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?

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