Animating Scotland: Manipulate Festival 2024

We catch up with Manipulate Arts CEO Dawn Taylor about the festival's unique and ambitious programme

Feature by Andrea Cabrera Luna | 23 Jan 2024
  • Megahertz’s Ruins

The Skinny: Can you introduce us to Manipulate Festival 2024?

Dawn Taylor: Manipulate has always been interested in showcasing artists that are playing the edges between art forms and pushing the boundaries of what puppetry and visual theatre can be. This year, we have robots and drones onstage and people pushing their bodies in different ways and speaking to audiences with a range of techniques.

This year you have three associate programmers, right?  

Yes, they are Natasha Ruwona, Emily Nicholl, and Holly Summerson. We did that for the first time last year through Creative Scotland’s Radical Care Fund, which was about enabling me as a leader with small children to balance that with needing to see lots of work to curate, but also creating opportunities for other voices to come through. They've really asked questions of us and our process, which has made us think differently. 

Do you think that the leadership model for women in the arts will be redefined?  

Definitely. The model of leadership that we inherit is not just made for men, but for white, able-bodied people. The more the younger generations come through organisations, the more they're asking important questions. Holly Summerson is a hard of hearing person, an artist, and animator; and Natasha Ruwona is a young, Black woman who is very much thinking about how we reach a broader and more diverse audience.

What exciting surprises can we expect?

We usually lock down our programme by the summer. This year, because of the significant funding challenges facing the sector, it took us a lot longer to put that programme together. As proud as we are, there are a lot of Scottish artists who didn't get their funding, and who would have been in our programmes. What that meant, is that by the time we went to Charleville Festival in September – which is like the World Cup of puppetry in France – we had an open space and we ended up with two really exciting pieces from Compagnie Bakélite; one is Love of Risk, a dinner party served by robot vacuum cleaners, which is one of the pieces I was talking about, which pushes the edges of what we mean by puppets and makes a really smart but hilarious comment on our relationship with technology. The other is Invaders, a classic object theatre piece about aliens using lots of jelly. Another French object piece is The Conquest, which is about colonialism and being a woman of colour in 2023. Object theatre artists can treat heavy subjects with delicacy, which allows shows to be fun and engaging while also grappling with some really big ideas. 

What Scottish shows will we see?

We've got lots of exciting shows but in particular Megahertz’s Ruins, which is going to be three dancers performing in our big, clear cube with beautiful projections and animations on it. Also coming finally to Manipulate is Tortoise in a Nutshell’s Ragnarok. It's four years later, and COVID, and two babies, and all sorts of stuff that got in the way of our audiences seeing the show and now it's back and it's going to be big and beautiful.

Can you tell us about your online programme?

We are sort of the biggest and only festival dedicated to all forms of animation in Scotland. We've really stepped up our film offer this year, thanks to some funding from Film Hub Scotland. So, we're trying to make sure that this is a celebration for animation in the same way that it is for puppetry and visual theatre.

Manipulate Festival, venues across Edinburgh, 1-11 Feb