Takeover Festival 2020 : What is it, how to get involved & meet #teamtakeover Harrison & James

I had the pleasure of attending the Takeover 2020 launch event and hearing about the plots & plans for this year’s festival – you know when you leave somewhere and feel buzzing with ideas and can’t wait to get home and write about it – well here I am!

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The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people to develop and showcase their leadership skills. The festival is led, planned, marketed, delivered and evaluated by the Takeover Team, a group of 12-18 year olds who are recruited from diverse backgrounds and have varying leadership and arts experiences.

I am working on Takeover 2020 advising & supporting with audience development and marketing. I will also be working with the Takeover Team supporting them with marketing, PR, social media & supporting their skills development. I’m buzzing.

The Takeover is authentically a festival by & for young people – the Takeover Team have full control. In a similar ethos to Mortal Fools’ approach with young people – they treat & support young people as creative practitioners & professionals from day one, investing into them and their learning journey as the future generation of creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs, innovators, writers, performers, artists, facilitators, business professionals etc. And they have an amazing time too!

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Young people may get involved with a specific ambition of realising an event, others may want to learn more about an art form or professional element of practice, others it’s about meeting & connecting with young people and for others, it’s to develop the transferrable skills for their future career or education choice.

This year’s Takeover dates are 25th-29th May (get them in your diary!) & a five-day festival awaits for young people; each day into evening. Lots of the programme is unknown (at this stage) because it’s worked up with young people – but there will be a visual arts exhibition displaying young people’s work, a poetry evening, a new theatre show, film awards, music, workshops and who knows what else!? I’m excited for what the team comes up with!

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Recruitment for the Takeover Team is currently open – they will meet every Monday from 24th February, 5pm-7pm at The Customs House. This is open to ALL young people aged 12-18yrs old. You don’t have to be able to attend every session (great if you can though!), you can dip in and out and if you can’t make the first session, you can get involved at a later Monday. To get involved & find out more all you have to do is email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk

I was blown away at the Launch and it was great to hear and see from last year’s young people about why they got involved, their REAL experience, what they learnt and what they are excited about doing & making happen for this year’s festival. Now I could wax lyrical about what a brilliant opportunity this is for young people and why other young people should get involved…. Or I could share mini interview profiles with two of last year’s team, who are also part of Take Over Team 2020 as Team Assistants. I had the pleasure of meeting them at the launch and what BRILLIANT humans. It’s young people like this, that make me feel a bit better about the future of the world….

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m an 18 year old college student currently studying for my A levels in Maths, Chemistry and physics. I enjoy going out to gigs especially locally.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

I joined last year as I have always been interested in the running of different venues and always wanted to organise such events for myself so when I heard about takeover festival it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t miss.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

For me my personal favourite part of the festival was The Lake Poets gig as it was the main thing that I helped in organising and seeing it go as well as it did felt really rewarding after putting in all the effort in the build up to prepare.

What did you learn from being part of the team last year?

Last year, I feel like I learned a lot about the inner running of a venue; as well as learning a lot about other communities that were involved in the festival – the different theatre groups, dance groups and LGBTQ+ artists that aided us with the festival.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year I will be concentrating on developing my leadership skills as I’ve never been in any kind of leadership role, so this is a whole new experience and challenge that I’m excited to undertake.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

For me, it gave me an opportunity that will help me in the future showing me the ins and outs of organising a festival. It also is really rewarding when you have put in weeks of work building up to one event and seeing it go brilliantly is a great feeling you rarely get the opportunity to achieve at our age.

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I am an 18 year old sixth form student currently studying A level Maths, Computer Science and BTEC Business. During my spare time I enjoy playing football and have a particular interest in business finance. In the future, I would like to complete an apprenticeship in this field.

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

Last year I joined The Takeover Team as I felt it was a unique opportunity to gain real-life work experience as it’s something not easy to come by. When Natasha approached me, at first, I was hesitant as I was unsure of what my role would be in the team but I was not disappointed.

