What to expect at Portsmouth Festivities - June 2016

See Portsmouth Cathedral lit up on 17 June & Royal Garrison Church 18 June

See Portsmouth Cathedral lit up on 17 June & Royal Garrison Church 18 June - Credit: Archant

There’s a highly charged atmosphere in Portsmouth as 100 arts and cultural events take place during 10 action-packed days. Erica Smith, director of the 17th Festivities reveals to Viv Micklefield why she’s buzzing with excitement

India Electric Co are at the Square Tower on 19 June

India Electric Co are at the Square Tower on 19 June - Credit: Archant

It’s not very often that contemporary art and World War One history, or choral singing and beatboxing are mentioned in the same breath. However, when it comes to Portsmouth’s annual celebration of arts and culture, anything is possible.

That’s because Portsmouth Festivities, as they have been known for the past 17 years, is an eclectic mix of events which appeal to audiences of all ages and tastes. As she takes a sip of tea just weeks ahead of the opening night’s live light show Erica Smith, the woman responsible for bringing this sensory cacophony together, looks glad of the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes.

“Every day is very different at the moment,” Erica admits. “I currently go to a lot of meetings with artists and with our partner organisations, which takes about 50 per cent of my time. Today I’ve also been looking through the technical requirements at some of the 33 different venues we’ll be using this year.”

She continues: “We have regular venues like Portsmouth Cathedral and the Guildhall. But there are also some that haven’t been used before. For example, Jack House Gallery, the café Like a Tea Tray in the Sky and Little Duck Forge. Then there’s Cumberland House Gardens, which we’ve not been to for a while.”

Yet taking-on such challenges doesn’t appear to phase Erica, who’s been working in the creative and cultural industries since the late 1990s. Although this is only her second year in charge of the Portsmouth Festivities, she lives in Wickham and has previously run numerous arts education projects in schools throughout Hampshire, as well as becoming the co-founder and director of 103.9 Voice FM community radio in Southampton.

With the Festivities’ origins rooted in classical music performance, the number of events has exploded from just 10 back in 1999 to almost ten times that number this summer. As Erica explains, providing some cohesion between the diversity of events now staged across the city on any one day, has been important.

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“This year, I’ve reintroduced the idea of a theme for the Festivities. The idea behind ‘Electric’ came about because we wanted to have the Electric Lumiere as our main commission, so whether it’s an electric media format or a musician, or using technology in different ways, having a theme makes our creative and community partners think about how they want to be involved and how that theme might fit in.

“For instance, Portsmouth Cathedral has a silent film night showing Nosferatu, the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, accompanied by an organ. Then there’s the CCI lecture, Are Friends Electric? happening at Portsmouth University. Once our core slots within the programme get booked…the rest of the Festivities starts falling into place.”

The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers will be at the New Theatre Royal on 25 June

The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers will be at the New Theatre Royal on 25 June - Credit: Archant

And in the spirit of continuing to be non-commercial, she’s keen that “the more we can put on for free the better” and happily confirms that in 2016, almost 40 per cent of the events are.

“Over the last few years the Portsmouth Festivities has evolved and because it’s a little experimental at times, it definitely has an element of a fringe festival,” Erica observes. “What’s working particularly well recently is our community platform. Basically this means that anyone who wants to showcase an event with us can apply to do so. This year we’ve had some really interesting ones, including The Diving Museum in Gosport which is still in the PO postcode and has an amazing underwater-inspired contemporary art exhibition. Not everyone knows the Museum is there, so we can help them to market it”.

Able assistance comes from Festivities administrator Ryan Williams who regularly sings with Portsmouth Cathedral Choir and from Matthew McCullough, who is a currently a choral scholar at the Cathedral. But there’s still a heavy reliance on support from staff and pupils at The Portsmouth Grammar School, the principal and original sponsor of the Festivities.

As well as hosting their own Young People’s Debate, and other events such as this year’s talk by broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili, the school provides reinforcements to Erica’s small army of local volunteers who help to make the hectic schedule run more smoothly.

With having already invested so much time and energy in making the Festivities happen – the planning for 2017 is already well underway, she is, she says, allowing herself the luxury of enjoying many of the events too.

“I’m looking forward to the Electric Lumiere: to join thousands of people standing on Portsmouth seafront looking down at the Royal Garrison Church lit up at night will be amazing. And the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers (who are back by popular demand) will be playing their giant drums at the re-opened New Theatre Royal, where we shall also be having people’s poet Dr John Cooper Clarke which I’m very excited about.

“India Electric Co. who will be at the Square Tower are currently on tour with Midge Ure, and should deliver a great atmosphere with their gypsy jazz, folk fusion. Additionally, I always look forward to our organ events. We’ve got the Battle of the Organs and also Daniel Cook from Westminster Abbey coming down for a lunchtime concert.

“And there’s historian Andy Robertshaw who’ll be talking about Making War Horse the Movie, at the D-Day Museum as part of the Battle of the Somme anniversary. He’s got some amazing artefacts and is a really knowledgeable guy.”

Fittingly, some of our other national commemorations have also been embraced under the umbrella of the Festivities: Armed Forces Day on Saturday 25 June will be observed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy - whilst the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death is remembered with author and Bard expert, Dr Nick Walton. All of which makes this a summer to savour.

“The Festivities have been going for a long time and we complement the other brilliant events happening in the city like the Summer Show and Victorious,” says Erica. “We should be patting ourselves on the back here in Portsmouth because there’s so much on offer.”

Book your tickets - Portsmouth Festivities 17-26 June

The box office is open for bookings Monday to Saturday 10am-6pm; any unsold tickets will be available on the door. Visit www.portsmouthfestivities.co.uk or call The King’s Theatre, Southsea on 02392 828282 to check availability and for more details about events and venues.

Getting there: www.visitportsmouth.co.uk has information on the city’s excellent transport links, including its new park-and-ride service.

Join in the festivities for free

• Art: Luxmuralis premieres Electric Luminaire a unique open air night-time light show on the walls of Portsmouth’s most iconic buildings. When and where: Friday 17 June, Portsmouth Cathedral, Saturday 18 June, Royal Garrison Church. Both shows begin at 9.45pm. For more information or in the event of poor weather, call 02392 681390.

• Food: Back by popular demand The Cathedral of The Sea invites you to Seafood on The Green, a rustic lunch with wine and music. Food from just £5. When and where: Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June 12:00pm–2:30pm, Portsmouth Cathedral Green.

• Music: A day of talks, demonstrations, exhibitions and more as Electric Activities celebrates Portsmouth’s unique musical influences. When and where: Sunday 19 June 11:00am–4:00pm, Portsmouth Guildhall.

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