Halloween in Dublin 2020

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Halloween has a major commercial and cultural impact on the country, with festivals usually held throughout October. Andrea Andres interviews one of Dublin’s biggest Halloween festivals to see what they have in store this year.

Something may be missing on the 31st of October. Under the watchful eye of the full moon, there won’t be any incessant knocking and doorbells ringing. The night will be devoid of laughter of children and their little voices greeting “Happy Halloween!”; asking for their ‘trick-or-treat’s. The novel Coronavirus has plagued the entire world and has put many festivals and events, not just Halloween celebrations, to a standstill. Dublin City Council has already cancelled many events such as Finglas Fright Night, The Ballymun Otherworld Festival, and other events in the Docklands and Ballyfermot. In a statement from the Dublin Press Council: “Dublin City Council will not be organising large scale events this year. We are working with communities and youth projects to maximise what we can achieve together given the constraints we are all operating under, and that the list of these is not yet finalised”. 

Despite the virus and the restrictions caused by it, the Bram Stoker Festival has found a way to thrive. The Bram Stoker Festival has experienced immense success over the last number of years with 50,000 attendees and according to the co-director of the festival Tom Lawlor, “we were expecting an increase this year”.

Other than social distancing restrictions, the festival organizers faced a lot of challenges. Lawlor says that: “In the last few months, capacities for both indoor and outdoor events changed, which has obvious implications on festival programming”. The travel restrictions also mean that their audience is different this year - typically, up to 20% of attendees at the festival are international visitors to the city. However, these challenges were “opportunities” for the festival as the organizers “found ways to adapt the programme to these shifting parameters”. 

Another challenge was trying to keep the atmosphere of the festival intact despite its shift to the virtual realm. The co-director admitted that they were “in some ways” worried about losing the feeling of the festival. “The feeling audiences and artists get at live events and experiences which bring people together can't be replicated at home. But, this doesn't mean at-home experiences and events are not as enjoyable or thought-provoking, and that was our guiding principle in programming this year - in the absence of communal experiences, how do we bring the spirit of the festival into people's homes? We think we've achieved this with many of the programme elements, which rely on participation and involvement by audience members, and not just on streaming or watching”. 

In lieu of physical events crammed with as much participation and interaction as possible, the festival has opted for experiences a person can enjoy in solitude and away from crowds such as 'ETERNAL' which has been described as an “immersive audio experience” one can experience while lying in bed and 'DracuHA!', a walking, self-guided, audio tour; “here listeners will be guided by some of Ireland’s most celebrated writers, humourists and comedians" (including Tony Cantwell, Seamus O’Reilly and Hannah Mamalis). 

At night, various places in the city will be illuminated by animations and projections. These projections and animations are provided by The Project Twins, Holly Pereira, and Lightscape; all Irish artists which the festival has been conscious to support. Lawlor says: “much of our programme was determined by late February and featured predominantly Irish artists and arts organisations” They spent the next few months adapting the programme and their events so that they could work in this new framework, and the vast majority of this year's programme has been “conceived and produced by Irish artists”. 

Other events such as Dracula’s Disco for children will utilize streaming, while Curse Hunters will be played through a phone with “interactive tasks, puzzles, and creative challenges”. They also felt that the restrictions made them more creative in how to deliver the festival. “We, alongside the artists we work with, were forced into considering how to adapt and change what they usually do so that it worked in a new environment. We've had to find many creative solutions to problems that just didn't exist last year” says Lawlor. 

Even as the news cycle is permeated by death and illness caused by the virus, the festival hasn’t fully avoided the subject of the pandemic as they plan to screen I AM NOT LEGEND, a film-art by Andrea Mastrovito which showcases the talents of Irish composers Matthew Nolan and Stephen Shannon. The film is “a radical reinterpretation of George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead” that “is a commentary on the loss of identity and meaning, a reflection on the pandemic”. Lawlor says that: “Bram Stoker Festival has always been irreverent and rooted in Stoker's life, legacy and the supernatural. We have always veered towards the celebratory and the innovative, and the tone and associated imagery this year reflects that core principle”.

As the virus ravages Ireland, Lawlor sees this festival as a form of escapism and something to give people reprieve from reality. “Festivals offer a sense of fun and enjoyment, but also an opportunity to pause real life and enter a new realm.” Given their timing, he hopes people will “devour the programme and find lots to occupy them” over the mid-term and Halloween weekend.