Interview: Boomtown’s Director Of Theatrics On Why This Festival Is Different

In this article I interview Martin Coat, Co-Director of Theatrics, who is responsible for helping coordinate the shows, performances and making sure everything in place to ensure Boomtown is a success year after year.


Dressed in a bowler hat and tweed waistcoat, Martin is an actor turned director who joined the Boomtown team in the fourth year of the festival. He is tired but still smiling. He tells me he has been working 20 hour days all week. We begin.

martin coat

Credit: Cultured Vultures

How did you end up with this job, what’s your background?

I trained as an actor and when I came out of drama school I became pretty disillusioned quite quickly with the whole industry. I realised it wasn’t really going to work for me. I basically started off with my own theater company called the “Dank Parish”. In Chapter Four (the forth year of Boomtown) I brought our show here and things went from there.

That’s interesting. So I guess you’re familiar with the theatrical side of things, you can imagine the festival as a stage and envisage how it’s going to appear to an audience?

Yeah exactly. Our show at Boomtown was different in that it pushed the boundaries and went one step further. It was immersive theatre. We created a detailed world where the audience is as important as the characters. It was 40 minute funeral show, where people would have their own funerals. They would lie in their coffin, their friends would come and do eulogys and they’d get taken out into a grave.

It taught me straight away that this kind of theatre was the level I wanted to be at, that combining festival work and immersive theatre is the best way of getting new audiences, drawing in people that don’t normally go to festivals.

Boomtown is a festival with live actors running around interacting with people, would you say that’s one of the ways it is immersive?

Yeah definitely, and there’s much more than that. There’s a journey and a story line, you can become part of the regime or part of the revolution, you can steal the blue prints from the town hall or the Bang Hai palace, and when Bang Hai falls you feel like you’re the one that did it. At Boomtown, the more doors you knock on and the more questions you ask, the more that will unfold for you. Its all there to discover. The idea is that you’ve got to adventure and you’ve got to find it. Every door will lead you to something and it all links up. You’ve got the revolutionary trail, you can spend two hours learning about the revolution and going from venue to venue. We build a big coherent story and every part of the festival kind of builds towards. Every crew, every venue, they’re all working towards the bigger vision.

Which part of the festival are you most proud of? The staging, a particular show or maybe a themed area?

It’s the story that I’m most proud of. The way it’s tiered. I mean, we hit it from every level. You’ve got all the immersive venues and then that leads up to the big spectacles, on every level the story’s being told and getting out there. It’s the most ambitious theatrical project in the country.

Also, I think the Town Hall do an amazing job, that’s where the story line was build from. I mean we held the elections in Chapter Five, the public voted for comrade Jose, and since that time we’ve corrupted her and turned her into this dictator.

Have any of your designs evolved into anything else?

Each design does evolve, absolutely. Constantly, in fact. I’m a firm believer that a project is defined by how you deal with it’s problems. And actually creativity comes out of having to make stuff up on the spot. Something as big as Boomtown is impossible to plan out step by step and stick to that plan. We do add things as we go along.

So do you use the same sets each year, you just build on them?

Yeah we build on them and change them, we add new areas. Like Sector 6 is new for this year. The festival is initially built in workshops throughout the year and then transported and erected on site.

I guess the whole experience is like a sequel to a film, or a book. People get addicted, they invest themselves in the story line and they want to see what next year’s festival holds. So they come again and again.

Yeah, exactly.

Do you have any plans for next year, any new venues or ideas?

I can’t give away anything unfortunately. It’s all being set up. We’re going into great detail this year and putting a lot of subliminal stuff out there that will set us up well for next year. We know what the whole story line is for next year. But I wont give any of that away, you’ll just have to let that unfold.

Which part of the festival is hardest to turn into reality? Or does everything just fall into place?

You’ve got hundreds of artists, coordinating them together and making sure that the game you’ve put in place or whatever, can land. So that’s the most difficult thing.

The whole festival comes together so well, you must have a great team dynamic?

Yeah the core crew at Boomtown especially, we’re one big family. That’s definitely how we treat it. We’ve got a lot of highly skilled professionals and it’s about getting the right person in the right job; everyone in each department is an artist and a professional in their own right. But yeah also, you do have to buy into the ethos and you do have to see the vision of it.

You’ve definitely got an excting, enviable job. Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into this kind of work?

You’ve got to give. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to give all the time really, you’ve got to see what you’re part is and what you can add to it. Just give, really. And create. A lot of people are here because they’ve come and they’ve created it for themselves, they’ve added their bit and then from that it’s grown and grown and grown. That’s how I did it.