Wherever you look during the four crazy days of the Stockton International Riverside Festival there will be something to persuade you that this is a place where dreams can be realised.
Reuben Kench is head of culture and leisure at Stockton Council and it’s no surprise that he is heading a working party set up by the new North East Cultural Partnership to look at how the region can get the most out of the festivals for which it has become renowned.
“How do you make the whole greater than the sum of the parts?” he asks rhetorically when quizzed about what the task entails.
The annual Stockton festival, known as SIRF, has built up an enviable reputation over the past 26 years and is a pretty big ‘part’ in its own right, bringing thousands to pack the streets of the town.
Talking at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Reuben says the audience for contemporary art in the region is growing as people become more informed and confident about it.
“I think we’ve done that in the North East already with street theatre. When companies ask if they can bring a work to Stockton, particularly in the early phase of its development, it’s because they feel they will get an informed and engaged opinion.
“I’ve seen shows in other places where audiences respond politely but are quite reserved. In Stockton, where they have seen a lot of street theatre, they will shout if they like something and also if they don’t.
“I think there are ways in which we can make people outside the region more aware of the great assets we have. SIRF is one of them. People who come to the festival for the first time are often gobsmacked at the scale of what they’re seeing.”
SIRF 2014 is bringing more than 100 theatre, dance and music productions to the town from July 31 to August 3. They range in scale from the intimate to the spectacular.
The festival opens on July 31 with Safe House, a work which explores the significance of home and the importance of being part of a community.
Leicester-based company Metro-Boulot-Dodo collaborated with Wired Aerial Theatre to make the piece using large-scale projections and aerial performance.
On Trinity Green performers will scale the walls of a mysterious house. They will come out of windows, climb onto the roof and fly around as rooms, memories and characters are revealed.
One of many things to look out for on August 1 will be Osadia, a double act who intend to set up an unusual hair salon on Stockton High Street.
They will seek volunteers on which to create weird and wonderful hair sculptures before releasing them to wander the streets of the town as walking works of art.
Also on Friday you can see the UK premiere of Artica, a new show by Spanish company Ponten Pie.
The temperature inside Trinity Church will be lowered for what is billed as a “sensory adventure”. Audience members will be greeted by curious characters and offered a special coat to wear before being invited to immerse themselves in a world of nostalgia.
Another festival highlight will be The Roof by British company Fuel Theatre. The organisers call it “a thrilling suspended reality show” and say “audience members will listen in on the mind of a hero through headphones as performers mix free running and contemporary dance to tell this fast-paced tale of survival”.
The SIRF Community Carnival, with the theme Voyages of Discovery, will take place on August 2 between 12 noon and 5pm. Hundreds of people, suitably decked out, will parade from Church Road, along the High Street and to the Riverside in a noisy and colourful celebration of adventure.
The festival finale, on the evening of August 3, will feature Les Tambours de la Muerte. This is the latest show by French company Transe Express which was inspired by the Mexicans’ raucous and extravagant Day of the Dead celebrations.
Again it involves a parade, starting at 9.30pm and following a similar route, and also “riotous music, dazzling costumes, giant puppets and spectacular pyrotechnics”.
There is much, much more in a similar vein and you can find details of all of it on www.sirf.co.uk