Brighton Fringe have unveiled their latest venue and it’s incredible. First popping-up in 2013 at Camp Bestival in Dorset, Caravanserai is a spectacular, immersive world forged in the mind of sculptor Pete Bateman. Utilising recycled structures like caravans and vintage fairground rides, Caravanserai is completely free to enter. It will host a 220 seat big-top, 50 seat bandstand, food trucks and a designated family zone. In order to better understand this ‘festival inside a festival’ concept, we spoke to the creator himself.
It’s very exciting that Caravanserai is coming to Brighton for the first time as part of Brighton Fringe. What can we expect?
Caravanserai is an immersive world, influenced by the travelling community, fairgrounds and circus. The site is built out of sculptures and repurposed materials that I’ve acquired. I build most of what you see on the site in my barn where I live in the south of France. The site will be free to enter so you can explore the little cosy corners; the family area Under The Archway. There we free books and toys for kids to enjoy. Or, you can cosy up by the fire pit and watch the walkabout performers.
There’s two theatre spaces jam-packed with Fringe programming – the larger big top Luna Parc and the 50-seater Junk Poets. We have events by local community groups including the Rockinghorse Rave in aid of the children’s charity Rockinghorse. And, Martlets will have an installation de-stigmatising grief. We’re excited to lean into our music festival roots and bring more music and club nights to Fringe. This includes our music weekend takeover with psychedelic music from Acid Box Promotions and world music from Continental Drift’s Global Local.
Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to bringing? What would you say is a “must see” event?
The headline events happening have to be Mythos: Ragnarok – norse tales told through the medium of professional wrestling. And, Circus Abyssinia, an Ethiopian circus from brothers Bibi & Bichu. For me personally I’m really excited about events happening in Junk Poets. It’s a small and intimate space hand built by me in my barn! I think The Lovely Boys and Friends will be a good one to catch, an alternative comedy and cabaret night all the way from Leeds.
How familiar are you with both Brighton Fringe and Brighton’s wider cultural scene?
I travelled from France last year especially to come to Brighton Fringe and that’s where the idea of bringing Caravanserai here started. I got together with the Brighton Fringe team, they came to visit us and here we are. Normally, I work in small groups or independently so it’s been nice to be part of a team over the past few months. [We’re} getting the site planned out and seeing the program come together. It’s been a great experience getting to know more about the wider cultural scene in the city. I’ve been enjoying the Brighton pub scene too!
Looking at food and beverages, what sort of things will be available for Fringe-goers to enjoy?
The Fringe’s headline ticket sponsor Uber Eats is bringing two local restaurants to the street food area. I can’t wait to try both of them – Carlito Buritto and Social Burgers [from the team behind Social Board Sandwiches]. Our bars are operated by Orange Beach Bars, the team behind local pub The Cleveland near Blakers park. We’ve got a great bar menu, serving up Brooklyn, local craft beer, Bird & Blend teas and cocktails.
Caravanserai is well established on the music festival circuit (having been at Bestival and Camp Bestival for many years). What differences are there to the Brighton set-up? And how family friendly is the space?
We’ve wanted to explore other iterations of Caravanserai for a while and I’m really pleased Brighton Fringe put their faith in us to work together. We’re also really grateful that Rob and Josie Da Bank along with the whole Camp Bestival team have been so supportive too. They’ve nurtured Caravanserai and will even be coming down to do a Camp Bestival takeover on bank holiday on 29 May.
What I’m most excited about is bringing Caravanserai to a wider audience. The site is free to enter so people who might not be able to afford a festival this year can still come down and soak up the festival atmosphere. We’ve got loads of free events and community led events so a visit doesn’t need to break the bank.
It’s also been an opportunity to expand our knowledge into theatre and Fringe festivals. We’ve learnt a lot and we’re really pleased to have built a platform for Fringe acts to perform and the fringe community to enjoy.
We’ve got a great kids programme at Caravanserai. There’s a family-friendly circus in the big top in the form of Circus Sonas and Circus Abyssinia. Plus, Leicester Comedy Festival Best Kids event nominee Mr Sleepybum and a Shaun the Sheep Model Making Workshop in support of Martlets. Our Under the Archway area is our daytime family area with a library of books for kids to enjoy. There is also box of circus toys kindly donated by FireToys. Parents can enjoy the Dog & Swan coffee bar.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background as an artist, what inspired you to create Caravanserai?
I started off as an illustrator but have always made art and sculptures out of found objects. I’ve been doing it for about 35 years now. First it was small sculptures and then it grew into installations for festivals and then Caravanserai. I was inspired to create Caravanserai as I come from a travelling background and loved being part of that travelling-circus world. I acquired two roma caravans several years ago and made an installation. Josie at Camp Bestival loved it and commissioned me to build a venue out of caravans. It grew from there. We acquired the hearse DJ booth in Blackpool for £650 after it was featured in a BBC show about young dracula, it has all happened quite organically.
Caravanserai is sometimes referred to as a “festival inside a festival”. Do you have any good festival stories or experiences you can tell us?
Probably not too many I want to put my name by! We work a lot with Chris Tofu and he’s always a good one for festival stories. The build crew always have some good ones but not sure they’re appropriate…
Are there any future plans to take the concept to other places?
It’s been nice working with the Brighton Fringe team and I’d be interested in more collaborative projects. I’d love to pack up our 50-seater theatre Junk Poet and tour it round the country to areas that don’t have as much of the arts going on. There’s been a real focus on embracing the community during this
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