Saturday, 18 October 2008


A little while back, when the boyf and I realised we weren't going to be able to afford to go on REAL holiday for a couple of years, we decided we'd buy a couple of guide books instead. And pretend, imagine, or (most optimistically) look forward to visiting those places instead.

We ended up getting Rough Guides to Scandinavia and The Baltic States. I've always been fascinated by that direction. There's still something of the fairy tale about it - particularly as global warming moves snow-covered landscapes ever closer to some sort of magical folk memory.

Weirdly enough, 3 or 4 years later, both me and the boyf got out of the blue opportunities to use each guide book for work. Tim got to go to Finland in 2007 to write about the ANTI festival (lucky bugger). This year, I got to go to Vilnius for the Lithuanian showcase weekend of the Sirenos festival.

Well, the work wasn't all that inspiring, so I won't dwell too much on that. Other than to say that Lithuanians seem to like their theatre firmly rooted in text and black boxes. Part of me came away wishing that we had more well-equipped, fully riggable, comfy seated black box spaces available to new and contemporary theatre makers in Bristol; and part of me was desperately grateful for the fact that - perhaps as a result of limited access to those spaces - when I go to the theatre, I don't expect necessarily to end up sitting in a theatre, being performed at.

Anyway, Vilnius is WEIRD. Vilnius is small and WEIRD. Once of the reasons we were there was because it's European Capital of Culture in 2009, so we were wondering whether there might be potential for artist exchanges between Bristol and Vilnius... It'll be interesting to see what happens when that pressure focuses on that city. As one of our contacts in the city pointed out, it's still so very recently emerged as its own country into 'The West'. The fear is that, if the cultural spotlight is focussed on them before they are ready, they may just disappoint and never be given another look in. Personally, I'm not sure that's how international partnerships work in the arts - I think they always take time. It always takes so long to get the money together for it that it's hard to rush into anything. As I see it, the problem is that if Capital of Culture activity doesn't immediately strike sparks, there is more likelihood that domestically, cultural activity will not be seen as worthy of investment; so activity is not able to sustain long enough for international partnerships to come to fruition.

Some things about Vilnius. List of FIVE:

1) There are hardly any people there. Even on a Saturday afternoon. Even on a Saturday night. I have to keep reminding myself it's a capital city. It feels like two-thirds of the population is out of town. Even the main train station was virtually deserted on a Monday lunchtime. It's actually quite creepy... vaguely catastrophe sci-fi.

2) Pedestrians seem to have priority everywhere. It's amazing. It's like all the drivers actually want to give you right of way. They're not pissed off about it or anything.

3) The food is really not great. Even if you think you like all that hearty, central European dumplings and stew business, this is not the city to go out of your way to eat in.

4) There are no tall buildings in the old city - hardly any buildings taller than a couple of storeys. Until you spot the commercial city on the other side of the river. You can't see it from most of Vilnius, but as you walk down towards the main body of the Vilna, this crazy 80s glass and shiny bombast just bings up from nowhere.

5) Arts Printing House could turn into an amazing venue. They're converting an old communist printing house into a big culture complex for contemporary performance, dance, cinema. It'll be a few years yet, but it's probably the main thing that would take me back to the city.