Features Published 9 September 2014

Releasing The Hounds

Stephanie Jones, a recent graduate of Kingston University and director of the Release The Hounds Festival, on bringing poetry and performance to her home town of Knaresborough.
Stephanie Jones

After several years away from my home town of Knaresborough, I decided that I wanted to return to feed the 18 year old me. At 18, I was terribly frustrated; I wanted to move to London, become an actress, never look back. Once there, I became more interested in being a performer rather than an actress, and I began to love the art of devising. That’s when I knew I had to go back, and try my hardest to bring pieces of art with me, that I felt were only accessible in the big cities.

And so, I started small, contacting performers that I knew, and seeing if they would come to Knaresborough. I secured sponsorship from a local company to work part-time as a carer for young people with visual impairments and disabilities while working part-time on what was to become the Release the Hounds festival. It seemed obvious to play to my strengths. I had taken part in and seen many devised performances in London and I had produced and directed at the Camden Fringe whilst studying for my MA. I wanted audiences in Knaresborough tp have a chance to see performers they might not otherwise have a chance to in a town which normally floats under the cultural radar.

It all started with Molly Naylor’s Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think of You. I’d seen the piece and told her, ‘you know what, this would really work in my hometown.’ I wanted to show the younger audiences that you do not necessarily have to leave town and move to big cities to accomplish your dreams, and I felt that her piece was testament to that.

By programming poets and performers of a national standing, I wanted to expose the audience to work they might not have considered. I wanted to work against that sense of: “Poetry?! Nah, not for me!” Performance poetry is an exciting art-form and I want to show the un-initiated that at RtH poetry can be a lyrical and hypnotic: an ‘up close and personal’ experience capable of being  staged in a pub or another intimate space in the town. This year I’m trying to take the performances out to the audience by using local pubs with their unique and quirky vibes.

In the first year of Release the Hounds I received a very positive response to the programme content. People did embrace performances of non traditional forms and hopefully they were left sufficiently inquisitive and inspired to return for RtH 2. A post-code survey of the 2013 festival indicated that people did come from far and wide to see specific performers, albeit not in great number but I hope to improve on those audience figures as the festival grows.

Knaresborough does not generally receive touring work, most shows go to the nearby town of Harrogate. However, while it’s just three miles up the hill, I suspect many people don’t make that trip and with RtH I aim to improve the cultural offer locally, to benefit the local economy and to entice travelling festival-goers to  this charming Medieval market town. It’s a beautiful setting, with a castle, a river and hundreds of years of history; I want people to experience that.

My choice of performers this year is based primarily a personal one, I suppose, but in the main I have tried to mix performance poetry with devised work. Poets Luke Wright, Ross Sutherland and Katie Bonna will be performing alongside Fat Lip and Elephant. I tried to book a balance of male and female artists for 2014, though some artists I wanted were already booked so this wasn’t always possible. This year I attracted funding from Harrogate Borough Council’s Arts & Heritage grant, which has been a real boost and has enabled me to offer accessible ticket prices and also to schedule free events. I hope that this will help to draw people in to a new experience. The festival is ‘not for profit’ so the financial margins are very tight. I will need to look at other funding streams if I want to deliver more variety in future but I plan to expand and would love to bring the likes of Blast Theory, The Poetry Takeaway, Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest into the mix. That’s my wish list anyway…

This year’s Release The Hound Festival runs from 12th – 14th September at various venues in Knaresborough.




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