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TEDGlobal 2012

David Binder: The arts festival revolution

Filmed
Views 676,503

David Binder is a major Broadway producer, but last summer he found himself in a small Australian neighborhood, watching locals dance and perform on their lawns -- and loving it. He shows us the new face of arts festivals, which break the boundary between audience and performer and help cities express themselves.

- Theater producer
A Tony Award winner, theater producer David Binder is interested in taking performances off the stage. Full bio

Sydney. I had been waiting my whole life to get to Sydney.
00:16
I got to the airport, to the hotel, checked in,
00:20
and, sitting there in the lobby, was a brochure
00:23
for the Sydney Festival. I thumbed through it,
00:26
and I came across a show called "Minto: Live."
00:28
The description read: "The suburban streets of Minto
00:31
become the stage for performances
00:35
created by international artists
00:38
in collaboration with the people of Minto."
00:40
What was this place called Minto?
00:43
Sydney, as I would learn, is a city of suburbs,
00:45
and Minto lies southwest, about an hour away.
00:48
I have to say, it wasn't exactly what I had in mind
00:51
for my first day down under.
00:55
I mean, I'd thought about the Harbour Bridge or Bondi Beach,
00:56
but Minto? But still, I'm a producer,
00:59
and the lure of a site-specific theater project
01:02
was more than I could resist. (Laughter)
01:05
So, off I went into Friday afternoon traffic,
01:08
and I'll never forget what I saw when I got there.
01:10
For the performance, the audience walked
01:13
around the neighborhood from house to house,
01:15
and the residents, who were the performers,
01:18
they came out of their houses, and they performed
01:21
these autobiographical dances on their lawns,
01:23
on their driveways. (Laughter)
01:27
The show is a collaboration with a U.K.-based
01:29
performance company called Lone Twin.
01:32
Lone Twin had come to Minto and worked
01:35
with the residents, and they had created these dances.
01:37
This Australian-Indian girl, she came out and started
01:40
to dance on her front lawn,
01:44
and her father peered out the window to see
01:46
what all the noise and commotion was about,
01:49
and he soon joined her.
01:51
And he was followed by her little sister.
01:53
And soon they were all dancing this joyous,
01:56
exuberant dance right there on their lawn. (Laughter)
01:59
And as I walked through the neighborhood,
02:04
I was amazed and I was moved by the incredible
02:06
sense of ownership this community clearly felt
02:10
about this event.
02:13
"Minto: Live" brought Sydneysiders into dialogue
02:15
with international artists, and really celebrated
02:18
the diversity of Sydney on its own terms.
02:21
The Sydney Festival which produced "Minto: Live" I think
02:25
represents a new kind of 21st-century arts festival.
02:29
These festivals are radically open.
02:32
They can transform cities and communities.
02:36
To understand this, I think it kind of makes sense
02:40
to look where we've come from.
02:42
Modern arts festivals were born
02:45
in the rubble of World War II.
02:47
Civic leaders created these annual events
02:48
to celebrate culture as the highest
02:51
expression of the human spirit.
02:54
In 1947, the Edinburgh Festival was born
02:56
and Avignon was born and hundreds of others
03:00
would follow in their wake.
03:02
The work they did was very, very high art,
03:04
and stars came along like Laurie Anderson
03:07
and Merce Cunningham and Robert Lepage
03:10
who made work for this circuit,
03:12
and you had these seminal shows like "The Mahabharata"
03:14
and the monumental "Einstein on the Beach."
03:16
But as the decades passed,
03:19
these festivals, they really became the establishment,
03:22
and as the culture and capital accelerated,
03:25
the Internet brought us all together,
03:28
high and low kind of disappeared,
03:30
a new kind of festival emerged.
03:33
The old festivals, they continued to thrive, but
03:35
from Brighton to Rio to Perth, something new was emerging,
03:38
and these festivals were really different.
03:43
They're open, these festivals, because, like in Minto,
03:45
they understand that the dialogue
03:48
between the local and the global is essential.
03:51
They're open because they ask the audience to be a player,
03:54
a protagonist, a partner, rather than a passive spectator,
03:59
and they're open because they know that imagination
04:03
cannot be contained in buildings,
04:07
and so much of the work they do
04:09
is site-specific or outdoor work.
