Free community festival the Wye Valley River Festival is to return next month to help audiences re-connect after the tribulations of the pandemic.
The well-loved open access festival will make a triumphant comeback in the Wye Valley on May 27 after a four-year absence, with a trademark programme of vibrant and innovative shows, workshops, performances, installations and public debates running at venues from Hereford to Chepstow until June 5.
After life was disrupted by the challenging COVID-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns, the team behind the festival have planned events which will tackle big questions for society such as: What is our relationship with nature? What is our own human nature? Where does one end and the other begin? How do we want to re-connect as people and communities?
Inspired by the theme of Human/Nature, the organisers say audiences will be entertained, moved, engaged and inspired by an “interactive celebration and exploration” of the region’s landscape and wildlife.
The highlights include a sound installation at Tintern Abbey, which will feature interactive sound making experiences including an immersive soundscape designed by Sir David Attenborough’s sound recordist Chris Watson and recordings by actors including Dame Emma Thompson.
On May 28, Monmouth will host a Merry Mischief Day which will see creativity, performance and play taking over the streets with circus acts, street theatre, music and parades, all with the emphasis on audience interaction. Cycling performers the Bikesplorers will tour the region throughout the festival along a 65-mile route, putting on pop-up performances.
Interactive outdoor performers Red Herring will appear as the Whistler Conservation Society at Symonds Yat Rock on June 3. Appearing as “the elusive Whistlers in their adopted habitat”, a whistling community who live far away from the modern world, audiences will hear their “extraordinary whistling language” up close.
The Streets of Ross on June 4 will see the streets host quirky street theatre, wild circus, and local celebration, alongside artists and performers will be making and presenting work around Ross-on-Wye and in the Prospect Gardens of St Mary’s Church.
The festival is organised by Wye Valley River Festival CIC, an innovative arts organisation, led by artists and communities creating work on environmental themes. The WVRF has been held every two years since 2014 but the 2022 event will be the first live festival to be staged since 2018. The festival moved to a digital version in 2020 due to Covid-19.
Festival director Phillippa Haynes said organisers are looking forward to the live return after a four-year gap.
“We cannot wait to see audiences back enjoying the programme for 2022 which will be as varied, fun and interactive as ever as we encourage people to come out again to play after the social distancing of the pandemic,” she said.
“Rather than retreading old ground we are pushing new boundaries by focussing on presenting a festival in the most viable and sustainable way, such as the inclusion of performers who travel by bike and camp along the way. We learned a great deal from staging the digital version, such as the importance of providing signing and other ways of increasing accessibility, which are being carried into the live return this year.”
For 2022, the organisers say they have listened to public feedback to create a bigger impact on the local area throughout the year. As a new initiative five artists have worked with local communities as “creative community champions” to encourage interaction in the arts and to create work based on the issues and ideas of people living in the Wye Valley, with the first fruits being on display as part of the festival.
Co-director Jon Beedell said the 2022 event would draw upon the festival’s traditional strengths around bringing audiences, creatives, scientists and speakers together.
Jon said: “Collaboration remains at the heart of everything we do and 2022 will see this come back in style. We work with different people to spark energies, which creates the unique Wye Valley River Festival atmosphere.”
Company Manager Rachel Buchanan said the festival would encourage people to think about tackling climate change in positive ways.
“Stories are how human beings remember, so this year’s programme will put forward ways of addressing and overcoming climate denial through narratives which go to people’s hearts,” she said.
The first Wye Valley River Festival was created and developed in partnership by the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund, Arts Council England, the Sustainable Development Fund, the Welsh Government and Forestry England.
Most events are free to attend and do not require tickets, except for the Whistlers shows which need to be prebooked. Access to the sound installation at Tintern is included with the entry ticket to the Abbey, available on the door or online.
For full festival information go to: www.wyevalleyriverfest.com