Lifestyle – Jessica Thompson meets the old and new faces behind flagship family arts festival
Kids are the best critics when it comes to children’s shows, as the board of Babóro International Arts Festival for Children knows all too well. And with their biggest critics giving them increasingly good feedback, one thing is for certain: Babóro is not standing still.
Now entering its 19th year and recognised as one of the stellar examples of an inclusive, energetic, exciting festival, Galway’s Babóro is showing no signs of slowing down as Galway native Aislinn Ó hEocha steps up to the newly-created position of Executive Artistic Director.
Previous Artistic Director Lali Morris has passed on the baton to Aislinn after steering Babóro from a six-day festival, primarily for schools, to what has become one of Ireland’s flagship family arts festivals.
Leading the organisation for 14 years as Artistic Director, Lali and her dedicated team have developed international partnerships with 17 organisations in 15 countries across Europe, as well as attracting visitors from all around the world to the annual Galway festival.
“Galway is a unique festival town. The people love a festival. But it’s also built for a festival. You can make it very inclusive, with short distances between the theatre spaces, and you can really fill the city centre with a festival vibe very easily,” said Lali, listing the city itself as one of the main reasons for the success of Babóro.
It was the summer of 1995 that Lali first got involved with Babóro. She moved to Galway in 1996 when her husband, Ted Turton, became the Artistic Director of the Galway Arts Festival. At that time, Babóro was part of the Galway Arts Festival, but there was talk of it breaking away to become a completely separate festival – something which came to pass in 1996 and has been happening annually ever since.
“So, I was on the Board of Directors from the moment it started and until I took the position of Artistic Director in 2001,” Lali explained.
Since she first got involved with Babóro, Lali has seen the festival grow at an incredible rate and has enjoyed every minute of it. “There’s the thrill of bringing a programme to Galway because you get the opening night jitters for every single show that you start. You’re saying ‘Oh my God, will people look at me like I’m crazy for bringing this show? Will they laugh, will they like it, will they throw things at them?
“It’s funny but it’s kind of a real buzz. The adrenaline buzz of ‘Yes, it worked!’ It’s a real high. Festival week is a brilliant high, because you see the festival going nice and smoothly and then behind the scenes, everybody is like mad little ants running around and that’s a real buzz. I’ll miss that buzz.”
But Lali feels like the festival will be in good hands with Aislinn, saying that the newly-created position of Executive Artistic Director goes “hand in hand with the growth of the festival”, which she feels has spread its wings into different areas.
“It really needed to have someone overseeing the whole thing – not doing everything, but with at least one eye on handling the overall thing, because it was growing so much that it really needed to have a top person,” she said.
Aislinn herself is more than qualified to take over as Executive Artistic Director. Her own journey with Babóro began in 2001 when she worked as a venue manager for Lali’s first festival in the Town Hall.
“I was working there for a week and I just loved it. I loved every minute of it. And I remember being really struck by Lali’s passion for work with children and her way with children. And it never left me, so I began my passion for children’s work as well,” said Aislinn, naming her predecessor as her inspiration.
“And seeing children’s reactions to work on stage was just phenomenal. They were just completely sucked into everything that was happening. And what’s really unique about children as an audience is, in terms of their critique, they don’t hold back.
“Children verbalise everything and they stand up and they clap and laugh, unlike an adult audience who sit there, waiting to the end to finally clap. It’s fantastic, so I remember really being struck by that and the fact that we’ve worked together in the past and we’ve just come full circle.”
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.