04:11
So, the new festival, it asks the audience to play
04:14
an essential role in shaping the performance.
04:17
Companies like De La Guarda, which I produce, and Punchdrunk
04:21
create these completely immersive experiences
04:26
that put the audience at the center of the action,
04:28
but the German performance company Rimini Protokoll
04:32
takes this all to a whole new level.
04:35
In a series of shows that includes "100 Percent Vancouver,"
04:38
"100 Percent Berlin," Rimini Protokoll makes shows
04:42
that actually reflect society.
04:46
Rimini Protokoll chooses 100 people that represent that city
04:49
at that moment in terms of race and gender and class,
04:53
through a careful process that begins three months before,
04:57
and then those 100 people share stories about
05:00
themselves and their lives, and the whole thing
05:03
becomes a snapshot of that city at that moment.
05:06
LIFT has always been a pioneer in the use of venues.
05:10
They understand that theater and performance
05:14
can happen anywhere.
05:16
You can do a show in a schoolroom,
05:17
in an airport, — (Laughter) —
05:21
in a department store window.
05:23
Artists are explorers. Who better to show us the city anew?
05:26
Artists can take us to a far-flung part of the city
05:30
that we haven't explored, or they can take us into
05:33
that building that we pass every day but we never went into.
05:35
An artist, I think, can really show us people
05:40
that we might overlook in our lives.
05:44
Back to Back is an Australian company of people
05:47
with intellectual disabilities. I saw their amazing show
05:50
in New York at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal
05:55
at rush hour.
05:58
We, the audience, were given headsets and seated
06:00
on one side of the terminal.
06:02
The actors were right there in front of us,
06:05
right there among the commuters,
06:07
and we could hear them,
06:10
but we might not have otherwise seen them.
06:11
So Back to Back takes site-specific theater and uses it
06:14
to gently remind us about who and what we choose
06:19
to edit out of our daily lives.
06:22
So, the dialogue with the local and the global,
06:25
the audience as participant and player and protagonist,
06:28
the innovative use of site, all of these things
06:32
come to play in the amazing work
06:35
of the fantastic French company Royal de Luxe.
06:38
Royal de Luxe's giant puppets come into a city
06:42
and they live there for a few days.
06:46
For "The Sultan's Elephant," Royal de Luxe
06:48
came to central London and brought it to a standstill
06:52
with their story of a giant little girl and her friend,
06:55
a time-traveling elephant.
06:59
For a few days, they transformed a massive city
07:02
into a community where endless possibility reigned.
07:07
The Guardian wrote, "If art is about transformation,
07:11
then there can be no more transformative experience.
07:15
What 'The Sultan's Elephant' represents is no less
07:19
than an artistic occupation of the city
07:23
and a reclamation of the streets for the people."
07:26
We can talk about the economic impacts of these festivals
07:31
on their cities, but I'm much [more] interested in many more things,
07:34
like how a festival helps a city to express itself,
07:38
how it lets it come into its own.
07:42
Festivals promote diversity,
07:45
they bring neighbors into dialogue,
07:48
they increase creativity,
07:50
they offer opportunities for civic pride,
07:52
they improve our general psychological well-being.
07:55
In short, they make cities better places to live.
07:59
Case in point:
08:03
When "The Sultan's Elephant" came to London
08:04
just nine months after 7/7, a Londoner wrote,
08:07
"For the first time since the London bombings,
08:12
my daughter called up with that sparkle back in her voice.
08:15
She had gathered with others
08:19
to watch 'The Sultan's Elephant,' and, you know,
08:21
it just made all the difference."
08:24
Lyn Gardner in The Guardian has written
08:27
that a great festival can show us a map of the world,
08:29
a map of the city and a map of ourselves,
08:33
but there is no one fixed festival model.
08:37
I think what's so brilliant about the festivals,
08:40
the new festivals, is that they are really fully capturing
08:43
the complexity and the excitement
08:48
of the way we all live today.
08:52
Thank you very much. (Applause)
08:54
Translated by Thu-Huong Ha
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the speaker:

David Binder - Theater producer
A Tony Award winner, theater producer David Binder is interested in taking performances off the stage.

