In Arc 1.3: David Binder on the festivals that shape whole cities

8 Oct

A new kind of festival is weaving through the world’s great cities, and it’s not so much theatre, says producer David Binder, as a way of life:

For The Sultan’s Elephant, Royal de Luxe, working with Artichoke Productions, brought central London to a standstill with the story of a little girl and her friend, a time-travelling elephant. For a few days, they transformed a massive city into a community where endless possibility reigned. The Guardian’s theatre critic Lyn Gardner wrote: “If art is about transformations, there is no more transforming experience… What The Sultan’s Elephant represents is nothing less than an artistic occupation of the city and a reclamation of the streets for the people.”

We could talk about the huge economic impact festivals have on their cities. But frankly, for me, the numbers are the least interesting part of the story. A festival can bring a community into a new awareness of itself. It lets it express itself more vibrantly. So a festival’s impact reaches far beyond its actual time span. Festivals promote diversity. They set the neighbours talking. They create opportunities for civic pride, improve psychological well-being, and increase creativity. They make cities more liveable.

When The Sultan’s Elephant appeared, just nine months after the July 7 London bombings, a man from Manchester wrote: “For the first time since the London bombs, my daughter rang back home with that sparkle in her voice. She’d gathered with others to watch The Sultan’s Elephant and it just made the difference.”

David Binder has produced Broadway shows (33 Variations with Jane Fonda, A Raisin in the Sun with Sean “Puffy” Combs), off-Broadway shows (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, De La Guarda), festivals (The High Line Festival curated by David Bowie), and one-night events (IBM’s 100th anniversary at Lincoln Center). He is on the faculty at the Yale School of Drama.

Read more in Arc 1.3, a digital quarterly about the future, made for e-readers, tablets, phones and computer screens; also available in a collectible print edition. Visit for details.

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