Perhaps most renowned for producing the award-winning family-oriented Just So Festival, Wild Rumpus is a not-for-profit arts organisation that also manages the Northern Festivals Network and is responsible for The Lost Carnival, Day at the Lake, and now Just So Brazil. Operating from the Whirligig – an appropriately fantastical sounding stretch of woodland in Cheshire – the small team is dedicated to creating high-quality, inclusive, and spellbinding events for young people and their families.
Insights spoke with Sarah Bird from Wild Rumpus about the development of the original Just So, the brand’s impending excursion into South America, and finding the right balance between entertainment and education at family festivals.
Festival Insights: Wild Rumpus’ flagship event, Just So Festival, was founded seven years ago and has since won such accolades as The National Outdoor Event Awards’ ‘Large Festival of the Year’. Could you tell us about the origins and ethos of Just So, and how it’s evolved since its inception?
Sarah Bird: Just So Festival came about because we love the festival environment – stepping out of your day to day life and spending three days camping under the stars with likeminded people and immersing yourself in music and the arts. However the traditional festival environment can be an intimidating one for families with young children, so we wanted to create a festival that felt safe and also one which focused on families as the main audience, a festival where the children’s programme wasn’t an add-on, but was the main event. Too often as families at festivals we felt shunted into a separate kids field, the money was being spent on the headliners and we were being offered some low-budget craft activity, a few circus skills and a bit of storytelling.
We established ourselves as a not-for-profit organisation back in 2009 and our aim was to take the great arts activity happening in galleries, concert halls and museums and put it outdoors where everyone could relax and enjoy it without worrying about impinging on other people’s experiences. We definitely believe that The Just So Festival can develop more confident, creative and cohesive families and communities.
After our initial Just So it became apparent there was a gap for this kind of festival and it gathered a momentum all of its own. We’re thrilled that the event has attracted such support and enthusiasm from audiences, sponsors, traders, and funders so that it can develop and build on the quality of the arts on offer.
FI: 2016 will see Just So Festival expand into Brazil for the first time. How did this come about, and how are you guys ensuring that the festival retains the spirit of the brand?
SB: We were approached by some cultural producers in Brazil a few years ago who loved the aims and ethos of Just So Festival – they’d found us online and wanted to create something similar over there. After many conversations and visits between them and us, a partnership seemed like a logical step; we get along so well and share such similar passions and vision. We went out to Sao Paolo in October and visited the site where Just So Brazil will be, a beautiful old coffee farm. The whole visit was intoxicating, so vibrant and colourful. It’s fascinating seeing the festival adapted for a different culture but still retaining at its heart the aim to take families on incredible artistic adventures.
FI: Wild Rumpus leads the Northern Festivals Network, whose aim is to increase the quality of family arts programming at festivals across the country. Could you give some examples of what the average festival could be doing to better cater for and appeal to families?
SB: I think the key thing is to value the family audience and spend some of your budget and time planning for them.
Logistically speaking, it helps to have baby change areas, children’s meal portions available at caterers, trollies available to hire and programming that starts early in the morning as most families with young children will be up with the larks.
And communication is key; families who haven’t gone to festivals before really like to know about how far the camping area is from the car park, where they can warm up a babies bottle, how buggy friendly the site is and more, so the more info available online the better.
FI: Other highlights in Wild Rumpus’ calendar include Day At The Lake and The Lost Carnival. What distinguishes these two events from each other and Just So?
SB: Just So Festival is the only camping event we produce and we don’t really want to increase the capacity beyond the size it is now; it has an intimate, safe environment for the magic to take place in and I think if it grew much more it could become too crowded and intimidating.
The Lost Carnival is an outdoor immersive theatre show which we are co-producing with So It Is, an independent producing company established by Bury Met and Ramsbottom Festival Director David Agnew. It has a carnival / festival feel, takes place across an evening and will tour different northern towns annually, with a backstory told through podcasts and additional digital activity. It will take place in Crewe in May 2016.
A Day At The Lake is a one off for 2016. We’re recreating some of the events that used to take place at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire in the late 1800s including a tightrope walk across the Lake. There’ll be brilliant arts activity happening around the lake, with moments of wonder and magic, this is more the format of a traditional family day out, although we hope to sweep our audience up in the romance of the setting.
Both The Lost Carnival and A Day At The Lake offer audiences a shorter and affordable introduction to the Just So Festival experience and help us to continue to raise the bar in the programming that we offer to families, deliver surprising and mesmerising experiences, and the grandest of adventures.
FI: What is it about Just So Festival that makes it such a unique family festival?
SB: Just So is the only combined arts festival in the UK dedicated solely to families and offers world class outdoor arts from regional, national and international artists, authors and performers. We ensure that the quality of the programme is outstanding. Our mantra is ‘we immerse families in incredible stories. if we don’t give you goosebumps we’re not doing it right’.
Families are the only audience we cater for at Just So Festival, which means that we can focus all our time, budget and energies on making their experience incredible. We want to create incredible family memories and to change the way people look at the world around them.
We have the most incredible audience who get so involved and invested in the event. They really make it a special place to be, dressing up and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into everything – we’re increasingly interested in the audience’s role as creative participants and producers rather than passive consumers.
FI: Do you think it’s important that family festivals maintain a balance between entertainment and educational offerings?
SB: I think it’s more about whether the programme is inspiring rather than educational. Often by virtue of being outdoors and engaging in the arts, playing, singing, dancing and creating together then there’s probably something broadly educational for everyone.
FI: Does Wild Rumpus have any additional plans for 2016 that we should know about?
SB: As part of Barnaby Festival in Macclesfield in June we’re producing an event called La Lune that we’re very excited about, it will see the whole town filled with stars and the community coming together to collectively create a real moment of wonder.