Fairfax Festival Blog Ten: Claire Glenn and Adrian Corbett interview

by Jane

Claire Glenn Adrian Corbett

On the final day of Fairfax, in a few rare spare minutes for the festival director Claire Glenn and manager Adrian Corbett, we sit down to talk about how they were feeling about the event. The answer? “Really great.”

“I feel really excited and pumped that it’s all going to happen,” says Glenn. “I feel really confident. It’s all about to go off.”

There is a huge amount of love at the festival for both Glenn and Corbett. Both have been involved in the in-community workshops in the lead up to the festival, both run themselves off their feet during the week itself, and both have considerable fan clubs – and more than a couple of kids who want to grow up to be just like them.

As we speak, the mainstage for YES Fest is having a sound check, and kids dressed up like skeletons are placing notes on cars, letting them know the street will soon be closed for the festival. This is the first year the festival has the students performing on the streets instead of in the Town Hall, and it’s a significant and exciting move for both Glenn and Corbett.

“A lot of the groups that come here come from really remote communities where they don’t have a town hall, they don’t have a theatre, they don’t have drama on the curriculum, but the kids are still really interested in performing,” Glenn tells me. “So we wanted to show them that it’s possible to create art – to create theatre – without having the stage. It can be done anywhere. It can be done with whatever you have around you.”

“I hope that after this all of them will go back to their communities and start creating theatre anywhere, using anything.”

For Corbett, it’s the change that he observes in the kids that he is really excited by. This change, he says, “goes back into these small communities and spreads from there. Especially the joy of this sort of project, ‘theatre beyond the stage’: we’re suddenly showing kids you don’t need a theatre, you don’t need a big theatre company to create theatre. It can be in a fountain, it can be in a shipping container, or a box, or an empty store.”

Through this transition to street performance, Corbett has been observing a different type of energy in the students. While in previous years there was an excitement about performing in a traditional theatre, this year he says “there is a sense of excitement about how the audience are going to take it, because it’s very non-traditional; it’s very out there for these kids and these families and this town.”

For Glenn, it has been “interesting to see the shift” in thinking around taking the performances outside.  “The kids who have been here before who also do drama at school, and it is very traditional: they were a little bit wary at first of the idea, but as soon as we put them with the artists  they are collaborating with they just really ran with it and were inspired.”

Says Corbett, “because they really have invested with the artists as well in creating this piece collaboratively, they’re just so much more engaged and excited in the outcome.”

One of the remarkable things about the festival is the sheer kindness that is present: from the staff, from the artists, and from the children. For everyone, it really felt like a kind and supportive atmosphere. Glenn speaks of being really proud of the opportunities Fairfax gives these kids, but also the community they give back into. For many children, she says, “it helps them come out of their shell, gives them some self-esteem and self-confidence, and it’s a lovely thing.”

“Walking around and seeing all the kids, and going into some of the workshops – they’re all just best friends. So it’s so lovely to see 107 kids getting on so well. It’s like a big family.”

For Corbett, it’s seeing the kids develop over the four days in Swan Hill that “makes it all worth it.”

Corbett proudly tells me that one of the artists involved in the festival, Don Bridges, once described it as a space that gives kids who don’t belong anywhere else that somewhere to belong.

“These are the kids who may not be great academically, they may not be really interested in sports, they may be just a little bit odd,” says Corbett. “And suddenly they come here and they realise there is another 116 odd kids, who actually like the same things they do. And they go ‘this is actually a potential career’, or, ‘it’s okay to be who I am.’”

For Glenn, this is a real marker of pride. “I think it’s so important for the kids in these regional areas that perhaps don’t have any way to correct with like minded people, or don’t have much of an opportunity to express themselves creatively in these communities,” she says.

“It just gives them a real chance.”