The biennial decibel Performing Arts Showcase sees 50 artists and companies from across the spectrum of diversity arts present their work to a wide range of national and international producers and programmers. Such events are undoubtedly valuable for performers and delegates alike, but what is it that sets decibel apart?
The all-female performance group, Eggs Collective (pictured), will be presenting at decibel for the first time this year, performing a work-in-progress performance of their new show, The Life and Death of Eggs Collective.
Sara Cocker, a founding member of the group, attended the 2009 showcase as a delegate, and found the four-day, Arts Council-run event “almost mind-blowing. There was just this array of performances every day, this sort of relentless stream of new work to see, coming from lots of new companies. But there were also established companies putting on work that wasn’t finished and it just made it feel a bit more achievable and realistic.”
Cocker’s experience is by no means uncommon and is indicative of one of the central strengths of decibel. The main objective of the showcase is to increase the touring potential of diverse artists, but such is the mix of personalities, the varied nature of the programme and the buzzy atmosphere of the event, that artists come away from it inspired and encouraged.
Visual artist Hetain Patel (pictured above) brought his debut theatre piece, Ten, to decibel 2009 and was thrilled by the positive response he received from both delegates and other artists, which ultimately led to his touring the show in the UK and internationally in 2010.
“It was an amazing opportunity for me to be able to show work to so many delegates at one time, especially when it was my first foray into this kind of arena,” he says. “There are other makers, artists, choreographers, writers, who are more established than you, and you’re getting feedback from them in a really positive light. At such a vulnerable stage, it’s a real confidence boost.”
The showcase’s vibrant atmosphere is also appealing to the delegates that attend. Gareth Lloyd Roberts is a producer and programmer for the Wales Millennium Centre. He has booked work from the 2007 and 2009 showcases and is returning this year because of the way the festival’s organisers “facilitate for people like myself to go and see as much work as possible”.
But it’s not just the programmed events that offer opportunities to discover exciting new work, says Roberts. It’s also about “those moments where you happen to be passing from one theatre to the next where you might catch something that you perhaps hadn’t considered going to see.”
This is the type of encounter that Nike Jonah, decibel’s Project Manager, really encourages, for the artists involved as well as the delegates. Artists presenting at the showcase are able to attend not just the scheduled talk and networking events, but also one another’s performances, allowing them to take advantage of informal networking opportunities that can prove extremely valuable in the long term. Jonah explains that an artist “might sit next to somebody and realise that they’re a programmer from a venue that they’ve been trying to connect with. The programmer will critique the piece of work they’ve seen and they’ll have a discussion about it…What that does for the artist is that it helps them find their language, it helps them find a way to articulate themselves and find something unique about what they’re presenting”.
This year’s showcase will cater to more delegates than ever, and boasts a new trade fair event, as well as a series of inspirational, TED-style talks from figures outside the arts. In addition, this is the first time that disability arts have been added to the festival’s diversity remit, further increasing the range of exciting work on offer. decibel is turning up the volume on diversity arts – are you tuned in?
decibel Performing Arts Showcase is taking place from 13 to 16 September 2011 in Manchester. Find out more.