If there’s one thing we’ve all needed to help us temporarily escape the lockdown blues it’s to have a bit of a belly laugh.
Now two students from De Montfort University’s (DMU’s) Arts and Festivals Management course have told how they, and fellow students - are making that happen for thousands of people by volunteering for the legendary Leicester Comedy Festival.
The annual laugh-in had to make drastic changes this year as the pubs, clubs, theatres and restaurants that usually hosted the best names in entertainment were forced to close due to the pandemic.
It meant, after months of planning, one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Europe had to move online.
Willow Dawson and Mia Sprankling are two of a group of students who have helped with the transition from stage to screen and are putting on shows to bring the community together in tough times.
And - hats off to them – Willow and Mia are looking after acts and promoting the shows from their homes elsewhere in the country, as lockdown has stopped them from returning to campus since the start of January.
Rob Gee is starring in a free DMU-organised show tonight
Mia, who lives near Brighton, is working as Artist Liaison for comic Rob Gee’s show 'Kevin, King of Egypt', which is live online tonight from 6pm and free to watch. Rob is an award-winning Leicester-based comic, poet and psychiatric nurse who has played Glastonbury and the EdinburghFringe.
While Willow, who lives in Ipswich, was also an Artist Liaison and hosted a show last night with Bilal Zafan and duo Scott and Jemma Bennett.
Mia, who is in her first year studying a joint Arts and Festivals Management and Dance degree, said: “I think putting on these gigs has shown how everyone who is a part of the Leicester Comedy Festival has a lot of resilience.
Mia is Artist Liason for comic Rob Gee
“It could have been called off but it went ahead online. The important thing to me is that it might bring people a bit of joy when they really need it. And it has given artists a chance to carry on with their work when so many people in the arts have none. Rob Gee has been great to work with and I have been communicating by email, keeping him in touch with everything that’s happening and I just hope lots of people come and support what is a free show.
“I think working on the comedy festival in lockdown reminds us we can still do this and we can work our way around any situation. It also illustrates how the arts still have a place in people’s lives. It has been tough in the first year but despite living away from the campus we have still been involved in projects like this.
“My favourite bit has been communicating with the artists. It’s what I want to do as a career. I am passionate about dance so perhaps doing something similar with dancers is what I want to aim for.”
Artist Liaison Willow put questions to comedians for a live show
Willow said: “The Leicester Comedy Festival has had to turn things around and move a three week run of live stage shows to online in the space of a month. The fact the organisers have had so much on and yet given us these opportunities is excellent.
“It has been a great experience and I have certainly learned how full on this work can be. We have had the chance to put on our own event, come up with ideas of how to stage it and really get stuck in. We have been thrown in at the deep end, but in a good way.
“As first year students, we have had to deal with a lot and miss a lot because of the pandemic but we have shown that, even if there are lots of ups and downs, we can make something good out of a difficult situation.”
You can watch the Rob Gee gig tonight from 6pm here and find out about other shows on the official Leicester Comedy Festival website. The festival runs until Sunday 21 February.
Posted on Thursday 18th February 2021