Festival In The Shire – Notes

The Festival In The Shire took place in the village of Pontrhydfendigaid this weekend, and half of the Scrolls team were there to cover it for the Geek Syndicate Network.  We’ll be putting up some interviews soon and recording Scrolls Chapter 8: Everybody’s Tolkien At Me later this week.  The jury’s out as to whether it’s a two parter or not – we’ll just have to see how it goes.

In the meantime here are some initial notes and observations:-

A lot of hard work has gone into putting the event together.  Bringing both sides of Tolkien fandom (book/film lovers and scholars) together cannot have been an easy thing to organise or sell.

It is a very different kind of event.  Regular visitors to conventions would perhaps be thrown by the scholarly focus, whilst regular conference-goers would be perhaps dismayed by the costumes, poems and heavy metal.

All of the people involved, from the conference speakers, collectors, exhibitors, artists and musicians were utterly passionate about Tolkien and his works.  This was wonderful to see and helped to bring the disparate fan community together.

If it’s to do with Tolkien people will travel from all over the globe to be involved – some paying customers even acting as volunteers to help in the running of the event.

The price point was high but many of the people I spoke to felt they got their money’s worth in the quality of content.

It was the first year for this event, so there were some rough edges.  The make up was very eclectic but not every aspect was served as fully as perhaps it might have been.  The potential for growth and development for the future is nevertheless high.

Roll on next year.

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13 comments

  1. Nicky /

    Rough edges is a polite way of putting it! Over on their facebook group, the organisers specifically put up a post asking for comments and feedback – why I’m not sure, because they delete anything that doesn’t put them in a good light. I regard this as a shoddy way to treat people who have spent time and effort thinking of ways the festival could be improved and communicating that. I don’t know if next year’s event will be improved or will even be held, but I know one thing for certain – I won’t be attending.

    • Thank you for your comment Nicky. Yes, I was being polite when I wrote this.

      Having interviewed the creator, Mark Faith and gotten an insight into what he was trying to achieve, the difficulties he faced and how he envisages it developing in the future I decided to focus our report on the positives rather than the negatives.

      I believe that the more events there are for as wide a populace of fans, the better and, whilst it is true that the event was far from perfect, I feel that the effort and attempt should be applauded. No convention reaches full flowering in the first year, but all should be nurtured and encouraged to develop for the future.

      What you have said about all negative feedback being removed from the Facebook group should perhaps be addressed. After all it can only be to the benefit of the event, the fans, the traders, performers, exhibitors – and ultimately profit margin – for all feedback to be digested and acted upon where possible. I’d invite Mark to put down your perspective here on feedback in general, how you felt the event went and what you are looking to improve / build upon for next year.

      • Nicky /

        Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dion. I do agree that it’s better to encourage an event to become better than to kill it off entirely with completely negative comments.

        However, I also feel that when people have been disappointed and have spent (in some cases) a great deal of money, time and energy to attend, it’s just wrong to attempt to brush the whole thing under the carpet and try to PR-spin one’s way out of it.

        Going off the comments from our group of nine who attended, it would be far better politically for the organisers to hold their hands up and admit things went wrong and *genuinely* seek comments and suggestions on the public forum, not just those that are favourable. I too would be interested in hearing from Mark if he felt able to do so.

  2. Faith /

    We don’t mind being judged in public or constructive criticism. Ultimately the fans decide the future of the festival by purchasing tickets again, or not. Unnecessary derogatory remarks aren’t helpful or appropriate.

    We’ve removed only a few Facebook comments which we felt were particularly false, misleading or malicious. We felt this might be better than to publically rebut and perhaps cause embarrassment to the poster/s.

    There are also reasons we can’t go into why this is the first event of its kind. Malice from a few posters might deprive Tolkien fans of a future event, not just the organisers. If posters were really unhappy, they should take it up with the organisers directly and in the first instance so we could address any concern. No one has approach us with a complaint?

    We did not get the big numbers we hope, which given the economy isn’t a big surprise. Yes, as a first event we had teething problems which we’ll be sending out questionnaires for advice on the next one. However, praise for the content has been all positive. We are most interested in comments on improving the content and at the different price levels.

    • Nicky /

      Thanks for your response, Mark. I had a chat with a very nice guy called Alex on the last day who told me about the problems you experienced in generating publicity and I can understand the frustration you must feel at not being able to attract the numbers for which you were hoping.

      However, although I obviously can’t speak for the other comments you have taken down, I do strongly refute the implication that my comment on your post requesting feedback was false, misleading or malicious – it was a short list of suggestions and it touched upon areas that I felt needed some improvement (surely the whole point of a request for comments or suggestions?). I even mentioned Rodney Matthews’ presence as a fantastic plus point, as we didn’t realise holders of general tickets would be able to meet him. Should you be interested in hearing my explanation and evidence for each and every point I made, I will be very happy to supply it. The reason we haven’t contacted the organisers by email was because we were waiting to receive the questionnaire, in order to go through the ‘proper channels’.

      I felt very aggrieved that you did take the comment down because my friends and I had put quite some time and effort into thinking how we could help to make it a really fantastic event and (at that stage) were fully intending to respond to your questionnaire with contacts, suggestions, photos from other events and, in short, do everything we could to help. Obviously we’re less inclined to do so now, as your reluctance to allow people to have their say makes it appear that you’re only interested in responses from yes men.

  3. Troy /

    Dion and Nicky.

    As part of the LARP group that was there doing activities and show fighting I’d be delighted to get some feed back. Positive or negative, it either makes me happy or makes me think!

