What does it take to organize an All Winners Festival?

Michael Lees, organizer of the All Winners 2014, gives us a comprehensive insight.

When it comes to organising an All Winners week take a deep breath and plan as far in advance as possible.   As a backdrop I had the experience of being involved with two previous such events held in the Isle of Man in 1998, 2008 and now as part of our Island of Culture 2014.   The Isle of Man Arts Council had a ten year strategy which ended in 2014 and always planned for the year 2014 to be Island of Culture year.  One of the many aims was to break down many of the myths that surround an Arts Council perceived to be for an elite group of people about high art. Another was to involve as many of the island community as possible. We achieved this aim with the very ambitious production of the Manx Passion held at Easter 2014 and directed by Jan Palmer Sayer who was also going to be our adjudicator for the All Winners.

The production took place in six different places some inside some open to the elements and involved over one hundred people some experiences some who had never been involved in any type of production.  The enjoyment and audience feedback was terrific and one goal achieved.

Back to the drawing board for the All Winners. The IOM Arts Council fully underwrote the festival for £20,000. This sum was needed as each team (fifteen in all) were given up to £1000 for travel and production expenses.

I had a very small team of volunteers and a wonderful PA and stage manager. After we had been given the names of the teams by Lyn Mison we contacted them with all the technical information they needed on the majestic Frank Matcham Gaiety theatre on Douglas Promenade and watched the five weeks of final preparation time disappear very quickly. In that time we arranged marketing, programme, props for teams, sponsorship. Manx Radio advertising and many more outstanding jobs. The week arrived bringing with it glorious sunny weather for the week and the festival club was a happy centre at the Empress Hotel. Many All Winners supporters arrived from all over the British Isles and had a fantastic week of very high standard theatre. Jan Palmer Sayer remarked she thought the standard was outstanding and possibly one of the best All Winners she had experienced. Was it worth all the hard work and worry ? Undoubtedly YES, and I do encourage any organisation that might just be thinking about it to have a go. You don’t need  to have a large team as long as they are enthusiastic  and give themselves plenty of time to arrange some modest funding ( we needed additional travel expenses) and a good theatre space.   I am very much looking forward to going back to Woking in July 2015 and wishing Lyn and Stuart the best of luck in their very experienced hands.

Michael Lees
Island of Culture Events Director
IOM Arts Council Vice chairman
NDFA Council member