Communique by David Lockwood about the new Ignite Festival in Exeter, 25th June - 7th July 2012.
Sometimes you need to go far away from something to see things clearly. I was on honeymoon in Greece last week wishing, as you do, that the holiday would never end. Then, quite suddenly, an image of home flashed into my mind and from that moment, I couldn’t wait to get back to work.
The Ignite festival, and it’s predecessor the Exeter Fringe Festival, have often felt like slog. The preparation involves lots of meetings, scheduling, e-mailing, contract writing. The fun is the seeing of shows, a wonderful but brief two weeks which seem to be over before they’ve started. But the perspective gained by being far away allowed me to see things as a whole. And I became completely and unacceptably proud.
To go back to the beginning. The Bike Shed opened on the 8th February 2010, intended as a pop-up venue for three weeks. We stayed for longer and tentatively asked if productions happening in our space could be included in the city’s Summer festival. The deadline for applications had passed, we were told. So we decided to do our own little festival. We called it the Exeter Fringe Festival (arrogantly believing we’d invented something, later to discover that we’d recreated a wheel built by Exeter Phoenix some years earlier). I’d hoped that this festival would be an opportunity to bring in six companies that I knew from London, doing a week each in three different time slots. But five of them said no. So, Plan B involved a call going out into the ether and, as these things do, we ended up with twenty-three companies, performing in six slots from noon to midnight giving a total of 65 performances over eleven days.
After taking three months to recover, we started planning the next festival, bringing in Monique Luckman to co-ordinate and manage the programming. With bravado, I instructed her that we wanted ten venues this time, rather than one. We settled on six. And over two months, schedules were made, re-made and re-re-made. 2011’s festival involved 82 companies, and a huge amount of weight on one person’s shoulders.
Which led to the biggest change for the freshly-minted Ignite festival - each venue would programme themselves. A steering group made up of the Bike Shed, Northcott, Phoenix, Cygnet and Exeter City Council would provide guidance and ideas started to spring up from around a table. We’ve been granted an old shop as a city-centre box office, a stage in Princesshay for companies to show extracts of their work, the transit shed on the quay to promote the festival at weekends. The City Council have provided some financial support, and we’ve some exciting outdoor events happening in the city centre, on the quay and in Belmont Park. In addition to the four main theatres, shows will take place in the Barnfield, and in two pubs - the Oddfellows and the Rusty Bike. There will be workshops in the library. In a couple of days, brochures will arrive from the printers which will show English Touring Theatre on the same page as The Tintagel Storyteller. A team of university students have been appointed to run the non-theatre venues. Companies from throughout Britain are booking train tickets and accommodation. Across Exeter, groups are forming companies and developing plays. As I type, artists are working hard, rehearsing, promoting, creating.
Rewind a week. I’m back in Greece and the sun is struggling to come out. I’m reminded there’s a heatwave in Exeter and I think of all of those talented people, beavering away, making pieces of theatre which will transform the city that I love into a hub of energy for a short period of time. And I’m proud. Because whilst I’m failing to get a tan, everything is happening without me, and I can return and bask in the reflected glory of other people’s hard work. And get asked to write articles like this.