We sat down with local personality Dawn Gracie recently, to discuss the latest developments in her ongoing projects. Here is a transcription of the conversation that took place.
Jamie: People around will know your name. Can you give us a little description of what you do?
Dawn: Well, it depends on what rumours you’ve heard! (*laughter*) When people mention Dawn Gracie, it’s mostly to do with vintage. Everyone has something; you’re “the radio guy”, I’m “the vintage girl”, which is a really good thing to be known as. My business is “Vintage Do”, the tag line is “entertainment and experiences”, and underneath are lots of different sections.
Jamie: At the moment, you’re promoting the Vintage Weekender. Give us a run down of what that is and the story behind it.
Dawn: Crumbs, how far do you want to go back? When I was three… (*laughter*) Well, it’s on October 5th to 8th (2018), on Hayling Island. It’s a three-evening immersive experience, it’s residential. Celebrating the 50s, 60s and a feature era – the 20s.
This really is the culmination of all my years of hard work in the vintage world. It has been a dream of mine since 2010, bringing together everything that I love about vintage and entertainment.
It’s for people who I’m calling ‘day trippers’, so you don’t necessarily have to be a vintage lifestyler every day, people who want to dip in and really celebrate and just pick out the fun pieces of what they interpret.
So you can expect everything from Hi-De-Hi, Dirty Dancing – including rehearsing the lift! Very much kitsch , tongue-in-cheek; but on a serious note, there are some excellent bands that will be there; workshops including ukulele and dance. It is for women and men, but I will admit that a lot of groups of women love to come for a weekend away. It’s a great little three-night break, and not too far away, but we have got people coming from all over the world – dare I say – to come to this, so it’s a real thrill.
Jamie: It has been such a long process. I should think everybody who follows you on social media will know the struggle of the first year, and then the second year as well, so do you think this year has gone a little bit more smoothly?
Dawn: Jamie, the struggle is real! (*laughter*) Very real. For a quick potted history, in 2016 I did my first weekender, which was successful. I did a Kickstarter campaign, which is a crowdfunder. That is a really hard thing to do, but it was to gain some funding, because it is only me, with a little team. The first weekender happened, it was almost everything I wanted it to be; I had invested a lot of time, effort and money in it. It was at Southdowns Holiday Village in Bracklesham, it went really well; people understood it. Everyone rebooked for the following year, 2017, and sadly I got a message to say that the property had been sold for redevelopment. It was devastating, I’m not making light of it.
I knew that I had to keep momentum going, so I made it an all-dayer, because I had booked the Jive-Aces, lots of bands, and at that point booked my venue for 2018 which, back in 2016, sounded like a long way away! Now it’s not, and is upon us, I literally can’t wait.
If I saw this event advertised, I would do everything to be there, because it is right up my street. It’s gonna be fun; people really bond as well. I’ve even set up a buddy scheme whereby, if you – like myself (my husband is not into vintage at all, in fact hardly any of my family are) – really want to go to an event but end up going on your own, you can let me know if you’re booking as a solo visitor, and I will buddy you up with a group of people who are also in the same situation. I want it to be inclusive to people, who might feel left out just because there’s nobody they can come with. There’s nothing worse than dragging someone along who’s not really into it, so I say surround yourself with your own crowd – and that’s basically what it will be.
Jamie: If anyone wanted to find out more about the Vintage Weekender, where would they need to go?
Dawn: My website, which is: dawnsvintagedo.com, or if you google “Dawn Gracie”, you’ll find me.
Jamie: I have to ask you about the cabaret club. Tell us about that
Dawn: Okay, I have created an underground movement in Chichester. Before I moved here, I lived in Brighton, and viewed Chichester as a place where nothing happened. I didn’t know there was a nightclub here, and now it’s gone. I spent eight years, pre vintage life, in an amateur rock band, doing the pubs etc, and I know what is and isn’t on offer. And what Chichester didn’t have, before I came along, was an alternative place of entertainment. So I spent a few years trialling different venues and style of show, and then in January 2016 decided I would give Chichester its very own cabaret club.
It’s held every other month, an evening show, curtain down around 10.30-11pm, not too late a night, being in the city centre.
If you don’t know what cabaret is, it’s a variety show. I was brought up on Morecambe & Wise, Larry Grayson, Kenny Everett; I love all that sort of ridiculous entertainment. So the line up is always different, and includes musicians; comedians; burlesque performers; everything that I can get in there. I also use it to give a platform to performers wanting an audience, such as some of my own students (I teach women’s burlesque body confidence). If anyone needs an audience, I have 150 people who gather in the Pallant Suite every other month, wanting to see different sorts of entertainment.
The audience come from mainly Chichester, but also Brighton, Southampton, because they’re intrigued. They are what I call “cabaret curious”. It is grown-ups’ entertainment, not for children. There is fruity language.
I do have my own hashtag now, #Don’tTellTheMayor (*laughter*), because I really hope everyone tells the Mayor!
I have gifted Chichester a place to come for alternative entertainment, that you otherwise have to go to Brighton, Portsmouth and London for. It is on the map, whether it wants to be or not!
If someone could build me a big building, for a multi arts centre, that could be a theatre, a club,a space for workshops…this is what Chichester lacks so badly. I just wish a millionaire would find me and offer to give me a million quid to do it!
Jamie: There’s still time! (*laughter*). As you started this eight or ten years ago, the strides you have taken since then have been absolutely enormous. Every year I see something different. Do you ever find yourself getting a bit carried away?
Dawn: Always! And you should. I have a ridiculous “in my dreams” list on my mind map, such as a multi-purpose venue, for theatre groups to hire and such, for workshops and band rehearsals… But the lovely thing about the weekender is that I’ve hired the place, I’m going to do whatever I want.
Do you know the most ridiculous thing that we’re doing? There is an indoor swimming pool, and we are going to have all these people doing the Dirty Dancing lift in the pool!
Jamie: Just to remind people, when is the Weekender?
Dawn: October 5th – 8th of this year (2018). I’m booking the venue for next year, and 2020 as well. You know, we’re nearly back in the 20s! Each weekender is the 50s and 60s, but there is also a feature era, this year being the 1920s.
Jamie: So people can catch up with you on facebook
Dawn: Yep, Dawn’s Vintage Do, or I am a real person as well, Dawn Gracie. I also do vlogging and write for Vintage Life magazine. I quite like talking (*laughter*). I think enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, and there’s not enough of it.
And talking about it, Chichester needs people to do different things in the arts here. This city is a hive of culture, of all sorts of things happening, but it just doesn’t seem to be on display. I’ve never been afraid to say “Hello, we’re here!”, and we mostly definitely are here.