Walk around Belfast over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend and you’re more than likely to come across an Indian magician, Japanese mime artist or Russian dance troupe, thanks to Festival of Fools. The annual festival has been bringing the best of local and international street performance to the city since 2004, and has been thriving ever since.
“Street theatre has no history in Belfast because of the Troubles. The city centre had been a no-go area,” explains the festival’s Artistic Director. We wanted to publicly state that the city centre is a place to enjoy and dwell in, not just nip in and out of. The first-ever show involved a performer abseiling down a shopping centre to a cheering crowd. From then, we knew we were onto a winner. Street theatre is an accessible art form because you’re involved just by choosing to stop and watch, and you can leave whenever you want. Laughter is an international language, and if you’re sharing a smile with someone over a performance, it’s hard to feel hostile. Street theatre finds the universal funny bone and connects us all.”
Belfast’s city centre is relatively compact, and with as many as five shows taking place at the same time, audiences can enjoy a range of entertainment. Festival of Fools has grown since 2004, helped by National Lottery funding that has paid for artist fees and promotional material. People from home and abroad enjoy shows including circus skills, dance, mime and slapstick, during the five-day event.