Provocative name for festival

As festival titles go, it’s certainly up there among the more provocative – and that’s exactly the point.

SICK! is at The Basement in Brighton from March 2-17, an ambitious, international, cross-art form festival that seeks out new ways of talking about and dealing with the experience of sickness of all kinds: physical, mental, ethical and spiritual.

As director of development Tim Harrison says, it will offer a diverse programme of performance, dance, film, online projects and debates.

“SICK! will bring together artists, medical practitioners and people for whom sickness is an urgent, present reality and will engage with audiences including health-services users and providers, medical students and the general public.

“With SICK! The Basement invites them to reconsider illness humanely, critically and sometimes with an irreverent humour.

“It started with myself and Helen Medland, the artistic director here, talking about illness. We have both either ourselves or family and friends had quite full-on exposure to physical and mental-health problems.

“We realised that these are quite often very powerful and defining moments in life, but also possibly strangely quite life-affirming moments. We figure out things about what life is, but often people don’t have a language to deal with these things.”

Which is where the festival comes in.

“We are interested in finding ways that people can open up. This is just a very tiny pin prick in something that we are trying to open up more in the future, just a pilot for a larger-scale event. Challenging people’s perceptions is a slow process. But the idea is that we can talk about things in a more open way. As a culture in this country, we are uniquely protected from illness and death, but if you go to other cultures, they are much more able to talk about it.

“We are interested in finding the strategies to do so. Humour, for instance. Humour is a great way of talking about things. One of the things we are doing is an online archive of sick jokes, funny stories about illness. It will be interesting to see the different humour from a doctor and from a patient.”

And that’s one of the reasons for the deliberately-provocative title. The point is that sick is a word with connotations, a word suggestive of different ways of looking at things.

As Tim says, there was a time when homosexuality was perceived to be a sickness: “It is about challenging those perceptions.”

SICK! is a partnership between leading arts organisations in Brighton and the south-east (The Basement, Duke’s at Komedia, South East Dance, The Old Market).

It was developed with Brighton & Sussex Medical School and Onward Arts. Elements in the artistic programme will be framed with presentations from medical practitioners and academics with specialisms in the subject addressed in the artistic content.

“Through this pilot The Basement will develop connections and long-term partnerships with

artists and arts organisations, medical institutions as well as audiences across the city and

region. SICK! will provide an annual opportunity for artists, audiences and health professional to share ideas and experiences.”

The festival will take place from March 2-17 at The Basement, Duke’s at Komedia, The Old Market and Sallis Benney Theatre.