Gallery: SPILL Festival returns to Ipswich next week, full details here

Siren, Ray Lee, SPILL 2014. Photo Steven Hicks

Siren, Ray Lee, SPILL 2014. Photo Steven Hicks - Credit: Archant

SPILL Festival of Performance returns to Ipswich later this month. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage sat down with festival director and curator Robert Pacitti

Albion Voice, Bishi, SPILL 2014. Photo Matthew Glamorre

Albion Voice, Bishi, SPILL 2014. Photo Matthew Glamorre - Credit: Archant

There will always be people who moan about festivals like this, especially when public funding is involved says Pacitti. Not only has the company looked at how to use the town’s resources smarter, it’s dug deep into its own pockets and introduced ticket deals that won’t hit you in yours.

“It’s been really tough. This year’s event is not all paid for by the Arts Council... We’ve earned money through consultancy work, through using the Pacitti Company Think Tank here in High Street, patrons, people supporting us with donations. It’s tough out there now and its going to get harder.

“Ipswich Borough Council has been absolutely fantastic and I also have to say it hasn’t given us cash that’s coming from the taxpayer, it’s (about) using existing resources really wisely,” says Pacitti, who commissioned an economic impact study before 2012’s festival because he wanted to see if the festival benefited independent shopkeepers, businesses, hoteliers, cafés, restaurants, cab companies.

“It really did. I know what the average person spent on the day, I know they came for three nights and three-and-half days and I know a third of the people were local, two thirds came from elsewhere and 10% were long haul international.”

Get in The Back of the Van, SPILL 2014. Photo Ludovic des Cognets

Get in The Back of the Van, SPILL 2014. Photo Ludovic des Cognets - Credit: Archant

Being able to harness that information and work with the borough and other partners was essential.

“It’s a performance art festival, it’s not front of the queue of things we should be looking at for social wellbeing - or is it? There’s an argument that says a happier place to live makes us happier citizens.”

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Having spent the past 25 years working in London and around the world, Pacitti is still a Coplestone boy at heart. He’s amazed at the way the town has embraced the five-day festival of live performances, installations, film, discussions and the odd party here and there.

“I was surprised by the sheer amount of support we got from people who took the chance of coming along, it was amazing. As far as culture goes right now and the support for SPILL, I’m in awe of what Ipswich is stepping up for.

Robert Pacitti of SPILL. Photo Lucy Taylor

Robert Pacitti of SPILL. Photo Lucy Taylor

“I couldn’t presume Ipswich would want it, I hoped people would be up for it but I didn’t want to go ‘you need this in your life’. From a place of respect, the last festival was a bit smaller. I’ve spent the last two years (since the last festival) thinking is there a way to make it more meaningful locally,” says Pacitti, who thinks our increased ability to take in different forms of information, be it audio, video, etc and create our story means performance art is more accessible than ever.

“I’ve spread out more this year, there are more venues and (following on from) Home Sweet Home where you could come with your family and make a cardboard village we have Siren which is a really beautiful piece of art and totally family friendly.”

Also new this year are the SPILL daytime and night-time passes, which for £15 or £10 gives you access to multiple shows. You can find more details about those and the programme at

Despite moving back to Ipswich five-and-a-half years ago and moving the company here lock, stock and barrel a couple of years ago, Pacitti admits to still getting a lump in his throat when he walks past SPILL baners dotted around the town.

“I think if I could go back and tell my 17-year-old self, who left here not very happy, ‘it’s not just going to be alright it’s going to be great’ how amazing would that have been?”

While he doesn’t have favourites, Pacitti has a few suggestions for newcomers and old-hands, starting with festival opener Siren by UK artist Ray Lee.

The oldest piece of work in the festival, he’s wanted to include it since seeing the show in Edinburgh 10 years ago. Silent performers move through, essentially, a forest of mechanical pyramids with spinning arms that result in hypnotic sounds and visual imagery.

“If you’re visually impaired you’ll hear it. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing you’ll see it but you’ll also feel it in the room because they whir around. I don’t know why but it’s a profoundly moving piece of work.”

Siren will be the first show in the new Ipswich Arts Centre at St Clement’s Church.

“It would’ve been very easy for us to put a music event in there, but we thought what’s the opportunity to really mark this with something that people will remember. I’m really excited about it and there are a lot of performances, including a midnight performance on the Thursday night and we’ve got special permission to rin the church bells before the show on the opening night.”

At the town hall the same night is Bishi’s Albion Voice.

Growing up in a classical Indian musical family, she’s close friends with Ana Matronic from the Scissor Sisters and American contemporary classical music composer Nico Muhly. A cross music, technology and performance presentation, it incorporates a large scale projection and songs from her album Albion Voice.

“I can’t tell you too much about it but, at the end, there’s a very special new 15-minute performance she made with a very respected elder statesman. It’s about the future and looking after each other will make every hair on your body stand on end, its amazing.”

If you like theatre and you want to push what you think theatre might be, there’s SPILL commission Best Little Whorehouse in Texas from Getinthebackofthevan at the New Wolsey Theatre. Experimental without being scary, their aim is to take a smash hit musical and smash it.

“I think there’s a cast of about 30 and it’s unashamedly non-professional people taking on the politics, the challenge and the essence of a musical. If you want to take a risk on something that has teeth and is very playful with the form of a musical then that’s one for you,” he laughs.

World famous Gob Squad, meanwhile, are staging four-hour durational piece Are You With Us? at DanceEast. It’s about searching for a group identity where everyone has found their place.

“I know from their rider they’ve got an awful lot of costume changes, they’re going to drink vodka through the work and it’s very technical, lots of different projectors and cameras.”

Spilling into various venues, one of the most interesting will be Ipswich’s former police station.

“It’s amazing the festival is happening in the last vacant medieval church in the town, in the great hall of the town hall and the police station which the police vacated four months ago. It’s five storeys and we’re using three floors. Together we’ve worked with the council and remodelled some of the spaces to make them larger.

“We’ve got a daytime programme there all Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then we’ve got a night-time programme Friday and Saturday - Saturday in particular is quite a late night.

“We’ve got more cabaret style work on, DJs, two amazing image wizards who will be projecting images inside the building and filming across the whole festival and then playing aspects of that back through the evening events. We’ve got bars, we’re working with Pump and Grind, one half of them was one half of Snobs... If you’ve ever been in the police station this is your chance to come and see it taken over by artists.”

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