A festival or not – the evolution of Jabberwocky Market Pop-Up Theatre Events – August 2019

When we first established Jabberwocky Markets, they were set up as festivals. We love festivals, they are events that include a load of brilliant things all happening in some way together, they bring artists and audiences together who might not normally mix, they offer opportunities for people who want to see a few things to do that all back to back in the same place, they can be exciting and create loads of unexpected opportunities and synergies and magic.

As well as that they require a lot of energy to run and mean that scarce resources (in this case generally people’s time) are spread really wide, and when audiences want to see loads of things but actually have lots of other commitments and obligations in their lives, they can be time-poor and only manage one event a week or month.

After we’d done 4 festivals of Jabberwocky Market events in the first two years, we realised through talking to our audiences, artists and venues, that our events in this place might actually work better if they were more widely spread, like a season of shows across a few months, so people could come along to more shows and events, and so our team had more time to concentrate on the planning, promotion, support and running of each separate event. In spring 2016 we changed the model from a 4 day festival of over 20 events, to a 3 month season, and it worked brilliantly. Each event happened around a headline show, maybe one we’d programmed in partnership with our national Collaborative Touring Network, or sometimes one that was homegrown or separately programmed, but however it was chosen, that headline show dictated the theme for a small amount of related events, designed to complement the event and provide activities that the main show’s audience would also enjoy, and generally there was a 2-3 week gap between events.

The new model meant that audiences could afford the time and money to see more shows that they wanted to attend and fit that into their busy lives, which meant more tickets were booked and shows had fuller audiences, which means the shows were better because performers and artists love having bigger audiences and everyone has a richer experience. The artists had a better time because our team had more time to welcome and support them when they’re in town, and we enjoyed it more because the little bit more time meant we could do a better job and making other people happy makes us happy.

For a long time though people still used the word festival and that was frustrating because we like to be really clear with visiting artists and audiences about what they can expect when they arrive – if you arrive expecting one thing and find another, whether you’re there to watch or perform, you might be disappointed – even if on reflection you recognise that you had a much more meaningful experience than you’d anticipated, it’s really important to us that we have great first impressions as well.

What we learned through this journey was that in this context we do a really brilliant pop-up theatre event – we can also do a really great festival and sometimes we bring together a series of events into a small space or time and make a festival of events, but whatever we do, we describe in the most appropriate way to ensure people have the best experience.

The next Jabberwocky Market Pop-Up Theatre Event is currently in the planning – it’ll be announced as soon as there’s anything we can share.

And of course, our theatre events pop-up in sometimes surprising places! Here are some pictures of past Jabberwocky Markets.