The Batley Festival: a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who

Yeshe the Yak is lolling around the Memorial Gardens as I arrive. “Go on, tickle him under his chin, he likes that,” encourages his trainer.

cs_100916_143-editThe fifth Batley Festival is well underway and the town centre has been transformed into a cornucopia of craft stalls, performances, walkabouts, workshops and all-round artiness.

A giant henna-inspired pavement mosaic is being created outside the police station; a Balkan brass band belts out the beats and Madame Zucchini entertains the crowds with Boris the Butternut Squash.

Six-year-old Evie is spraying water at a couple of performers dressed as hedges. Her parents tell me they’re regulars at this annual Batley celebration.

“And have you heard of Creative Scene before?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” they say emphatically, “we helped decorate a chair at the Cobbles café, didn’t we Evie?”

cs_100916_089-editBetween the bouncy castle and circus skills workshop there’s a queue to ride on the Life Boat, billed as ‘the slowest ride on earth’.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I say to Jason from the Institute for Crazy Dancing, as a colleague slowly pushes the merry-go-round of hammocks, reciting the Life Boat A to Z as she does.

J is for joy

K is for kindness, and 

L is for love, and is there ever enough?

cs_100916_136-edit“It’s the only one of its kind,” says Jason, beating a drum and rattling a chain, “you won’t find this on eBay.”

“And what experience are you giving your punters with Life Boat?” I ask.

“It’s about slowness, kindness and gentleness,” he says. “Everyone is endlessly racing around. It’s an opportunity to slow down, relax and think about the world differently.”

“I could do with some of that.”

As the afternoon progresses, I meet more and more people I’ve written about before. It’s a Creative Scene’s Who’s Who: local people who’ve been getting involved in the arts seem to have descended on the festival as stewards, performers, volunteers or supporters. It’s good to see.

There’s teenage Kira who performed in The Jungle Book production as part of Lawrence Batley Theatre’s Young Company, now toting a festival donation bucket; Graeme and his colleagues from Batley Community Choir – a hit as part of Batley Does Opera – have just sung in the Town Hall; Tracey from the Put Yourself in Their Shoes performance at Holocaust Memorial  Day is sporting a volunteer’s yellow hi-vis and Rebecca from West Yorkshire Drama Academy is here with her young mentees.

“I like the way everything is mixed together,” says Rebecca. “It’s helpful for community groups to work alongside established artists as it widens their creative exposure. Without realising it, they’re learning new skills.”

cs_100916_008-editTowards the end of the day, performance trio Kitch and Sync make another appearance, this time as synchronised swimmers. Young and old are encouraged to follow their lead and seven-year-old Ammaarah tells me later that she did her best to tire them out with some outrageous dancing.

cs_100916_271-edit“What have you enjoyed about the festival today?” I ask her dad, Zaheer.

“Everything,” he says. “We’ve been here since one o’clock and haven’t made it home yet. We were thinking of going to Blackpool today but came here instead. We’re glad we did. Everyone has enjoyed themselves, the children, the adults, even my mother.”

“Are you coming to The Batley Picture Show this evening?”

“Yes,” interjects Ammaarah, “I’m going to go on my dad’s shoulders.”

 

“I’m so giddy, so excited about it all.”

Golden sunlight streams across the Market Square as the shutters are pulled down at Batley Bargain Centre. Metal barriers, heavy electrical cables and theatrical paraphernalia populate the Memorial Gardens. It must be nearly time for the Batley Festival.

“So describe to me what’s going on here,” I ask Festival chair, Kimberley as we stand next to a row of portable toilets waiting for the volunteer performers.

“Apparently this is the watchtower,” she says, pointing out a scaffold structure, “and the films will be projected onto three of its sides.”

I can see Claire and Damian from Periplum Theatre Company amongst the technical people adjusting spotlights and clutching gaffer tape. Tonight is the first rehearsal for The Batley Picture Show, specially commissioned by Kimberley and her committee.

“This will be unique to Batley,” I say.

“I know. I’m so giddy, so excited about it all. We’ve seen some storyboards but really we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We’re expecting a group of local people to play a supporting role in the performance and a crowd of junior rugby players. Duncan is one of the volunteers: “The call-out mentioned flaming rugby balls and exploding tea cups, which I couldn’t resist,” he says. “I enjoy taking myself out of my comfort zone.”

Already a supporter of Creative Scene, Duncan tells me he has some proposals to get his town on the artistic map. “Liversedge is underrepresented in North Kirklees and I’d like to work with Creative Scene to change that next year,” he says.

