5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies

5 questions to...

I recently had the great personal and professional pleasure to work with The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company currently working across London and in Bradford but constantly expanding their reach thanks to their determination to spread “art, love and magic” all over the world.

Ruling the roost, the Brick Box Ladies – a.k.a. co-directors Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman – preside over a small army of artists of all denominations and project managers – like myself – who work collaboratively to infuse under-used public spaces with a new lease of life. Their latest projects include the A13 Green in Canning Town (a village green complete with fairy-lit bandstand under a concrete flyover), the Light Fantastic in Thamesmead and the Electric Fireside in Little Germany, Bradford – and most recently the event I contributed to, the Big Draw by the River in Nine Elms. There are tons of photos and videos on their website (they’ve got their marketing priorities nailed down and always employ top-notch photographers and videographers) so I’ve pinched a few to include in between each question and show off their fantastic work.

 

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

1. Your next event is Light Night Canning Town on 29 November 2014. What’s a typical day right now?

Busy! We’re ramping up marketing and press, trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ve got such a fantastic programme we want to make sure lots of people come and enjoy it. We’re also making daily prayers for good weather!

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

2. You’ve been organising events for several years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

It’s been 4 and a half years as The Brick Box, far longer in different incarnations. It’s easier to work out budgets, have an idea of what an event might be like, and pack gaffer tape! What doesn’t get easier? Worrying that no one will come!

Half Moon Theatre's Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

Half Moon Theatre’s Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

3. Before, during or after an event – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Definitely during an event – it’s great to see people enjoying themselves and taking part in the things we hoped they would.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

4. What other event(s) would you love to attend as audience member?

Eleanor: Shambala Festival
Rosie: another Bruce Springsteen gig!

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

5. Who would be your dream artist(s) to collaborate with?

Eleanor – Grayson Perry and Mae West
Rosie – William Blake and my friend Lisa!

And finally, hot off the editing bench, here’s a little film of the Big Draw day by Tomo Brody.

5 Questions to… Rebecca Cotter, Water-on-Wheels

5 questions to...

Water on Wheels (WOW) provides mobile water refill stations to outdoor events in Ontario and further. It was created by Rebecca Cotter, Toronto-based event planner and instructor of special event management, and as we were chatting about industry trends and the joys and sorrows of teaching, I got to ask her 5 questions about this genius invention.


1. How did you start WOW?

I got the concept from my experience working at Downsview Park (in Toronto), putting on concerts and festivals every weekend, and standing in the field after everyone’s gone and contemplating the garbage that each event generated – more garbage than anyone has ever seen in their life. That’s what you’re left with when people go home after having a good time. And a lot of it was plastic bottles.

As I was responsible for managing the full logistics of site cleaning and recycling, I was wondering how to make it more efficient. The bottles often still had beverage in them, and you pay by weight for site cleaning, so the bill was heavy!

I did some research and came up with the concept: the Water on Wheels stations connected to a tap water source. I got the first station built in 2010 and started with a sketchy website.

At the moment, the legislation is becoming stricter about waste, and there’s a very active push to ban commercially packaged water, for example in schools and on municipal properties. People are more and more aware that tap water is high quality water, and that bottled water is environmentally costly. There’s a trend to carry your own reusable bottle. So I’ve been fortunate, because my idea came up at the right time.

WOW at Luminato Festival,  Distillery District, Toronto

WOW at Luminato Festival, Distillery District, Toronto

2. What’s up for you now?

This year will be big – it took me 4 years to get there. When I launched, I knew I was a bit ahead of the social trend. I always have a booth at trade events, and we generate a lot of interest, but people still often think that they can’t afford it.

We’re present at over 100 events a year, mainly in Ontario, where we rent out one or several water stations. This year, we have also started manufacturing and selling our stations across North America.

I started with the rationale to eliminate waste, but event planners are also concerned about how much it costs. Our stations are available to rent, and we’re priced competitively, but when you add other factors, especially transport to places in the US, it can end up being not so cheap. It is certainly cheaper to get a food vendor to sell bottles – but not if you factor in the environmental and human cost.

Selling stations is a new development and it works out better for some clients, but we’ll continue to rent out, to downtown festivals, one-off events etc.

WOW Water Table

WOW Water Table

3. How much time do you spend on WOW?

I always ran my business in addition to my other occupations (previously a full-time event manager and a part-time event planning instructor, now a full-time teacher and part-time event contractor). In the high season, May to September, it’s pretty much full-time, but mainly on alternative hours – evenings and weekends.

I’m the owner, and I hire between 8 and 10 part-time people for the summer season, to drive,  unload, hook up the station to a source, and stay with the unit on site.

4. Concretely, how does it work?

We usually connect to a fire hydrant or outdoor hose tap. Sometimes we need a permit to access water, ranging around $100-$150, which includes use of water. It all depends on the municipality, but I’ve never had a situation where clients had to pay for metered water.

We provide a meter reading to all our clients to show them how much water was used during their event, which generates very positive PR. We can estimate how many bottles were saved or diverted.

A regular bottle fills up in 10 seconds. If every tap is continuously used on one station, we can fill up 1,200 to 1,500 bottles an hour.

