THE producer behind a festival celebrating brand-new theatre, comedy and the spoken word has called on the city to 'come out and try something new' as she gets ready for its second outing.

Vicky Graham, 35, is now putting the finishing touches to the second annual Offbeat Festival which will see two weeks of comedy acts, music as well as theatre from local artists and those from further afield.

Miss Graham, who is originally from London and divides her times between Oxford and the capital, said that the festival held in partnership with The Old Fire Station and Oxford Playhouse helps bring Oxford to life.

She said: "Oxford has a global reputation for its rich heritage, but is less known for its emerging arts scene. Thanks to a strong and supportive collaboration between the larger, more established Playhouse and the relatively young, endlessly innovative Old Fire Station, Offbeat is changing that.

"It provides a platform for emerging performers, dancers, comedians, spoken word artists and theatre makers of all disciplines to share brand new work with an audience.

"It feels important to us to showcase as much local talent as possible, and we’re proud that a quarter of this year's programme is work by Oxfordshire artists."

Miss Graham's first foray into the Oxford arts scene came in 2014 where she worked at the Oxford Playhouse on English Touring Theatre's production of Translations.

Since then she has assumed the reigns of Offbeat, a new venture aimed at bringing two respected independent venues together.

She said: "I feel very lucky to be a part of their family thanks to Offbeat, and to have had the opportunity to get to know the wonderful team and inspiring work at the Old Fire Station too.

"Although I know a handful of the artists presenting work at the festival personally, one of the great joys of the job will be getting to know the artists behind this year’s 71 shows."

Festivals and home-grown art have a long and rich tradition in Oxford, she said, and she felt honoured to be a part of that.

She added: "Festivals are great facilitators of conversations: between artists backstage; between artists, programmers and press visiting the festival; and - crucially - between audiences an artists.

"A post-show conversation in the Festival Bar could really change the course of a show, a career, or an audience member’s engagement with the arts.

"At its best, Offbeat can offer those priceless “I saw it here first” and “I met them when” moments."

The festival is now in its second year and Miss Graham said that it was its success which is now driving the second year of the festival and that she hoped it would become a mainstay of the vibrant Oxford music scene.

She said: "The first year was something of an experiment, but a very successful one. The feedback from artists and audiences was so positive that bringing it back this summer was a no-brainer.

"This year’s programme is a bold statement: we’re expanding the festival from 7 to 10 days and offering no fewer than 71 shows, a whole series of artist development events and a very exciting music programme.

"We’re all ambitious for the future of the festival, and want it to become a focal point of the cultural calendar for Oxfordshire and for the UK as a whole.

"We really hope that support from local people, local businesses, local media and local government will continue to grow so that we can too."

Heaping praise on the two Oxford independent arts venues she said that it had been a huge boon working with them.

She said: "Fortunately for me, I’m working with two exceptionally well-run arts organisations to make this festival happen so there’s a wealth of expertise available and a whole heap of staff goodwill to fuel the process.

"Predictably, fundraising is the hardest aspect of producing a festival. We’re all determined to keep the cost to artists participating to a minimum, and to keep ticket prices low, tickets for this year’s shows are all £10 or less.

"We’re very fortunate to have had some local and national subsidy in the early stages, but we’re going to need to raise a lot of money to make next year, and the next year and the next, financially viable.

"Luckily, producers like us like a challenge."

Offbeat festival takes place over ten days between June 23 and July 2 and includes an array of performing arts at the Old Fire Station and Oxford Playhouse and is the brainchild of Jeremy Spafford and Louise Chantal.

This year there promises a wide range of acts including 'provocative political theatre-meets metal' with #Torycore, as well as comedy acts Tiernan Douieb and Chris Coltraine among many others.

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