Behind the scenes of TWPF 2019 by Festival Director, Linda Lewis

The 2019 festival began for me in early 2018, when I was scouting for remarkable puppetry shows, which would please and excite our audiences in Tunbridge Wells, at festivals and showcases around Europe. This was an exciting year.

Once I decided on the programme, the really hard work started:  raising funding, sponsorship and contracting companies to ensure that they would be available from the 11th to 13 October. As many of these companies came from Europe and were constantly touring, it was often difficult to make contact. For the first time I had to learn how to apply for exemption of foreign entertainer’s tax, as most were young, emerging artists.  That was only one of the many things both I and our team learned this year.

In the end, the preparations, arduous as they were, provided us with the most amazing experiences – my most memorable one was of Cal y Canto performing A-TA-KA! outside in the gardens of Trinity Theatre with children who had participated in a workshop only two hours before. We were very lucky that the performance could take place, as the rain poured down. However, the brave company found a way to shelter their lighting so the show could go on. I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes when the performance took place against the backdrop of the beautiful Trinity windows, attended by a huge group of spectators who turned out in inclement weather to see this amazing performance.

Earlier in the year in the summer term, we worked with Age UK and St Barnabas school on an inter-generational project called Sea of Stories inspired by the sea. It was amazing to observe how Katie and Eleanor, directors of the puppet theatre company Rust and Stardust, made the most creative puppets and encouraged the children and the participants from Age UK, who live with dementia, to work together, to talk together, to laugh together. The children were totally oblivious to the fact that these participants were special. Some of the photographs of this touching project show a young boy asking an old gentleman where he had been in the world when he had been a sailor.

Our partnership with Tim Tempest and the Sherwood Men’s Shed project was a highlight of the year as he and his team designed and made four wonderful striped puppet booths from which we could be noticed in the town and distribute programmes to passers-by.  I also bought 13 puppets for use by children who wanted to try their hand at making a puppet show in the booth.

Our most important partner this year and indeed, since the inception of the festival was Trinity Theatre, who provided box office, marketing, and technical services, training for our volunteers as well as support from their members of staff and volunteers. We presented shows in the auditorium, as well as the gardens and the foyer small stage. The gallery was home to the Rust and Stardust magical exhibition. Trinity is the heart and hub of the festival where we meet, network, sit, talk and plan.

Now the third festival is over and I’m coming to the end of reporting back to our funders and supporters with our evaluations and financial reckoning.

We did it! We delivered a highly successful artistic programme which reached more than 4,000 people and we did it within budget, thanks to all the sponsors and supporters as well as the funders, volunteers, and venues –Trinity Theatre, The Assembly Hall Theatre, The Forum, AGE UK,  Camden Centre and Royal Victoria Place.

Before I sign off for 2019, none of the above would have been possible without the extremely hard work, commitment and enthusiasm of our small and professional team.

Thank you Laura Lewis, who project-managed the two outdoor sites for our free street shows and had the foresight to think of a plan B in case of rain – and we needed it! We were warmly welcomed and well looked after by Nicky Blanchard, Centre Manager and staff at Royal Victoria Place where we enjoyed large audiences on Saturday and by Karen Wood at Woods Restaurant on the Pantiles on Sunday. Laura’s organisation, attention to detail and spreadsheets saved the two days.

A big thank you goes to Holly Whytock, who designed and constantly updated our website as well as creating that beautiful poster. A huge thank you to Justine Rutland who, as our marketing manager and social media specialist, came up with lots of ideas which helped us sell 1,208 tickets. Thank you Daisy Pashley, who joined us as volunteer organiser and also took on the role of outreach manager, delivering seven fully booked workshops in schools and in the town. She led 54 volunteers, including five students from Skinners Kent Academy, to work backstage, act as front of house and help with workshops, not to forget the team of drivers who picked up and dropped off our foreign visitors from Gatwick airport.  And last, but certainly not least, thanks to Sarah Turrell, our PR consultant, who delivered 63 pieces of press coverage as well as organising a BBC radio interview and a South East Today special report on the puppetry festival by filming all our artists at Trinity Theatre on Friday 11 October.

So now the excitement is all over and the hard work starts again.

Here’s to the challenge for 2021.  I hope you will enjoy coming back to see us again in two years’ time.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Linda Lewis, Director.