and audience capacity.
The third working question for the festival appeared while taking part in the festival in 2019. I was present to get to know the team, meet artists, collaborators, people from partner organizations, as well as the audience of the festival. I wanted to observe and engage in conversations. A strong part of my practice as an artistic director is in being present, giving time, listening, and observing.
My attention during last year’s festival was strongly drawn towards the social aspect. I wondered why people so often left so quickly after the performances. Having gotten used to French habits, I was not used to that anymore. I took this observation as a starting point and got hooked to the area in-between the theater space and the outside world. How could the festival invite people to stay and how could we create a space where people would feel invited to have discussions and encounters also with the invited artists.
What is going to be different in the coming years?
I have been thinking about Moving in November and the role the festival could have in the city of Helsinki, in addition to the mission that it has already. Normally the festival takes place over a limited amount of time. In combination with this short and intense explosion of festivity, I’m interested in seeing the festival spilling over its set time frame.
I enjoy the thought that the festival appears from time to time in different forms throughout the year for example as a residency place, a space for mentoring, as a host of conferences, in collaboration with various partner organization and artists, both local and from abroad. As much as I like to see the festival spilling over time, I would also like to see it spreading even further over the city. We have started the conversation with potential new venues and organise performances in two new places already this year.
One direct change is that this year the festival will be working with a dramaturge for social choreography. I accidently had a very inspiring talk with choreographer Pietari Kärki during the festival last year about the social layer of Moving in November. I invited them to join the festival team this year to engage in a dialog with me on the question of the social. We are working especially on the idea of an invitation for the audience to inhabit the space between the theater and the outside world. In relation to this we are planning for example a series of conversations, the so-called Soup Talks, that will take place every mid-day in one of our festival venues.
Speaking about change, it is maybe important to mention that continuity is an integral aspect of my thinking. Especially regarding Moving in November, a festival I always cherished for its independent approach, for its close and very committed relations to artists. Of course, there will be changes because I’m another person and I bring another energy with me. But apart from this, we will continue to operate in this spirit and there will be a continuity regarding some of the artists that have been presented during the past years.
What have been your strategies for coping with the social isolation?
In the first week of the lockdown of Paris, I panicked about the whole situation and was totally paralysed. Somehow, I decided, that thinking from a moment to the next, from hour to hour, from one day to the other, would help me to find a new daily rhythm. It has been important to accept that there is something at the moment that concerns the whole world and that we have to find a strategy how to deal with it together.
My strategy for coping is to go out in the morning to have air and to run, so that I am able to sit and circle around in a small space the whole rest of the day. As I mentioned earlier, I feel that I’m in an extremely lucky situation because I have work to do. Working with an independent initiative like Moving in November allows us to take certain decisions later than bigger structures, to act in a more flexible way. We have been busy evaluating in which other ways we can support artists at the moment, knowing, that they are again one of the weakest links in the whole line.
It feels encouraging that the festival period is only in November, we might be so lucky to find each other back in a theater space, surrounded by artists and inspiring works.
The interview was held by Minerva Juolahti, the festivals’ new press and communication manager, who started working in the beginning of April. The interview took place on April 9th, 2020.
Photo: Marc Domage