Welfare State International Lantern Festival in Ulverston

Audio extract taken from Unfinished Histories interview with Sue Gill and John Fox in 2013 talking about the Ulverston Lantern Festival

Audio transcription:

John Fox: I just felt, and I still feel actually, that this kind of elemental forms, whether you’re using fire and ice and earth works, and so on or you’re just are using certain images and stories, they’re very visceral and powerful and strong and we identify with them. Something even like the Lantern Festival in Ulverston which has been going since 1983, that’s got part of that, it’s fire, its Autumn, it’s people being together in the streets before the rain coming or the darkness coming, it’s about a shared tribal experience. You can’t really use words like sacred or spiritual anymore because they’ve become so kind of debased, but it is a sense of where people connecting with the elements, with fire, with night, sometimes with rain. It’s a process they are going through, that some would say is an annual rites of passage really. I’d never seen it quite like that but some would say. A boy that we had worked with, who we’d known for years, had grown up with the Lantern Festival, who’s now studying at Goldsmiths, wrote and said that he thought the whole Lantern experience was a liminal event. I hadn’t quite seen it like that but it was for him because he’d grown up with it, it was that night in the year when he gathered with his own family and with his friends and just walking through the streets with a candle lit paper lantern. Very, very simple, but for him it has become a growing up experience that he’d lived through his adolescence, so it was for him a kind of rites of passage and I kind of liminal experience. But that process of taking people to a point of change or excess or revelation, is a bit of a strong word, but a point where you actually, for a short time you go entirely into a totally different space, and experience something collectively, viscerally. It is still a very important part of what theatre can be about and used to be about probably.

Sue Gill: I think it is a moment of excess, and it’s people experiencing there own place and their own town and their own community and we shut off the streets to traffic, and it’s all about their creativity, and they’ve been working for two or three weeks maybe making their own lantern and everyone coming together to do that. And nowadays there is such a tradition of, any public gathering – cos it’s about sponsorship or fundraising or it’s for a campaign or it’s for this or whatever -and it has no other agenda than sheer pleasure and pride in who you are, where you live and another year, and here’s another year past. Our little ones are now growing up and they’re bringing their little ones. This is the thirtieth year of it. And if no one wanted to come forward to do it, it would just wither away but it seems to have got a momentum of its own, and I’m sure it’s for those very, very simple reasons.

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