Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Cath Mattos: Wandsworth Arts Fringe

By | Published on Friday 3 June 2022

It’s that time of year when I start to get all caught up in looking forward to – and planning coverage of – the Edinburgh Fringe. Thankfully, however, not so caught up that I don’t notice the summer festivals going on elsewhere – and in particular in London. Because this month there’s a rather special one. 

Wandsworth Arts Fringe kicks off this weekend, offering a wide range of cultural events of myriad genres, with shows taking place in venues and open spaces across the borough, as well as online. 

The pandemic had a marked impact on how the festival ran the last couple of years. I was eager to find out how the team behind it negotiated that period, and – of course – what we can expect this year now that COVID-related restrictions have eased.

So I arranged a chat with Wandsworth Fringe producer Cath Mattos.  

Caro: We’ve spoken to you before about Wandsworth Fringe, but I think a refresher for our readers might come in handy – can you tell us a bit about its history and how it all began?
Cath: Wandsworth Arts Fringe grew out of the Wandsworth Arts Festival – which in turn grew out of the Shimmy event – and which was a programmed festival taking place in the borough.

We realised there were a lot of local arts organisations and companies that wanted to get involved and so we created an open registration process. WAF sprung to life and so began the organic chaos that has ensued. Companies and artists took WAF into their hearts and into their year round planning.

Caro: The last few years have been difficult for all cultural ventures, of course, because of the pandemic. How did the lockdowns affect the Wandsworth Fringe?
Cath: The lockdown happened just as we were launching our WAF 2020 programme in March that year.

We said goodbye in the office the week before lockdown on 23 Mar – leaving 15000 programmes sitting boxed up ready to go – firstly cancelling the launch party and then, soon after, the whole of WAF 2020 in real life.

We decided, with a six week turn around, to ask our artists if they were interested in being part of a digital WAF and – having got an enthusiastic “yes” – we started planning. We’d had a ‘WAF In Your Living Room’ element for a number of years prior to that, but this obviously was on a whole other scale.

WAF In Your Living Room 2020 was born. Our most crucial controller was our tech master Charlie. We got a pro Vimeo account and away we went. 

The WAF artists really appreciated the platform to give them support and a purpose at that time, there was so much enthusiasm to be involved. We held weekly meetings with all our artists and, although it was a difficult and stressful time, a wonderful community was created.

We also reached out to our Wandsworth venues to ensure they were accessing all the funding they were entitled to and any potential grant opportunities, especially for our grassroots venues. 

Caro: At the same time as limiting the arts industry, the pandemic forced some interesting innovations to happen – both online and in the open-air. In addition to extending your online programme, did Wandsworth Fringe find other ways to innovate? 
Cath: Yes – in 2021 we ran a hugely successful Hybrid WAF, with the WAF Big Top and lots of outdoor spaces utilised, and many events streamed their in-person shows to audiences still shielding.

We are keeping our WAF In Your Living Room element this year, though it is a smaller part of the programme. We also run our WAF contributor networking meeting still mainly online so our national artists and international artists can get the same support as the local companies. 

Caro: Do you see the increase in digitally available culture as a positive thing? Will you continue to create digital work for future festivals?
Cath: We like to see digital tech used in artistic ways, so we are seeing more VR and online games taking place outside in real open spaces, and interesting creative workshops are going online to expand their audiences. There will be an element of livestreaming in-person shows too, but I think this may fade as confidence in theatre visiting grows again. 

Caro: Do you feel that in 2022 the festival is coming back as strongly as ever? Is it as big, or bigger, than in pre-pandemic times?
Cath: It’s settled back at around the same size in terms of number of events, but the make up of this is different, we have fewer touring shows in 2022 but more local and London wide artists coming to try out their work.

Ask us after WAF 2022 how big and engaged our audiences are! We hope they are plentiful, excited and vibrant.

Caro: Can you tell us a bit about this year’s programme now? 
Cath: We are delighted to have some quirky and interesting up-and-coming touring theatre companies coming to bring new work that has been developed over the last couple of years.

Fringe theatre and comedy is really back, with beloved Wandsworth venues such as The Bedford, Tara Theatre, The Arches at St Mary’s Putney, Theatre503 and Putney Arts Theatre returned to full strength after two years of lockdowns and socially distanced performances.