Why you should listen

David Binder won the Tony award for producing the record-breaking smash Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Neil Patrick Harris. Other Broadway credits include Of Mice and Men starring James Franco and Chris O'Dowd (the first Broadway show to be filmed by the National Theatre of Britain's NT Live and shown in cinemas around the world), 33 Variations starring Jane Fonda, and the first Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, with Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.

Binder has also staged events and festivals around the globe, including The High Line Festival, which was curated by David Bowie, The New Island Festival (ten days of Dutch site-specific theater, dance and music in New York City) and IBM's 100th Anniversary: Short Ride in a Fast Machine (held at Lincoln Center). He is the Artistic Associate of London's LIFT Festival.

PHOTO CREDITS for David's 2012 TED Talk:

Minto: Live – Sydney Festival
2011
3 Courtesy of Lone Twin
4 Courtesy of Lone Twin
5 Courtesy of Lone Twin
6 © Pekka Mäkinen
7 © Amrit MacIntyre
8 Courtesy of Lone Twin
9 © Pekka Mäkinen
10 © Pekka Mäkinen
11 © Pekka Mäkinen
12 © Pekka Mäkinen
13 © Pekka Mäkinen
14 © Pekka Mäkinen

The Mahabharata
16 © Image Entertainment

Einstein on the Beach
17 Spaceship © Lesley Leslie-Spinks 2012

De La Guarda
21 Courtesy of De La Guarda

Sleep No More
22 © Alick Crossley

100% – Rimini Protokoll
23 100% Berlin, © Barbara Braun, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
24 100% Karlsruhe, © Jochen Klenk, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
25 100% Köln, © Sandra Then, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
26 100% Köln, © Sandra Then, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
27 100% Köln, © Sandra Then, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
28 100% Karlsruhe, © Jochen Klenk, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll
29 100% Köln, © Sandra Then, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll

Grown-Up School (Daily Life Series Part 4)
32 LIFT Brecknock Primary School, London 1999
Photograph: Andrew Whittuck
www.dailylifeltd.co.uk

Roam – a National Theatre of Scotland and Grid Iron production
33 Photo by Richard Campbell, courtesy of National Theatre of Scotland

Urban Dream Capsule
34 Photo courtesy of Bedno.com

Small Metal Objects, Back to Back Theatre
36 Photo by Berni Sweeney, courtesy of Back to Back Theatre
37 2009 Time-Based Art Festival. Photo: Carole Zoom, courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
38 Photo by Jeff Busby, courtesy of Back to Back Theatre
39 Photo by Prudence Upton, courtesy of Back to Back Theatre
40 © Richard Termine

Royal de Luxe
42 © Carsten Siegel, berlinsidewalk.com
43 © Flickr user Mlle Jordan
44 © Carsten Siegel, berlinsidewalk.com
45 © Carsten Siegel, berlinsidewalk.com
46 Photo by Flickr user sw77, licensed by creative commons
47 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
48 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
49 © Carsten Siegel, berlinsidewalk.com
50 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
51 Photo by Flickr user sw77, licensed by creative commons
52 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Sophie Laslett
54 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
55 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Sophie Laslett
56 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
57 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Matthew Andrews
58 The Sultan’s Elephant produced by Artichoke with funding by Arts Council England and the Mayor’s Office of London, photo by Sophie Laslett

More profile about the speaker
David Binder | Speaker | TED.com