Music, comedy, arts and more - new EA Festival takes stage this weekend
- Credit: EA Festival
As festivals at last return in "real life", this weekend's EA Festival is offering a feast of arts and culture.
Many people will be going along in person to the new arts festival on Saturday, July 31, and Sunday, August 1, at Hedingham Castle, near Halstead.
But, if you can't get there, you can still follow the whole festival virtually, including top international names like musician and composer Dame Evelyn Glennie and comedy producer John Lloyd, alongside exciting local creative talent.
The whole programme is being livestreamed, in what founder Joanne Ooi describes as "a first for any festival in East Anglia and one of the first such instances in the UK".
Joanne is the first to admit it has been a huge challenge to arrange a new festival during the pandemic. But it has also offered an opportunity to do things differently.
Amid uncertainty over when and how Covid-19 restrictions would be eased, the creative director was determined to ensure the event could go ahead.
The festival team worked to make the whole event as flexible as possible, with the capacity to move between live and livestream.
"It looks like it's going to go well. Everyone has been extremely positive about it and we have had a huge amount of support," she said.
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Joanne believes the stunning backdrop of the 900-year-old Hedingham Castle will contribute strongly to the festival's atmosphere.
She said: "The design of the castle is really special and wonderful. It is the best-preserved Norman keep in the United Kingdom."
All festival events will take place in the permanent, all-weather marquee adjacent to the Georgian house, approximately 300m from the Keep.
Also making the most of the setting, a sculpture garden, featuring 10 sculptures by leading regional artists, will launch the festival weekend.
Joanne said: "At least three of them, by Laurence Edwards and Maurice Blik, are monumental in scale, coming in at over 8ft.
"The sculpture park will quite literally be one of the biggest and most significant art installations in the Lower Suffolk/Northern Essex area ever."
The curator and producer of the installation, Adam Robinson, will lead a free, unticketed sculpture walk at 1.30 pm on Sunday.
Joanne feels this area of East Anglia needs its own festival and, going forward, more opportunities to showcase its wealth of artistic talent.
"In terms of art and culture, there's a major demand for it, and yet there isn't very much going on," she said.
The inaugural EA Festival aims to "fill the gap", offering the chance to experience top talent across many disciplines, without the need to travel to London, Cambridge or Aldeburgh.
The festival opens on Saturday with Joanne interviewing John Lloyd, responsible for national treasures like Blackadder, Spitting Image and QI, in a talk entitled IQ versus QI.
She chose him to open the festival "because he’s been a key inspiration to the entire undertaking from the beginning — his overweening curiosity, that is."
Another Saturday highlight is The Power of Listening - a double performance by Dame Evelyn Glennie and pianist and composer Rosey Chan.
Broadcaster Susie Dent, film director Mike Figgis, award-winning slam poet Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa, "poetry pharmacist" William Sieghart, doctor-author Gavin Francis and pianist Roman Kosyakov are also among those appearing on Saturday,
Sunday's bill includes sessions on Art in East Anglia and a Music East Anglia Showcase, with Nik Void, Talvin Singh and TAWIAH.
There will also be talks and performances by comedian Josh Berry, poet Luke Wright, art historian Charles Saumarez Smith and singer-songwriter, Harry Lloyd.
Author Louise Gray will lead a discussion taking the theme of her book, The Ethical Carnivore. And Arizona Muse, best known as a supermodel, will take part via video in a conversation with author Sass Brown about Sustainable Fashion: Beyond Greenwashing.
Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa's performance and Sunday's "Let's talk about sex" panel discussion, with Rowan Pelling, former editor of The Erotic review and The Amorist, and author Daisy Buchanan, are both co-presentations with Essex Book Festival.
Looking forward, EA Festival plans to work with regional and local leaders in the culture sector, and the partnership between the two festivals is a new long-term venture.
Joanne said: "Rosalind Green, the director of Essex Book Festival, and I decided to work together as soon as she said the words: 'I wish there was more co-operation and collaboration between organisations like ours.'
"It was music to my ears, because I had been seeking long-term partners to increase both the pipeline and audience for culture in East Anglia.
"Essex Book Festival is one of the best-known and established book festivals in the UK, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with Ros."
They will also co-present two forthcoming Essex Book Festival events, Alison Weir’s discussion of her new historical novel Katherine Parr: The Sixth Wife and Simon Heffer in conversation about his new book, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918-38..
For more information about the EA Festival and tickets for both live and virtual attendance, visit the festival website.