Monday, July 23, 2012

camping with a vengeance

Since I've started freelancing I've been trying to create my own luck by being open to opportunity, as I'm sure Oliver Burkeman once suggested. Nearly two months ago now, at the beginning of June, I helped out Field Trip with the first outing of The Campsite, a new venue which is "dedicated to supporting unfeasible ideas and impractical performance work". Commissioned for its first outing and supported brilliantly by the folk at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, as part of the Pulse Fringe Festival 2012,  The Campsite transformed a scrubby, gravelled piece of disused land into a space full of innovative theatre, performance poetry, music, film, and participatory experiences, mostly for audiences of 1 to 6 people.

My involvement with the project came about like tripping over someone's guy rope, getting your knees muddy, but discovering that this tent has wonderful things and people inside, and being welcomed in for a beer. (I imagine, because this has never actually happened to me while camping. Yet). To continue the metaphor, while you're there you do end up having to help pump up the airbed, but there is pizza, coffee and a never ending supply of pastries and you have a wonderful if knackering time - and actually, a lot of that isn't a metaphor.

The guy rope, in real life, was a plea from Laura and Tom, the directors of Field Trip, on Twitter, for someone to help them pick up a caravan. They're friends of a friend (Nick White-White, who plays Frolly like a grown up and is also a theatre maker); I have a car with a tow bar, wasn't doing anything that weekend and offered to help. Several weeks later Field Trip had ended up buying my uncle and aunt's caravan (who have been enthusiastic in theory but somewhat bemused and possibly sceptical about how theatre in a caravan actually works) and I was sat in an office in Southwark with Tom. On one side was a splendid view of the London Eye, on the other, a completely bewildering wall full of names, times, and vans. 

 Most of what I did at that point was sit there and make reassuring noises. Tom seemed to find it vaguely comforting. And two weeks later there was a real live venue with an awful lot of artists, over 500 theatrical experiences, and nearly 14 hours of theatre, all over just a day and a half.

The Campsite had a mix of timed performances, most inside vans but some across the whole site. Then we also had durational performances which were very short so audience members could queue. It was sometimes difficult to know how to pace the issuing of tickets and to predict who might turn up when. I mention this because I found it really interesting just afterwards to read Hide & Seek's blog about Sandpit, which has a similar way of working but was trialling a drop in only version of Sandpit in June because:
'...there’s a problem with this system, which is: not everyone can turn up at 6:30. Not everyone knows which games they want to play, based on a 20-word description in a programme. Some people come at 8 and the games they’re interested in are all booked out; some people don’t even know what’s going on, they just wander past and have a look and want to get involved.' - Holly, Hide & Seek
The best bits were when people weren't that worried about seeing a particular artist or even knowing what they were signing up for, but found themselves surprised, shocked, amused and charmed in quick succession by a series of small scale personal encounters and then settled down with a drink, hot or cold, in a comfy campchair and watched Charlie Carroll's Campfire Sessions or the unforgettable special version of Ghostbusters. More detail and snippets of everything that happened can be found on The Campsite's Tumblr site here.

 The moral of this story for me is that it's definitely a good idea not to be so careful you don't have happy accidents. The caravan, now christened Margaret (aka the Princess, of course) is back in its new home at the Albany Theatre, Deptford, in a tiny nettled corner between a container and the wall, full of camping chairs, signage, and other bits and pieces. The vans have gone off to their respective parts of the UK. And recently I was back staring at that wall, as we planned what might come next.