On an early research visit to Varna in March 2006 we met with a number of local organisations including the visual arts group Kera who gave us an insight into the local contemporary cultural life, which was active but not well resourced. We were also assisted on this trip by the local Institut Francais representative and by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture (who provided us with a driver). However we were less lucky with the local politicians – the head of culture at the Varna City Government didn’t turn up for our scheduled meeting with him. Our most fruitful contact on the Bulgarian research trip was with the International Theatre Festival Varna Summer (ITF), one of several well-regarded contemporary festivals that run during the tourist season in Varna. ITF became SEAS local presenter.
Balchik and its near neighbour Kavarna were also good options as venues. The negotiations with Kavarna did not work out. Balchik, however, with the support in the back ground of SEAS coorganiser Theatre Laboratory Sfumato, became our second Bulgarian venue.
Over the border is Mangalia, by contrast to the sedate Balchik, a noisy holiday resort full of young people on holiday. Initially it was planned to hold the SEAS events in Constanta (which had been the venue for our September 2006 Gathering), with Mangalia as a “satellite” event. Despite a very enthusiastic reaction from the Vice Mayor of Constanta, in early 2008 a political corruption scandal engulfed the City Government and it became impossible to develop the project with them.
With ITF acting as our intermediary with the Varna City Authorities (for example gaining the necessary permissions for the public events) Intercult had little need for direct contact with local politicians – a complete contrast to Odessa. ITF also provided the appropriate logistical, technical and marketing support – something we had definitely lacked in Odessa.
They organised the press conferences and local media coverage. As a result, SEAS Coastal was a much more enjoyable experience for the artists and the project managers after the stressful opening in Ukraine. (Moving from Odessa to Varna was, as one artist put it, like “stepping from a pin-ball machine into a warm relaxing bath”.)
Nevertheless there were technical difficulties with Hotel Proforma’s installation of Relief into the Mustang Cinema and Signa’s venue, a semi-derelict house, caused some initial concern for its structural safety. Unforeseen costs were incurred and both events were rescheduled as a result.
There were some unexpected problems with Mangalia. The SEAS event took place in June 2008 and the European Football Championships were in full flow. The Mayor, who was facing re-election, had paid for a giant screen to show the games free of charge to the residents of the town in the harbour, right next to the SEAS main venue, the White House, a beach-side bar and disco which was used as the SEAS Club, including the Night Scene and Beer Tourist performances. We had also planned to perform Monday in the Sun on the harbour side next to where the screen was placed. A compromise was reached (the sound was turned off during Monday in the Sun) but the Mayor’s campaigning was fierce, involving fireworks and loud music that meant we had to postpone the start of Night Scene one night. One side-effect was an unplanned piece of audience development: Monday in the Sun performed to an audience of football fans. The story is told on the SEAS Mangalia podcast.
As host, ITF covered per diems and accommodation costs for the artists, SEAS EU funds covered the costs of the SEAS staff and technical team. In Balchik, the Town Hall covered the per diems and some local costs and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture provided some accommodation in the Balchik Palace at a preferential rate. In Mangalia the Romanian Ministry of Culture covered the accommodation and per diems costs and the fees of Romanian experts, journalist and artists involved in the local programme.
British Council held an international symposium in Varna during the festival as part of their Creative Collaborations programme at which Chris Torch made a presentation of Black/North SEAS.
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