Brighton Festival 2020 programme unveiled

British and Ethiopian poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker Lemn Sissay today unveils a thrilling programme for Brighton Festival 2020.

Lemn Sissay c. Jamie MacMillian
Lemn Sissay c. Jamie MacMillian

Lemn welcomes everyone to the Imagine Nation from May 2 to 24 for England’s largest annual, curated multi-arts festival.

With Lemn as this year’s guest director, the festival will feature more than 120 events taking place in 27 venues and locations across the region – from the industrial landscapes of Shoreham Port and warehouses in Hove, to the suburban streets of Crawley and Moulsecoomb, theatres, community centres and cinemas in Worthing, Hangleton, East Brighton and Lewes. At the heart of it all will be a focus on artists experimenting and creating new work. The Festival will feature 17 premieres, exclusives, commissions and co-productions, alongside many Festival debuts from international artists.

Lemn’s personal passions flow throughout the 2020 programme, connected by a love of words and language across theatre, song, spoken word, art and poetry. Contemporary writers and poets are given a particular spotlight with several spoken word and book events including The Time Has Now Come; Lime Time, Take 5 and Vintage Poets.

Lemn said he sees the Imagine Nation as a place to join in, reflect and take time for a personal creative experience.

“The most damaging mirror trick in society is to convince people they have no imagination and that they are not creative. It’s just not true. There’s going to be something for you in this Festival. Broaden your horizons, be open and maybe try something different. Welcome to the Imagine Nation, welcome to the whole world in one celebration here at Brighton Festival 2020.”

Creativity and originality will be cherished as the Festival looks to expand its reach this year.

Andrew Comben, chief executive of Brighton Festival, said: “Brighton Festival is an annual invitation to everyone to explore great art from all over the world and inspire individual creativity.

“We’re excited and proud to be bringing the Festival to so many areas of the city and the wider region and we hope that Lemn’s encouragement to be brave and try something new creates an ‘Imagine Nation’ in which we can all take part.”

Lemn’s support for new and established Ethiopian artists features prominently in the programme appearances by Ethio-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke, contemporary pianist/composer Samuel Yirga and writers Maaza Mengiste and Aida Edemariam.

Marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey, a new generation of Indigenous American artists take centre stage in The Young Americans, a powerful new exhibition in partnership with Rainmaker Gallery at Phoenix Art Space that reveals what it means to grow up in the contemporary United States.

And using art as a way to explore our most personal experiences will offer some of the most powerful events in the Festival. In Adopt A Nation, Lemn invites the public to adopt him in an intimate one-on-one experience that will ask participants to share their own thoughts about family; and his best-selling memoir My Name is Why is discussed in conversation with British-Eritrean writer Hannah Azieb Pool.

Since it was first established in 1967, Brighton Festival has given artists and performers at the cutting edge of artistic practice and on the edge of society, the creative space to have their voices heard and to showcase new work. This year’s programme is no exception. LGBTQ artists including Ivan Coyote, Amy Bell and Travis Alabanza recount their inspiring stories in dance, theatre and spoken word. Female empowerment is given a playful and provocative portrayal in Hot Brown Honey’s fusion of hip-hop and politics and comedian Josie Long tells her tale of first-time motherhood. caravan, the bi-annual international showcase for English theatre and performing artists returns with a dynamic three days of new work attracting international promoters and presenters.

Several Festival events will involve individual opportunities to become involved in the art itself. Families and friends will be celebrated in Arrivals & Departures, an interactive public artwork located in Brighton’s Friends Meeting House garden that will be a changing display of names commemorating the birth or death of a loved one. In the world premiere of The Sleeping Tree, visitors will enter one of the last great rainforests of Indonesia through a live sensory environment and the UK premiere of Semiconductor’s HALO offers a mesmeric and consuming installation based on the Big Bang. From Italy, Gabriella Salvaterra’s Sollievo invites the audience to travel through a candle-lit labyrinth in an intimate theatrical experience that explores the fragility of humanity and what can and can’t be repaired.

The annual Children’s Parade with Same Sky officially marks the start of the Festival on Saturday 2 May and this year’s theme of Nature’s Marvels celebrates the year of biodiversity as well as highlighting climate change action – a theme that resonates with several Festival artists who respond to the global crisis, including the world premiere of Dear Nature by artist John Newling in collaboration with Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft. His poetic letters to nature will be read by representatives from the local community set to a musical composition. Belgian performance group Ontroerend Goed’s ground-breaking work, Are we not drawn onward to new erA is a serious but joyfully powerful piece of theatre that asks questions about our ability to repair the damage already done to our planet. An installation by artist Chris Dobrowolski, Washed Up Car-go, brings a thought provoking and eye-catching work about plastic pollution to a new outdoor site in Hove.

Festival events will be reaching out to more communities than ever before. A residential street in Moulsecoomb, will be transformed into a colourful artwork in a new co-commission by Brighton Festival and Fabrica with A Simple Act of Wonder by acclaimed contemporary artists Walter and Zoniel. Without Walls will visit Crawley’s Queens Square to bring an exhilarating programme of pop-up events from some of the UK’s most innovative outdoor companies. From hip hop and circus to inspiring dance and an interactive augmented reality trail, the whole family will enjoy these playful and uplifting shows. Artist Ray Lee’s spectacular giant sound and light sculptures are brought together for the first time in Points of Departure, set against an atmospheric night-time backdrop of Shoreham Port. And Our Place continues to bring free arts activities programmed by and for the communities of Hangleton and East Brighton.

As always, the Festival will include free and participatory events and activities for all ages, abilities and incomes – over 100 events are free or cost £10 or less to attend and the Pay It Forward scheme will offer free ticket vouchers to community organisations.

Tickets go on sale to Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival members at 7.30am, Wednesday, February 12 and general sale at 9am, Wednesday, February 19.


T: 01273 709709

Brighton Dome ticket office, Church Street, Brighton

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