LIFT was established in 1981; for most of its existence it has offered a biennial festival taking place in London in the summer over several weeks. The team has been based at Toynbee Studios in East London. LIFT has had a longer-term presence in Tottenham and since 2015 has been touring work nationally and internationally.
Founded as the London International Festival of Theatre in 1980 by Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal, LIFT became a registered charity in 1981.
In 2004, after 25 years, Fenton and Neal stepped down as directors. Angharad Wynne-Jones was appointed director of the festival and oversaw the LIFT 2008 festival.
Mark Ball joined LIFT in 2009 as Artistic Director and CEO alongside Beki Bateson as Executive Director, curating five of the biennial festivals. In that time they presided over 133 shows and events seen by over 200,000 people in over 50 venues. Beki recently led 22nd edition of LIFT’s biennial festival as Executive Director and Joint CEO alongside LIFT 2018 Guest Artistic Director, David Binder.
Kris Nelson joined LIFT as Artistic Director and CEO in 2018, later joined by Executive Director Stella Kanu in 2019.
The first LIFT festival presented companies from Poland, France, Brazil, The Netherlands, Malaysia, West Germany, Japan, Peru, and the UK. LIFT continued to present and commission work from all over the world; in the period 1981-2001 companies from over 60 countries participated in the festivals. LIFT presented theatre for a variety of audiences, both in conventional theatres and at unusual and different sites.
Over the years work has been presented at places such as Bankside Power Station, the site for the LIFT ’93 Launch, Limehouse Basin, the site for Welfare State International’s ‘The Raising of the Titanic’ LIFT ’83, and Euston Tower, the site for Deborah Warner’s ‘The Tower Project’ in LIFT ’99. LIFT not only presented new theatre it also re-presented old or forgotten places in London.
LIFT launched its 6th Festival with spectacular Fireworks at the abandoned Riverbanks – which would 7 years later become the grounds for the Tate Modern. After twelve festivals LIFT decided to break with the traditional biennial festival format and enter the Enquiry period, a five-year venture to investigate theatre and present year round events.
A LIFT 2010 UK premiere, Gob Squad came equipped with cameras, live links, big screens and very long cables to broadcast the revolution to the world as it happened. The audience were transformed from passive spectators to revolutionaries while Gob Squad revisited revolutions past, thrusting them slap bang in the present.
In July ’11 Londoners awoke to the sound of music emanating from the skies, as The Sky Orchestra flew over the capital to celebrate LIFT’s 30th birthday. Life Streaming in 2012 presented Sir Lankan voices on the Southbank, inking audiences in London live with actors and artists 8000km away in Sri Lanka through internet chat, video links and emails, raising questions about the real impact of disaster aid.
In 2014 LIFT presented 80 productions involving 328 international artists and performed in 21 languages to almost 40,000 people.
LIFT 2016 Opening Night saw a debut performance from Taylor Mac in what the Guardian described as ‘A dangerous blend of Bette Midler, Liza Minneli, Lady Gaga and Boy George’. The festival programme included 25 productions, with works by Neil Barlett (‘Stella’), Depart led by Yaron Lifschitz with his internationally acclaimed company, Circa and with a creative team including the electronic musician Lapalux that took place in a Tower Hamlets cemetery park. The festival events also included talks with Peter Brook and for the first time involved the UpLIFTers from LIFT Tottenham who became an official festival Jury as part of The Children’s Choice Awards.
In 2018, LIFT partnered with Manchester International Festival for Fatherland, inspired by conversations with fathers and sons and taking place at Lyric Hammersmith. LIFT 2018 presented 20 shows to 40,000 audience members, including 10 commissions that supported 400 Londoners from 6 to 76 years old to participate in the creation of work. Over 15,000 tickets were subsidised to enable greater access and inclusion.
Although cancelled due to the global pandemic, LIFT 2020 LIFT 2020 brought together a myriad of voices from Kenya to Australia and Tottenham to Azerbaijan who will present extraordinary and ground-breaking experiences, exploring identity and our understanding of gender and power relationships in Candoco Dance Company/ Lost Dog’s, The Argonauts, Tina Satter’s Is This a Room? and Nat Randall and Anna Breckon’s The Second Woman.
Check out LIFT’s archive to find more about LIFT Festivals and previous performances from all our festivals.