Blog: Tim Harrison

The creative director of Sick! Festival, invites us to join a conversation about the very stuff of being human

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Sick! Festival has always dealt with some of the most challenging experiences that we live through, and die from. Over the years, issues relating to mental illness and wellbeing have been a constant thread through the festival programmes presented in Manchester and Brighton. Since the last festival in 2015 we’ve been thinking a lot about the complex web of social factors that make us who we are, and shape our mental health. There are few things more essential to human beings, it seems, than to feel connected to other people, to the society around us, to feel that we somehow matter and that we mean something to this place. Maybe having all these things is what we mean when we talk about feeling at home in a place.

Through the events we’re presenting in Sick! Festival on 8-25 March this year, we wanted to, reflect on what we all need in order to feel at home. This is a question that is profoundly relevant to migrants to this country, to homeless people, to people who are socially isolated – whether they are older or younger – to people facing mental health problems and those with disabilities, and to individuals and communities of all kinds that face hostility.

The theme of belonging is one that the programme touches on in a range of ways. Developed in partnership with Rethink Rebuild Society, an organisation working with Syrian refugees in Manchester, one of our On The Couch public discussions is entitled A Sense of Belonging. The discussion will bring together artists, psychologists and recent migrants, to consider what is needed for one to feel at home, and how this changes from the moment of arrival in a new country to the experience of later generations in those countries.

In a trilogy of intimate performances by Afreena Islam, Toni-Dee Paul and Jamil ER Keating, notions of home for second and third generation migrants are explored, reflecting on places left behind and the hybrid identities forged in the UK.

To Belong is a new performance by choreographer Koen De Preter and TheaterSTAP, who specialise in making work with learning disabled performers. Far from being about difference, this moving performance, as the name suggests, is about the sharing of intimacy and connection, both within groups, and ultimately, with all of us.

Zvizdal by Belgian performance-makers Berlin also deals with issues of home and belonging, but through a kind of non-migration story. It reveals through documentary video the lives of two older people who refused to leave their village following the explosion of the Chernobyl reactor and the subsequent evacuation, tackling isolation, poverty, love and hope.

As we have been developing the programme for Sick! Festival 2017, times have changed dramatically. Questions of community and difference, respect and prejudice have become more urgent and more charged than for a generation. Slavoj Zizek said in his much-repeated quote: “To resolve the migrant crisis we must recognise the stranger within ourselves.”

We’re not going to solve the migrant crisis with an arts festival, but we hope it can perhaps help us to accept that inner stranger. We hope that Sick! Festival provides something empowering and even joyful, sharing individual experience as a route to finding something universal.

The full Sick! Festival programme can be viewed at Big Issue North is media partner to the festival and more information about it can be found in issue 1172, out on 27 February. Read out interview with Claire Cunningham, about her play Guide Gods, which is part of the festival, in the 27 Feb edition of Big Issue North. Photo of Asteroids RK1 by Jamil ER Keating: Tamsin Drury

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