    Regards,

    Troy Healy (

    • Nicky /

      Hey Troy,

      I thought the LARP element was excellent, a really good idea that you executed brilliantly. It was a shame that you were tucked away from the main event, although I think that the layout of the site made that pretty inevitable, but the people that took the trouble to discover you and join in all had a really good time. I’d say you were up there with BROCC and Rodney Matthews as the main highlights of the festival.

      • Troy /

        sorry, still new on here.
        reply below.

        T

  4. Troy /

    Thanks very much Nicky.

    We certainly had a very positive response from people at the time, but then we did have weapons on us (even if they were only foam).

    Unfortunately we came down to volunteer for the festival and only got a small proportion of our travel costs. None of us are independently wealthy! So it may not be feasible for us to come back. Its a real pity, because we certainly enjoyed introducing people to LARP in a hand on way.

    Did any of your group feel inspired to look for local systems to try out?

    Were there things you thought we could do better? (aside from the location difficulties)

    Thanks again for the positive feedback.

    Regards,

    Troy

  5. Nicky /

    I guess it would have been fun to have ‘scripted’ adventures with proper monster set pieces and some props, but that takes time *and* money and I think you did the best you possibly could without funding or any real support. Kudos to you guys.

  6. Helen /

    Just some supporting comments to follow up Nicky’s remarks and to thank Troy and the other LARP people for “stepping into the breach” when there was very little going on, and trying to be enthusiastic when it was clear most visitors were bewildered at the lack of events/activities available! Thanks Troy – you, BROC and Rodney Matthews did indeed compensate for what was otherwise a very disappointing event. I will be taking my 10 yr old nephew to a local LARP event as he was very interested after meeting you all! So at least something positive has come out it.

    Regarding the festival itself,I am rapidly changing my opinion from positive support to negative concern.

    I admit I was bitterly disappointed at the event – I stayed the full 3 days with my 10 yr old nephew, who was devastated at how little there was to do, the poor quality of the stalls and food choices etc…he was so upset, we had to take him home early. I came back for the full 3 days and saw no improvement – in fact it got worse. I’ve seen more life and cheer in a cemetry! We tried to make the best of it, but it was just awful compared to other similar events I have been to (such as Berkley Castle’s Joust). For the ticket price, i expected a lot more and much better management/organisation – it was shocking!

    I have tried to give positive supporting comments and suggestions for improvement on the Facebook event website, but have become increasingly concerned about the over-hyped comments about apparent attendance and wealth of activities – where we at the same event??? LOL! I also note well intentioned comments and suggestions are being deleted from discussion threads, or the organisers are arguing with those respondents claiming they are saying malicious and misleading things. And where is this so called questionnaire survey? I’ve requested it multiple times but not received it, and know that a few others have also not recieved it. This is not the way to handle well-meant public feedback – especially when the organisers asked for it!

    I feel quite angry about things as I know most people came a long way to a remote location, and spent a great deal of money. Others on the facebook thread are considering coming from abroad to next years event. It is not fair to over-hype the event like this if you can’t deliver what you are promising! I appreciate the organisers were let down by various people – but better organisation, management and communication should have compensated for this. All i hear on the facebook discussions is the organisers blaming others…and now they are even blaming the fans!

    There is no acknowledgement of the problems and mistakes, and what will be done to ensure they won’t happen again. There is no acknowledgement that they perhaps didn’t pitch it correctly given the current recession, and perhaps lower costs would have encouraged more people and traders. Indeed, they are positively denying some of the problems in some discussions. Either they are living in cloud cuckoo land or they are deliberately trying to cover things up to ensure next year’s event makes money. This sounds extremely dodgy to me…

    So no i won’t be going next year, and neither with several of my friends and family who had their well intentioned comments ignored or have had rude responses, were over charged for putting up their stalls on the promise of high attendance, and who had paid full price and were looking forward to various promised activities and muscians but got very little in return and certainly no refund!

    What a shame, as it was a good idea – but poorly managed!

    P.S I am not someone who normally posts negative comments on websites – this is indicative of how annoyed I am.

    • Dion /

      Wow, just spotted how many replies there are here. Thank you all for your contributions. I hope you have all taken the opportunity to listen to the interviews from the Festival on our website here.

      Just to let you all know, I will shortly be posting a fuller review of the event on the Geek Syndicate website. Although, as previously stated, I felt I ought to be promoting the positives as much as possible in order to help nurture the event, I was not blind to the problems and failings. It will be a balanced article praising where praise is due and mourning the areas where it failed to achieve the best results.

      Podcast-wise, the Middle Earth Special Part 2 is in the final stages of editing – hopefully to be available this weekend. In it we talk a little bit about the Festival and a lot about Lord of the Rings in general. We’re also pulling together a Part 3 around the various adaptations (with a bonus additional interview with Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor which Clover will be conducting tonight.)

      Dion.

      • Colly /

        Hi Dion,
        Thank you very much for posting these reports, clips and podcasts. It seems to me from reading these comments and those not deleted on the Festival facebook page that the event could have been really good. But it was maybe trying too to create a great big amalgam of other events – which are either free or much cheaper (eg the Birmingham Tolkien or Middle-earth Weekends in May, Ring*Con or the Fellowship Festival, the Tolkien Society’s Oxonmoot in September, the Moreton-in-Marsh Tolkien art shows, and various seminars or conferences on Tolkien) – on a grander scale than was maybe feasible in the current economy. From the reviews I’ve seen elsewhere the academic conference made attendees very happy, but it was a bit too pricey for many of us.

        Thanks again for running this site.

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