Secret Garden Party: A Performers Perspective

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“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,”

I’m slowly piecing together the fractured pieces of my mind, gluing together again something that vaguely resembles a functioning human. Poking out from the fogs of inebriation I’ve plucked out morsels of memory from the weekend I spent at the Secret Garden Party and upon reflection I’ve realised just how truly bizarre and utterly delightful the entire experience was.

Having been to many festivals in the past as a paying punter and in journalistic capacities I’m well aware of the different experiences that can be had on both sides of that divide, however this weekend was still something of a first. I was lucky enough through a mutual friend to be invited to perform at the festival. One of the menagerie of characters that patrol the site it was our job to make sure everyone at SGP was feeling sufficiently detached from reality. The process of preparation was a long one and it was a little daunting going in but these fears were soon washed away by the cascade of enthusiasm, support and professional revelry from the collection of costumed creatures that were to be my colleagues.

The selection process was simple enough you had to send in a video of yourself performing with whichever talents you think you could bring to life at the festival site. I’ve dabbled with theatre and regularly perform at open mics and shows locally spouting poems and prose so sent in a clip of me energetically spitting nonsense to imagined passersby trying to grab their attention. The talented organisers of this coordinated chaos obviously saw something they liked and I’m flattered to have been chosen, they put together the troupes perfectly allowing everyone to exhibit their weird and wonderful talents perfectly. There were silver glittered malfunctioning robotic dancers, adorable music peddling ewoks, regal space gods and party hungry lizards all in attendance. Watching the amazing group that had been assembled at work was a truly humbling thing, from classically trained performance artists who could wear a full body morph suit and say more with the twitch of their head than I could with a full paragraph, or professional party starters who can spend an entire sunny day in a baking hot furry costume and still keep dancing, everybody had something entirely their own to bring to the table. I was to play one of a travelling group of space pirates and seemed to be put with the group of deviants most comfortable in donning a costume and then diving into the rabbit hole staying in character and interacting with the public or gardeners improvising street or field theatre.

Whilst I will never describe what we did as “work” as it was far too much fun we were subject to fairly long hours and dancing and shouting at people for five hours straight takes its toll on your body and voicebox after a long weekend. What we were giving though to the gardeners was something truly unique and profound, we were a wandering experience, a story to be told of some zany or surreal happening that would be retold or snapchatted to a friend to let them know what they were missing out on. We were peddling moments and I hope we gave out a fair share. Bouncing from moment to moment and group to group we had more than a six pack of our own giggles. The amazing people we encountered were happy to share their libations with us even whilst trying to navigate the potentially confusing conversation they were having with seemingly already drunken space pirates demanding they point out on a nonsensical map where the loot might be. From impromptu stick ups to alien wrangling we rambled around the site creating surreal scenes and cavorting capers.

Of course our shift pattern clashed occasionally with bands we might have wanted to see and we missed out too on some of the joy that can be had by just meandering around aimlessly as we at least in theory had a vague direction and path to follow. It was no worse however than any other festival where there is such a wealth to be ingested and only so much time to do so in, if you spend your time planning you miss out on throwing yourself into the now. This is what I took away most, if you are at a festival yourself let your imagination traverse into more simple childlike wonder, whether with chemical assistance or not festivals provide the perfect environment to truly lose yourself for a while and waltz through mindscapes more marvellous.

Secret Garden Party is a festival like no other, the site itself is majestic and the work that goes into creating the stages and the promiscuous playground on which we all dance out our deviance upon is spectacular. The atmosphere is quietly manic, it’s respectful and yet at any moment a spritely explosion of energy and ecstasy can erupt and you’re forced to allow it to take hold and boogie along to the jam. The artists on offer are obviously of the highest quality and the main stage provides an excellent place to chill out on the hill with friends sinking beers and getting soaked by the serenading artists. The smaller tents are always where you’ll find me though, skanking out furiously to some band you may have never heard of before but right now the bassline is tickling your spine in a way you never thought was possible.

It’s hard to review the festival on any real level when you felt so much a part of it, that said I enjoyed every second and can’t imagine it’s that different for someone who paid for their ticket, the experience is entirely inclusive and it all feels as it it was exclusively built with you in mind. SGP is a fine place to lose and find yourself and hopefully when you’re finally forced off site the jigsaw of your psyche looks a little different to when you arrived.

Words by Matt Miles

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