“Sounds good,” I say. “I’ll come along and tell that story.”

As the library clock chimes six, Claire gathers everyone together for some introductions. “Damian and I are directors of Periplum and we co-wrote this piece; Damian has done all the film editing and I’m directing the show,” she says, “so I get to boss people around a bit.

cs_080916_005-edit“We’ve been going for 15 years or so and we like to make new theatre each time: new writing, a new story and an original composition. That’s our artistic vision.”

We get to meet the rest of the small team: performers, musicians, composers and technical bods although, it seems, everyone does a bit of everything. “And this is Graham,” says Claire, “who will be working with you this evening.”

It turns out the rugby ‘flash mob’ can’t make it after all but Claire’s not fazed, they can be incorporated into the show when they show up on Saturday.

cs_080916_030-editFor the next couple of hours Graham and his colleagues work with the volunteers and a variety of props. After huge purple banners have been erected Kimberley introduces me to Batley Festival’s newest committee member. Donna has been encouraged to get involved so she can be, “a voice of the residents of the council flats where I live,” she says.

“Have you done any performing before?”

“Not since drama at school,” says Donna, “but I’m not shy, I’ll get stuck in.”

“And have you been to a Batley Festival before?” I ask.

“Me and my daughter have been to the last few and they’ve been fantastic. Last year we were sitting up there watching the night-time performance and I said to myself, ‘I want some of that’, and here I am.”

“Right guys, come and get a lantern and a bell,” says Graham, standing over a couple of large boxes. “Don’t worry if they don’t work, we’ll have new batteries for them on Saturday.”

cs_080916_102-edit cs_080916_108-editAs the light fades I capture the Periplum team and their enthusiastic band of volunteer performers roaming around the gardens with lanterns, bells, balloons and torches.

By eight o’clock they are passing around costumes – donkey jackets and flat caps – trying to find ones that fit.

“Have we got enough jackets for everyone?” shouts Claire.

“This is too small for me, and that one too big,” says Duncan. “I feel like Goldilocks.”

The Batley Festival runs from 11am-5pm this Saturday, 10th September. Its finalé, The Batley Picture Show, starts at 8.30pm with gates open from 8pm.

Starring the People of Batley

It looks like a production line to make goodie bags for a children’s party. The long table in Creative Scene’s office is full of stickers, coloured card, small gifts and a pile of orange stripy paper bags.

CS_260816_001-EditThe fifth annual Batley Festival is only a couple of weeks away. Leaflets have been distributed and social media is abuzz. Local artists Harriet Lawson and Ruth Bridges from Dewsbury Free Art Fridays have been invited to add to the build-up, which explains the crafty cacophony.

I last met the artists a couple of months ago as they were planning to shinny up lampposts. Since then their playful art intervention has included replacing Dewsbury’s litter with coins and Olympic-inspired medal making.

“We just try and make it fun,” says Harriet. “And yes, we often get some strange looks.”

She and Ruth are both graduates of the Creative People and Places artists’ professional development programme. The Faculty brought together emerging artists across the North to encourage debate and new thinking around social arts practice.

“Free Art Fridays is a great way for us to test new ideas,” explains Ruth. “We can see what people like, and don’t like, and it’s giving us confidence as practitioners.”

The strategy is paying off. Their ‘real-temporary’ tattoo workshop has already been a huge success at an arts festival in Morecombe and is booked for other ‘gigs’ too.

CS_260816_011-Edit“So, what have we got here?” I ask, eyeing a laser-cut wooden badge.

“The evening spectacular is called The Batley Picture Show,” says Creative Scene producer, Rebecca, “so it’s a great theme for these guys to pick up on.”

Harriet wraps a notebook and pencil to make a ‘reviewer’s pack’; Ruth adds some leaflets and a bag of toffee popcorn and Rebecca puts it all together in a stripy bag. Soon we have 20 bags of arty goodness to give away.

In Batley’s Market Square we decide to split up. Rebecca and Ruth head towards the library and Harriet eyes up the Town Hall as we set off in the opposite direction.

CS_260816_038-EditA man on a ciggy break clocks the first bag going up above a noticeboard and asks what we’re doing. “They’ve been a lot coming in the Town Hall asking about it,” he says, once we’ve filled him in.

“Brilliant,” says Harriet.

“Well, two or three,” he says, “which, for Batley Town Hall, is quite a lot. Someone said they’d gone last year and had a really good time. I’ve seen the leaflet. It looks great. I’ll have to bring the kids down.”

