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Presidential Handover Lunch

25th June 2024
Venue: Kent and Canterbury Club
The Presidential Handover lunch is being held at the Kent and Canterbury Club on Tuesday, 25th June. Retiring President Rosemary Doyle will handover to incoming President Maxine Blades. The bar
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Final of the Innovation Competition,

26th June 2024
Venue: Old Sessions House, Canterbury Christ Church University
The Rotary Club of Canterbury welcomes you to the final of our 2024 Innovation Competition being held at Canterbury Christ Church University. Eleven young people have reached the final and will be
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Evening talk: Amanda McKean – Canterbury Festival, Kent’s International Arts Festival

Many of our members are enthusiastic supporters of the Canterbury Festival, so it was a privilege to hear from interim Director Amanda McKean about its history plus some upcoming plans for this year.

One of our Past Presidents, Peter Hermitage, briefly recapped some of the Festival’s most notable past events before warmly introducing Amanda to us. Before handing over to her he reminded all of us how the Canterbury Festival “gives all of us the opportunity to enjoy the arts.”

At the start of her presentation Amanda looked out across the audience and smiled: “I feel I’m among friends” she said, knowing how engaged many of our members are with the Festival. But, despite celebrating 40 years this year, there are many locals who have never attended an event; Amanda strongly encouraged everyone to look at the programme and find something that would interest them.

Amanda commenced her talk with a little bit of local history about the Festival. Back in 1928, a local woman called Margaret Babington, the secretary of the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, kick started the event by staging a number of plays and concerts in Canterbury. The event became so well known that Author TS Elliot even wrote Murder in the Cathedral especially for the Festival.

Sadly, during the war (WWII) the Festival died out. Although it was briefly reinstated in the 1950s, it was only truly resurrected in 1984 when the old “new Marlowe” was built in place of the Odean Cinema. (The reason why the Festival’s constitutional name remains “Canterbury Theatre and Festival Trust”.)

Since then, the Festival has become a popular and regular local event – the organisers even managed to hold the Festival during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Top of their list of priorities, said Amanda, is ensuring “artistic excellence for a wide audience”. To shake off any elitist image it may have had, the Festival highlights how it now caters for a far broader audience than in the past – with a programme of classical and contemporary music, theatre, comedy, cabaret and so on. Over the last few years it has welcomed internationally known singers such as Van Morrison, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Gabrielle, or comedians such as Michael Macintyre, Dara Ó Briain, Alan Carr and Ruby Wax. Other popular performers include violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Soweto Community Gospel Choir. The organisers continue to try to bring some big names to Canterbury. Amanda showed us several pictures of these and other artists and events from over the years. 

In 2022 and 2023 many locals will have gone along to the Cathedral to see colourful light and sound installations by Luxmuralis. “People just really, really loved it,” said Amanda. She teased us with ”something similar but in a new exciting venue” coming up.

Because the Festival doesn’t own any venues itself, organisers have to get creative with venues and spaces in-and-around Canterbury. For instance, they brought Spiegeltent to the city for a number of years, thanks to an Arts Council grant and donations/fundraising. They hope to bring it back again in the future.

This year (19 October – 2 November) they will continue to use the Cathedral and Westgate Hall as venues (the latter will host this year’s opening party, for instance). Two new venues are the Malthouse at King’s school and the Great Hall at Kent College. Next year, Amanda told us, they hope to bring a contemporary circus performance to the Cathedral!

Amanda reminded us that her team’s work isn’t just focussed on the two-week Festival: “We’re here all year,” she said, outlining the important public engagement work that continues to go on during the year. For instance, the Festival team have worked closely with various community organisations such as homeless charity Catching Lives and dementia charity Forget Me Nots.  Amanda briefly described Catching Lives’ “Building Blocks project” – a 6-week workshop on blocks which will be exhibited during the Festival. Meanwhile, Forget Me Nots are working on a book called “Making Memories“ – which Amanda described as “a really rewarding project that everyone got a lot out of”.

Amanda also told us how they worked with Clayground Collective and Canterbury College students to build an imaginary city in Guildhall Street last year. It proved really popular, with about 2,000 people taking part in the event. This year the team are working with the Gulbenkian and taking Clayground Collective to the Boing Family Festival in August.

The Canterbury Festival also runs an annual poetry competition, which is very popular with local schools. Workshops are being led by Charlotte Cornell, who our regular readers will know gave us an excellent talk on poet, playwright and spy, Aphra Behn.

In 2021 the Festival started a “Beautiful Noise” community music making day – an initiative started after the pandemic to give musicians and choirs the creative outlet that they’d been missing for over a year. This year’s Beautiful Noise will involve 25 community groups, choirs, schools and individuals performing in indoor and outdoor venues on the Festival’s opening day on Saturday 19 October.

Last year the Beautiful Noise Orchestra – involving pupils from various schools in the district – was so successful that they will do this again this year at Kent college; they are calling it Canterbury Festival’s Youth Orchestra.  

A new choral project called “Nu:Chorus”, led by Dr Kerry Boyle, will showcase the singing talents of children from local primary schools. “This is a great opportunity to work with young people in the area,“ said Amanda. The Festival organisers will also be holding a Poetry Gala evening in the 3rd of October – which will coincide with National Poetry Day.

Last year the Festival had its first stand-up comedy competition. This year they intend to hold a competition called “Silver Surfers”: anyone over 60 can take part in the workshop and give a performance. “If you’ve ever wanted to be a comedian and not had the chance, this is the chance!” said Amanda.

Amanda next went on to talk about how the Festival is funded. “Canterbury Festival is a charity and receives practically no state funding, so needs to raise all the necessary funds itself,” she said. Most of the funds (56%) come from ticket sales, but they also rely on grants and trusts, supporters, memberships, sponsorship and fundraisers. There is also a Friends Scheme with 650 Friends who pay an annual subscription, and approximately 40 Vice Presidents who are patrons of the arts and donate a minimum of £750 a year to support their work. Amanda emphasised how grateful they are to local businesses. Property developers Paul Roberts will be their Partner and Principal Sponsor this year as Paul also celebrates 40 years in business.

Amanda then showed a slide giving a snapshot of what’s coming up in 2024, including a concert on the opening night, Gershwin concerts at Shirley Hall, Comedy Store players doing improv, and country duo the Shires – popular music headliners. There will also be a number of talks, a guitarist from Brazil – Plinio Fernandez – and the circus troupe Trash Test Dummies will perform as part of the Family Programme in the Malthouse. Other programming is ongoing – some of it is “top secret” at the moment. “If you don’t already receive a Festival brochure,” Amanda said, “make sure you join our mailing list – or check out our website after 24 July … or even better, join as Friends or even as a Vice President!”

With that Amanda ended her talk, which was followed by plenty of questions that touched on the huge amount of work that needs to be done to put the Festival together. Peter Hermitage also spoke a little of how our Club has been involved with the Festival over the years.

Finally, President Rosemary Doyle thanked Amanda, who received a very warm round of applause from an enthusiastic and supportive audience!

Readers can find out more about the Canterbury Festival on its website, here.

Picture: Amanda (right) pictured with President Rosemary Doyle before her talk. Picture credit: The Rotary Club of Canterbury.

Please note: the publication date of this article has been backdated due to a website upgrade.

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