Saturday, 18 June 2011

Festival Season...Again

Back from the North Devon Festival's Summer Science Day at Tapeley Park, the day after having gone to the Glastonbury Festival site in mud and rain (though mercifully it was dry when we actually set the thing up) to pitch the tipi in the Tipi Field; complete with juggernauts, scaffolding, empty fields, the skeleton of the to-be Ribbon Tower, the structure of the Pyramid and other stages, and general swearing, cursing and losing of tempers.
   Then off in, after getting something to eat and drink in a supermarket, what turned into driving rain to North Devon, to spend the night with Collective members Andi and Mandy (wood/cob/willow artist/maker and fine all-round practical skill-master, and wondrous costume/felt/textile/blinds/bags/felt maker and peg loom weaver) - who between them host more imaginative craft workshops than you can shake a stick at, in their company 'Freeplay'. The best part of the two days was undoubtedly having supper with our charming hosts who served up a delicious meal, and you know when things are going well when all four of you end up shouting news and opinions at each other, each agreeing or disputing in a friendly constructive way, and all yelling drunkenly but still making sense! Grown ups in an adolescent-style bonding session in other words! It may sound hell to those who don't do ebullience when they relax with some of their friends, but to us storytellers (habitually shy and often reserved!) to have folks you can let rip with from time to time is simply heaven, and we did. Indeed I do even have a quiet restrained and self-disciplined friend who finds it funny when I or we relax with her and go up a few decibels and run amok in the pub, even though it's not something she does herself. Anyway, it was great to have such an evening after a pretty 'urgh' day and preceding the worst attended event we'd ever been to at that much-frequented venue, all because of the weather. So many of the stalls and attractions didn't turn up, let alone the public. But still Freeplay's fantastic driftwood mobiles sculpture and fishnet aerial collage went down a storm, and our tales as Widsith and Deor drew what appreciative crowds there were to be had in the dry spells.
   But to hold a stall in such weather was disheartening to say the least - you can't sell things and draw folks in when you're rescuing paper based stock like books from downpours coming in at the door and what feels like a gale blowing everything to kingdom come... I couldn't help thinking of all the performers I know of who turn up with a suitcase full of book stock and dump them in the foyer or site office, stroll in, take up the mike somewhere dry, do the performance, stroll off to somewhere dry to sell books...  Oh to get less hassling gigs! I guess the problem was going for the festival market as part of the Collective? Doing workshops as well as performing? I thought it would open doors, not trapdoors! I have learnt a deal doing this kind of work, and got some gigs and a lot of experience I would not have got otherwise... And best of all I've worked with some truly amazing and gifted people - the Collective, and had some good fun with the extended network. But perhaps the time has come to rethink the strategy. Branch out in all directions that you can, yes, learn new skills apace, yes. But if there's something you intended to do and not stray too far from, and levels of hassle beyond which trying to earn a living becomes too much stress to handle, then that's the time to refocus and think again. Approach different venues or events for work for instance, not just rely on the usual channels. I know the weather and times when you hoped and needed to make money and didn't, can knock you for six, especially in the arts. But the inimitable Hope Clark would say, and I agree with her - what can you learn from this? And how change it to become what suits you better and is a better way of promoting your work?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

HowTheLightGetsIn Festival

Back from a whirlwind few days as I was privileged to go to Hay-on-Wye to support Matthew Hammond the Stand Up Philosopher, performing at The Globe Stage in the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival of philosophy and music (which runs pretty much at the same time as the Hay Literature and Arts Festival). The weather was amazing - almost too hot! And the bustling town of Hay was alive with folks attending both festivals, and packing the teashops and market stalls stacked up old stairs on the way up a steep slope to the castle remains... The attractive clock tower had signs all round it, and the colourful shops full of antiques, books of course for which Hay is famous, gifts and whimsical objet, made a wonderful backdrop to the festivals. As did the bridge over the beautiful River Wye, untamed and wide like a river in France, and the whole nestling by the foothills of the Black Mountains.
   The main venue for the HowTheLightGetsIn was The Globe, with its extensive grounds and split levels and many bars, and the thing that impressed me was just how much like a manageably scaled summer rock festival it was! The grassy spaces were studded with quirky interesting stalls, one selling sheepskin rugs, one selling vintage hats and a whole section calling itself ' Beautiful Rubbish', lots of places to eat with local suppliers well in evidence, cafes, a tea tent decorated like a posher version of one of the famous cafes that do the rounds at festivals like Glastonbury, places to sit outside with many octagonal wooden table and chair sets, well kept marquees, and because of the split levels and causeways, it all felt bigger than it was, and one could find unexpected corners. The Globe itself had a main hall, and underneath that, a lovely chill out zone bar selling excellent coffee and cakes as well as the usual bar drinks fare. The Stage marquee was lush - a cocktail bar at the entrance, replete with many martini glasses, neon sign and all, and a wonderful vintage red velvet ornately carved sofa, looking like something from a decaying country house. The stage area had crimson drapes, and was a really nice space. As a ticketed event, Matthew had to wait until the audience arrived before starting, so in the meantime to get people in the mood for thinking, he told them Anglo-Saxon Riddles from the C10th Exeter Book (a speciality of Widsith and Deor Storytelling Theatre of which he is course, one half), and at one point he kindly invited me up to tell my favourite riddle - the Sun and Moon! His show when it did commence was brilliant as ever, and the feat of remembering all the philosophical ideas detailed in each piece, the performing as if we were hearing the philosopher in question hectoring his contemporaries, whether Kant, Aquinas or Marx, the turning philosophy into theatrical monologues, and the hearing-the-thinking occur as in the piece on an idea by the modern French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, all of it was as rich, enthralling and (as a poet at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden remarked last summer) 'incredibly impressive', as ever. As he observed to the audience (eliciting some laughter) they needed to be drunker! but it was early in the evening... However, the show went down a treat and the organizers/stewards and technicians who had hosted and aided with it all were all pleased and complimentary, and all in all, it was a triumph.
   I just wish I could have made many more of the events listed. With talks and discussions on drugs, 'When China Rules the World', the 'Old Gods of England', the concept of the self, and allsorts of aspects on technology, politics, and everything in between, plus loads of music, and even circus, I recommend the Festival as one to get to! It had a lovely mellow vibe, and was about as far from stuffy or quiet (as some people might assume a festival about thinking might be) as could be imagined.