Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Sunrise OffGrid and Beautiful Days

I was beginning to think it couldn't possibly all come off...having been booked without much notice by one festival, and with very little notice by another - how would it all work out? In the end, twelve of us all told went - six each to the Sunrise OffGrid and Beautiful Days Festivals. Seven members of the Collective, a FreePlay allied artist, two family members and two who were getting their van converted by Wayne live during the OffGrid! Mel and Wayne went down on the Tuesday, Andi, Mandy, Liz and us storytellers met at the station before we waved off the other three, plus kids, off to the Beautiful Days to meet up with Lewis (of the legendary Bicton art course), as it happens, the one bestowed my ticket when I decided that being booked for six hours storytelling and leaving only one member of the company to perform it all on their own, wasn't on! And then off we went to the OffGrid, to meet with the others, including Andrew and Anya, the couple having their van transformed. 
   All of Thursday and Friday, I was worrying about how those who had only just met would get along with one another, at the other festival. It's all very well to be recommended artists by those whom one holds in high regard, and all very well to have met and enlisted new people in different regions, but to pack off three sets of different artists to a festival who've not met! Two from N.Devon had only my say so, that the Penzance member was gifted and good company, she likewise only had our assurances that the family were charming and excellent, and I had to have faith that the person who had my ticket - recommended by Andi - would get on with everyone else... Would the Collective survive packing off a group of strangers who hadn't all lived together at some point (as the original eight members had done at different times and combinations) to a festival for four days? 
   We ourselves girded our loins for the six hours of storytelling (having been programmed as entertainers, not as full on theatre, so doubting they realized what a punishing schedule it would have been for only one performer!), and Wayne had already begun stripping out the removal van by the time we arrived, and the Pavilion was already resplendent, as was a Vantastic (Wayne's company name) awning and signage, with the flyers we'd done on display. And it went brilliantly - people were in and out of the van and show van from dawn till dusk, admiring, asking questions, seeking advice, taking flyers, from time to time a concrete booking for a van conversion, customization or specialist welding commission... On Saturday Mel did a den building workshop all day, and in no time part of a field was covered in what looked like a mini tipi enclosure, with kids and adults making rag bunting to hang between them, and even using it as a chill out zone once the workshop was over. Our own marquee was pretty packed from time to time, and we shouted against festival noise and loud music. (A mic is a rare commodity at smaller festivals!) By the end of day two we were hoarse enough to gratefully accept some honey from Mel for the throat.  
   On Saturday I texted Liz to check how things were going at their end...- Yes! a reply came swiftly; they were workshopping to packed marquees and having great fun, with a good slot giving them all decent time off! Was I relieved?? That evening I could relax at last, going to see the fire dancers - eight in one performance space! and all different. And then did the usual round of venues and attractions, hypnotized by trancey dance in the dance dome. Classic moments included once the van was finished, with LED kitchen lighting, cupboards, the works, including space for Andrew's - a musician as well as having a first in Renewal Energy - harmonium, a marvellous bellows-powered piano like keyboard with a sound like a small organ! He played it at the end of Sunday, and it sounded simply magical...
   On Monday we returned to HQ, followed later in the day by Mel and Wayne, then Andi, Mandy, and Liz. And what a gathering, we all greeted, swapped stories of workshops and performances delivered and feedback gained, congratulated each other for getting everything done so well, and generally caught up on each one's perspective of both festivals, everyone talking to at least two people at once. There was a lovely atmosphere, and after all the seemingly endless hard work of ringing festivals, and filling in form after form, negotiating everything from money to meals, and issuing everyone with flyers for the Collective, and all the rest, it made it all seem worth the effort and hassle, and I couldn't help being moved. Especially when everyone gave everyone a hug on parting, even those that had only known one another for four days. One's faith in feeling that even quite different artists, once one knew they were gifted, and felt them to be really pleasant people, would hopefully be able to work together! was justified on this occasion. No common pleasure. 
   The Beautiful Dayers as we had come to call them, also came bearing recycled gifts - swathes of gold and silver big thick card from the end of the festival, and no less than fifteen metres of crimson fabric that I could think of three uses for at once! A fine prize. And Andi said they had been been called 'the best thing for kids there' - to which I replied 'That's what I like to hear!' - their leather and poi and textile workshops and decorated spaces had flown the Collective flag proud!
  Big thanks to Lewis to stepping into the breach, Rosie of the kid's field, Helen for having patience with the sudden change of line up, and of course to the wonderful other members of the Collective, Wayne and Mel for doing a great job, Andi for organizing his part so well, Mandy for being a peach, Liz for being so game, and the support crews! Sam and Alex, Andrew and Anya. Well done everyone!

   It's so nice with all the uncertainty about Spoken/Written and delays in the forthcoming books by Cartwheels Collective Publishing and other stresses, to have ended the summer season's gigs on such a high.