Jorn Weisbrodt on why this year’s festival might be the best (and sexiest) yet — and how husband Rufus Wainwright has helped out
Jorn Weisbrodt, the artistic director of Luminato, on why this year’s festival
could be the best ever
On June 6, the curtain will go up on the eighth Luminato Festival, unleashing a 10-day frenzy of artistic endeavour. Each day, dozens of events will happen at venues and public spaces across the city, with film screenings, dance and theatre performances, visual art shows and talks capped off with bands like Hidden Cameras and TV On The Radio playing at the festival’s main stage in David Pecaut Square. It’s an extravagant festival that is now one of North America’s biggest art events.
So you might imagine that the man who is one of the festival’s public faces and a key figure in organizing the entire bash would have by now stocked up on the midnight oil and be hunkering down for some sleepless nights of fretting over the thousands of things that could conceivably go wrong.
Instead, Jorn Weisbrodt, the festival’s artistic director, seems decidedly relaxed about the whole business.
“People always think that four weeks before the festival you’re super, super busy, but if I was completely around the clock 24 hours a day, I would have done something wrong. If I still have to work now, it means something is wrong with the program, something isn’t done yet,” he says, speaking in mid-May.
At the official unveiling of the festival lineup, Weisbrodt said his idea was to “be a little naughty.” The theme of this year’s Luminato, sex
and all related topics, wasn’t set from the start, but rather developed as the festival came together. The offerings include All the Sex I’ve Ever Had:
The International Edition, in which seven seniors discuss their love lives at Isabel Bader Theatre, and Green
Porno: Live on Stage, an enlightening look at the many and varied ways animals have devised to get it on.
However, Weisbrodt is not typically a fan of programming around a particular idea, which he believes has a tendency to feel a bit forced anyway, and says that nobody in Luminato HQ set out to bring in a bunch of shows about sex. It just sort of emerged organically as they went along.
This is the second year that German-born Weisbrodt has been calling the artistic shots at Luminato. The festival lured him here in 2012, from his previous roles as executive director of R W Work Ltd. and director of the Watermill Center in New York, and he and husband Rufus Wainwright set up home in the Annex.
Weisbrodt likens putting the festival together to gathering guests for a dinner party — it’s all about getting the mix right. In that regard, his best friend is his phone’s address book. He is a self-confessed obsessive for collecting people’s contact info and has some 8,000 names tucked away in his smartphone.
One of the artists he is most proud of bringing to this year’s festival is Matthew Barney, known for a series of avant-garde films called The Cremaster Cycle, named after the muscle in the male body that contracts the testicles (there’s that sex theme again). Barney, who in the late 1990s was dubbed “the most important American artist of his generation” by the New York Times, will be the subject of a host of programming, including of all five feature-length works in The Cremaster Cycle and his new film,
River of Fundament. In addition, an exhibition of Barney’s works will be at the AGO, where he will also be speaking.
“That’s how I like to program, so you can really unravel the creativity of an artist in many different directions and give the audience many different entrance points into the artist’s world,” says Weisbrodt.
Last year, one of the most talked about moments of his debut festival was an appearance by legendary Canadian folksinger Joni Mitchell at Massey Hall, who sang four songs during a tribute concert to her impressive career. Mitchell last toured in 2000 and has rarely performed in public since, and it was far from certain that she would do so at Luminato. Weisbrodt believes she got onstage largely because she wasn’t pressured to do so.
“I never, ever asked her to do anything,” says Weisbrodt. “It was just she felt more and more excited by this, that she wanted to do it, and I believe that’s really the key with artists. It’s not about you trying to force them to do something. You have to find the right tool and you have to create the environment where they want to do this.”
Having a well-connected husband like Wainwright is a big help when it comes to wooing guests in the music industry, but it does create its own set of difficulties. Wainwright has been a regular performer at Luminato in recent years, and this one is no exception. He’s the driving force behind If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway, a concert of love duets that will be sung only by men. It was one of the fastest selling tickets in the festival lineup.
“With Rufus there is always the question of it being too much insider trading to have the spouse or significant other or family of the festival director in the festival, and I
“David Byrne, Boy George — these would not be artists I could convince without Rufus.”
am totally aware of that,” says Weisbrodt, who takes an arm’slength approach to decisions about his husband’s involvement, leaving them to the board.
“Of course very often an artistic director makes their second-rate singer wife or conductor wife or actor husband or whatever part of a festival, but I think he’s much more talented than I am, so if anyone shouldn’t be in this festival they should rather fire me than him in a way.”
“We are paying him the lowest fees of anyone in this business, so we are basically completely underpaying him and also getting all his contacts. You know, David Byrne, Josh Groban, Boy George — these would not be artists I could convince to do a show like this without Rufus,” he adds, referencing some of the big-name singers who will be part of If I Loved You.
Though Weisbrodt is not one to stress out, he says he’ll likely allow himself one indulgence during the festival: a few cigarettes here and there. He has been cutting out smoking recently, partly for its health implications but also because he says he gets terrible smoking hangovers. The adrenaline rush of the festival is one of the few times he seems to be able to avoid the morning-after grogginess, so he plans to indulge.
Though Weisbrodt could be forgiven for collapsing asleep after the lights go out on Luminato, he has to postpone the vacation until August. June and July are high season for festivals in other cities, so he has to go check out the competition. He will, however, take three weeks off during August and plans to enjoy some time in the Montauk beach home he shares with Wainwright.
Just don’t expect to see the pair out around town taking in a show after Luminato. For Weisbrodt, who spends his career checking out artists, that’s dangerously close to work. Instead, he has a more homey plan for his post-Luminato downtime. “I’ll probably just stay in and read a book.”
Jorn Weisbrodt will have a busy 10 days when Luminato begins on June 6