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Casa Festival: Latin-American arts fiesta prepares to light up London

Ladylike by Ella Mesma Company at Casa 2015. Photo: Camilla Greenwell

Though Casa may appear to have dropped off the radar, London’s festival of Latin-American arts hasn’t stopped being busy and productive, writes Nick Awde. Now it’s gearing up to return this summer with a two-week take-over of the Arcola Theatre.

“We didn’t really stop,” says artistic director Cordelia Grierson. “What happened was that though our last festival was in 2017, the previous year we had produced our first big show instead – Thebes Land [1], by Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco. Then in 2018 we took a full break and went over loads of plans with our board and ran our annual artists’ development programme with Ovalhouse.”

Casa Festival: Latin America sets up home on London’s stages [2]

Aside from theatre, the 2019 edition in Hackney features non-stop workshops, talks, parties, and live music every night, with film and other events at the nearby Rio Cinema and Rich Mix. The Latin-American focus is helping London’s growing reputation as an international festival hub outside of Edinburgh, and builds on the legacy of Daniel Goldman, who recently stepped down as artistic director of the organisation he founded in 2007.

But spreading wider than London is now a key ambition for Casa, with the idea of taking a mini-festival beyond the capital each year. “We’re also looking at ways to commission more work by UK-based Latin artists to make new work that has the potential to travel,” says Grierson. “And we’re starting talks with festivals in Brussels and Zurich to see whether we have scope to be partners that work around the same time of year.”

It’s no accident that London is a natural home for Europe’s top Latin-American performing arts festival. “We’re not Spain or Portugal, but the Latin-American community here is the fastest-growing migrant population,” says Grierson. “It’s the eighth-biggest ethnic minority in London, and it still has a great rate of visibility in this country.

“London is an important part of our festival since it’s a city full of international people. We looked at our audience statistics and found that 70% of people at our events spoke more than one language. The UK capital is a multicultural haven and we’re trying to be a small bit of that.”

As Casa now moves into a cross-arts festival with theatre very much still at its core, it wants to encourage interdisciplinary conversations while also creating a cultural exchange between artists and audience. One reason for the Arcola take-over is to create a space that’s a fully functioning festival hub – a rare phenomenon in London.

In Latin America, Grierson says Casa is welcomed wherever it travels. “All our conversations at festivals there are really positive. People want to perform in London, they want to see what our theatre scene is, they’re intrigued to see what we’re doing, to see our venues – and they’re intrigued by health and safety here, because they don’t understand why we have so many rules in our theatres.

“Most of all, they want to see what a London audience thinks of their work. What the London creative industries think of their work. Latin-American artists are excited at the possibilities here and we are too.”

Casa 2019 runs in London from July 16 to 29: casafestival.org.uk [3]

Casa Festival review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘a varied and vivacious festival’ [4]