CCL Alumni in Focus: Vicki Ooi, The Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection

As part of her organisation, the Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection (AFTEC) based in Hong Kong, Vicki Ooi is involved in the proposal to set up a new cultural festival in the village of Sha lo Wan, Hong Kong. This is the very first festival that this organisation has created. As such, they actively sought out the mentorship through her CCL in Action grant, from Steve Taylor of Ideeas ltd. Steve Taylor is an experienced festival advisor currently based in Scotland. He had advised internationally on sustainability at events and festivals, and has built a good network of contacts across the festival sector. In 2018, Steve travelled to Hong Kong to survey the festival site and advise the AFTEC on sustainability and management issues. Steve and Vicki agreed that it would beneficial for members of AFTEC to visit and shadow the set-up of an already established festival. AFTEC visited the Heb Celt festival in Scotland, which has now been running for 23 years.

During the five-day visit to Heb Celt, AFTEC undertook a variety of activities. They arrived on the Monday, settling in and informally met with people involved in the festival. On the Tuesday they spent most of the day having meetings with festival organisers. This gave them the opportunity to learn how the festival idea came about, the various difficulties the organisations faced during its creation, how the local community was brought on board, how to effectively work with finance budgets, marketing, transport and a variety of other issues. This day also included a site visit, being shown around by the operations team and attendance at a press conference for the local radio. On Wednesday they were interviewed by BBC Alba, outlining what the team were doing in Stornoway, and visit surrounding communities to talk about the festival. On Thursday they got to enter the festival arena early to learn about last minute issues that might need dealing with. They also attended Gaelic lessons, which form part of the festival’s external outreach work. Finally, on Friday they prepared a “Next Steps” spreadsheet and then returned to Glasgow. This spreadsheet covered the activities that the team would need to undertake when organising their own festival. Each morning they held a briefing to go over the previous day’s findings and apply them to the festival in Sha Lo Wan.

AFTEC outlined four key findings from this experience. Firstly, that the ‘the importance of volunteer management cannot be overstated. There is a need for a management structure for volunteers, for a clear rota, team leaders and clear roles and responsibilities’. A clear schedule for volunteers needs to be prepared and disseminated before the event starts. Second, they learnt that they need to liaise with the community as early as possible. They needed to offer as many opportunities for the local community as possible. Third, it is important to have a complaints system. Whilst this is hopefully not needed there will always be some complaints, and it is good to make sure there is a formal channel for processing these. This feedback channel can also receive positive feedback. Finally, you must think about transport early on.  Festivals can cause significant disruption to local transport systems, so it is important to be in contact with these companies. Gaining insight into the potential issues and concerns that arise from running such a large event is an invaluable learning experience; the opportunity to receive this mentoring will help AFTEC run a much more successful festival.


Image: Vicki Ooi at Creative Climate Leadership. Credit, Jorge at Studio Cano. Reproduced with permission of Julie’s Bicycle