And What? Queer. Arts. Festival. interview with artistic director Andrew Ellerby
We caught up with And What? festival’s artistic director Andrew Ellerby to talk about the festival and what makes it so exciting for London’s queer scene.
Tell us about And What? Queer. Arts. Festival. How did it come about?
And What? Queer. Arts. Festival. came from a few places. When I first moved to London seven-ish years ago I was really surprised that there wasn’t a London based festival of Queer Arts and Culture that was similar to the ones I had known in the North West, like Queer Up North (RIP) in Manchester or Homotopia in Liverpool. These were festivals I cut my Queer teeth on as a young gay boy, following a dream of Queer As Folk to Manchester, but actually just finding… Canal Street. And don’t get me wrong, Canal Street filled some holes for a while but there was always an empty feeling hole, that was gagging for something more cultural, creative and nourishing.
The thing is, London has such a slurry of Queer work, and venues programming work from Queer people, I began to wonder if it even needed a festival in the same way I know it. Cue a period of research, self-doubt and critical thinking. What I arrived at was, well – I was overthinking it too much – and yes, I wasn’t seeing the work I wanted to see, and if I was it wasn’t always celebrated in the way it deserved to be. I felt artists were being siloed, and more challenging, political and experimental work didn’t always get the space it needed.
On top of this, the erasure of Queer spaces that was happening at a speed-of-knots across the city meant danger, danger! So I thought “screw it, let’s try”. I had reconciled that the context was different to what I had known but thought despite London being an amazing place for Queer artists and performers to work, there was still a hunger for something new in the community.
Tell us about some highlights of the festival that our readers need to know about.
It’s so tempting to say EVERYTHING, but really EVERYTHING. I mean, I have literally handpicked the whole programme so how could I not say that? In truth I am mega-excited about welcoming the legendary Lypsinka and The Fabulous Lypsinka Show to the UK for the first time in 16-years – this may be the last time, who knows?
It’s a real coup to have my old mate Peaches Christ back in the programme and that she is bringing Mink Stole, the iconic star of EVERY John Waters’ movie ever made – you can catch Mink in the two woman show Idol Worship, and at a special screening of Pink Flamingos. DOUBLE-MINK-ACTION.
It’s not all about the imports though. In recognition of my Manchester days the Queer counter culture club night Bollox is opening the festival with a party collaborating with The Cocoa Butter Club, and we have amazing shows from Mika Johnson, Pink Lemonade, from Sadiq and Hauk, who perform their circus shows The Chosen Haram on TWO Chinese poles, a new commission from Eve Stainton, Rubby Sucky Forge, and a disability led evening of circus and cabaret from Quiplash.
Ok, and a few more imports: While the Others Go Wild is a dance work that brings together five London performers under the eye of Portuguese/German choreographer João Cidade, and one more from US, the return of Miss Coco Peru. Enough said. And really thats just scratching the surface of what is going on!
Who or what is your inspiration for making the festival?
It’s all the artists and performers. I am constantly (as a failed / retired / dormant artist myself – all curators are, right? old joke) amazed at what people are creating, how they are creating, what new collective is on the block and what they want to shout about.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting an arts festival?
Plan, know what you want to achieve, be persistent (people will try to scare or warn you off), stay authentic to your voice and the voices you think should be heard. I found out the hard way, I rushed into the first year, and although it was a success, it was a steep learning curve, and maybe you have to go through that. Have a plan, even in year one I knew more or less where I wanted to be in year three, and let’s be honest the journey there was not what I imagined, but the outcome was still the same.
Now I am planning for the next three festivals. Make the most of your peers, but never take anyone for granted, always pay your artists, be nice to everyone even when you want to faint through anxiety or exhaustion. Do something that I didn’t do, and do it with a family of people.
I went alone (yes, you can shed a tear) but now I am building that family around the festival, but I think from the outset it would have been easier to have that support and critical voice. Never make it about you.
Until this year I have resisted doing interviews, even talking at launches, because for me this was about the artists, the festival and not my ego. I plan to semi-retire form my current role and bring in guest curators and diverse, different voices, because that’s what is important to me.
What are your favourite London haunts? (to get queer culture/to eat/to relax)
I totally love The Glory. It’s friendly, diverse and always a great place to see new acts, old favourites and bump into friends, peers, lovers and another glass of wine. I need to shout out to Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Fest who do an amazing Queer film festival every year. Hackney, in general, goodness bless it. Places like Grow and The Cause that continue to support underground counterculture clubbing.
To relax I’ll often go to the ICA cinema, it has a really great programme, or just walk through the city, or maybe even pop into the Bishopsgate Institute. And after a day of walking, looking at books in Gay’s The Word, cruising around literally any street, anywhere, stopping off at Soho Theatre or Battersea Arts Centre, Shoreditch Town Hall or Rich Mix (all queer allies) I will ALWAYS stop off for Vietnamese food. Gotta love London.