From Margate to the Edinburgh Festival

Clod EnsembleThe Edinburgh Festival is noisy, chaotic and colourful and has been since the end of the Second World War. But then, it’s not one festival; it’s over 40 separate festivals, happening at roughly the same time. Collectively they have a massive impact on the local visitor economy. Last year, the Edinburgh Fringe alone ran for 25 days and featured over 3100 shows from 51 countries in nearly 300 venues. On top of that nearly 1000 groups contributed to the street festival. The combined festivals generate over £260 million pounds for the Scottish economy and support nearly 10,000 jobs.

Importantly, the Edinburgh Festival gives people a chance to move from the familiar to new and uncharted territory. To step from shows, performers and companies they know to new experiences. 64% of visitors agreed that the Festivals had made them more likely to take greater risks in things they went to in the future, and 53% were more likely to attend other events because of the festival. Fortunately, audiences in East Kent don’t need the long train journey north to find shows with the quality, diversity and intensity of the Edinburgh Festival.

You could find Les Enfants Terribles, Peaceful Lion, New Old Friends, Kill The Beast, Tall Stories, Gavin Robertson, Sell a Door Theatre, Tara Arts, Worboys Productions, Clod Ensemble, Scamp Theatre, Show and Tell Company, Chameleon Dance Theatre, Nicholas Collett Productions, Theatre of Widdershins and Daniel Bye at the Edinburgh Festival. Or you could see them all at the Theatre Royal.

The building at the edge of Margate town centre might be seen as rather more historic than cutting edge, but in fact the programming (by Pam Hardiman) has made the second oldest theatre in the country a neat counterweight to Turner Contemporary on the seafront. While Turner Contemporary brings edgy artists like Tracey Emin, Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry to a new brutalist building, the Theatre Royal fills a historic space that’s all red velvet and crinkly plasterwork with those artists’ equivalents in theatre.

Some Edinburgh highlights

Shit Girlfriend

7-23 August, Fingers Piano Bar

Think dating a musician is all glamour? Think again – gloom-pop solo artist She Makes War takes you through 10 reasons it’s a terrible idea. ‘It’s like someone playing with their phone in bed and ignoring you but, like, all the time.’ Sharing tales of real life on the road and ill-fated attempts at finding love along the way, plus explaining why music is the best boyfriend ever, this show is an enchanting blend of humorous spoken word and atmospheric melancholy music performance, via discussions on the workings of the creative brain, and internet versus IRL relationships.

The Red Chair

24-30 August, 10am The Demonstration Room, Summerhall,

A delicious feast for the imagination that tells the fabulous tale of a man who eats himself into his chair, The Red Chair lies somewhere between a Grimms’ Tale, an absurdist ghost story and a parent’s guide on how not to bring up children. As seen in a Theatre Royal presentation at Turner Contemporary. Written and performed by Sarah Cameron. A Clod Ensemble show (who also brought the Red Ladies to Margate), produced in association with Fuel

Going Viral

Through August; venue tbc

A new virus is sweeping the globe. A plague of weeping. You work in online marketing. This wasn’t what you bargained for. And why do you seem to be immune? By the writer and performer who brought Story Hunt to Margate.

Portrait

5-29 August (not 17, 24) 1:20pm Pleasance Dome, 10 Dome

A frank and funny look at the trials and tribulations of modern existence seen through the eyes of a young black woman. Candid and satirical, this playfully complelling one-woman show uses music, poetry and dance to ask the critical question: just how does a girl make it these days? An exciting debut solo show from rising talent Racheal Ofori. Directed for Edinburgh by Kate Hewitt.

I Am Not Myself These Days

5-30 August (not 17, 24) 4.15pm Pleasance Courtyard, Beneath

A surprising tale of love and loss, set amidst the excesses of 1990s New York, adapted from Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s bestselling autobiography. By turns brutal, funny and heartfelt this one man show evokes a time when Josh found himself working as a drag queen, battling alcoholism, and desperately trying to make a relationship work with Jack, a high-class crack addicted rent boy.Written and performed by Tom Stuart and directed by Nick Bagnall.

Phun City

Originally written for The Sentinel, the Worthing supplement for the Argus, this is a good introduction to the legendary Phun City free festival. One day, I’ll write the book:

“Sussex landed gentry the Somerset family have a place in the history books, as unlikely allies of the ‘free festival’ movement.

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, and took place in July 1970. A 20 acre site at Ecclesdon Common, now lost under the A27 just north of Worthing, was turned over to camping, giant inflatable domes, and an open-air market.

The main stage was a rough scaffold affair, and at one point during the preparations the whole stage was carried to a new position on the site by an army of local hippies because it had been erected too close to power lines.

The stage saw sets from The MC5, Pretty Things, Kevin Ayers, Mungo Jerry, and the Pink Fairies – all playing for free. The MC5, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had their own political movement, the White Panther Party.

Ironically, Free were on the original bill but dropped out when organisers said they would be unable to pay them.

The obligatory psychedelic lightshow was provided by Peter Wynne Willson, today providing massive lighting rigs for stadium tours by U2 and Pink Floyd.

