A huge cube-shaped blackboard recently appeared outside Brighton’s Jubilee Library. Passers-by have been eagerly chalking up their responses to the simple statement, ‘Before I Die I Want To…’ Many answers are fun and flippant (“See Daenerys burn Cersei Lannister”), while others are touching, emotional expressions of privately held hopes and dreams (“Make peace with my mum”). This installation by artist Candy Chang sets the stage for SICK! Festival, which kicks off in full on March 20th.
With a tagline of ‘Life, Death, Survival’, SICK! Festival clearly has its sights set on the big themes. The ambitious five day event on Sussex University campus brings the newly reopened Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) into an unlikely yet pleasing partnership with the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), to provide a programme of events which encourage free dialogue between disciplines, and raise questions about what it’s like to be human. “The challenges we face in our daily lives”, say the organisers, “are about the people we are and the society we live in.” SICK! Festival places these concerns under the microscope, examining them in a week of dramatic performances, art and interactive discussions.
ACCA’s main auditorium showcases several headline performances by established artists – each including a post-show discussion between creatives and academics. On Monday 20th March, choreographer Koen de Preter presents To Belong, a collaboration with Theater Stap which sees a group of learning disabled performers explore group dynamics, belonging and exclusion. De Preter’s work with non-professional performers has allowed him to create a natural, unselfconscious form of dance, and To Belong has been rewarded with standing ovations for its performances in Europe.
Friday 24th, meanwhile, sees a particularly intriguing double bill of thematically related performances. THEATREclub kick things off with The Game, an experimental show in which five local male volunteers (chosen in advance) participate in on-stage scenarios related to the act of buying sex. The piece, already nominated for several awards, is based on the real testimony of female sex workers.
Later the same evening, Daniel Hellmann describes his experience as a male prostitute in the solo piece, Traumboy. Whilst playing out the differing roles he adopts for customers, the audience is left to ponder the degree to which the ‘Daniel’ who narrates this show is distinct from Hellmann, professional dancer and actor.
ACCA’s small studio spaces play host to a number of more intimate dramatic performances by emerging talents, among them Afreena Islam’s Daughters Of The Curry Revolution (Weds 22nd March). In this solo piece presenting the story of her childhood hanging out in her Dad’s restaurant, Islam ponders her father’s journey to this country, and what it meant for her. “I’ve never told my dad that I love him”, she says, “and it would be contrived if I ever did. We’re not a very lovey-dovey family. But I guess this performance is something of a love letter, maybe?”
A series of associated live discussions also take place in venues across Sussex campus. Staff Stories, usually a closed workplace event, goes public for the first time (Tuesday 21st March), as frontline healthcare workers share their personal experiences and discuss them with the audience in the BSMS lecture theatre.
Visitors to ACCA are also encouraged to drop into the Jane Attenborough Studio, free of charge, to a screening of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film HUMAN – a collection of real stories told firsthand by people from all over the world (Mon, Tues and Thurs-Sat). Meanwhile, in the ACCA café, fifteen short documentary films on disability, commissioned especially for SICK!, play throughout the festival week.
Check out the full festival guide online for listings, ticket information and double-bill deals on all 29 SICK! Festival events
SICK! Festival, 20th-25th March 2017
Photos: Daughters Of The Curry Revolution (Tamsin Drury), The Game (Fiona Morgan), Before I Die (Trevor Coe), Traumboy (Raphael Hadad).