The Monthly discusses the Festival of Fools with Circusful’s Chief Executive, Jenna Hall

When did Festival of Fools start?

Festival of Fools was the brain child of Will Chamberlain and first took place in 2004.

Would it be reasonable to say that the festival celebrates an array of genres from clowning, to comedy, to acrobatics, to street theatre, circus acts, magicians, musicians and acts which practice the absurd – Why has the festival developed such a wide ranging approach to its programming?

Circus is an incredibly diverse art form and Festival of Fools seeks to embrace that in its programming. From aerial to acrobatics, clowning and juggling there is genuinely something for everyone. Both traditional and contemporary circus feature alongside work blended with other art forms. As a free, mostly street based, festival one of the aims of Festival of Fools is to introduce new types of work to new audiences. We aim to build connections, bring joy and share laughter.

Why is such a festival important for Belfast?

It provides a rare opportunity for people from across the city, across NI and those who are visiting, to connect, laugh and take part in something fun, together. It brings Belfast to life over the long weekend and, as the largest festival of its kind on the island of Ireland, brings more world-class, international circus and outdoor arts performances to our streets than any other event. We attract thousands of people to the city over the weekend, each of whom sees Belfast in a different light, many of whom spend money in the shops, cafes and accommodation and some of whom have travelled from afar to be part of this special weekend. It is the connection between the artists and the audiences that makes Festival of Fools so very special; when you come to FoF, you are part of a joyous shared experience. Our audiences participate, laugh together, and are hugely generous in their donations. Our amazing artists and our wonderful skilled team of volunteers and venue managers can’t wait to greet them and get started.

What happened to the festival during the pandemic?

Firstly, we are soooooo pleased to be returning. It’s three years since the last FoF and it’s been really difficult. But, whilst the past two years have been incredibly hard, we made an early decision to use the time to our long-term advantage and come back even stronger. We’ve built a new vision, mission and plan for the future. We built new partnerships and developed existing ones. We took time to understand our own values and the value FoF brings to the city, to NI/ROI and to others.  In 2022 we’ve been able to honour the contracts we offered in 2020 and we’ve built in some FoF Firsts too, including a ticketed evening show for adults and a youth exchange opportunity for the young people involved in our community programme. We are most definitely BACK!

Is it possible to extend the festival beyond Belfast and perhaps have a similar type of event in other areas in Northern Ireland?

At the moment we don’t have the funding and resources that we would need to do this, but we certainly hope to be able to grow and broaden the festival over the years to come and are very open to ideas about how this might work. In 2021 when we were looking at a five year plan for FoF we did look at having some ‘pop up’ events in other locations, and we’ll continue to look at that.

What should people look out for this year?

A barnstorming humdinger of a weekend! We have highly skilled aerial work in the form of Compañia Depáso, a duo from Italy and Chile who will be performing in Writers’ Square. There’ll be mind-blowing juggling from Grant Goldie and Simon Llewellyn, award winning clowning from Italian Matteo Galbusera, and PanGottic’s internationally renowned blend of inventions and circus will bring us a rickety contraption to fling balls in the air. “Any chance of unicycling on a tight wire?” we hear you ask. YES, courtesy of Sam Goodwin, British Freestyle Unicycling Champion.

Sin City Sideshow will be throwing knives and Paul Currie will be throwing shapes in his new, specially created for FoF piece, Shtoom!. Paul will be joined by punk goddesses Snatch Circus and trapeze artist extraordinaire Christopher McAuley for FoF After Hours, an evening of edgy contemporary circus for grown-ups happening at Circusful on Sunday 1st May.

In short, there’s a lot on, come and join in.

See more information about the Festival of Fools – www.foolsfestival.com/

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