Before opening the theatre for the show's crew at 9am there's time to sort out floats, some finance on the previous festival, pay invoices that have come in, do some social media marketing, print out schedules and pack up all the stock for the bar we're running alongside the show. Once we've got the theatre open and the crew in, it's time to set up for the day in there. The show in the evening is Wot? No Fish!! with Danny Braverman and there's also a workshop at 11am with 12 actors. Arriving at the theatre I find that the owners are running their usual Friday lunch club for isolated people - ah, I'd thought we had the hire for the day and this wouldn't be on. They are open until after midday so it means we've got Danny arriving and the actors and a whole crowd of people having lunch. No time to do more than unload and then set up tea and coffee (keep everyone happy...) around the nice ladies in the very small cafe kitchen. The crew are putting in a lighting rig in the auditorium (our 'theatre' space is the King's, built as a cinema in 1910, now run as a community church) and setting up sound and projection kit.
The actors start arriving by 10.30am and Danny appears after finding a good local cafe for late breakfast, a boost after the long journey. Get them set up in the auditorium with all they need (after a bit of moving around of chairs, always fun) then it's time to dash out and collect all the rest of the kit needed for the day. I've organised to borrow 20 old-fashioned cups and saucers from a vintage cafe up the High Street (The Cake Smith) but first have to go to a couple of local charity shops to drop off boxes of things filling the van up - we did a fundraising event on Saturday for my organisation Ramsgate Arts and the remains are still with me, so need to be passed on before anything more can be fitted in. Four sets of boxes later I can get the kit in for today. Now it's back to my house where I find every bit of vintage-y china and decoration I can find. Because Wot? No Fish!! is about a family, through the ages from 1920s onwards, we'd though a roughly post-war approach would make our slightly forlorn venue look appealing and relate to the show. There's also more wine to load and five trays of glasses as well as four chollah breads in the freezer, which the lovely Hazel made for us since this is a Jewish family and all our nibbles are kosher. Janice is with me helping so we drive round the corner back to the theatre and unload it all to start the set up proper. The lunch club has finished. Now we can get on and make what we want of the space!
Moving a lot of furniture around we create sitting areas for the audience. We have helium for our branded balloons (we love a balloon!) and put them around the entrance area and up the staircase. Posters on the doors, lots of branded bright bunting and it's starting to look more appealing as you come in. Ellie arrives and we start putting tablecloths and pretty china out with old-fashioned vases of flowers and our homage to the show - old string with lots of small brown envelopes pegged on with drawings by loads of different people, which we've been persuading them to do for the last couple of weeks (local artists, children, friends, anyone willing!). The story of Wot? No Fish!! revolves around a shoebox that Danny's family found with thousands of wage packets dating from 1926, each drawn on by his great uncle for his wife, each week until the 1980s. They depict the story of their lives.
The workshop finishes at 1pm and there's a really great atmosphere. They've clearly had a great time working with Danny and he's generous with himself, spending ages with everyone afterwards in the cafe area, talking, joking. We're blowing up balloons, running around them with kit for the bar and it's a real sense of all enjoying what we're doing. Janice goes home so it's me and Ellie for a while, and the actors and Danny drift off. We're trying to get everything set up so we can see what we're missing. The idea is that the evening performance isn't just about turning up, watching and going - no, our audience will be offered kosher nibbles before the show, there's a full bar and we'll carry on afterwards, so there's a coming together of artist and audience - Looping the Loop is all about getting close to the action.
By 4pm I've put an A-frame outside, which is right in the town centre, with a little write up about the show and 'TODAY' in big letters. We talk about whether to put a banner on the tree in the town but the rain is pouring and both Ellie and I feel a bit down....it's been a very hard few weeks (we both have other work and jobs as well as this festival)....and we don't know if we will have as many people as we'd like for the show. Getting people in to theatre in Thanet is hard and we've all worked our socks off the last few weeks trying to promote the shows to as many different people as we can. But there's still only 25 people booked for this one and we do feel a bit as though we're not succeeding.
