Part of the beauty of volunteering for a festival in Brighton is being allowed into – behind the scenes of – some of Brighton’s best buildings. The Theatre Royal, built in 1808, is one of the oldest theatres in the country; two events I assisted with were held here.
This is what it looks like from the stage:
Friday began my second week of volunteering; Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and possibly one of the nicest women ever, gave a talk on her new book, The Last Runaway.
“The novel follows the Quaker Honor Bright as she flees England for a new life in America; as she struggles to find her place and her voice in a strange land, she must also decide what she is willing to risk for her beliefs.” 1
I didn’t catch the whole talk as I ran an errand while it was on – but what I did catch was brilliant. Tracy works in such an interesting way, taking topics such as works of art and forming them into a story. She spoke about The Last Runaway and then did a short Q&A, in which I learnt Girl with a Pearl Earring is the only novel that she began with an ending, the painting.
The audience were fabulous too; she happened to meet some in a restaurant, who, as the waiters continually ignored Tracy as she sat waiting for service, offered her their food to share. Tracy did a kind shout out to them at the beginning of her talk – people can be bloody wonderful when they want to be.
My co-volunteer this weekend was the fabulous Kimberly; we have decided to start a book club, it will be awesome.
Saturday I attended Alan Rusbridger’s event, whose name I definitely was not spelling right while live-tweeting. Editor of the Guardian, in 2010 Alan set himself a challenge to learn Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in a year. Accomplished up to grade six, Alan gave up the piano at sixteen; on this rediscovery he set aside limited time a day when he could practice this difficult piece – his challenge was not only Chopin, but juggling that with the task of breaking news stories such as Wikileaks and phone hacking. Alan didn’t play it during the event due to muscle strain, so I had four versions of the song ready to be played at the beginning. I am unsure I can tell flat from sharp, so all versions sounded similar to me; I am going to assume the difference lay in the style or flair of the pianist. Once finished, I left with a general feeling that I need to work harder and learn to enjoy the struggle of success – I should not expect things to come easily. Also, that it is important to do what you love, even if it means carving out 20 minutes a day or losing some sleep – you will be all the better for it.
The event was followed by a period of rest and then wine – no elaboration needed.
Irving Finkel, curator of cuneiform inscriptions on ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets at the British Museum, began my Sunday adventure – possibly the most interesting person I have ever met. If anyone would like to sponsor my new found need to apply to University to study Classical Civilisations, that would be great. Chatting about The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story ever written down, Irving brushed over topics such as, how the tablets were discovered, the plot and characters of the epic, circumstances and development of the languages that lead to its creation – fascinating stuff. In addition, he is a lovely man – he told me to write a book, I told him no one wants to read about a hipster’s mid-20s angst.
So interested were the audience and so rapt was I, that the event ran over – I had to call time.
Lastly, Sunday evening I stewarded Building on What We Have, an event opening discussion on considering “how architects and planners address the problems of building in an existing urban environment.”2 I cannot tell you much about this one, as I was mainly checking tickets and standing on door for the private drinks reception after, but from what I did see there was some interesting discussion on how cities are developed to allow more space without upsetting the surrounding environment.