Highlights include comedy from 90s Boy Phil Green, taking us through a life of ADD, Tony Blair and terrible 90s pop songs, while her Majesty the Queen – aka Carole Shaw – invites you to a Jubilee afternoon of quizzes, cake and SingalongaLiz.

Theatre503 present a spookily prescient new play about the rise of an authoritarian state; Hangdog celebrate the musical gods of the 1960s; and two recent ALRA students – now imnotarobot productions – take us on an absurd sci-fi adventure… in which someone has to get thrown into space.

Caro: I know you have lots of family shows, can you tell us about them? 
Cath: Yes, we have a vibrant family programme for people of all ages, and for families to enjoy together, whatever their budget.

We work with all the schools in Wandsworth and the wider team produce a fantastic WAF Schools showcase. Our libraries love to be involved too, so we have shows and exhibitions in libraries around the place.

‘Meg In The Magic Toyshop’ is a musical adventure for ages three to seven, bringing libraries to magical life. Oily Cart’s ‘The Lost Feather’ is a live sensory storytelling show designed for disabled children, and London Children’s Ballet are presenting their hit production of ‘Anne Of Green Gables’, fresh from its run at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre.

Events for all the family include the WAF Family Day at Furzedown Recreation Ground on 12 Jun; and ‘Happy Feet’ – a giant communal painting made with dancing feet – at Alton Arts Hub on 18 Jun.

Jellyfish Theatre return in their Wagon Of Dreams with ‘A New Adventure’, touring Wandsworth’s parks and housing estates throughout the festival.

And WAF 2021 Audience Choice Award winners, disability-led theatre company The Baked Bean Company, take over Battersea High Street on Friday 17 Jun with a street party like no other – featuring dance performances, live music and creative workshops. ​

Caro: What other genres of work can we expect to see this year?
Cath: We have a really exciting dance programme this year as WAF is shining a light on Wandsworth’s emerging dance quarter as the Royal Academy Of Dance open their brand-new headquarters on York Road.

On Friday 10 Jun, WAF will launch with dancing in the streets. Everyone’s invited to join us on a journey along the riverside around Battersea Reach, charting a course between bbodance and RAD’s new home, and discovering hidden music, spoken word and dance gems along the way.

The WAF Dance Weekender is set to be a two-day extravaganza of dance styles from around the world, popping up in public spaces around Battersea. Find us in York Gardens on Saturday 18 Jun for contemporary dance from London Butoh Dance Company and Hallomai Dance, and accessible dance workshops with disability-led dance troupe Magpie Dance.

Shake your tail feathers with the most fabulous flock of senior citizens in town, PC*DC’s Royale Dancehall Flamingos, then head over to bbodance for African movement, drumming, ballet and more with Tavaziva Dance and the English National Ballet School.

On the Sunday, WAF takes over Battersea Reach with another all-dayer featuring pop up performances from Flamenco Con Gusto and Orleta Polish Folk Song And Dance, African drumming and movement from Tavaziva Dance, and even a chance to learn Japanese Tenshintaido with martial artist and calligrapher Beatrice Boivineau. 

Caro: Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to this year?
Cath: Award-winning performance artist Isadora Vibes is back with us at Moishe House this year and bringing us a new show called ‘Bone’, an immersive and intimate piece of theatre combining poetry, storytelling and music. It’s a tender and twisted tale of both a real and imagined past, present and future, metaphysical and magical, and this is a Wandsworth world premiere!

I also totally love Marcus Megastar, who is bringing his new persona, amazing costumes and prosthetics, and showcasing new musical work from writers behind the likes of Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Waiting For Tonight’ and other well-known classics.

This promises to be one hell of a party, telling the tale of academic Italian genius Giacomo Leopardi, who suffered with curvature of the spine – kyphosis – and became blind in one eye from excessive study and illness. A man who was able to study all… but love. 

Caro: Finally, what hopes and plans do you have for Wandsworth Fringe in the future?
Cath: We are going to have a real period of reflection after WAF 2022 – no time at all beforehand! – to look at the longer term vision and direction for WAF going forward. We are really excited by the possibilities and we want to look and hear what our artists and audiences need from us.

Wandsworth Arts Fringe runs from 10-26 Jun in various locations in the borough of Wandsworth as well as online. For more information and full event listings see the festival website here. |