From the safety of the tents, glades and canopies of our festival worlds, we can play out and rehearse conversations, interactions and provocations that can be drowned out in the real world.
At the end of June, in a more normal year, the Wild Rumpus team would be packing up our bunting, making the last-minute checks on performer and production details, and leaving our day to day lives behind to live for two weeks at Feanedock in the National Forest.
We’d sleep and eat under the trees, our community of volunteers, contractors, performers gradually growing, until the Timber Festival audience joined us for a weekend of debate, conversation and celebration of our relationship with the natural world.
To make a donation to support the next Timber festival, visit JustGiving.
This year is different, of course. Our festival lives and working lives have stuttered and shifted in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Along with the rest of the UK festival and arts sectors, from mammoths like Glastonbury to the smallest regional theatre, we have been forced to reset. As we pause, and reflect, and strip away the complications of daily life, the bare bones of our ethos, of what lies at the heart of our small, non-profit arts organisation, have become clearer.
Timber is created by a team who work among the trees. Our creative process is driven and shaped by our deliberate immersion in the natural world.
Wild Rumpus has dreamt up vanishing carnivals, created tightrope walks across lakes, brought rebels and activists together to debate around campfires, taken families through illuminated dreamscapes. Our work and the moments of wonder we create are moulded by the woods and meadows that we dream them up in.
As a social enterprise, we have spent a decade gathering people together in temporary festival villages and towns. We spend months planning, and a few weeks building, our own little utopias, pop-up worlds that create new communities in wild green places, curated landscapes where we can dream, imagine and shape the community, society and world we want to live in.
From the safety of the tents, glades and canopies of our festival worlds, we can play out and rehearse conversations, interactions and provocations that can be drowned out in the real world. Festival experiences, at their most transformational, can shape the people we want to be and the changes we want to make as we emerge back into our lives. Immersed in these transitory experiences, it is possible to carve a space to see more clearly, listen more intently, feel more deeply.
At Wild Rumpus we have seen time and again that being outside, being in green places, surrounded by nature, intensifies this experience. The benefits of being in nature to health and wellbeing are well documented, and we know from experience that the biggest, boldest, most creative of our ideas and conversations happen outside. With our senses heightened, colours are brighter, music more meaningful, moments of collective experience more wondrous.
At Timber, alongside our myriad other festivals and events in the UK and internationally, we create an environment where arts and culture meet the natural world. Stepping into these spaces can be the catalyst for extraordinary change.
In a woodland in the North of England, we are creating a pioneering, exploratory space where art and culture meets the natural world. The Forge is a space for artists, creators, thinkers and producers to step outside day to day life for a day, a week or longer, and re-examine the world from a new perspective.
The beautiful woodland setting of the Forge creates an evocative outdoor landscape, a focal point for new ideas, disruptive conversations, relationships and art with social and environmental change at their heart.
New works of performance, visual art, stories and songs are created through artist residencies. They are dreamt of in the treehouse, debated around the campfire and rehearsed under the woodland canopy. New networks, partnerships and projects emerge under the starlight, around a crackling campfire. Timber, and our partnership with the National Forest Company, began as a conversation in our horsebox office among the trees.
Space and time, in a wild green place, means that conversations can meander. Walking and thinking and talking in the meadows and fields allows a freedom to explore ideas that can be hard to find within four walls. Work that is produced in this outdoor environment is often rooted in and reflective of the natural world. It speaks of the place where it grew, and has a depth and resonance to it.
The communities that continue to grow around our work have far reaching tendrils. The relationships we have with volunteers, freelancers, artists and partners, and the ones they have with each other, come from long days spent working alongside each other in green places, shooting the breeze, sharing our hopes and fears. We scatter and come back together, for events or meetings or making, each time in nature, and each time our ties grow stronger.
We spend our time inviting people to step out of their normal lives, to press pause and create environments where change can happen. It is hard not to see some parallels with the effect that the current crisis is having on many people’s lives.
Timber’s Sounds of the Forest project invites people to go into their own forests and woodlands and gather audio to send to us, as we create an international map of open source forest sounds, which we’ll ask artists and musicians to respond to. You can add your sound at www.timberfestival.org.uk/soundsoftheforest.
Projects like this, and our digital connections with audiences through sharing incredible performance and content from our performers and partners, have come from this pause. We are unable at the moment to gather together in person, in the way that is at the heart of our work. It is exciting to explore how our core values can shine through into alternative activity.
As we emerge, blinking, into the post-Covid-19 world, however, we will be exploring how we can safely gather once more. Coming together in green places to experience moments of wonder, from the smallest gathering of artists to create work, to festivals full of dreaming and debate, is a powerful tool for change, for aligning the natural world at the centre of the conversation.
We don’t know what the new world is going to look like yet, but we know that somewhere in it, we’ll be coming together among the trees.
Rowan Cannon is Director of Wild Rumpus CIC, a social enterprise producing large scale outdoor arts events, most often in wild natural landscapes. Twitter: @rowan__cannon
Andrew Weatherall works at the National School of Forestry, University of Cumbria. Jo Maker is the Timber Festival coordinator, The National Forest Company. They are together the guest editors of this Special Collection in The Ecologist. To make a donation to support the next Timber festival, visit JustGiving.