There was also a poetry gathering, ‘guerilla theatre’, cinema, DJs, and a science fiction convention with special guest William Burroughs, the American novelist and spoken word performer best known for the book ‘Naked Lunch’.

Former Worthing High School pupils Mick Farren and Gez Cox organised the event, renting the land at Patching from Mr J Fitzroy Somerset. Back then, rock festivals were a new idea and the local press reported terrified local residents, condemnation from the council’s health inspectors, and mixed reactions from the local clergy.

While Angmering’s Rev Reath was talking about getting food to the site, and reaching out to the hippy community, another local clergyman had a different view.

“They don’t do any work and then expect other people to help them,” said Rev H N Snelling , rector of Clapham and Patching, “ I don’t think we should encourage them to carry on with this mode of life. I can’t feel any pity for them”

But Mr Somerset was unrepentant about leasing the land to Mick Farren, saying “what he does with it is his own business.”

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, but that wasn’t the original plan. Original posters, featuring a cartoon character drawn by International Times contributor Edward Barker, list a price of £2 for all three days, or day tickets for just £1.

However, the local authority took out an injunction in an attempt to stop the festival. By the time the injunction was lifted, organisers had three days left to set up the site and didn’t have any fences. Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Reilly stepped in, providing financial backing to make sure the festival went ahead.

Those who attended remember a slightly shambolic festival and a naïve optimism, but overall a powerful sense of community.  And many wonder – if Worthing had embraced Phun City, would we now be hosting an event the size of Glastonbury every year? “

No Librarians So Charming

It seems the lunatics have taken over the asylum. Bethnal House Asylum, to be precise, which was converted into a library in 1921.

I was there last week to speak at No Furniture So Charming, a London Word Festival event billed as ‘a playful battle’. Artists, writers and thinkers were invited to present their personal visions of the future of the library.

Nine of us did. We all had very different ideas; and our differently quirky but all playful presentations reflected this.

Kirsten Campbell, for example, was interested in how important the mobile library is to rural communities. She spoke about her childhood, her librarian hero dad, and imagined future mobile libraries where there was  space for community, conversation and coffee alongside books and computers.

Nicky Kirk took an architectural approach, looking at the flow of people through libraries and how to create zoned spaces within a library which allow different types of activity, including architecturally quietened spaces for contemplative reading.

Trenton Oldfield discussed the importance of keeping public, shared space in community ownership and presented a six-point manifesto to do just that, which including breaking the current coalition government.

Rachel Coldicutt explored ways that libraries, by narrowing choice and suggesting alternative routes, are more effective at educating people in their reading than online systems like Amazon, which suggest more of the same.

Taking a stranger tack, Jon Stone and Kirsty Irving created a leftfield oldschool computer game to show how people might interact with libraries.

So each speaker took a different slant, and used an example (with five minutes per person, it’s all you can do) to highlight a different theme. These were very briefly torn apart by the expert panel, Nora Daly (British Library), Charles holland (FAT), Chris Meade (UnLibrary) and Philip Jones (The Bookseller magazine). Author Travis Elborough kept a loose, light hold on proceedings as compere.

But  the response from the Old Library Faction in the audience (let’s call them for now The Librarians, though I haven’t checked their credentials) was overwhelmingly negative (which has continued online). Now, it’s not for me to suggest that all librarians lack creative imagination – although my attempts to house an arts festival in Worthing Library led me to exactly that conclusion. But the Old Library Faction in the audience were unable to look beyond the superficial – they were angry at a book being stamped was used to mark the end of each person’s five minutes, for example. And incredibly cross (during the question and answer section, one started shouting) that the people making presentations were all interested in the future of books and not the library profession. There was some indignation that anyone that curated a collection of books could call themselves a librarian; no, you must have qualifications to get the namebadge.

So angry were they at the trivial, that they missed the underlying themes of the evening. Here were people outside the library profession, being passionate in their support for libraries; enough to have taken time to think, write and prepare presentations. The themes were important; recognise that the things libraries do best are around books, find different ways to get communities interested and use library spaces, allow citizens to curate library collections and share knowledge, break down the barriers between the professionals (who’ve got the library system into such a mess) and people who have a Do It Yourself attitude and might just have some interesting solutions.

Did the Old Library Faction think for a moment ‘hey, some people that could help us save libraries – let’s get them involved’?

No. Faced with people who get up and do (everyone on the panel has a record of doing, not talking) the librarians shouted them down, belittled them and obsessed about the unimportant trivia of the presentations. Which might just be why the library system is in such a state of dissolution. The lunatics, ladies and gentlemen, and they’re running the asylum.

Boris The Spider

Look he’s crawling up the wall; big, mechanical and very tall. Liverpool has unveiled the centrepiece of the Capital of Culture celebrations – a new performance from the team behind The Sultan’s Elephant.

Demolition work on an office block has disturbed a giant spider, living in a coccoon inside the building. A crack team of (rather Edwardian-looking) scientists have captured the giant and are moving it to a secure location; in three days they plan to wake the beast, before it is able to lay eggs.

Watch this space as the story unfolds.

And let’s not worry about the fact that a major city like Liverpool can cope with a spider the size of a house, while West Sussex County Council can’t cope with some much smaller spiders in Arundel.