Interview with Art Travelers, Linda and David Glickstein
Avignon, Brussels, Montreal, Edinburgh—imagine hopping from one city to another, sampling the largest performing arts festivals in each. For those of us confined to the United States, opportunities to compare performing arts festivals are rare, as the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia is one of very few in this country that presents highly realized contemporary theater and dance works. To get a better sense of the performing arts in a global context, we turned to travel experts and performing arts aficionados Linda and David Glickstein, recently returned from the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels.
Linda and David have lived in Philly since 1970, but have travelled extensively. In addition to the Kunsten, the Glicksteins have also been to the Festival TransAmériques in Montreal and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. They are going to Festival d’Avignon this summer, assuming the artists don’t all go on strike (in which case they will just enjoy France).
Linda and David have loved theater since their childhoods in Connecticut. Class trips first sparked David’s interest—he remembers The Diary of Anne Frank, the first live performance he ever saw that connected to him on a deep level. Linda’s family brought her to many performances, of which she most clearly remembers Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
In the summer of ’69, Linda saw a whole new kind of theater while taking classes for her Masters at Teachers College, Columbia University. One class introduced students to the East Village to see radical theater—very different from the musicals of her childhood. It was “crazy stuff” from “the era of LSD,” Linda remembers, adding that she and David “were like, ‘Oh my god, what is going on?’” as actors had sex on stage or when they swung around naked. You don’t go to this type of theater because you “like” it, Linda explains, but because it’s fascinating. Because of “a certain excitement that there’s something so different out there that you’ve never experienced, so outside of your realm.”
Decades of theater going later, the Glicksteins remain excited by new work. David shows us a video he recorded at the Kunsten Festival, a performance of Batucada by Marcelo Evelin. In the video, a large group of naked performers bang furiously on metal pans and then lie down in the street. Linda comments, “I’d never seen anything like that, in that kind of numbers. I’d never been to a festival where all the performers were completely nude.” She breaks off and turns to her husband as they both think, before adding, “Well . . . maybe that’s not true.”
The largest difference David and Linda notice between festivals in the United States and elsewhere is audience turnout. In Montreal, they remark, thousands would show up to shows that wouldn’t get three hundred people here. For a talkback with Romeo Castellucci in Montreal, hundreds packed into an auditorium. His talkback in Philadelphia last year garnered, by the Glicksteins’ estimate, closer to fifty audience members. Hypothesizing about the cause of this difference, the Glicksteins mention a general public appreciation for performing arts in Canada, nurtured by deep governmental funding.
With exasperation, the Glicksteins note one constant among performing arts festivals—the lack of audience diversity. Regardless of location, the audiences at each festival they have attended were “predominately white.” Linda and David emphasize, you could take an audience from Brussels and transplant it in Philadelphia, France, Canada—regardless of the location, audiences are predominantly white. They remember attending a Peter Brook show in a primarily African neighborhood of Paris. Even there, the attendees were overwhelmingly white. The only place that might challenge those norms, David adds, is New York City, where he and Linda have been in more diverse audiences.
Looking back on their favorite shows from the Kunsten, the Glicksteins point to Macbeth, by Brett Bailey, a theater maker from South Africa. This version featured music from Verdi’s opera and images from the atrocities of the Belgian Congo, highlighting similarities between two violent pursuits of power. Linda and David remark, “It was different, but at the same time it wasn’t different, because you knew it was Macbeth.”
—Miriam Hwang-Carlos and Josh McIlvain