‘Views from the front line’ – The 2014 Volunteers
This year, I have finally been able to attend the Jane Austen Festival: my dream come true. I had this amazing opportunity of experiencing it in a double way: as a visitor and, more importantly, as a Steward. Being a visitor, I was able to enjoy all the magic atmosphere that the Festival brought to life: costumed events, workshops, shows; and all this within the enshrinement of the “lost in time” town of Bath. As a steward, I was able to understand what was behind all this: dedication, hard work, and a life-lasting love for everything that concerns our well-appreciated authoress; a love that I could share with a fantastic group of volunteers. The Jane Austen Festival cannot be described, it must be lived and, trust me, you will never forget about it as long as you breathe!
I had a great time volunteering for the Jane Austen Festival 2014 in Bath. There were so many things to be done, seen, heard, and felt. It was not only real fun but educating as well. For every taste! Many of the visitors wore charming and very elaborate costumes, and the Jane Austen Festival really is the perfect occasion to slip into one’s Regency dress and parade through the beautiful streets of Bath. My favourite was the theatre performance from ‘Austentatious’, it was hilarious. And of course the mask-ball with the reception in the Roman Bath, a magic and transporting experience.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that most Jane Austen fans would love to spend a week promenading around Bath in Regency costume. Add to that some dancing, great new friends and lots of laughs and you’ve got the Festival Volunteer experience. There was such a variety of events last year: I marshalled participants for the World Record, served at a dinner party and read ‘Mansfield Park’ in the library. Not forgetting the music, theatre and talks at the brilliant Mission Theatre. In our spare time us volunteers got together for lunch, shopping or to go round Bath’s many museums. By the end of the week I was shattered – bring on this year’s festival.“
‘Jane! … Jane! … JANE! Come dance with us Jane!’ These were the shouts from merry Bath Uni freshers that accompanied me as I ran from the Pump Rooms to catch my last train home after the Masked Ball. Skirts a-flying, mask in hand, I was clearly a sight to see for these students, out on their first week in Bath. And I loved it. I loved being part of their introduction to Bath; I loved playing the slightly anonymous, multi-actor role of ‘Jane.’
This year I’ve finished a Masters, moved to a new city, and started (several) jobs. But the Jane Austen Festival is still pretty much top of the list for the most rewarding and memorable few weeks this year. There’s such a sense of community during the festival, but it is far from exclusive. You would see a couple in Regency costume in the street and stop to curtsey, nod or just smile – knowing that you were all in the same crazy, beautiful boat. But some of my favourite moments also came from the mix of Austen and the everyday: from the shy little ones who were fascinated by the ‘pretty lady,’ to the burly Iranian man who stopped to ask two of us if our families ‘accepted our way of life.’ There were the commuters I confused every morning in my power walks through Bristol (the usual ‘phone, money, keys’ check swiftly became ‘gloves, bonnet, reticule, fan, phone, money, keys, GO’). And of course, there were those who tuned in to our labour of love – the public reading of Mansfield Park in Bath public library – and came to thank us after. We brought the book to life for them, they said.
And for me, that’s what it was all for. I have written thousands of words on Austen, but now I’ve also lived her work, in my own way, and loved and learnt just as much. The other stewards, Lynette and Jackie became my fellow heroines; I was the Catherine Morland to their Emma, Georgiana, Lizzy, Eleanor and Anne (names we demanded to be announced with at the ball). We danced in parks, empty theatres, streets, ballrooms. I know I’ll be back – Bath, I’ll come dance with you forever.
16th December 2014 – Jane Austen Day
This year (2014) we had our first ever Jane Austen Day and the first ever Jane Austen Day event in Bath. Unlike the Festival we only had two months of preparing, organising, feverish advertising and unrelenting social media-ing. The Jane Austen Festival office was very much like the feet under the proverbial swan from October until December 16.
The night itself was amazing! The Old Theatre Royal, now the Masonic Museum, is an incredibly atmospheric venue and was practically full! A wonderful turn out for the middle of December. Although the lovely mulled wine and mince pies laid on by the venue’s staff probably helped!
Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe were just brilliant and managed to encapsulate a wide range of Austen’s Characters from Mr and Mrs Bennet to Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, not forgetting a brief recital of some of Mr Wickham’s lines! The music by Rosie Lomas and Katarzyna Kowalik was superb. To hear the old theatre filled with Rosie’s spectacular voice and Kat’s accompaniment was magical.
