The SO festival programme features some of the very best continental artists, together with innovative and entertaining British acts. Photo (C) Andy Stirrup.

"The Nordic countries are highly influenced by the artistic clusters of both the continent and the UK...in Denmark everybody loves the British humour and the British festivals."

Jens Frimann Hansen, Artistic Director of SO Festival.

Sharing Cultures and Crossing Borders with Street Theatre in Denmark, Sweden and Lincolnshire. 

Jens Frimann Hansen is Artistic Director of Helsingør Teater, and the street theatre festival, Passage Festival, which takes place annually in Helsingør (Denmark) and Helsingborg (Sweden). He is also Artistic Director for SO Festival, a street theatre festival that takes place every summer in Lincolnshire, England. This year, with both festivals under Frimann Hansen’s leadership, British Council heard from the organisers of SO Festival about the importance of cultural exchange, and the way in which street theatre is already building bridges between Lincolnshire and parts of Scandinavia.  

Artistic culture breaks down barriers and crosses boundaries in ways that many other spheres cannot. When SO Festival started in August this year, what was evident to the thousands of visitors who enjoyed sixty performances over three days was the continental vein that runs through the event’s heart and how it blends perfectly with English culture. This outdoor extravaganza of family arts and culture – one of the largest festivals of its kind in the UK – is hosted every year in the Lincolnshire coastal resorts of Mablethorpe and Skegness. While people may not perceive such seaside resorts as a hotbed of arts and cultural diversity – for three days, SO Festival proves there is an appetite for such.

Since its launch in 2009, SO has strived to offer an unrivalled and eclectic mix of free family entertainment, designed to promote community engagement for all ages. This year the offer has been taken to new heights, with the Danish Artistic Director Jens Frimann Hansen bringing a Nordic and continental direction that provides entertainment to prompt both community engagement and thought. Jens’ pairing with SO Festival came following a visit across the North Sea to Denmark and its fellow Nordic countries by festival organisers taking part in the SEAS Festival in 2009. Magna Vitae Trust for Leisure and Culture, based in the heart of the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds, was handed responsibility for SO when it took over the running of culture, sport and leisure services from the area’s District Council.

Keen to explore the artistic merits of our European neighbours, the delegation was led by Magna Vitae Deputy Chief Executive James Brindle who was introduced to Jens, Artistic Director of Helsingor Teater (the company of which he is part) and the Nordic Passage Festival. James recounts how Jens and the Magna Vitae team quickly realised they shared a common interest in exploring the historic bond that has existed between the Nordic countries and Lincolnshire since the Viking Age. Together they wanted to examine how those deep-rooted connections could be reflected in a modern festival, which explores our life in modern times. “As we started to work together, our thoughts and views on creating a festival which was entertaining yet thought-provoking became increasingly aligned and Jens then accepted our invitation to be this year’s Artistic Director, to the delight of us all,” James explained.

When looking at the structure of the 2018 festival, Jens explored the commonalities that bond the UK and Europe – along with the artistic differences that are evident. “The Nordic countries are highly influenced by the artistic clusters of both the continent and the UK”, he says. “In Denmark everybody loves the British humour and the British festivals, which tend to be more spectacular than those on the continent.  For example, French festivals tend to work with more hidden and subtle artistic strategies. “In the Nordic countries we are benefitting from both trends,” he laughs.

With the above in mind, Jens put together a programme that featured some of the very best continental artists, together with innovative and entertaining British acts. This, says James and Jens, was a format that will be expanded not only for future SO Festivals – but in other parts of the UK perhaps. “Our working relationship has grown and has strong links, which will extend far beyond SO. There are possibilities to organise exchange projects for young people who are interested in working with the arts internationally and exploring the way in which British and continental artists can work in the UK and within mainland Europe,” they say.

SO Festival is supported by Arts Council England, East Lindsey District Council, Passage Festival, Helsingor Teater, Without Walls Associate Touring Network, Coasters Touring Network and Lincs FM.

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