Laura Nanni on Programming and Emerging Themes

We asked Festival Director [color]Laura Nanni[/color] to talk a bit about how she programs the festival and what we can look for at this year’s Rhubarb. Just something to keep you on the edge of your seat before the full programming announcement on January 3.


This photo is of my ‘festival board’ –what I use to map out the programming for Rhubarb. The schedule usually goes through many changes before it takes its final shape. There are a lot of holes on this board made from adding, subtracting and moving pieces of the puzzle around.

Since Rhubarb’s focus is new work and radical experimentation, a majority of the performances that you’ll see are just a seed of an idea when they come to us. This year 140 projects were proposed—more than ever before.

The Festival is a mix of different forms alongside each other: experiments in theatre, dance, music, performance art, hybrid forms. Some projects are meant for public space (Mobile Works), some as intimate experiences between one audience member and one performer at a time (One to One Performance Series) and others as short works for the stage (Mainstage Performances).

Certain themes and concepts begin to surface from the submissions. This year, emerging from much of the work has been the concept of ritual: everyday rituals, performance as ritual, social rituals, activist rituals, rituals of healing, rituals of sex, and rites of passage. Themes of memory, family, and the tension between the past and future further tie pieces together.

Since audiences are often not seeing just one show, but experiencing many works back-to-back over the course of an evening, I’m constantly considering how the projects work in conversation with one another; how they support and contrast each other. What this means is you’ll see a shadow-puppet play about life and death, colliding with a dance piece recalling AIDS activism in the 80s, to be followed by a feminist band queering cock-rock hits, for example.

Artists come to Rhubarb with ideas they don’t feel they can try anywhere else, they come with ideas that scare the shit out of them, with stories that are personal and necessary to tell; with approaches that take them and audiences in new directions. These works all share an unapologetic and adventurous gut. I love that. I have a feeling you will too.