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Aerial performers, master illusionists and hilarious comedy…. does this really belong in church?

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Aerial performance with artists flying among the pillars, a master illusionist wowing audiences, amateur dance troupes throwing the moves of young people today, a beatbox performer using voice, sound and movement to tell his stories and a full-on traditional New Orleans Jazz band set to raise the roof and the spirits. 

The Festival of Wonder, coming to Stroud on Nov 19th & 20th is not only asking the question of what belongs in church but is set to challenge perspectives through a weekend full of dramatic illustration within the sacred walls of St Laurence Church: The Centre for Peace & the Arts.   

The 13th-century church with its serene and reverent beauty will provide the atmosphere and background and for this amazing and joyous festival designed to inspire wonder and return us to a place of hope for the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. The FREE festival offers events for all the family, for all of the community and for all faiths or none.

Simon Howell, Pioneering Minister of St. Laurence Parish Church said: “This Festival is about looking up.  Literally.  When you walk in may well see aerial artists flying about the upper echelons of the church – alongside other magical happenings from the premium artists in the field. 

“But why? Well, as we come out of the anxieties of the pandemic and head into the anxieties of the ‘winter of discontent’, we wanted to offer a free event that helped up us to look up and catch a glimpse of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.  The Source of this beauty is the Fountain of Life whom countless numbers down the ages have come into the sacred space of the church to seek.  Not least for this reason, we believe the Festival absolutely belongs in church.”

Phil Coysh, chair of the organising committee added: “We understand that this kind of performance inside a church may not fit everyone’s perspective and may be considered outrageous by a few but we would encourage all to come have a look before they decide.  Our desire as a committee is to draw out feelings of wonder and hope and to provide respite or some fresh energy for the challenges of today’s world.  We believe that the power within our venue and our festival will do just that.”

The Festival of Wonder begins at 1pm on Saturday 19th with the centre point being a free circus inspired show, After Elijah,  with performances at 2.30pm (open dress run), 5.30pm and 7.30pm featuring both local and international artists which is written and directed by Andy Bewley, Associate Director of Giffords Circus and former Moscow State Circus and Gifford’s aerial strap artist and designer, Tatiana Ozhiganova. 

Sunday morning brings another potential first, with the inclusion of an aerial performance as part of a Sunday morning service in this local parish church. 

And at last, comes the JAZZ!  Bring on the trumpet, clarinet, guitar, banjo, drums and bass for this final exhilarating event at 4:30pm Sunday afternoon, a Jazz Vespers Concert featuring Alyn Shipton (well-loved BBC Radio 3 jazz presenter, composer and author) and his New Orleans Friends’ Jazz Band. 

As the only ticketed event (£10) the Jazz Vespers is an inspiring and fresh interpretation of traditional revivalist jazz bands that made up the birth of New Orleans jazz. Further details and tickets are available on the website.https://FestivalofWonder.org

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