Tim Harrison, Creative Director of SICK! Festival invites us to join a conversation about the very stuff of being human

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Confronting our physical, mental and social challenges head-on: Tim Harrison, Creative Director of SICK! Festival invites us to join a conversation about the very stuff of being human

What do you get if you bring 82 speakers, 75 artists, 60 performances, 18 public installations, 14 UK premieres, and 13 debates together in a discussion of the foremost physical, mental and social challenges that all of us face in our individual and collective lives? You get SICK! – the award-winning Festival, returning to Manchester in March 2017 for its second and biggest ever outing in the city.

SICK! Festival is a tricky thing to categorise, which is perhaps what gives it its pioneering edge. It’s not a theatre festival, although you will find many outstanding international performances in the programme. It’s not a dance or film festival, although these art forms are richly represented. Scientists, researchers and doctors feature strongly within the programme but it’s not a science festival. Neither is it a conference, but the programme includes debates, talks and discussions with more than 80 speakers.

SICK! Festival is the point where all of these disciplines and perspectives come together, offering a platform in which everyone interested in chasing away taboos and exploring the very stuff of being human can join in the conversation.

Drawing on and reflecting personal experience and professional knowledge, research practice and artistic reflection, SICK! Festival comes from a desire to confront head on the difficult, deeply personal and hugely important issues that affect us all. Identity, mental illness, sexuality, ageing: issues that all too often are kept away from public view and debate. SICK! Festival exists to change that.

Over three week from 8-25 March 2017, an outstanding international programme of performance, debate, film and public space artworks will be presented in venues across the city. From major arts venues such as Contact theatre, HOME, The Lowry and the Whitworth, to locations in communities and neighbourhoods away from the city’s cultural centres, the programme aims to connect with the widest possible audience. The festival is not just for those who have longstanding interest in the arts, but anyone who is affected by the issues we address. Belonging and identity; sexuality and well-being; mental health and isolation – it’s all there: the stuff of being human.

A new performance about MDMA assisted therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Give Me Your Love, is the second instalment of a three-pronged investigation into innovative approaches to mental health from unconventional theatre pioneers Ridiculusmus. Telling the story of ex-soldier Zach, who has withdrawn into a cardboard box in a kitchen in West Wales, Give Me Your Love is based on real-life testimonies from war veterans and explores the healing potential in altered states of consciousness. Watch a clip here.

Chaired by Professor Michael Brady from the University of Glasgow, whose research interests include the philosophy of emotion, What’s so special about human consciousness? asks us to consider what, if anything, sets us apart from other animals and machines. Is it the soul? Self awareness? The ability to make art? Are we really the only creatures to possess this strange quality (if it exists at all)?

On April 26th 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor malfunctioned leading to one of the worst nuclear disasters of our times and the permanent evacuation of the people of some 90 towns and villages in a 30km radius of the reactor. One such village was Zvizdal, where Petro and Nadia, a couple in their 80s born and raised there, refuse to leave. Zvizdal is a portrait of Petro and Nadia created by multimedia performance company Berlin during trips made to visit them twice a year over five years to interview them and follow their lives and choices. Watch a clip here.

In 2016 we moved our base to Manchester, and were delighted to acquire a new home and fantastic support from Manchester Science Partnerships. For us, the city feels like the perfect home for SICK! Festival. As well as boasting a thriving arts scene, it is a city with an appetite for radical thinking and bold approaches. The depth of knowledge, research and innovation that we have found here, and which contribute directly to the content of the festival, are second to none. Alongside this, there are the very real health and social challenges the city faces. We have been inspired and humbled to work with academics from University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University as well as many others working in public health and the charities sector.

Whilst the expertise we find in the city is formidable: the academic, clinical, charity and arts communities of Manchester have been overwhelmingly generous in embracing the festival, and for that we are extremely grateful. During the 2017 festival and beyond, we look forward to engaging with people from many sectors, disciplines and walks of life. We hope you will join the conversation. See you there!

The full SICK! Festival programme can be viewed at http://www.sickfestival.com/whats-on/manchester/

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