One of the few festivals to happen in 2020, ALSO has maintained its profitability since it started eight years ago.
With a backdrop courtesy of Capability Brown, this festival of music, comedy, arts and experiences makes its home at the Compton Verney estate in Warwickshire. We talk to Diccon Towns about keeping things niche and intimate.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
ALSO Festival is an eclectic mix of talks, music, comedy and food that attracts an up-for-it audience of around 1,500 in July. We are now in our eighth year and the theme for 2021 is ‘You Animal!’ Our academics, authors and experts are the spine of ALSO and this year they’re exploring how animals can teach us to live, understand place, reset our Circadian rhythms and discover our mythological spirit – plus everyone looks good in bunny ears, right?
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
The venue is part of the Capability Brown designed Compton Verney estate. Think a 20 acre lake nestling in arcadian landscape.
What is the event’s history?
The event grew out of Salon London, a monthly event held in the capital, bringing cutting edge ideas from science, academia and the creative world to a more general audience. We decided to start the festival after finding an evening wasn’t enough time to explore some of the ideas we were covering. Plus we thought it would be fun.
How about you?
I’ve spent my working life flitting between live events and software development, always trying to learn something new. I’m also not afraid to put my hand down a blocked toilet.
Career highlights: ALSO 2020 – delivering a fun, social, festival in the midst of a global pandemic. ALSO’s Disco Bunker – a hidden disco made of straw. It was the first ALSO folly; we add one crazy thing each year which really stretches us.
How does the relationship work with your venue?
We have the incredible fortune to be related to the land owners who show phenomenal generosity in giving the land over once a year to the festival.
What permissions have you needed?
We run the event on an event licence from Stratford Upon Avon District Council. Initially we only had to make compromises to comply with noise restrictions. Last year (we were one of the few festivals to go ahead in 2020) we had to produce a detailed event plan demonstrating the Covid-security of what we were planning. This included a move to outdoors from under canvas, physical distancing, an increased number of toilets, sanitisation stations and private toilets.
How have you planned the layout of the event and what structures do you use?
The layout has evolved over the years as content and requirements change. Since the pandemic, we’ve moved from hosting most content under canvas to staging a lot of it outdoors. We hire marquees, build temporary structures and have a couple of semi-permanent structures, all sourced via local recommendation.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
Talks, music, comedy, workshops – the festival is run by a co-operative that counts talent bookers in these areas among its numbers.
Music on ALSO’s main stage is all about discovery with new bands, up and coming acts and ‘audio adventures.’ For those that want to party, the Rum Shack has DJs from the afternoon into the evening, with dancing and cocktails by the lake then on to the Bunker till the early hours. Away from the madness, the Lake Stage plays host to the spiritual and the sublime.
ALSO is packed with comedy in the form of workshops, improv, topical discussions and site-specific pieces, plus exciting new work from seasoned performers, wild late-night cabaret, courtesy of festival favourite Marcel Lucont, and our new woodland comedy stage.
Food is a big part of ALSO. We’re already taking bookings for the Saturday’s picnic which takes place by the lake and is accompanied by a string orchestra. We work creatively with fabulous local suppliers, ones who take the best care of their produce and who, like us, are all about sustainability.
ALSO is all-about trying something new – be it contemplative, creative or challenging. From tree walks to chocolate and whisky matching, open water swimming to building huge animal lanterns, many activities cost little to nothing to encourage participation.
For wellness we offer a 5k run, cold water swims and a safe space in the woods to talk.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We generally have up to three generators, on-site lighting and amplification on all stages.
How do you manage visitors?
For admissions we use wristbands and visitor safety is undertaken via friendly stewarding.
We have the best prices for glamping and there’s a hotel next door for those who don’t want to camp.
How do you publicise the event?
The usual, social media and PR. We’ve also had coverage in The Guardian, Independent, The Week, The Sunday Times, i, The Telegraph and Metro.
What challenges have you faced?
Our main challenge has been growing the festival while maintaining its intimate nature.
How have you financed the event?
ALSO is self-financed and, touch wood, is yet to make a loss.
What are your plans for next year?
Let’s get 2021 out of the way first! Otherwise, bigger and better!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Find your niche and the right channel to communicate with your audience.
STAGES & AV
The Sound and Light Guys www.soundandlightguys.co.uk
HEAT & POWER
Woodlands Generators www.woodlandspower.com
B&W Toilet Hire www.bwhire.co.uk
2-4 July 2021