Getting Down and Dirty at the Green Man Festival

Last weekend I was at the Green Man Festival, which takes place in the beautiful Brecon Beacons just off the Crickhowell-Brecon A Road. I had gone with Lucy to see one of the loveliest festivals in Wales and to see if there was any way that National Theatre Wales could plug into this activity.

It rained Thursday in fits and starts but was then quite warm and sunny for Friday when the first bands started up. The festival started out as a folk music festival, but since 2003 has grown to include a diverse programme of music, with comedy, literature, film, science displays, holistic therapy tents, and a strong promotion for environmental awareness. There were also arrays of stalls selling anything from hemp scarves to candle-powered boats.

The food and drink stalls were of a very good quality, particularly for a festival, and were reasonably priced, considering they are catering for a captive audience. I particularly enjoyed my Goan fish curry and Fryella Breakfast (organic bacon and free range eggs of course). But that demonstrates the ethos of the whole festival. It has quite a boutique, funky vibe and seems to cater for the "first time festivaler". There are lots of families with very young children in tow, hippies-at-heart and students who have just finished their A-Levels (Hello to the lads from Porthcawl who were camped next to our tent!) So with all this in mind, there was a lovely atmosphere of camaraderie and bonhomie throughout the whole weekend. This particular cafe sums up the experience: a pink hut made to look like a house, staffed by 3 young men and women dressed as Grandma archetypes, serving tea and crumpets to music lovers who would then play outdoor chess whilst their kiddies played in a climbing frame made of oversized playing cards. It was called The Grannie Cafe.

There was a large international presence, with bands such as Vetiver and Bon Iver coming from America (I mention them because I liked them a lot!) and others from all over the UK and the world. Apparently, 4% of the attendees were from outside the UK, with the majority of the others being English, which was interesting for a festival in Wales.

I find that Welsh people are very supportive of their homegrown talent, so I did expect a much larger Welsh contingent than seemed to be there. When we went to see Welsh comedians (the brilliant Chris Corcoran amongst them), whenever they asked "Is anybody here Welsh?", many more voices chorused "YEEEEEES!" much more loudly than when any other comic asked the same question.

The comedy tent doubled up as the literature tent (above) where we saw readings of new plays including "I Sing Of a Maiden" a new play by Rachel Trezise (winner of the EDS Dylan Thomas prize for literature) performed by alt, folk singer Charlotte Greig and actor Carys Eleri.

There were lots of installation type theatre/performance "happenings" too but the most theatrical elements were the landscape itself and the way parts of the land had been designed for engagement and play. The Wishing Tree was a place where people could tie their wishes to branches; these ranged from wishing to be a butterfly to world peace to a new handbag.

The festival was blessed by druids who wandered through the site in white cloaks and there was a huge green man that was burned in a ceremony on Sunday Night.

Throughout the festival nights, a huge campfire burned for people to get warm and play their banjos, harmonicas and acoustic guitars well into the night. It meant that, unlike other festivals I have been to, we weren't woken by repeated plucks of "Wish you were here" throughout the night.

It was a very chilled out - if chilly - weekend and there seemed to be lots of ways that National Theatre Wales could potentially get involved in the future. It was lovely to be part of an event where it seemed to be about the attendees, and not about the sponsors (Green Man is an independent festival). In fact, it was so inclusive, loving and encouraging of people coming together, that when we got back to our tent on the second day, we saw that two identical tents had been pitched next to ours, like a Green-Eurohike-Tent commune.

(Ours was the perfectly pitched tent on the left. Millets sale.)

I tried keeping my eye out for people I knew and happened to meet lots of new people! That was great but did any of you lot go? It would be great to know what the Community think of Green Man (this year, any other years gone by or the whole concept of the festival). You might even be in this picture! Hello, if you are.

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Comment by Bethan Marlow on August 31, 2009 at 17:28
I had a play at the Green Man this year with theatre 503 and they seemed to have got the weather problem solved by putting it in a yurt but then, for some reason, there was no mics or amplification which meant of course that it was all drowned by the music stages around it. Also, it was difficult to get people in because you were inside but you needed that incase the weather turned bad etc. etc. etc. It can definitely work but it's important to remember that it's theatre in a music festival and so it has to be different to your regular play.
Comment by Phillip Mackenzie on August 28, 2009 at 14:55
Interesting idea. I recently returned from a festival in the deserted shipyards of Amsterdam North. A series of freight containers positioned around the site. each container was its own little theatre with seating for 10 at a time, each lit inside with a few simple lights and each performance lasting 10 minutes with a tariff of 2 euros.The range/genre of performances was extraordinary from surreal, poetic, comedy,dramatic etc. All performances created by students from performing arts courses throughout Holland. Thus providing these students with a platform to present their emerging work 10 times a day in a self contained environment in a festival setting in rolling 10/15 minute time frames. Worked really well.
Comment by Tim Price on August 28, 2009 at 10:23
I had a play on at Green Man last year with Theatre 503. Nice idea, but they had us on an outdoor stage, and we had Hurricane Katrina-style weather. It was rubbish, I think I stood there watching my play with 5 or 6 beautifully loyal friends as we got ruined by the weather.

I've had plays on at Latitude for the past 4 or 5 years, and have seen how a festival tent can evolve and what types of theatre works in a festival setting where there is lots of competition for audiences in the space of a couple of square miles.

Green Man is an amazing setting but, the landscape does make it prone to poor weather, so any out-of-the-box crazy theatre-art-happenings have to factor in how it would work in a monsoon.

In a theatre/literature tent I don't think you can stage a play longer than 20mins in a festival without people feeling tempted by other delights. Plays that utilise direct address are far more successful as walk-in trade isn't turned off by not knowing who's who.

Comedy is a big lazy winner. Just look at the Bush festival plays for the past two years. Is it really theatre or a sketch show?
Comment by Peter Cox MBE on August 28, 2009 at 6:53
Feels like a really interesting (and typically NTW out of the box thinking) idea. It might be that NTW could look at what other festivals exist in Wales and consider a festival strand in their work that could take in various other festivals as well as Green Man. Others in mid Wales include Sheep Music (Presteigne), Workhouse (Llanfyllin and Newfoundland (Rhayader).

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