Cathy arrives with our special show tickets - more brown envelopes printed with the name of the show. We like to do interesting little details like this although it adds more to be done. We're probably a bit daft really, but we feel it's important, especially since we have no nice venues - we have to make the most of every little thing. So, we're pretty set up now and need to collect 4 T-shirts we've had printed for extra helpers, a bag of ice and a few more bits and pieces. I set off before 5pm to do the collections and print out evaluation forms, get the floats, while Ellie and Cathy do the final part of the set up.
I'm back just after 6pm and the place looks great, so different to when we came in that morning. We're ready for the audience! How are we going to do? It's been raining really hard on and off, which means we'll lose some walk-ups, but if we're lucky we might double the number who have booked. People start arriving and in a short space of time, we've got a very full, busy and lively cafe area! There's a real buzz going on. Cathy has organised a series of black and white films of families from the 40s onwards, which are projected onto a wall. On all the tables there are more brown envelopes with pens, inviting the audience to do drawings which we'll put onto the strings already having all around. It feels really cosy and the food is going down a treat.
I'm on 'milling around' duty, making sure people are OK and i talk to a lady who's come from Deal. She had an email from Miriam Margolyes who apparently has a house in St Margarets Bay, nearby. Miriam loves the show and heard it was on nearby and emailed all her local contacts to say 'come'. Joan le Mesurier arrives, also via Miriam. It's great to know that she's heard the show is on - maybe some of the marketing we've been doing is working!
The show starts at 7.30pm. We've ended up with 55 people, which sounds laughably small in terms of a London or big theatre audience, but is fine in the auditorium and feels like an achievement. There's a competing cultural event in Ramsgate on tonight, a once-a-year concert with a very interesting folk musician Preston Reed which I know many of the 'theatre' cultural audience are going to. So, we're feeling quite happy.
The performance is tremendous. Wot? No Fish!! lives up to its 5* reviews and all we've heard. Danny is superb and holds his audience in a spellbinding situation, weaving his tale with humour and sensitivity. At the end, there's a delicious sense of people wanting to linger, to talk. They drift out into the cafe area and I ask several if they'll fill out an evaluation form. They are eager, which is always a good sign. All around the space there are people sitting talking, having another drink and finishing any of the food that's left. It's a lovely atmosphere. And then another great thing happens. There's a group of five people who have done a form for me and are leaving. I happen to ask them how they came to be there, if they live locally. No, they're from Brighton.....!? Well, that's interesting, surely they didn't come especially. No, they're on a visit and were in the town centre today when someone came out with an A-frame which they read and liked the sound of the show...so they came to see it! Fantastic! So, it is worth doing these things, they can work, it's not just a waste of time. The group were really moved by the whole experience of the show and said they felt so lucky to have seen it, to have had such an unexpected treat. Tomorrow, we'll put up the extra banners, it's worth it....hurrah.
Eventually all the guests have gone and its time to finish the 'party' and clear up. There seems to be a lot of stuff. Five trays of glasses, lots of china, towels, bottles, all sorts of supplies as well as all the balloons to get down, bunting, decorations, cloths and so on. Then sweep the floors, leave the venue tidy so we can go back another time and maintain our good relationship with the owners. My little van is full to the top as i drive away home (which is wonderfully a few hundred yards up the road). But as I get indoors I see it's 12.30am. No wonder I feel a bit worn out. I'm too old for this and my 55 years, which I feel hard to believe I actually am, feel very real. Especially with the knowledge that tomorrow will need to begin again at around 6.30am and there's another show that night....and the next day....and then the festival is over and we work on the next one. Gosh, it's certainly never dull. Of course, I decide to write this blog and by 2am am starving so have cheese on toast....then head hits pillow and the next day dawns....
Trustee & Producer, Ramsgate Arts