As you can tell I certainly enjoyed myself and judging from the lovely comments the rest of the audience enjoyed the evening as well. We are already planning next year’s Austen Day event; ignoring Jane’s own advice “preparation, foolish preparation!” (Emma)
by Lynette White – Festival Assistant
Regency Costumed Summer Ball 2014
The Summer Ball this year (2014) was on a very hot day (June 21st) and the day started (for me at least) at 11am in the Guildhall setting up the Green Room for Diana Campbell and Green Ginger (the musicians). The second task of the day was to set up the Ballroom ready for the Workshop at 2pm. We moved two tables to allow room for dancing right down the centre of the room for both the Workshop and the Ball, after all there’s nothing worse than an overcrowded Ballroom. A more relaxing and Regency appropriate task was creating the flower arrangements which was a lovely chance to cool down and relax a bit before the Workshop began.
The Workshop was surprisingly hard work, especially with the heat! It was really good to do some dancing during the day and get into the mood ready for the evening. It was also very helpful to have some of the basics explained as it had been a very long time since I last did some Regency Dancing. I have to recommend it as a form of exercise it isn’t all serenely gliding around the floor!
After the workshop there was time for a quick (and necessary) cup of tea before putting out the table decorations and the floor plan and doing a final check of the Ballroom for anything too un-Regency. After the finishing touches of the Ballroom we had to do the finishing touches to ourselves; off with the jeans and on with the Regency Ballgown! As the guests arrived I developed distinct feelings of envy at some of the truly lovely gowns on display.
The dancing looked spectacular with everybody dressed in full Regency costume. The afternoon Workshop was my fix of dancing for the day but I managed one dance near the end of the evening and was surprised to find that I vaguely understood what was going on (thanks to Diana Campbell our wonderful teacher). The very hard-working musicians, Green Ginger, had a break halfway through the evening to enjoy the lovely buffet before getting back to work and playing to the end of the evening.
All good things must come to an end and the Ball ended at 11 (making it a neat 12 hours of work) with John White, Master of Ceremonies, calling an end to the evening and announcing the carriages and a phone going off (presumably announcing a carriage) exactly as he did so.
by Lynette White – Festival Assistant
Reading Pride & Prejudice in Bath Central Library – 2013 Festival
2013 was a very special year for Pride and Prejudice and its many fans as it turned 200.
The reading of Pride and Prejudice was a very special event for me. Not only was it my first year at the Festival I also had the wonderful (if sometimes stressful) job of stewarding. Unlike the rest of the stewards it was always easy to guess where I would be. Everyday between 2pm and 4pm I could be found somewhere in Bath Central Library with a list, a pen and several copies of Pride and Prejudice at the ready.
The first day almost went off without a hitch. Adrian Lukis (Mr Wickham) and Caroline Langrishe read the first two chapters of the book and the other readers arrived just as early as the spectators (some of whom had been queuing for around an hour waiting for the Library to open). The Library was almost literally bursting with people eager to see ‘Mr Wickham’ and consequently the hundred or so chairs already prepared were just not enough. The wonderful library staff managed to magic more chairs out of nowhere and space was found to put them. There still were not enough but no one seemed to mind.
The rest of the week was a different matter. Plenty of people turned up every day to take their seats, books in hand, to follow the progress of the novel and most of the readers did too. I say most because despite my small stack of spare copies on one day we had to pass them around between the readers because only one had brought their own copy of the book. You would have thought it is impossible to run out of books in a Library but you would be wrong!
There were also a few people unable to read because of colds, sore throats or just being stuck in traffic and replacements (occasionally me) had to be found for them all. I also had the problem of not knowing what most of the readers looked like. Most managed to check in with me so I could tick them off the list and relax knowing that no replacements needed to be found. I had a few tense moments though hoping one of the audience was the next reader and was about to get up and start as the previous one stepped down. My trust was usually rewarded.
The last day finally came on Sunday and none other than Crispin Bonham-Carter (Mr Bingley) had been asked months in advance to read the final chapters. Austentatious, who were also providing the evening’s finale, had agreed to read and did a wonderful job entertaining the growing crowd with their reading. However time was wearing on quicker than expected and as the crowd grew, eagerly anticipating the ending, so did my panic. With just one more reader to go ‘Mr Bingley’ had yet to appear. We had to hatch a plan to just keep reading, as slowly as possible, until Crispin arrived. Thankfully I need not have worried. Half way through the chapter Jackie arrived, ‘Mr Bingley’ in tow, and Pride and Prejudice was finally completed. Not forgetting, of course, a plethora of books to be signed and photos to be taken once he had finished!
The reading of Mansfield Park this year should prove equally entertaining and exciting. We are looking for volunteers and if you are interested please contact Lynette by email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
by Lynette White – Volunteer Steward