We’ve done events from 100 to 100,000 audience members, and for the bigger events, we provide 3 to 4 stations. A typical outdoor concert means 25 to 30K bottles refilled a day – smaller community events range from 3-5K bottles.

Refill station

Refill station

5. Apart from saving on waste, what are the benefits for audiences and event organisers?

The research we conducted shows that without the stations, ⅓ of people who refill would be motivated to buy a $5 bottle. Clearly not everyone who refills for free would buy a bottle of water. Actually, if you had $5 to spend at an outdoor event, would you buy beer or water? Most people would choose beer – so without free water, the cost of not having WOW is what you would pay in First Aid & Emergency services, to take care of people who are dehydrated, throw up, pass out… We worked closely with people in first aid services and were able to correlate the evidence: more water = less First Aid.

We did the VELD electronic music festival in Downsview Park in 2012, at the hottest time of the year. The grass was so burnt that it looked like a beach.  We had a line-up from morning to night, 300 people deep, and we refilled 55-60K bottles in 2 days. Under such conditions, people can get severely dehydrated, and it’s the event planner’s responsibility to ensure their safety.

It’s really all about the audience experience. The concept has now been around long enough that people expect it. If it’s not there, it would be a disappointment. We get a lot of interaction on Twitter, people check if we’ll be where they’re going. That’s actually our best marketing device – after having a station at an event: if ticket holders want us at their event, then they’ll request us on Twitter.

Some clients work with their sponsors to brand our stations. They might give out refillable bottles, provide extra staff wearing a branded T-shirt… that’s a very good way to offset the rental fee and a very good example of sponsor activation. It shows real value for the sponsor, because  we can actually measure how many people interacted with us, and it’s a meaningful interaction: when people have been in the sun all day, they’re really grateful for the chance to drink some fresh, cold, free water. We’re everybody’s best friend!

Water on a summer festival day

Water on a summer festival day

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For more about Water on Wheels, visit the brand new website and follow them on Twitter.

5 Questions to… Asia Diaz, YELL Festival Director

5 questions to...

Event planner Asia Diaz has set up her own company, Magnum Opus Events, to have the freedom to dream up, design and deliver the events that matter to her. She stumbled across Art of Festivals when searching for street event planning tips, and I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about YELL Festival, due to take place this summer in Shoreditch, London.

1. You’re planning a street festival right now. What is it going to be like?  

The YELL (Young Entrepreneurs Living in London) Festival is going to be a celebration of young entrepreneurs and new business owners in the city. Our aim is to create a fun, family friendly, carnival like atmosphere for all. We want to offer a platform for new businesses to display & trade their products, gain exposure, build and make contacts. There will be live music, entertainment, games, giveaways, food drinks and dancing. It’s set to be a great event!

2. What has surprised you so far in the planning process?

I’m still very early in the planning stages, but I have been very surprised and pleased at the feedback and positive comments I have received when explaining or discussing my idea. I’ve been taken aback by the amount of support I have received and how many others want to get involved! Another surprising find, is the amount of preparation that actually goes into a street festival. There are so many factors to consider that hadn’t occurred to me. My background is in events management, usually within established venues, so I never really had too much to do with trading licenses, planning permission and the likes. It’s a whole new world that I am rapidly learning about.

3. What are the greatest challenges that you’re forecasting along the way?

My greatest worry at the moment is getting everything done in time for the deadlines. This is my strong point in events planning, but now I will have to acquire a small team and be able to trust that they will deliver on time so that the whole operation can go to plan. I think that people management will be my biggest task during this project.

4. What other festivals and events do you attend – or would you love to attend – as an audience member?

Last year in June I went to the Rivington Street Festival, which also takes place in Shoreditch. It was a great day with a great party vibe and atmosphere. They had a lot of activities and entertainment and it really was an enjoyable event. I really like going to events that have features that you can take part in as opposed to just watching a show on stage. Interaction is always a lot more fun.

5. What would help you most right now?

A good solid production team, being granted the funds to make this all possible and the strength and sanity to push through any set backs that may follow!!

_ _ _

Best of luck, Asia!

A website is in the pipeline, and in the meantime you can follow Asia on Twitter (@Asia_Diaz) to join the YELL Festival team and for all updates about other Magnum Opus Events opportunities.

Jessica Dargo Caplan, Director of Education & Community Outreach, Luminato

5 questions to...

Jessica is Director of Education and Community Outreach at Luminato Festival and also oversees the Volunteer Programme, so I have had the great pleasure to work directly with her for the past six months. I’ve been wanting to ask her my “5 Questions” for a while, but given that we were both in the same festival boat, I know very well how busy she has been lately. She took it upon herself to rewrite and rearrange the questions in a fitting manner for a post-festival interview.

1. Luminato Festival’s Education & Community Outreach projects are very different year-to-year, but what are your programming principles?

As part of the festival’s core programming, our Education & Community Outreach projects reflect the Luminato Festival’s guiding principles of accessibility, diversity, collaboration and transformation, with a strong emphasis on the creative process, to ensure meaningful community engagement and authentic experiences.

