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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Behind The Scenes

'You're kind of living on adrenaline': The build-up to one of Ireland's biggest summer festivals

The five-day street performance festival is taking place in Dublin and Cork next month. / YouTube

WHAT EXACTLY GOES into running a major five-day festival taking place in both Dublin and Cork? 

When do you have to start planning? How many people work to organise it all? How intense is the pressure of keeping thousands of people entertained for hours?

There are dozens of festivals and outdoor concerts taking place across Ireland this summer but the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular is a little different to the rest. It’s all based around street performance – and organisers fly performers in from around the world to to participate.

The festival is taking place in Dublin’s Merrion Square and Cork’s Fitzgerald Park on 12 to 14 July and 20 to 21 July respectively. Thousands of people are set to attend at each location and over 150 acts are set to participate.

Some of the major participants include internationally acclaimed Argentinian football freestyler Victor Rubilar, all-female aerial acrobatic show The Silver Starlets and a man who boasts 55 Guinness World Records (including one for pulling weights by his eye sockets), The Space Cowboy.

While the festival runs over just five days in total, preparations for the event have been well underway since this time last year, organisers say. caught up with festival director Shell Holden and commercial director Sinead McNamara this week to find how what works goes on behind the scenes.

“It’s a huge undertaking but I suppose we have it down pat at this stage,” McNamara said

“We’ve all been working together for years and we’re obviously very confident in what we do and we share the load effectively, so we get it done but we keep it small, we keep it tight and that works well for us.”

Although the festival is just two weeks away, Holden said that the busiest months for organisers were earlier in the year. 

“Once you come into January you actually feel like the festival is on in two weeks, not six months.

Our really super busy times I would always feel are March, April, May, half of June and then there will be a lot of press stuff, our performers will start coming over, it will be really, really busy but you’re kind of living on adrenaline then and living on excitement.

When it comes to picking street performers to take part in the event, Holden said she had built up solid relationships with many of the returning acts over her 12 years with the festival. 

She added: “You would rely on them [the performers] for new recommendations but then we would also hit up Covent Garden, Edinburgh Fringe, and we were over in Japan this year checking out new, exciting street performers that we can invite to the festival.”

Performer preparation

One performer who returns to Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular on a regular basis is Irish magician, sword swallower and ventriloquist Jack Wise, who first took part in 2010. 

“They’re big audiences, they’re big crowds, you might have 700 people, so it’s [about] getting your crowd right from the beginning, pulling them in,” Wise said.

You never know what might happen during any given performance. 

Said Wise: “One time I had a dog come up in the middle of the show and he cocked his leg and peed. The audience loved it. So, you never know what’s going to happen.”

The festival

There’s more than street performances on offer at the Dublin and Cork events. 

There will also be a live music stage with a number of bands performing, a Just Eat street food market, a play area for children, vintage funfair rides and a wellness area.

“[The festival] has the very best of variety, so when you bring your family down to the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular, the one thing they’re guaranteed is they’re going to see something that they won’t see anywhere else in the world,” Wise said. 

The full line-up for the City Spectacular events in Dublin and Cork can be found here.

Reporting by Hayley Halpin, video by Andrew Roberts

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