Impossible Lecture Retreat: Beacons Festival

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RETREAT! Go backwards, turn around, turn tail, flee. It sounds like the coward’s way out but in the face of WiFi, mobile signal, mattresses and other such distractions, it can be hard to make work as an artist. In exchange for running from these things you get blue skies, itchy eyes, the satisfying squelch of mud underfoot and the bleating of hysterical sheep.

The Impossible Lecture Tent returned to Beacons Festival for the fourth time this year, run by the superlative Indivisible team and a cast of volunteers. In addition to programming over 100 artists (!), it ran a retreat for me and five other lucky sods. So on a sunny Tuesday morning in the West Yorkshire Playhouse car park, we crammed our stuff into car boots, drove to Skipton and pitched our tents on the festival site as it transformed around us.

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I arrived with a few ideas of what I wanted to do, all of which either revolved around pushing the capabilities of my own voice and body by doing something more energetic, or exploring my own compulsion to be seen as anything other than ‘boring’. But half the fun was stumbling upon new ideas with my new-found collaborators and watching them grow as interests in visual art, contemporary music, sculpture and theatre came together in the fields, guided and teased into shape by the enthusiastic and reassuring hands of Pauline Mayers.

We played games; ate together; sat in stillness and quiet; went off and did our own things for a bit; came back and showed the group what we’d come up with; and then went off and worked on them some more. With nary a phone charger in site, I was free to roam around and concentrate on being an artist again, and to suggest outlandish things like ‘Where have all the sheep gone? Bet they f*cked them and cooked them. That’s what they’ll be selling at the festival”

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It was a liberating, rejuvenating but challenging process. I’m quite comfortable working as a solo artist but being part of a group demands flexibility, generosity and a degree of compromise. These are wonderful traits to have, of course; I would totally sleep with someone who was like that. But these admirable OK Cupid box-tickers can sometimes go out of the window when there’s the slightest hint of pressure and expectation involved.

There was no need to worry: I was part of an incredibly capable group. Between us we presented 16 pieces of work, some of it performed individually and the rest presented in groups of varying sizes. We had orgiastic sessions of health & safety; games involving hot wax and red wine; maniacal office workers driven to murder by snotty emails; experimental orchestras; and a man who just really, really loved the fact it was Friday.

I really do love Fridays.

And I love the Impossible Lecture tent. Thank you!

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