Boomtown Fair is just as tantalising and immersive as it advertises itself to be.
The website boasts psychedelic photos of exploding stages, actors and musicians all blended into this huge, chaotic, colourful experience which is near impossible to put together in your mind pre-arrival. For a first timer, you have no idea what to expect. But upon stepping foot through the city gates the entire concept becomes a great, technicolour reality and you realise you have entered the largest three dimensional, interactive theatrical set in the country.
In this article I interview Martin Coat, Co-Director of Theatrics, who is responsible for helping coordinate the shows, performances and making sure everything in place to ensure Boomtown is a success year after year.
There is an in depth story line running through the whole event. As members of the city, your leader is “Comrade Jose”, a corrupted dictator who forces “district battles” upon her people in order to provide entertainment for the masses. You are a member of the masses.
There is a revolution in motion and throughout the festival you can choose to be part of the uprising or follow your “Glorious Leader”.
Spot Big Brother-like posters and propaganda plastered to the walls of buildings beside symbols of political rebellion.
Spend hours wandering through the different districts exploring nooks and crannies, knocking on doors, pushing aside curtains, watching puppet shows, cabaret, music and even playing bingo to disco music in “Grandma’s Living Room”.
The Boomtown extravaganza is basically one big game. It feels like you’re living a real life Jumanji experience with no idea what secrets lurk behind those closed doors.
The festival is littered with actors who are interactive. There are pirates, sea creatures, safari hunters, policemen, guards and walking CCTV cameras on stilts. Wander up to an actor and they will stay in character, returning your challenges and questions with entertaining responses. This is live-in theater at it’s best. And the most impressive part is that this spectacle lasts the entire four days.
Those who attend Boomtown share the festival’s passion for theatrics and are more than happy to get into character as well. The quantity and caliber of dressing up was second to none. Boomtown attracts exhuberant, experimental peacocks who embrace the festival’s relentless passion for decoration.
Here are some of our favourite outfits of the weekend…
The stages are something special. Framed by the most fantastic theatrical decorations, each one sits within a creative masterpiece which extends from all angles to become a crucial part of the festival in its own right.
The Lion’s Den stage is framed by gushing waterfalls either side, Bang Hai palace is contructed by epic amounts of scaffolding that, as night falls, becomes invisible only to reveal a brilliant exploding light show raised high in the sky, visible from across the festival.
The Town Center stage doubles up as a platform for the Town Crier to introduce acts and make announcements, turning the space into a multi-functional area that is entirely relevant to the festival’s dynamic and storyline.
The Music: Top 3 Picks
The Correspondents took to the Town Centre stage on Saturday afternoon with front man Mr Bruce throwing himself around to the music like the elastic, ballet dancing skeletal creature he famously becomes for every show. His eratic, robotic yet somehow elegant movements punctuate the hip hop electro swing sounds emitted by the band and channel a special energy to the crowd which magnetises ears and bodies into a Correspondent-induced frenzy.
Hit after hit, the band just get better and better with every song, channelling an unrelenting power which leaves the crowd breathless on behalf of Mr Bruce who never seems to tire.
Barbarella’s Bang Bang
Performing bang in the center of the walkway on Mayfair’s band stand stage, these guys are impossible to miss. They demand immediate attention with front woman Barbara kitted out in a gypsy military fusion outfit and plaited pig tails. Featuring band members of Italian, Russian, Latvian and Lithuania heritage their scattered origins are echoed in their eclectic sound.
Rauling the crowd into a dancing, shaking frenzy it’s a challenge in itself to keep up with the pure momentum of this performance. The fast paced, gypsy jazz infusion crosses so many genre borders the whole thing becomes and crazy, hazy experience (of the best kind). The Edith Piaf/Gwen Stefani weighted voice of front lady Barbara is playful, squeaky and rumbling all in one.
The whole thing is super synchronised yet fearlessly experimental. If you’re not in the mood for dancing then give these guys a listen and they’ll be sure to change that!
Damian Marley has a lot to live up to for obvious reasons. And that he does. As the crowd gathers for his Sunday night headlining slot in The Lion’s Den the ambience is electric. He instantly injects a ripple of energy into the crowd and everyone is on their feet. His rock infused reggae sound is polished and song after song is delivered with passion and expert showman skills.
Interview with Martin Coat: Director of Theatrics at Boomtown Fair
Dressed in a bowler hat and tweed waistcoat, Martin is an actor turned director who joined the Boomtown team in the fourth year of the festival. He is tired but still smiling. He tells me he has been working 20 hour days all week. We begin.
