Freedom Festival - The Vigil - 4th May 2021-61

Posted: 16/05/21

10 minutes with Sean Alton - Freedom Festival Arts Trust Ambassador and The Hull Vigil Companion.

What made you want to take part in the Hull Vigil?

We stand shoulder to shoulder with William Wilberforce, to who we would not have this international arts festival. For 86 years he has been overlooking the splendour of Queens Gardens and across Hull, himself holding watch over the city. He stands still but for us we carry on, we move, we observe, we develop.

Hull - Yorkshire’s maritime city, a northern city, a city with dirt under its fingernails. Poised, ready to host the unexpected.

For one hour we have the chance to join Wilberforce and hold watch over the city, an hour sunrise or an hour sunset. An unbroken chain that has been linked for 8 years across Europe, this is our opportunity to hold hands with our European friends once again.

So with that in mind, I decided to become a companion for The Hull Vigil.

Since 2015 I have been a part of the arts trust when Walk The Plank produced the festival and have seen the festival grow, change and develop into what we see today - An International Arts Festival. I am so proud to fly the flag for both the city and the festival that hosts the unexpected. Most people think Freedom is just a weekend in September but The Hull Vigil is testament that Freedom is more than a weekend, it is year long and most definitely - Forever. Freedom has always been close to my heart and seeing an opportunity to join in with this project was not immaterial.

Why did you want to become a Companion?

Who are a Companions? Are we stage managers to The Vigil? The custodian of The Shelter? or are we a part of the performance too?

On reflection we are all of the above, guardians of keeping the chain going. Here to make sure someone is holding watch over the city at both sunrise and sunset.

My background is in the arts sector, working for the music hall and touring house theatre here in Hull (along with other arty stuff). Like many people in this industry, the Covid 19 pandemic put a stop to events across the world. I was lost, completely lost and heartbroken when we couldn't physically put on any festivals. The online content last year was spectacular but cannot compare activating our streets and squares with high quality shows. Then 407 days since the lockdown started, we had our first sunrise vigil. Did I get emotional, we actually did an event!

You were one of our first Companions – can you describe the experience?

At sunrise, you stand solo. Not a single car going along Wilberforce Drive and you ask yourself, what is that noise? It’s the sound of silence. Is this what The Vigil feels when in The Shelter? Then slowly the city wakes up, people are moving, the noise gets louder. And the day repeats itself until the sun sets, unbeknown that someone is in the shelter holding watch.

I will be a Vigil for one of the sunsets, so I will definitely be experiencing both feelings of outside looking in and inside looking out!

It does feel like an endurance test by getting up at 3:15am each morning for five consecutive days but you do get used to it as a companion. I was lucky to be the first sunrise companion for The Vigil and to follow on for another four days after.

That also means press work too! You can tell that the directors and producing team have spent months crafting the whole flow of the vigil experience from start to finish, absolutely no issues or unexpected problems.

We’ve had some amazing national publicity for the Vigil - what do you think projects like the Vigil mean for Hull?

Who knew that the press would get up early to join us at 4am? Well this was down to the fabulous Home PR who spent weeks pitching the story and getting The Vigil on both TV and radio. So massive hats off to Laura and Becca! If only I did my hair and shaved my beard when getting interviewed by the BBC and ITV respectively…

I burst with pride that the city is back on the world stage since Hull UK City of Culture 2017. This is thanks to Freedom Festival - We may not be THE city of culture but we are unquestionably A city of culture. Constantly adapting and inviting people across the globe - that is thanks to the funders and the many supporters of the festival.

Sunrise or Sunset?

Sunrise without a doubt, to see the city wake up and become alive once again is refreshing. Once I have sent The Vigil on his/her way around 6:45am, I would walk along the Marina and Victoria Dock. Taking in what I have just done, while also gathering thoughts on the past year. Seeing the ferry returning from Europe, listening to the waves crash upon the tidal defences and the gentle breeze in my hair, like a Eurovision wind machine… You see people commuting to work, the mystique wondering do the people of Hull know that someone has held a presence in The Vigil for an hour?


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