Now in its third year, the Labas! festival is the brainchild of Dalia Mikoliunaite from Teatriukas in Vilnius, Lithuania and Cliodhna Noonan from Acting Up! in Dublin, Ireland. The first edition (2015) was small and compact and enjoyed the support of the Irish Embassy, the Croatian and Lithuanian Ministries of Culture and the Austrian Culture Forum in Lithuania. It was a first step in the direction of international collaboration on the idea of presenting new performances to an audience under 6 years old and their carers. Performances were in cultural venues in the city and selected state facilities in the K?diki? namai (Vilnius residence for infants with developmental delays) and minority communities in Vilnius.
The second edition in 2016, saw a huge growth in interest and indeed local demand for the performances for kindergarden children and families with babies. We hosted marginalised communities such as the Roma children and we also took the festival to the region of Moletai and Dubingiai. A very rewarding and enriching experience for the visiting artists as much as for the locals. The participants came from Croatia, Ireland, Lithuania, Egypt, Italy, Uk (Peru) and Austria and we organised a training workshop for 25 educators and artists with a leading member of the smallsize EU network, Barbara Koelling, at Menu Spaustuve and supported by the Goethe Institute in Lithuania. Our reflections on this second edition were mainly with regard to the question of expectations of the audiences in terms of their definition of a performance. Is it theatre if there is a clown? Is it theatre if it is non-verbal? How young can children actually be in order to fully experience a theatre event? Our main concern was the demand for more.
To answer this demand, we team up again in 2017 and present Labas! 3 from 23-29 April. There will be a wide and varied programme and this time we are opening our international performances to the general public at the weekend either side of the festival week. The opening will be in the hugely prestigious Valstyb?s Pažinimo Centras (Center for civil education inside the President’s complex) and the closing performances will take place in the newly renovated National Library on Saturday 29th April among other venues. We are taking the troupe of incoming artists to Anyksciai region in this edition. Labas! festival loves to exchange cultural perspectives with our artists and so, we gladly attend their performances as spectators but at the same time, we present Lithuanian culture at its best to them. In this way, future collaboration may be established. And in 2017, networking will happen in the beautiful rural landscape of Anyksciai, fast becoming a cultural hotspot for Lithuania. “We plan to collaborate with the very atmospheric and unusual monastery in Trošk?nai” says Dalia Mikoliunaite of Teatriukas, “and we hope that the afternoon programme will show our rural culture at its best to our international guests.”
On our return to Vilnius, we offer a full weekend programme once again and we aim to reach the highest number of early years children yet over the course of Friday 28th and Saturday 29th.
“Our expectations this year for an enlargement of the Labas! community in Lithuania have already been exceeded.” says Dalia. “We have our own new production for babies aged 0-11 months called Arbatinukai and supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Council of Lithuania. We have a range of Lithuanian participants this year for the first time, Leles Teatras with Cia Buvo, Cia Nera; Klaip?da Leles Teatras and the legendary puppeteer Vitalijus Mazuras himself with his wife Nijole Mazuriene who will present their version of the seven goats fairytale. The growth of interest in the local theatre community confirms the viability of this age group as an audience and is very exciting! Our programme also includes a meeting for arts and education managers in Vilnius city municipality, who want to develop this area for next years’ event! Yes, we already have a plan for 2018!!!“
“Early years audiences cannot attend these events by themselves” says Cliodhna Noonan of Acting Up! “It is very important to our partnership event to include the adults who share the world of the babies we are trying to reach. For this reason, one of the artists from Ireland will offer an adult storytelling session for the parents in the evening during the festival week and we will also have the Smile A While singing ensemble from A.Novikas Jazz School. This is an international group of mothers and wives living in Vilnius (including the Labas! event organisers Dalia Mikoliunaite and Cliodhna Noonan) who have found time in their busy schedules to sing for a while together and to share many a smile in the process!”
We could not have achieved such a varied and intercultural programme for Lithuanian children this year without the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Council of Lithuania, the Irish Embassy in Vilnius, the Israeli Embassy in Vilnius, the Romanian embassy in Vilnius, the Goethe Institute in Vilnius, the Italian Cultural Institute in Vilnius and the embassy of the government of Flanders in Warsaw. We are immensely indebted to their contribution. We programme a cultural networking evening also during the festival week, in order to facilitate new partnerships and to generate project proposals among professionals.
Doors open at 10.00am on Sunday 23rd April 2017! Labas! to you all!!!