How did you end up with this job, what’s your background?
I trained as an actor and when I came out of drama school I became pretty disillusioned quite quickly with the whole industry. I realised it wasn’t really going to work for me. I basically started off with my own theater company called the “Dank Parish”. In Chapter Four (the forth year of Boomtown) I brought our show here and things went from there.
That’s interesting. So I guess you’re familiar with the theatrical side of things, you can imagine the festival as a stage and envisage how it’s going to appear to an audience?
Yeah exactly. Our show at Boomtown was different in that it pushed the boundaries and went one step further. It was immersive theatre. We created a detailed world where the audience is as important as the characters. It was 40 minute funeral show, where people would have their own funerals. They would lie in their coffin, their friends would come and do eulogys and they’d get taken out into a grave.
It taught me straight away that this kind of theatre was the level I wanted to be at, that combining festival work and immersive theatre is the best way of getting new audiences, drawing in people that don’t normally go to festivals.
Boomtown is a festival with live actors running around interacting with people, would you say that’s one of the ways it is immersive?
Yeah definitely, and there’s much more than that. There’s a journey and a story line, you can become part of the regime or part of the revolution, you can steal the blue prints from the town hall or the Bang Hai palace, and when Bang Hai falls you feel like you’re the one that did it. At Boomtown, the more doors you knock on and the more questions you ask, the more that will unfold for you. Its all there to discover. The idea is that you’ve got to adventure and you’ve got to find it. Every door will lead you to something and it all links up. You’ve got the revolutionary trail, you can spend two hours learning about the revolution and going from venue to venue. We build a big coherent story and every part of the festival kind of builds towards. Every crew, every venue, they’re all working towards the bigger vision.
Which part of the festival are you most proud of? The staging, a particular show or maybe a themed area?
It’s the story that I’m most proud of. The way it’s tiered. I mean, we hit it from every level. You’ve got all the immersive venues and then that leads up to the big spectacles, on every level the story’s being told and getting out there. It’s the most ambitious theatrical project in the country.
Also, I think the Town Hall do an amazing job, that’s where the story line was build from. I mean we held the elections in Chapter Five, the public voted for comrade Jose, and since that time we’ve corrupted her and turned her into this dictator.
Have any of your designs evolved into anything else?
Each design does evolve, absolutely. Constantly, in fact. I’m a firm believer that a project is defined by how you deal with it’s problems. And actually creativity comes out of having to make stuff up on the spot. Something as big as Boomtown is impossible to plan out step by step and stick to that plan. We do add things as we go along.
So do you use the same sets each year, you just build on them?
Yeah we build on them and change them, we add new areas. Like Sector 6 is new for this year. The festival is initially built in workshops throughout the year and then transported and erected on site.
I guess the whole experience is like a sequel to a film, or a book. People get addicted, they invest themselves in the story line and they want to see what next year’s festival holds. So they come again and again.
Do you have any plans for next year, any new venues or ideas?
I can’t give away anything unfortunately. It’s all being set up. We’re going into great detail this year and putting a lot of subliminal stuff out there that will set us up well for next year. We know what the whole story line is for next year. But I wont give any of that away, you’ll just have to let that unfold.
Which part of the festival is hardest to turn into reality? Or does everything just fall into place?
You’ve got hundreds of artists, coordinating them together and making sure that the game you’ve put in place or whatever, can land. So that’s the most difficult thing.
The whole festival comes together so well, you must have a great team dynamic?
Yeah the core crew at Boomtown especially, we’re one big family. That’s definitely how we treat it. We’ve got a lot of highly skilled professionals and it’s about getting the right person in the right job; everyone in each department is an artist and a professional in their own right. But yeah also, you do have to buy into the ethos and you do have to see the vision of it.
You’ve definitely got an excting, enviable job. Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into this kind of work?
You’ve got to give. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to give all the time really, you’ve got to see what you’re part is and what you can add to it. Just give, really. And create. A lot of people are here because they’ve come and they’ve created it for themselves, they’ve added their bit and then from that it’s grown and grown and grown. That’s how I did it.
The Boomtown experience is like a hundred separate performances happening in sync together, constantly, for three days. The seamless fluidity of the entire spectacle is something impressive to behold. Each door, each decoration and each stage is a fully invested project that gives 10/10 effort at immersing you in this live-in theatrical experience. Imagine the Shangri-La area of Glastonbury but extended for miles.
This is a festival that is not afraid to push the boundaries and challenge its punters.
Boomtown, you were one hell of a ride and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing you again next year!
Written by Becca Linnard