ZiguZajg festival is back

For their 10th anniversary​ ZIGUZAJG ​will be going online and bringing theatre to homes everywhere for this historic pandemic-friendly edition. MaltaToday sat down with Festival Director Marta Vella and Production Executive Andre Mangion to understand how they went about it all...

Andre Mangion and Marta Vella (inset)
Andre Mangion and Marta Vella (inset)

The festival was filmed almost three months prior to its highly anticipated launch date, which begs the question how did you come to the decision to film the productions in studio so early on?

Andre Mangion​: To be honest we’ve been juggling around ideas back in March this year. Back then the whole pandemic issue was developing slowly and we were already in touch with local companies and some international artists that we were interested in bringing over. As the situation was developing, we kept an open conversation with all artists and in the meantime, we were drafting Plans A, B, C, D... Each plan corresponded to a different scenario that we thought that we might be facing in November 2020. We gave ourselves a deadline, which was the end of May, deciding to ultmately which Plan we should opt for. Taking many things into factor we came to a conclusion that the ideal Plan which prioritized the safety of our young patrons, was to have a solid base of digital shows to be available online. The online plan ticked a number of boxes and worked well in different scenarios that back then we though we might be facing in November 2020. I think planning in these strange circumstances is not as simple as thinking ahead so that all variables are catered for. Taking a decision today for an event bound to happen in two, three months’ time may still prove to be bad decision- because the parameters are changing week by week, day-by-day sometimes. .

Marta Vella​: Andre and I are have always held the same ideas when it came to the vision for the festival. Having both joined the festival team this year this was nothing short of a baptism of fire. Despite the challenges however, at no point did we entail the idea of cancelling which I think is a testament to the cultural impact of festival itself. Like Andre mentioned, it wasn’t easy to stick to our guns at a point. Fortunately we held our ground and the most important question that we kept coming back to was; which festival model can we create that would surely make it to the finish line despite the ever changing circumstances? When we decided to go online and film shows the timelines needed to change. In live theatre we work towards opening night which makes production week the last step of the creative process. With filming that’s the first step. Post-production so editing, music composition, graphics, effects, captioning that’s bit of the process takes a really long time so it was important to get everything filmed earlier.

You could have easily taken the “live show”, “socially distant”, “reduced audience” route. Tell us why you stuck to having ZiguZajg streamed online instead, even when bans were lifted, patient numbers were lower and things were looking up?

A​: First and foremost, the safety of our patrons was always on top of our agenda. Whilst understanding that we ran through a period of sunshine during June/July, we were still having conversations on the chances of a second wave. We tried to keep an open door on live performances and we thought of new ways how we could have a performance of sorts. Up until a few days ago we had one show from the programme that was to have a live rendition along with a livestream. This had to be postponed eventually yet again to ensure the safety of our young patrons and their guardians. We do have a semi-live performance which does not involve any actors. Through a DIY Theatre Concept on which Teatru Malta have worked in collaboration with Ziguzajg, we’re aiming to re-address the notion of a live-performance whereby the audience becomes the performing entity and follows instructions/script to experience the show.

We believe that creating art and performances in a physical space is brilliant and leaves a beautiful positive impact, but there will always be segments of society that physically be present in that physical space. So the rendition of an online festival hopefully also reaches out to new audiences that may have found difficulty in attending live events in previous editions.

M:​ Your use of the word ‘easily’ is interesting because it was anything but that. There are many factors that led to this decision. Safety of patrons was of utmost importance like Andre has mentioned. However we needed to ponder about how Żigużajg has come alive in the past and how we wanted to bring it to life in 2020 and in this reality. Our audiences are children and young people so we aren’t even relying on their consent but their parents’, that was another barrier for us. Schools who make up a big portion of our audiences wouldn’t have been able to attend this year, as we know schools aren’t letting anyone in or out apart from students and staff. The conversation around accessibility was very prominent; everything went online for lockdown but those 9 weeks for the mainstream population is also a way of life for many who will never be able to get to the theatre. We have an obligation toward those audiences and commit to find take art to the people rather than vice versa.

Film and theatre are two very different things. How did you go about managing a virtual festival of this magnitude?

M​: It was a great challenge. 8 months into the pandemic we knew that a show put together on Zoom wouldn’t make the cut. It was enough time to plan accordingly and not scramble things together. Some of the shows were filmed in house. For those that we managed directly we ordered specific equipment to support the exigencies of each respective production. For instance we have ordered a 40metre green screen and green dance carpet flooring from the UK for specific shows. Consequently we now own the biggest green screen on the island. We turned Valletta Campus Theatre into a studio for two weeks in September and filmed a series of shows back to back. The execution of other shows was managed independently by their respective creatives because people within those teams had ample film production experience themselves. We had to rethink the creative process and work cinematically. We brought a Director of Photography on board to oversee the whole festival so we’d have cohesion in our aesthetic.

A​: The productions we have this year have been filmed across different locations. To accommodate the needs of some of the productions we purchased a huge green screen along with green dance carpets. We had sets being built and 2D costumes being created. All of this was studio based. Other productions have used different spaces to film, different houses, different homes. And I think this also tallies nicely with our concept of bringing ZiguZajg to your home as highlighted in this year’s promo. There is this element of interconnectedness whereby an audience member is at home watching a performer do what he or she is good at, at home.

Management of these productions was tough I must say but it’s always tough, I guess. My biggest concern was that most of us and most of the artists are considerably more versed with the theatre medium as opposed to film. But that is where we brought in expertise to be part of our core team. We wanted to have a professional audiovisual recording for each production and we made sure that there was good throughout communication between the Director of Photography and the artistic team. The DOP did attend rehearsals and had several meetings with the artists to be able to deliver a recording of the performance which does justice to the performance itself and all the artistic work put in.

If you could share one message with your audiences, what would it be?

M​: The performing arts have survived wars, arsons, acts of God and even pandemics before. This isn’t the time where we give up and be complacement. We are looking forward to share with you these shows to wrap up the first decade of this wonderful festival and cannot wait for what’s to come!

A​: ZiguZajg turns 10 this year. We have looked at the past legacy that this marvellous festival has built up. And we took a beat to look ahead at the future of this festival and sought ways and means of keeping it alive whilst increasing its accessibility.


The 10th edition of ZiguZajh Festival will run from the 20th to the 29th of November. Tickets for all shows cost €7 per household. For more information visit ​www.ziguzajg.org​ or call 2122 3200