Curator Interviews: Theatre with Marianne Maxwell

We caught up with one of our Theatre curators, Marianne Maxwell, to hear more about the process of selecting this year’s programme.

Marianne Maxwell is a Producer and Events manager based in Edinburgh, who works both with the National Theatre of Scotland and her own production company, Fair Monday.

How did you go about narrowing down the applicants to this year’s Hidden Door?

Well, firstly, it was really difficult! There was an amazing response from the open call. My first approach was to go with my gut instinct, to see if something was sparked in me and if I could see the nugget of a really great idea. Sometimes, the ideas were an instant yes, amazingly and really clear and thought-out, and other times it was more like “Yeah, I’d want to go and see that”. I tried to put myself in the place of an audience member, which made the whole process pretty instinctual, just choosing what I myself would love to see. And there were absolutely loads of those because the field was really, really strong. 

So the theatre curator team (me, Staci Shaw and David Martin) did that individually, then we came together and tried to see where our instincts overlapped. And, from there, we were able to narrow it down and get to a place where we were confident in who our strongest candidates were. That was quite a long list as well, because there were just loads of great ideas, so we just kept going, repeating the process and having long discussions to narrow it down to a program. It was really difficult! But at the bottom line it was about instinct, what resonated with us and makes you think “God, I would love to see that brought to life”.

Were you trying to explore any particular themes throughout the program, or did a lot of the themes that emerged come out of that gut instinct you described?

You know, we did have a conversation about themes before we sent out the open call. But, what I think now more than ever, emerging post-COVID into this era afterwards, I really wanted to see what artists themselves were thinking about, and what was important to them to express. So we entered the process with no set theme in mind, but instead just wondering what would come from it if we kept it broad and open. That way, it became clear what was important to the theatre makers themselves, and what they wanted to address and tackle through their art and, as you can see from the program, there’s a range of ideas and directions.

I think that will resonate with what audiences want to hear artists talking about, as well. I think it’s so important, at this point in time, that artists have the platform to connect with audiences and go “Here’s what’s happened to me over the past two years, here’s how I’m looking at it, and talking about it, and here’s how I want to put that on a stage for you to share these feelings with me”.

The performances take place in a few different spaces across the Royal High School, how much did the unique site play into your programming decisions? Were the spaces chosen for the performances deliberate?

It was sort of a balance. Because with Hidden Door, and especially this Hidden Door, the location is always really, really important – it’s a festival born out of the space that it’s held in, and it’s about finding ways of making the art work in the space, and making the space enhance that art. So, it’s a really lovely balance to try to achieve. Some of the work that we’ve selected is a response to the space, and those pieces are being created just now as the theatre makers have been able to get into the space and react to it.

But I have to say, although it’s an important element to consider, during the early stages I didn’t let the site influence things too much. We had it at the back of our minds, but we didn’t let that alter how we viewed the applications too much. Now we’re a bit further on in the process, we have the ideas and the spaces, so we’re working out how to make them work together.

For example, for some pieces the Pianodrome is really easy to adapt to, but for others it’s much more challenging as it’s a bit different from a traditional theatre space. And then we have a couple pieces which will respond to the location, and work with the audience in those locations, like SALTYDOLLS, who will be performing outdoors and drawing on the history of the Royal High School. And those are gonna be really exciting, and probably slightly different every night, because they’ll be interacting with the audience and space in a different way. It won’t be the audience coming and sitting and, you know, lights going down and all that kind of stuff, it’ll be something new and innovative. So it’s gonna be a really mixed bag.

The program does a great job of showcasing local performers, primarily from Edinburgh and Glasgow, was it a deliberate choice to highlight Scottish talent?

Personally, where the artists came from wasn’t in my mind at all when I went through the applications – it was first and foremost about the strength of the idea. However, the fact that the majority of the program comes from Glasgow and Edinburgh is, I think, a testament to just how much talent there is on our doorstep, and how much Scottish artists are needing a stage to put their work on, and a platform to be allowed to develop their ideas. So to me, it’s totally joyous that it’s predominantly Scottish. It could have just as easily been more varied in that respect, but the strength of the ideas speak for themselves.

It also plays into something that I’m aware of, which is that there aren’t that many platforms like Hidden Door available to artists, especially artists at certain points of their careers. We’re dedicated to allowing them to take chances, and letting them explore ideas, experiment and play around with form and location. There are an abundance of artists in Scotland who are ready to do this – we could have easily doubled or tripled the program if we had the time and the space! So no it wasn’t intentional, but it is something I’m proud of and excited for.

The program offers some less traditional and more experimental approaches to theatre, such as the multidisciplinary Sweætshops, or the experimental costuming of Dripping Tap Teatre. Was that something that drew you to certain applications, taking risks?

Yeah, definitely. I think the artists that applied to the open call, and the ones we ultimately selected, took  the challenge head-on of presenting their ideas in the unique forms that they felt drawn to exploring. So, what we get is this diverse range of approaches which explore what the term theatre actually means. And I think certainly, as a theatre fan and somebody who loves attending shows, I’m really ready for that! I’m ready for a mix, and a different and varied program of work, all in one place, which is what a festival setting gives you. Anyone can go to the theatre and see traditional play format, but at Hidden Door we have a chance to really play with that and create something new.

I noticed that a few of the works are politically focused, exploring themes such climate change and LGBT issues – how important to you was it to platform this kind of stuff?

For me personally, it was really, really important. I think we’ve all come out of an era that felt like it was shifting, politically and socially. What we’ve been waiting for is the opportunity for artists to start addressing what’s been happening in recent times. The political issues being discussed have come entirely from the work, from what’s important to the theatre makers themselves, not from the curators points of view at all.

There’s the macro issues, like climate change which Adrenalism will be tackling in such an innovative and above all entertaining way, and queer issues which Myskita Glamoor will be offering their unique perspective of. But, there’s also the smaller political stuff; the way that we are as humans, the small personal things that are actually really quite important to deal with; our image and self-help and all of these things that affect us deeply, which Jess Brodie & Victoria Bianchi will be tackling. And it’s all linked together, being a human in the wider world and being a human in your own world. I was so chuffed to be able to platform works that tackled these multilayered issues.

Are there any acts in particular that you’re particularly excited to see come together, and recommend that people try to see? How should audiences approach such a varied program?

Oh no, I want to name everything! It’s so hard because I’ve had the idea of these shows in my mind, from how they looked on paper, since way back early on in the year, and I literally cannot wait to see them all come to life. And each and every single one is special in its own way, it will do something different, and it’s there on the program for its own reason. I am genuinely really excited to see them realised, to meet the artists involved and see what the audiences make of them, and how they’re able to be entertained in new and unexpected ways. People should try and see everything!