Stuart IS “all things weird and wonderful”. I met Stuart a while back through a business network. Finding out about his colourful warm and crazy background is a stark contrast to my first impression of his geeky, mature-ish-hipster-like-snobbery with his borderline-conservative humour. He’s like a tall kid. A very tall kid (from an Asian perspective) who won’t give “normality” a second of his time, but would sacrifice his best days for a kindred spirit. All weird and wonderful and secretly the Pied Piper of our time…Stuart just IS.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from the UK; I moved to London when I was 16 and the town has a lot of good memories. Now I live on Penang island, and I have another home in Dubai
How did Penang come on your radar?
In 2015 I was producing a festival in KL when by chance I was invited to lunch with Joe Sidek. He told me about the George Town Festival and if I would like to present some shows. I thought it sounded fun and the next year I brought 5 acts to participate in the festival. I enjoyed my time with Joe and decided to come to the festival personally.
What were your first impressions of George Town (GT)? What struck out on your first visits?
My work allows me to travel extensively, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of cities in over 50 countries. As soon as I got into GT and started to explore, I thought “I could live here”. I think it’s the street art that first got me. Then the street food. Then after meeting new people and chatting to the Penangites I thought: They’re a bunch a misfits like me! It’s a whole island of quirky interesting people from all walks of life. I love it here.
When did you start Dolphin Creative (DC) ? What does DC do? And where in the world does DC cover?
I started Dolphin back in 2010. I’d always enjoyed watching the shows in Covent Garden and I decided to create an agency and production company that only focused on street arts. I spent the first few years travelling to all corners of the world to see local street shows. By 2013 I’d become the largest agency representing over 500 of the world’s top talent. I started to create festivals and programme with the best of the best. These became very popular and clients started to appear from around the world. We did a festival in Cape Town, then one in Singapore, then one in Saudi Arabia and so on. To date we’ve done about 300 festivals in 27 cities in 17 countries.
Tell me about some of these characters you’ve worked with the longest . Why are you drawn to them and what do you admire about them?
In a word: humanity. These are individuals who lean into fear. They decide to go into a public space for one reason; to make people happy. If they succeed, then they’ll get rewarded by cash tips, a good artist can make 1,000 USD in 30 minutes! I have the utmost respect for the street theatre community, they are like an international family of professionals who look out for each other. I like their intelligence, humility, and sense of ‘fun’. For me, the best artists are those that walk into a space without a plan for a show, and then adapt and improvise depending on the vibe of the audience they gather. Impossible to teach, and only learned through years of experience.
What was the biggest festival you’ve worked on? How many people involved?
Earlier this year (2020) we ran a couple of festivals back to back in Dubai and Sharjah. I think a total of 150 artists doing over 2,000 shows for a total audience of 350,000.
How has the “new normal” affected DC’s activities?
Street theatre is all about people meeting and sharing experiences. People from all walks connecting and sharing enjoying and laughs. It’s not Covid friendly. Everyone in the Street family is hurting right now, and we’re hoping life can get back to normal sometime next year.
What other alternative venues or platforms are you and those in your industry using for development while we wait for things go back to normal? …And will it?
There is very little alternative to doing street shows on other platforms. It just doesn’t work. We’re being patient and spending our time planning for when it gets back. At the moment we’re pushing a new plan to bring licensed street arts to Penang when it’s safe.
Its hard to “begin again” under these circumstances, hard to confront a whole paradigm shift of ways to do business. What made your industry a success and why would it not work today?
The business model is still sound. People are the same in every country; people like to be happy. Making people happy is a serious business managed by misfits. I think there’s opportunity in the theme park industry and I’d like to look at some disruption there.
What would be your advice to people out there wanting to start a business? How would they begin to look?
“Connect with communities and be creative. I was talking to one artist in Australia , Jamey Mossengren , who arranges small shows in suburban areas. He creates a FB page and lets the residents on a few streets know he’s going to do a show. He’s doing really well, and the locals appreciate the entertainment.“
“When I left school started making t-shirts for bands to sell at their gigs. One of the first bands I signed was called Roachford. It was a group of coloured musicians from south London playing a fusion of rock and soul.I had an amazing time on tour with them, travelling, partying, laughing and making money buy selling shirts.One night we arrived at a club in Scotland. Fat Sam’s in Dundee. I still remember it like it was yesterday. The club manager saw the band and ushered me into his office. He explained that he did not realise the band was black. (Must of heard the demo and presumed it was a white rock band) “We’ve never had a black band perform here!” He wasn’t racist or derogatory, just worried how working-class Scottish audience would react.I told him to chill out. I sat with the band and explained what the manager said. They all looked at each other and smiled. That night they blew the roof off. I’ve never witnessed a more powerful display of energy. The whole place ROCKED. I sold every shirt I had, and I remember thinking… this is the life!”
Magic is in all of us…some of us are just better at it than others…Are you weird and wonderful? Do you find yourself on a natural high when you make folks happy? Are you a big kid? Do you have what it takes? Find out more about Dolphin Creative from the links below, you may get lucky and witness their magic in a town near you…very soon. Til then stay safe, stay magical and be full of wonderment always.