The Bavard Bar has now been running for nearly three and a half years at the Kino in St Leonards and in Eastbourne. Following its return to the Kino on 16th September, Fiona McGarry asked its founder, Tim Crook, about its evolution during the recent upheavals and what insights he has gained for the future. 

PICTURE: John Cole

The BB was consistently selling out in the latter part of 2019 and before lockdown. Why do you think it became so popular?
There’s always been some great talks, like the ones on ADHD and Uniboob that resonated with a lot of people, so there’ll be those [popular] ones – but they were sporadic. In 2019 the consistency changed; rather than one really good one, you’d often get two great talks out of three. Although the audience enjoy a real mix, the overall quality started to rise up.

How was the changeover to an Online BB?
I found it relatively easy. I was approached by the Isolation Station Hastings (ISH) people at the beginning of April and agreed to do it online every week. There was a bit of a learning curve with IT – it was fun but very intense. Even though it was only an hour, you had to test the speakers, video, sound check, and I had to have the Bavarders lined up ready. Come July I felt: ‘everyone else is having a bit of a break – I think I’d like one too.’

It’s not rehearsed in the sense of scripted and therefore, anything can, and usually does, happen

Did it give you any insights into the way forward, having presented the BB online? My feeling was that the regular Bavard characters became more prominent.
Ted the Drum came into his own – I thought that was lovely, the way every week I’d go to him and he’d be dressed up, you didn’t know whether he’d be in his attic or in his garden, or if Claudine was going to come wandering in – people loved him, you got a real sense of warmth from the audience. 

And I love that [Piano-man] Dan obviously really liked having the microphone … and ISH loved being able to control the fact that I couldn’t stop Dan having the microphone … 

I didn’t realise Dan would be such a personality …
No, I didn’t either! It was an eye-opener! ISH liked that – leaving me dangling. The producer, Andy Davies, could see me thinking ‘Andy, cut him off NOW, cut him off!’ but he’d just let him go on. It became a bit zoo-like (that’s what they say isn’t it? zoo-radio, zoo-TV). I always liked the ‘live’ element of the show. It’s not rehearsed in the sense of scripted and therefore, anything can, and usually does, happen. And that’s the joy of it and it’s what the audience like, those unknown entities. That seemed to translate well when it was live on Isolation Station. 

Going forward, if I can incorporate more of those elements into it, ensuring that fluidity and spontaneity are there to enhance it and that the characters get that interplay, it would be brilliant.

The other interesting thing is the way that ISH opened Bavard up to a wider (but still local) audience. I know, anecdotally, that some people who come to the Bavard Bar aren’t going out that much at the moment – they might be in an older age group or have underlying conditions and still be shielding. If there’s a way of ISH doing a live stream or having some accessible recorded live content that would be great for them.  Plus, it would allow us to reach a wider audience beyond Hastings. So, once we’ve done the first live show, we’ll look at the possibility of live streaming, accessible via a paid-for link or something, at a reduced price. 

PICTURE: John Cole

You could also maybe carry on the ‘chat’ element and have it on the screen?
That’s right – the commentary. I’d look at that and see people – some I knew and some I didn’t – bantering with each other. I’d look forward to those nights, thinking: ‘It’s like we’re all together again!’ 

So going online brought about those three things: the zoo-like live spontaneity, the potential to stream to a wider audience and the commentary and audience interaction.

Are you looking to have more of a range of speakers? I think I read you wanted to involve younger people? 
The youngest-ever Bavarder was someone called Brandon Ralph, who’s 19 now. He pressed a lot of buttons – his talks were semi-controversial, which I like. The first was about how the post-millennial Generation Z are changing the world because they’re so Internet-savvy. The second was about the new normal: working from home, which he did from the age of 13 (he developed something for Minecraft). I love that ‘young people’s perspective’ and I love having all different age groups in the audience. I’m open to any suggestions on how to get more of a mix – but it’s going the right way.

What about future plans? You were going to go to the Edinburgh festival…
It didn’t happen this year, but I think there’s a definite place for it. I could get people from Edinburgh to come along ad hoc and do something in a slightly zoo-like format. Maybe next year? 

And I was going to open at Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells in June. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, so I’ll just carry on with the Kino and the Towner shows for now. I think St Leonards is hard to beat.

The next Bavard Bar is at the Kino, St Leonards on 21st October at 7.30pm.

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