By Meg J Dobson, on 2 September 2014
10 UCL researchers, 2 Public Engagement staff members, one Welsh festival. What could go wrong?
Armed with wet wipes, cereal bars and boxed wine, the ‘fun bus’ set off from UCL one Thursday afternoon, destination: the Green Man festival in Brecon, Wales, to present two performances of Bright Club*in the Omni tent of Einstein’s Garden**. The cheery smiles and getting-to- know-each-other chat faded to an apprehensive (maybe even regretful?) silence as we left the sunny skies of London behind and proceeded to drive into what was essentially a massive rain cloud. Rain drummed, nay pounded, the car and all we could see were dark threatening clouds on all sides. Putting up tents was going to be great fun in this.
But, thankfully, by the time we were nearing our destination, the rain had cleared to a glorious evening. Upon arrival we picked up our ‘performer’ wristbands (me feeling somewhat of a fraud, not technically being a performer, more of a roadie), found a suitable patch for our group of tents (in the relative luxury of the performers camping area) and set up camp just as night fell.
Now with the evening being sunny and dry, we were lulled into a false sense of security – and I think each and every one of us woke in the night due to being absolutely to-the-bone freezing. To quote one of our researchers, Rob: ‘I thought I was going to die’. So much so that he had to get up at 3 in the morning and walk around the site/ chat to a steward to warm up and convince himself he was not, in fact, going to die.
Next day, with the relief of having survived a perishingly cold night, we had an early start involving copious amounts of caffeine. Members of the group headed off to see various bands, and to check out what else was going on, including saying hello to our UCL friends UCell who were powering the Omni tent (where Bright Club would later be performing) with their hydrogen fuel cell system, and stopping off to see Mel Bovis and colleagues from the UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science, and Meghan Shirley from the UCL Institute of Child Health, who were both running activities in Einstein’s Garden. But the day really revolved around our 6 o clock performance of Bright Club, including an afternoon run through, a recce of the performance area, and a pre-show warm up.
So I return to my original question – what could go wrong? Unfortunately for the purposes of dramatic narrative (but fortunately for myself and all involved), nothing really did go wrong, and Bright Club’s excursion to the Green Man festival was, all in all, a huge and delightful success. This was partly due to minimum rain, and maximum beer, but ultimately down to some wickedly funny and fascinating sets from our intrepid researchers, and warm and enthusiastic audiences who packed out both the Friday and Sunday night performances.
Our researchers’ sets covered topics as diverse as the wonders of hydrogen fuelled cars, doing a PhD on the neuroscience of speech when you’re profoundly deaf, phonology (the study of the sound system of languages), and executing a science stunt involving alka seltzer and a film canister in the presence of George Osbourne. Being the ‘James Bond of Biology’, badgers, and Tindr were also mentioned along the way, and I now know why ‘tlid’ could never be a word (at least not in English) but dilt could be (and according to Urban Dictionary, actually is).
Other memories that will stay with me include: rehearsing the show with a water bottle as a mic (we’d try and find a quiet corner of the site, but inevitably, some poor member of the public would think we were doing a pop up performance and have to be ejected), witnessing the ritual (and slightly disturbing) burning of the Green Man at midnight on the final night, the smug feeling as you flash your wristband at a steward and get admitted to the ‘performers’ section of the campsite, and of course, the pride of watching our brilliant researchers not only smash their performances, but clearly enjoying themselves at the same time – and then having the privilege of sharing in their post-show euphoria.
Bring on Green Man 2015.
Meg Dobson is the Marketing Manager for UCL’s Public and Cultural Engagement department.
*for those that don’t know, and really you should know, Bright Club is UCL’s thinking person’s comedy night, where UCL researchers and staff become stand up comedians and share their work with audiences who have no current relationship with academia. ‘Researchers being funny’ as one Green Man audience member succinctly put it. Green Man invited Bright Club to perform at the festival several years ago, and it has become an annual event in the Bright Club calendar. See www.brightclub.org for more info.
**Einstein’s Garden is a performance and activity area at the Green Man festival, described on their website as ‘a creative fusion of science, art and nature’. See www.greenman.net for more info.