The Women Leading The Charge on Powering Down

"This summer we are blending the old and the new."

Every year, a team of three tight-knit women are responsible for over 250,000 Irish revellers playing on Ireland's busiest streets

Running across five days, with over 150 street performances, Laya Healthcare's City Spectacular and new project Playstival aim to champion tech-free play for people of all ages. 

"I began as the artist liaison for the international street performers in a voluntary role at what was then called the Street Performance World Championship," Festival Director and Owner Shell Holden tells Irish Tatler

"As you can imagine hanging out with sword-swallowers and acrobats was a unique and exciting experience from the get-go! Twelve years on, I now co-own and run the overall festival, which is now called Laya Healthcare's City Spectacular as well as our newer event, Playstival."

Playstival, which kicked off in 2018, is the team's newest venture, one which aims to bring people of all ages back to the basics of play in the form of a digital detox.

Daytime options range from sports days to science shows to lego model building to children’s creative writing, with everything from farmyard animals to dance lessons in between.

"Playstival was only launched last year so I'm really excited for year two," says Festival Producer Vicky Mkandawire.

Festival Producer Vicky Mkandawire

"Over the past eight months, we've been working really hard to develop the Playstival brand and programming. Airfield Estate will be transformed into a bustling family festival, with two days of hands-on play and discovery.

"We are also working with AsIAm - Ireland’s National Autism Charity to create autism awareness throughout and to promote accessibility within the festival where they will have a dedicated AsIAm sensory friendly chill-out zone." 

"Preparation generally begins right after each festival is over as it's a year-long process," Vicky continues. 

"It's funny, people ask me is it a full-time job and of course the answer is yes – we organise two medium to large scale festivals, we've all heard of Fyre Festival!

"We have downtime in August and September but the cogs are always moving, thinking of new ideas for the following year already."

"My planning for 2020 has already begun with reaching out to international performers and also speaking with key stakeholders," Holden says.

"As we are a small year-round in house team of THREE we spread the workload across the calendar year covering all aspects of events - programming, sponsorship, marketing, PR, activation concepts and implementation, production, operations etc."

Shell Holden and Sinéad McNamara with Dustin the Turkey. 

"Over the years the festival arena has become a key platform for brands," Sinéad McNamara, Sponsorship and Business Development Director chimes in. 

"It's a highly competitive space so, therefore, all key partnerships would be typically secured in Q4 of any year when brands are making their plans for the following summer. Our international street performers are our USP, driving our huge visitor numbers each year."

"This year is our biggest and most spectacular five-day programme of events," according to Holden.

"Expect five days of international street and circus performances, delicious global flavours at the Just Eat Street world food market, rockin’ live music, a vintage funfair and a plethora of free spectacular programming for ages 0-100. All totally free."

"For 2019, we will have four Guinness World Record breakers in our line up (including a Space Cowboy who can swallow 27 swords at once) it's going to be brilliant!" says n excited Mkandawire.


"As a team of five and given that we have all worked together for quite some time now we have all found our 'groove' and work so well as a team, festival owner Shell comments.

"Sinéad and I are so close that we even go on holidays together, including a trip to see The Prodigy last year in Portsmouth!"

"I love the girls!" says Sinéad.

"We work so well together and we support each other – they're a fabulous crew of women and I'm enormously proud to work with them." 

"I'm learning so much [from them]", Vicky agrees. "We work directly beside each other (literally staring into each other's faces) which is great craic especially when we get hyper and the song and dance parties begin."

For those looking to get involved in the industry, all three women have the same advice. 

"I would recommend volunteering and interning at a range of events to get experience under your belt and also discover what types of events you like to work at," says Shell. 

"Having started as a volunteer myself and having done internships in my early 20s too I highly recommend them for building contacts and getting real-life industry knowledge."

"Get all the experience you can in different event environments, try and surround yourself with a supportive team," according to Vicky. "Be eager to learn and be prepared for the hard work, events, as we know, is fast-paced industry so be sure to find that work-life balance!"

"Get as much experience as you can across several different event genres from festival to corporate," Sinéad closes by saying. "It's a great industry and no two days are ever the same.  You get to work with great people who are passionate about what they do and let's be honest, it's just kinda cool!"

Laya Healthcare’s City Spectacular will take place from 12 - 14 July in Dublin’s Merrion Square and 20 - 21 July in Cork’s Fitzgerald Park.

Playstival takes place on 10 - 11 August in Airfield Estate, Dundrum. \

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