2. The 2013 Luminato Festival just wrapped up on 23rd June – what was your favourite moment, the one that made it all worth it?

Getting the chance to see how our Education & Outreach project participants directly engage with our Festival artists. This year we worked very closely with the incredible Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) on L’Allegro Movement Project – an intergenerational dance initiative which involved young students from Winchester Junior Public School and Nelson Mandela Park Public School, as well as participants with the Toronto-based Dancing with Parkinson’s group. Together they explored the expressive possibilities of movement through the choreography and music from MMDG’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

Five months of weekly workshops and rehearsals culminated in a final public performance on Wednesday June 19th at the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park. This meaningful public performance, featuring the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, highlighted the impact the arts can have on improving the quality of life in both youth and adults.

The most magical moment for me was walking into the theatre right before the final dress rehearsal… seeing our dancers moving around nervously and enthusiastically in their bright and colourful costumes, while the Tafelmusik musicians tuned their instruments… just feeling this beautiful spirit of true artistic collaboration in the room was completely, and overwhelmingly, beautiful.

3. You’ve been at the head of the Education & Community Outreach department since the inaugural year of the Luminato Festival. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

Juggling the work flow never seems to get any easier – it’s like childbirth… I forget how difficult the Festival season can be, but my work is incredibly rewarding so it’s worth the stress (and many sleepless nights!).

4. During this post-Festival period, what’s a typical day like right now?

There isn’t really a typical day — I spend much of my time in meetings with colleagues in the office and arts/community partners analyzing and reflecting on the projects and programs, process and outcomes. (The worst part is sorting through what seems like mountains of paperwork!) At the same time I start to transition into a major planning phase for next year’s Festival.

5. What other festival would you love to attend as audience member?

I would really like to get the chance to experience and learn more about some of the incredible outreach and creative learning projects in the UK and other parts of Europe. There are too many to list, but festivals like Manchester International Festival (which is going on right now), Latitude, Hay Festival, Ruhrtriennale and Augenblick Mal! are doing really interesting collaborations and progressive outreach work.

– – –

This year’s Education and Community Outreach projects also included Future Tastes of Toronto: At the Kids’s Table, a collaboration with performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex around kids and food (of which a trailer is available here, alongst other food-focused programming at other festivals); and School Days, a joint concert with musicians from the Arts & Crafts label and Regent Park School of Music students. A documentary about L’Allegro Movement Project filmed by a youth apprentice team during the Festival will be screened in November 2013 as part of the Regent Park Film Festival, Toronto’s “only free-of-charge community film festival”.

Luminato Festival returns for its 8th year in 2014, from 6th to 15th June.

Chris Reed, Artistic Director

5 questions to...

Small Print Toronto stages creative writing workshops and literary events for children and young people. Their programming is designed to inspire them to explore a vital question: How do stories work?

My ‘5 Questions’ explore the no less vital issue of how festivals work, and hopefully provide some answers to that dreaded question: what do festival people do the rest of the year? Chris Reed, founder and Artistic Director, is sharing insights into his daily tasks, learning curve and working style.

 

1. Hi Chris! Totsapalooza was in February, CAKE took place last weekend and The Little City Festival is on June 16. What’s a typical day right now?

One of the best parts about the Small Print Toronto project is that none of my days are ‘typical.’ Things are in a state of constant flux. I’m always juggling concerns that loosely fall into different baskets – future programming, promoting our current programs, stage management, growing the organization, funding (or lack thereof) and so forth.  And I’m fortunate to be surrounded by talented folks with whom I can develop creative responses to such concerns.

2. You’ve been organizing Totsapalooza for 5 years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

Our track record with Totsapalooza gives us some insight into what to expect in terms of audience behaviour and ticket sales. Importantly, though, we are constantly discovering better ways to do things next time around. And even though the show has started to sell out in advance, I still fret about our guest authors and musicians having to perform to a near empty hall.  Those worries stay the same.

3. Before, during or after the festival – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

My favourite moments of any show are usually at the end; comparing notes with my teammates and audience members, and then looking at the photos. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by a remarkably capable crew, I become too consumed by that old stage manager’s dictum – ‘what needs to happen next?’ – to fully enjoy the show while it’s in motion.

4. What other festival would you love to attend as audience member?

I’d probably explode with joy taking part in Roald Dahl Day at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, UK, as an audience member. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, mind you.

5. What are the specific challenges – and rewards – of programming events for children? And what about the parents?

The most rewarding and challenging aspects of programming for children are one and the same: their reactions tend to be brutally candid. Kids will start talking, and even get up and run about if a presentation does not engage them. Conversely, they are quite willing to suspend their disbelief about the most ridiculous premise for a story if you present it to them with sincerity and a sense of respect. By and large, the parents in our audience provide us with constructive feedback about our programming choices. And they are wonderfully supportive of the Small Print TO project as a whole.

– – –

Small Print’s next event is Rhyme Stew Crew, a rap-poetry workshop for children age 8-12. The tagline says it all: “Where Dr Seuss meets Dr Dre”. It’s free, and it’s on Sunday, May 5th – 2-4pm – at the Lillian Smith Library (239 College Street, Toronto).