Interview: Tania Harrison, Latitude’s Arts Curator, on Latitude Festival 2014

Festivals / Interview / Theatre

08 Jul 14

If you think you know Latitude Festival inside out, you’re either wrong, or you’re Tania Harrison. Tirelessly seeing shows all year round, Tania is enlisted with the heady job of pulling together the festival’s arts offerings each year, from theatre to comedy to cabaret and dance.

It’s a post the Guardian‘s Lyn Gardner referred to as ‘the best job in the world’ at Latitude’s theatre press launch last month, where Tania moved herself to tears regaling a story about some stray seventeen years olds that she saw wander into the Theatre Arena, adrift from a Two Door Cinema Club set on the main stage. In finding something new for these teens to ponder on, Tania had done her job. It is this relentless search for newness, both of audiences and stagecraft, that is Latitude’s real drive.

“My big challenge is to open up theatre in a way people haven’t seen before” she laments. “Whether that’s for the newly initiated or the theatre aficionado. Theres some pretty wild things in some of the tents.”

This year’s lineup is typically ripe with old names and newer ones intent on cutting their teeth in front of fresh faces, many on their way to the fringe. Names like the RSC, Paines Plough, Forced Entertainment, Battersea Arts Centre, Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre Ad Infinitum and The Pleasance & Soho Playhouse will play this July, to name but a few. And newly for 2014, Latitude’s theatre is split into more spaces, but smaller spaces, which sub in for the loss of the Outdoor Theatre Stage. A wider variety of different sized spaces allow more wriggling room for Tania:

“The difficulty is always trying to create a real theatre, a kind of building in a field”, she says of the impossible struggle for perfection. “(To make) the theatre bespoke to different shows – and the more ambitious I get – the harder it is for our production team to create a tent space.”

Tackling this problem is new 60-seater venue The Little House, which is mixing up the way theatre will be ingested for 2014. “It’s all about risk, isn’t it. I think the idea is leading people into spaces they haven’t been to before. We’ll see what they feel. They’ll vote with their feet – literally. There’s some very very strong shows.”

In an age where it’s easy to forget why – and what – we work for, it’s refreshing to hear a risk taker in action.

Tania’s verve is coupled with a brilliant sense of humour. “My production team love me! Not!” she jokes, as she talks on production constraints in theatre, something she’s tackled head-on before. I bring up The Animals And Children Took To The Streets, a show performed (at Latitude) in pitch black, that required projection and a traditional theatre space, it seemed impossible to recreate in a field. “Everyone said we can’t do it. We can’t physically stage that show. But that is my job. To bring that type of show and say look at this!”

Big or little, how important are traditional notions of ‘theatre’ at a festival? Should punters sit through one whole show, or five minutes of a few? “The full show.” she says assuredly. You (only) walk out because it’s terrible. You’ve got to offer a courtesy to the performers. I don’t want the audience to feel that they can just get up, there’s a respect there.”

“Ultimately it’ll be so good it wouldn’t even occur to them to move!”, she later says with a smile – but how many shows does Latitude’s arts curator see for herself?

“I try to see one. I love catching something. Last year I saw Daniel Kitson.” she muses, as if she shouldn’t have done. “It’s not supposed to be fun and enjoyable for me is it, it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable for everybody else.”

“I think everyone would rather I did that than, “Oh look, there’s Tania sitting in the audience whilst we’re trying to track an artist!”

What’s to be ‘the one’ this year, if she gets a moment alone? “I will be watching Dirty Dancing! Who doesn’t want to see them do the lift?!” she asks with excited eyes. But even here, it’s unlikely she’ll really switch off.

“I just want to hear everyone sing “I’ve had the time of my life!””, says Tania Harrison, the lady who turns lines from films into reality.


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