BE Festival: The Early Emails

Photo Credit: Alex Brenner

On 26th (or 27th) November 2009 we offered to help out an enthusiastic group of young theatre makers by lending them our venue for an international theatre festival they wanted to set up in Birmingham.

A few emails have survived which chart the logistics of those early days of what became the BE Festival. Most of them are reproduced here.

Dramatis Personae
Billy Hiscoke – Freelance Stage Manager
Charlotte Martin – General Manager, Stan’s Cafe
Mike Tweddle – Aspirant festival organiser
Jon Ward – Associate Artist, Stan’s Cafe
James Yarker – Artistic Director, Stan’s Cafe

9th December 2009.
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker
Would it be possible to agree on some dates for the festival?
For us the ideal would be 23-26 June inclusive. If not then 30 June-2nd July.
It’d be great to pencil dates in asap so we can start putting the word out.

3rd March 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker
Hope you’re well and enjoying Tokyo!
I wondered if you’d heard anything from BCC about our bid?*
Also, whether there’d be any availability at AE Harris for a BE Festival fundraising night in May.
It’d involve a performance of Out Of Chaos (the show i did in Edinburgh), which is touring
at the time. We’d have some live music too, and obviously a bar etc. It’d be a good chance
to spread the word about the festival as well as to hopefully raise some dosh.

*As BE Festival wasn’t a legally constituted entity Stan’s Cafe applied to Birmingham City Council for funding on their behalf.

8th March 2010
Charlotte Martin to Mike Tweddle

No problem.
So just to confirm some of the details. The grant is for £5,000. We will receive £2,250 once we return the signed acceptance form and send them confirmation of partnership funding. Then £2,250 on receipt of the festival brochure and the final £500 once they receive the evaluation report and statement of income and expenditure by 15/3/11. They also need us to feature specific logos which I have requested.

9th March 2010
Mike Tweddle to Charlotte Martin

Can I just double check that Stan’s Cafe is happy for us to run and take proceeds from the bar? (At both the fundraiser and the festival.) I’m pretty sure that’s what was agreed, and that’s what we’ve been working to in the budget so far. Will be submitting Arts Council proposal at the end of the week, so need to make sure I’m clear about our finances.

9th March 2010
James Yarker to Charlotte Martin

Yes this sounds vaguely familiar, but we have to be careful as it is our and my license on the line as well as the venue’s reputation. So we need to approve how it is working, what is being stocked and prices.

15th March 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Would you mind sending me a few words expressing Stan’s Cafe’s support for the festival?
Think it would be helpful for my Arts Council application.

19th March 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

I’m sorry this has been delayed.

“We are very excited at the possibility of hosting BE Festival @ A E Harris. It is rare that international work comes to the UK, particularly Birmingham and especially less established companies. As prospective audience members we are very enthusiastic about the festival brining new flavours to the region and to our program @ A E Harris.

Along with most theatre companies Stan’s Cafe would value the chance to gain a taste of work being created by young companies from across Europe and possibly becoming inspired by them. The workshop and discussion programmes obviously add value to the week. Often these events designed to bring people together from far and wide also act as a catalyst for people to find new relationships with each other much closer to home. Who knows what unexpected consequences may follow.

The BE Festival would be a great injection of life, energy and vision to the regional theatre scene, we thoroughly endorse it.”

Use as much or as little as you wish.

8th April
Mike Tweddle to Charlotte Martin & James Yarker

Hope all’s well, nice to see you last week it was a lovely event. It’s always exciting to be in that space.

I attach some copy about the 21st May, which you can feel free to adapt and edit as much as you like, and also some images.*
Would be great if you could put something on your website, along with a link to the BE Festival website where we’ll have ticket details etc. Really hope we can get 100 along that will be a massive help.

*Out Of Chaos fundraiser performance

7th June
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

Sorry to not be able to meet today. Here are my thoughts about seating.

‘Africa’ is about 11m wide.
The beams are slightly over 3m from the floor.
We have use of 16 steel decks 2m x 1m.
The legs for these come in the following lengths 18cm, 38cm, 58cm, 78cm 98cm.
The chairs are 50cm wide

Suggestion 1 (which can be done entirely from within our existing resources):

Four rows of decking four wide using the four highest sets of legs.
Then our own staging in front of this.
Then one row of chairs on the floor.
Then one row of benches (we’d have to knock some more together but there is timber around).

In principle we could get 16 chairs per row, but need an isle, which we should take a minimum of two chairs out for, but could possibly get away with one chair out.

7 x 15 = 105
An additional row of just chairs 120.