Buoyed by his enthusiasm, Harriet strides past a bookies and a mini market to leave a bag in the doorway of an empty shop; another under a bench and a third amongst a display of bedding plants.

This is what Free Art Fridays is all about: little bundles of art left for members of the public to stumble upon and enjoy.

There’s another on a window ledge and on the pavement outside a barbers. “I’m tempted to leave one in the ladies,” Harriet says as we reach The Taproom pub. And she does.

FAF_batleyxWe walk together back up Commercial Street. “Two of mine have already gone,” she tells the others as we reconvene.

Within 20 minutes Rebecca is checking her computer back in the office. “Someone’s already posted one!” she exclaims as we crowd around her screen to see one of our bags with its new owner. Instant success.

On Friday, 2nd September Harriet and Ruth will be running workshops for young and old at Batley Tesco from 11am-2pm to make film-related props for the Festival.

Batley Festival – one great, fun-filled family day for all in the heart of Batley – is on Saturday, 10th September, 11am-5pm with The Batley Picture Show at 8.30 in Memorial Gardens.

Batley people (and a pie and pea shop) inspire international theatre company

“It’s definitely been a learning curve for me,” says Kimberley as I photograph her in the Market Square. “I’ve had some fantastic opportunities.”

“And why do you do it?” I ask, juggling my camera and tape recorder. “What’s the idea behind Batley Festival?

“It’s an opportunity for the town to celebrate, isn’t it?” she says. “It’s one day for the whole community to come together and have a fantastic time.”

CS_160716_003-Edit-2Apparently the annual festival – on Saturday 10th September – is now in its fifth year and Kimberley has been volunteering pretty much from the start, first as Secretary of the festival committee and this year as Chair. She’s expecting last year’s audience of over 5,000 to be easily surpassed this time round.

For the past three years Creative Scene has become more and more involved. “Their support has allowed me to go and visit other festivals around the country,” explains Kimberley, “to see how others do it and decide what would suit us here.”

Last year’s Festival featured two shows Kimberley had seen at the Greenwich and Docklands Festival and brought back to Batley. During the afternoon a dozen or so bee hives populated with ‘robotic bees’ and tended by ‘beekeepers’ enthralled both kids and adults. In the evening Walk the Plank’s Spellbound performance, featuring puppetry and pyrotechnics, did just that.

“This year is even better. Creative Scene has encouraged us to commission our own show about Batley.”

“From scratch?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says excitedly. “From scratch. Which is why the Periplum duo are here today.”

Following a successful collaboration at The Edinburgh Festival director Claire Raftery and writer Damian Wright set up Periplum to make site-specific outdoor theatre. Their acclaimed shows have travelled the world but it 451 – a performance about books being burnt at Greenwich and Docklands Festival that caught Kimberley’s attention. “It was quite a dark but spectacular show,” she recalls, “and featured lots of firemen, which will always be a hit with me!”

As we arrive in the art gallery above Batley Library Claire and Damian are deep in conversation with amateur filmmaker Simon Roadnight. He’s answered the call-out for video footage they might use for the Batley Festival.

CS_160716_010-EditA couple of years ago Simon made Pride of Place that was premiered at the Frontier Club. “I was fed up with people always doing Batley down,” he says, “because I think it’s got lots of potential. That’s why I made the film.”

“What would you say is the town’s biggest asset?” asks Damian.

“The heart of the people,” replies Simon without hesitation. “They’re warm, honest, friendly and hard-working. There’s no airs and graces about Batley folk.”

For nearly an hour Claire and Damien mine a rich seam of raw material featuring stories of goths, the shoddy trade, Batley’s variety show legacy and Charlie’s pie and pea shop.

CS_160716_023-Edit“We love researching projects, whether they are contemporary or historical,” Damien tells me when we later take a break in the sunshine. “It’s good to get to know a place from a new perspective and work out what makes it unique.”

“And why is Periplum different from other theatre companies?” I ask.

“We make large-scale work outside and we put the audience in the centre so they experience it from all around,” says Damian.

“And have you got an idea already of what you’ll do for the Festival?”

“When we applied for the commission we had a loose framework in mind,” Claire explains, being careful not to give too much away. “I can say we’ve been working with local musicians and poets and that the film footage we’re given will be re-worked into a silent film.”

“That might include some goths?” I suggest.

“It might, and even some girls’ rugby players,” says Damian cryptically.