It’s been a couple of years since the last Barnstaple Theatrefest Fringe, due to obvious reasons. It must have been so worrying for the organisers, with the world changing so rapidly over the last few months and the uncertainty which has clouded almost everything in the artistic community. It’s a brave decision these days to try and plan anything much too far ahead, whether it be a wedding or a party or, in the case of Barnstaple Theatrefest, one of the leading fringe events in the country.
So it was a huge joy that this year’s event went ahead, and the organisers must be applauded for making it happen. Yet even on the weekend itself, there were more challenges: an increase in Covid numbers, the train strike, the hot weather. It seemed that circumstance was conspiring to remind everyone involved that it’s really not too wise at the moment to get one’s hopes up.
But it went ahead, and it was a remarkable event. The one thing that has always struck me about Barnstaple Theatrefest has been the wonderful sense of camaraderie. Barnstaple is not the biggest town in the world, and there aren’t hundreds of events which make up the schedule, so anyone who participates in the fringe soon becomes acquainted with all of the other performers and technicians. On top of this there are several events where people can meet up and talk about their shows, whether these be the taster sessions, or the cabaret, or more social events in bars, pubs and cafes.
This is why I love being a part of it. There’s a genuine enthusiasm from everyone involved for theatre and performance, and I have several friends who I know only from the Theatrefest. This year there was the added bonus of the Soundwave Radio van parked in the square outside the museum, where one could just turn up and be interviewed live on the air about their show. I went along with my friend Melanie Branton, and we ended up chatting for over an hour about our shows and our art, and it was great to be there and have someone take what we do so seriously.
Naturally, any fringe event is hard work. My own strategy for getting in audiences involved flyering, exit flyering, taster sessions and chatting to other performers and fringe-goers. I’m not a religious man, but I also considered a damn good pray, too. As it happens I had a lovely audience every day for my show and made a few people smile and be happy, which is what my show was all about.
The world needs events such as this, and I can’t praise the organisers of Barnstaple Theatrefest highly enough. They are professional, enthusiastic, and I could sense the worry whenever I spoke to them, particularly on the first day with the train strike and the performers calling in unable to attend due to positive Covid tests and the such. And it’s true that perhaps audiences aren’t yet fully behind the idea of going out and seeing a show, particularly at the moment, but several performers had massive audiences nonetheless.
It’s always sad leaving Barnstaple. As the train left the station I felt just a slight pang of regret that life cannot always be like this. Maybe more towns should have fringe events, I told myself, or perhaps, maybe not, because this is what makes Barnstaple Theatrefest so unique.
I’m hoping that next year will be more stress free for the organisers, and that the world will be finally starting to look a bit normal. But for now, there’s a big smile on my face, because, wow, it was an excellent weekend!