Suggestion 2 (stuff would have to be hired in (or borrowed)).

Four rows of decking five wide

7 x 18 = 126
An additional row of just chairs plus some jiggling would give you 150 as desired
(i’ve made the isle 1m wide due to the extra numbers and because we are getting close to the edge of the room).

See what you think.

10th June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Thank you so much for working this out! 

I think we’d be tempted to go for the second option and hire what we need to. 
Would there be enough legs for this option? Or should we factor in hiring/borrowing extra legs as well as steel deck?
What would we need to do/get in order to fulfil safety standards? Would we need hand-rails? What would we put at the back to stop chairs slipping off?

Another thing: would it be possible to send me a list of all the light/sound/projection equipment we’ll have for the festival?

16th June 2010
Charlotte Martin to James Yarker cc Mike Tweddle

The TEN* was submitted yesterday to licensing and the police, a copy is attached but give me a call if there are any queries.  Licensing went through the detail with me there and then and seemed OK.
*Temporary Event Notice

22nd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Thanks for your help and time yesterday.
We will come in and paint Africa* on Thursday afternoon and Friday all day – cleared it with Charlotte.

How do you rig lights when you use them in Europe? We ideally need to hang stuff for Karnival, as well as using some stands. Is there a precedent for doing this? The metal beams are clearly not as strong in that part of the space. Would be great to have your advice.

PS. Hugh couldn’t do it in the end, but we have a guy called Mick Diver who has toured a lot and works at mac. He’s going to come in and see the space on Friday morning.
*The venue’s five different rooms were named after continents.

23rd June 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

So far we have only ever put lights on stands in Europe, hanging them does sound like a better plan for that event. I’m afraid at the moment I don’t have any helpful advice on that.

I look forward to meeting Mick.

23rd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

No worries thanks James.
Do you have any mics and mic stands?

23rd June 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

yes, possibly three of each.

23rd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

great, and sorry one more question re: Karnival is the electrical spec in Europe phase 1, phase 2, or phase 3? i have no idea what that means but maybe you do?

27th June 2010
Jon Ward to James Yarker

James I think there’s a mistake in your blog entry about the BE Festival. It says that the festival will be at AE Harris until 3rd June, but you mean 3rd July!!

28th June 2010
Billy Hiscoke to James Yarker

As you’ve guessed, I didn’t end up doing the BE Festival job you recommended me for. The organiser thought about it and decided he wanted somebody based in Birmingham for ease of logistics, plus I’m pretty rammed at the moment.
But thank you anyway – I appreciated the thought, and wanted you to know that!
Good luck hosting the festival. Hope to see you next week when I’m up for Jake’s rehearsals.

28th June 2010
James Yarker to Billy Hiscoke

No problem. It turned out to be a pretty full on tech job, full on lighting rig etc. think you’re well off out of it. Festival looks amazing though, can’t wait for it to kick off.

13th July 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Sorry for the delay – been busy with moving to London and learning lines! And as much lying down as possible.
As for the chairs, yes that seems a good plan we’re happy with that.
Supporting email – is this OK? Haven’t got feedback forms back from performers yet, but will send through any nice quotes about venue as and when they come…

AE Harris was the only venue that could have enabled the first ever BE Festival to be the success it was. The flexibility, energy and atmosphere of the building enabled us to offer 15 diverse theatre and dance performances, three live music concerts, a restaurant serving sit-down hot meals, late night DJs, and a series of afternoon feedback sessions and discussions, all taking place in one flowing, unified festival hub. 200 people visited the venue each day, many for the first time, and their reactions were universally positive. The atmosphere of festivity, exchange and adventure would’ve been difficult to achieve anywhere else in the Midlands, and possibly the country. AE Harris is unique, it provided the heart and soul of our festival, and we will be happy and excited to return again next year.

Mike Tweddle, BE Festival co-director

Cheers James, and thanks for the info about the bookbinder.

15th November 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

BE 10 was a breath of fresh air for Birmingham’s artistic scene. Its program was highly ambitious and the team achieved a remarkable amount in their first year.
The festival instantly had a great character and generated a great store of goodwill from audiences and artists alike. With the experience and excitement generated in the first year BE 11 should be an even more accomplished and rewarding experience for all concerned.

How’s that?

BE Festival continued to be held at our @ A E Harris venue for three further editions. As the festival grew it found ever more inventive uses for the space and more ingenious ways of squeezing audience members in Late in 2013 we gave up four of our five performance spaces and our landlords used them to manufacture seats for the drivers of trains and coaches. BE Festival moved on to be hosted by The REP.

James Yarker December 2022

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