My journey to Festival of Voice by Poppy Sturgess

My journey to Festival of Voice…

So, when I was asked to write a blog about what brought me to Festival of Voice, the theme tune to “This is Your Life” immediately popped into my head. This was soon followed by a montage of images flashing through my head – images of late nights, all day pyjama wearing, trapped at the laptop, staring at the word count on the bottom of essay number 3 of 5, ever hopeful that it would miraculously increase before my eyes, and the feeling of dread that comes with it all. My mind has wandered back to the student life that I encountered. I was quickly brought back to the now, and I realised that the late nights and the feelings of doom were all very much worth it in the long run…

Growing up in the deepest, darkest depths of Wiltshire (i.e. the middle of nowhere), I had dreams of branching out and moving to the city. University was my opportunity, and following on from my love for all things theatre, music, and the arts, I made my way to Cardiff to study Drama at the University of South Wales. Fast forward a long and arduous, yet brilliant and inspiring few years, I couldn’t bring myself to leave what I now called home.

It was at this time that I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career, and coming out of university, that can be quite a daunting thought. But actually, this was the best situation, because it’s times like these that allow you to experience and explore the opportunities that are out there for you. I tried… teaching flute to some pint sized kids; being a lumberjack in a youth opera whilst looking like Gandalf with a stick-on beard; ‘acting’ in a dodgy comedy above the old Dempsey’s (ahh Dempsey’s); and my favourite, pulling my back whilst being the rear end of ‘Daisy the cow’ for an amateur Christmas panto. We’ve all got to start somewhere right?!

Of course all of this couldn’t put a roof over my head, or a pot noodle on my plate, so this was all alongside a part-time stint in retail. Retail was enjoyable at the beginning, and I sure did take advantage of the staff discount. As each manic sale rolled by, I could see the artistic side of my brain slowly dwindling. Retail just wasn’t for me.

I had to do something. I had to change my job. I had to make a decision on what to do with my life! And I’m sure many fellow Librans will agree, decision making is not one of our attributes… it was a long process. I finally decided to go back to education, to build my skills, and bring back my confidence in my artistic ability. I enrolled on the Arts Management masters course at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and threw myself into every opportunity possible inside and outside of college. Before I knew it, I was knee deep in the joys of spreadsheets, power points, and Gant charts, and I loved it! The course also gave me the opportunity to get my creative juices flowing again.

My course was built up of various modules, focusing on marketing and communications, creative producing, finance, fundraising and budget management, venue and event management, festival curation, and, education and technology in the arts. It was a great balance between administration and creativity, where we were often given the chance to see a project through from the beginning to the end, encompassing all of the elements above. Creative producing and festival curation were certainly my favourite aspects of the course and they allowed me to explore international arts festivals around the world. We focused upon collaborations with European theatre and music producers, something that was particularly poignant at the time with the referendum soon approaching – and well, we all know how that turned out…

As part of the course, I was given the opportunity to take on a professional placement, and, low and behold, I was accepted to be Festival Assistant at Festival of Voice 2016. When I found this out, I think I yelped and jumped in the air like a cat having a crazy 5 minutes – I was that excited! Day 1 arrived, and after some preliminary research on the team (aka social media stalking), I very quickly felt a part of the team. (And yes, that’s our lovely shiny faces in the photo above on the last day of the festival – it was a very hot couple of weeks!)

I delved straight into working on artist liaison tasks, some of which included consolidating hospitality riders, organising catering, hiring cars, booking hotel rooms, liaising with tour managers for scheduling, and booking towels – yes, towels. With over 100 performers, there were a lot of people to feed, and the reams of food items was extensive to say the least. Also, it must have been the year of the hipsters as hummus, avocados and unsweetened almond milk were very much on the top of the list when shopping for artists’ riders – wasn’t quite the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that I was expecting, which made me love it even more.

When it came to the festival itself the whole team were all go from day break until well passed midnight every day. Each morning started with a strong coffee, a catch up on the previous day’s events including our highlights, and our schedule for the day ahead. I had too many highlights to mention, but a couple of my favourites had to be House Gospel Choir at The Globe, the audience just did not want them to finish and they gave two encores, they had everyone up dancing and grooving along to their super soulful voices. Another highlight would have to be the opening night with John Cale, Gwenno, Charlotte Church, and Michael Sheen in St. David’s Hall. It was a very special moment and really ignited the awesomeness that was to follow over the next 10 days.

The journey didn’t end there, but I think I’ve rattled on enough for now. As they say, to be continued…

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