Jackie Clementines and Molly Jo McAlpine

Arts Taunton pulls off virtual festival

When the country went into crisis with the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of festivals all over the UK postponed, the uncertainty too much. Not so for local charity Arts Taunton.

The charity based in Somerset had launched the TYCA  youth festival the previous year and had a five year plan, with funding to match.

“We could easily have done what others did, see an unsurmountable barrier, move the money into next year and done nothing,“ said Arts Taunton spokesperson and festival director, Deborah Baddoo. “But, that was not an option for us, as shutdown became a reality we began opening the doors and inviting young people in through virtual channels.”

The charity launched a new TYCA festival website and started reaching out to their contacts around the area; other businesses that would be willing to help them make it happen. They launched competition challenges for the first four weeks, with cash prizes, to allow young people up to the age of 25 to explore their creativity and find ways to relate to their new environments. Themes included ‘living in a small space’ and ‘what does a mask mean to you?’

“It was a time to be brave. The world changed daily, and indeed continues to do so,“ said Deborah, “but now more than ever we knew the creative industries needed supporting and young people needed an outlet for all their emotions. Arts Taunton began creating a platform for the young people of Somerset to meet that need.”

In March 2020 TYCA announced two online workshops, one for visual arts delivered by Go Create and one giving young people a voice through the Spoken Word delivered by Clementines Live Arts. The latter of these attracted children from all over the world, such is the reach of social media, and one school used it to help children of key workers bond and talk about how they felt.

Dates were set in the programme with the hope of still holding a live performance in October, but it became apparent that this would simply be too risky an assumption and the decision to go fully virtual was taken late July.

At this point the charity reached out to Digital Taunton, a confederacy of companies bound by their common platforms. Avenues were explored and teased through until a solution became apparent. The charity decided to stage the whole of the festival in two days in October and to try to make it feel as close to a live festival experience as they could.

Reaching out to the various venues, Tacchi Morris Arts Centre in Taunton kindly offered their skills to host socially- distanced performances. TYCA now had lighting, sound, an auditorium and stage.

“At this point we realised that even if we couldn’t broadcast or perform live we could create the atmosphere!“

Young videographer and Digital Taunton member, Glen Wayman of Highwayman Films, himself only 24, offered his expertise and crew in making the filming happen.

Up to then, the charity still didn’t have a clear picture as to how to broadcast the festival. They needed to data capture certain information to satisfy sponsors that their faith and contributions had indeed lead to the desired outcome; that of showcasing young people’s talents during this crisis.

At this point, Ian McNiece, who had attended Taunton School as a boy, agreed to become involved. Ian, who has a string of major film and TV credits to his name and is currently appearing as Bert in the popular TV series Doc Martin, offered his services in helping to weave the performances together.

“At last we had the missing link. We could create two distinct days of entertainment, with a professional actor graciously giving his time to compere and be link man for the various performances.“

And where does it all stand today?

Glen will go to London to film Ian at his home; a great outcome for the young enthusiastic videographer.

In the meantime, BBC Radio Somerset have picked up on TYCA and the Spoken Word workshops and offered to broadcast the young people’s performances.

The show, a mixture of professionally recorded performances and home recordings will be broadcast on the 17th of September at 8 pm.

In the spirit of true inclusivity, the show will also go out via Facebook watch party and stream on the TYCA festival website simultaneously.

In just a few short weeks TYCA festival will go live, the result of many collaborations. Arts Taunton, through the festival, has given 10 performing artists and their companies work during a time when little was available, a platform for young people to learn and be creative, and demonstrated the power of collaboration.

Please do join them on the 17th of September for the Spoken Word UPwords and ONwords performance and again on October 23rd and 24th for the TYCA festival via their website: https://tycafestival.co.uk

ENDS