After another excellent Storytelling Festival, I do a bit of Q n A with 18 hours……….

How did the Storytelling Festival start?

The festival was started in 2011 by the Hastings Old Town Residents Association. It was a huge success and they realised that to take the event forward and fulfil its potential, they would need a professional events producer. So 18 Hours was brought on board for 2012.

Do 18 hours run other events?

18 Hours has been producing the festival since 2012 on behalf of Hastings Storytelling Festival and it is one of our favourites. We also produce our own event, Journeys Dance Festival every year as wells as Streets of Battle (Street Arts Festival) and Eat Global Food Festival. Other events we produce intermittently (not every year) are DROMOS touring rural arts festival (where we mentor a group of young producers to produce the event, 90%+ of whom have now gone on to work in full time arts production jobs), Sussex Festival of Nature, Global Fusion world music festival and St Leonards Festival 2014/5 (NOT this year’s event). In an earlier incarnation as part of 36 Hours, we used to produce the very early Coastal Currents Festivals, the first four St Leonards Festivals (2006-2009) and Global Fusion World Music Festival (formerly Pestalozzi Festival).

What are your personal highlights? 

Having Sir Quentin Blake as patron is a sheer pleasure. Sir Quentin is a wonderful illustrator, a fabulous advocate for storytelling and a very active patron.  Having the immensely popular David Walliams on board last year opened the festival to a wide new audience, many of whom returned this year.  We programme very diverse performers and acts (we’re about interesting approaches to storytelling, rather than purely traditional techniques). There have been too many highlights to mention them all. Children’s Festival Day is a real high each year as the families of Hastings brave the elements in growing numbers year on year. In an increasingly online world it’s great to see a healthy appetite for live storytelling among all ages. My personal favourite this year was, Coulrophobia by Pickled Image at St Mary in the Castle. It was pure brilliance: dark, surreal, astonishing, disturbing, multi-faceted storytelling. The audience didn’t stop laughing from start to finish. I’ve never really seen anything like it and I wanted to watch it again as soon as it had finished.

What high profile people have you had?

Well, apart from Sir Quentin Blake, we’ve had David Walliams, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Inua Ellams, Usifu Jalloh, Zena Edwards, Anthony Anaxagorou, Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Billy Childish, Joolz Denby, Salena Godden, Michael Morpurgo, and up and coming talent, including this year local author and psychogeographer, Gareth Rees, who gave a fascinating talk. We mix national and international talent with our rich local talent, so we also programme fantastic local storytellers and theatre groups such as Richard Storybeard, Ed Boxhall, Nana Tsiboe. The list is too long to include everyone!

What children’s things do you do?

Events for under 10’s are free. Every year we do outreach work with local schools, having a Storyteller in Residence (this year Emmanuel Okine) and an Artist in Residence (Sarah Evans), who visit local schools in the run up to festival week. We have free shows in Ore Community Centres and Schools, to reach families who might not otherwise get the chance to experience live storytelling. We also have Free Children’s Storytelling and Festival Day on the last Sunday of the event, which is a day jam-packed with puppet shows,workshops, roving storytellers and parades down at the Stade and is the only festival day in town devoted to arts for children.

Who are your target audience?

Everyone is our target, we try to programme a diverse range of performers for adults and children. We are especially keen to make storytelling accessible to children from less culturally engaged families.

Have you had any flops or comedy mess ups?

We’ve had the usual typos in brochures resulting in one of us standing in the freezing cold re-directing audiences. We’ve had driving rain on Children’s Day, nearly blowing marquees away. David Walliams tickets sold out in ten minutes flat, resulting in panicky phone calls from mums. We’ve had a very nervous children’s storyteller almost getting stage fright (he turned out to be brilliant). And powerpoint (predictably) crashed during David Walliams slide show.

How do people respond?

Who doesn’t love a good story? People love being surprised and delighted and transported from their reality to see things in a new or surprising light.