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

My favourite part of Takeover 2019 festival was the North East Young Filmmaker’s Award as some of the talent on display was immense. However, I really enjoyed leading the finances of the festival as that is where my aspirations lie and the experience was invaluable.

What did you learn from being part of the team?

Last year, I learnt all the different entities needed to run a successful festival and how every member of the team has value and brings their own skill sets. I also gained leadership qualities as I was team leader on 2 of the days.

As Takeover Assistant this year what will you be focusing on?

This year, I will be focusing on the finances of the festival again but I also hope to develop my public speaking skills as well as furthering my leadership qualities with being in a more senior role.

Why do you think being part of The Takeover 2020 team is a good opportunity?

The Takeover Festival is an opportunity for any young person to express themselves in whichever way they want. No matter what your interests are, there is a place for any young person wanting to gain work experience and a place for you to aid with your own festival. For me, my interests were in finance but many of the team had backgrounds in the arts and each team member was valued equally bringing different qualities to the table.

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Well how cracking is that – I wish there had been opportunities like that when I was a young person instead of spending time learning about biscuit making (long and strange story!).

Take Over team recruitment is open – email Izzy@customshouse.co.uk for more info. Sessions are Mondays – 5pm-7pm at The Customs House in South Shields.

There are also LOADS of other ways for young people to get involved & call outs open too! Let me take you through them…..

Other opportunities:

Visual Arts Call Out for the exhibition part of the Festival.

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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Writer in Residence Call out – (Future Culture Vulture blog coming with last year’s writer Elijah Young.)

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – I’ve got a back log of blog posts to publish – so expect them coming in thick & fast from now!

An interview with Mad Alice Theatre – biochemistry, drama school & making theatre that means something.

Theatre with its immersive storytelling and escapism, can really say something and provoke reflection on real life stuff. Even with family theatre – in fact the best types of family theatre are the ones with core REAL modern messages. That’s the type of theatre I love, especially when it’s made by LUSH creative folks.

I’m working with Mad Alice Theatre, based in Consett Co. Durham, at the moment on their show Rose & Robin – it’s a show for multi-generational audiences (literally 7yrs old – 107years old…) and explores love and loss, a reality of life that we often don’t want to think about. We’re often happy getting lost in a love story – but this family show also looks at “the end”, the growing old, what happens when someone (a grandparent) close to you dies, the sadness (that is ok to feel!), the bittersweet memories, the fact that life goes on but that person still exists in objects around you.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

This lovely, playful & serious, sad & happy show follows Rose and Robin’s wonderful life together as they celebrate it – From sports and stargazing, dances and dreams, music and memories. This show is the perfect play for children to enjoy with their grandparents and parents (also big kids!)!

Rose & Robin is twirling its way across the North East (I’m heading to the show at Darlington Library)-

  • Darlington Libraries Central – 15th Feb, 2pm
  • Greenfield Arts – 18th Feb, 10.30am
  • Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham – 19th Feb, 2pm
  • Gala Theatre & Cinema – 20th Feb, 2pm
  • Arts Centre Washington – 21st Feb, 11am & 2pm
  • Maltings Berwick- 22nd Feb, 2pm
  • Gateshead Libraries Central, 28th Feb, 1.30pm

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

So of course, because I’m most interested in sharing the people behind the theatre and theatre making – I caught up with Mad Alice Theatre’s Shelley (Rose in the show) for a Culture Vulture interview…..

For my Culture Vulture followers, Who are you?

I am Shelley O’Brien, (although that is only my stage name, my real name is MICHELLE PARKER!) Actress, and Artistic Director of Mad Alice Theatre Company.

Many fellow actors at drama school pending graduation were changing their names at the time but I was steadfast in keeping my real name until I discovered there already was an actress with my name!! Shelley was given to me whilst at university so that didn’t seem too remote so was happy to use that but to then only discover there too was an Equity member actress Shelley Parker so after much deliberation and many combinations and permutations I chose my surname to be a one close to my heart, named after my brother BRIAN and also with a link to my, albeit, distant Irish Heritage! A Michelle O’Brien had already beaten me so Shelley O’Brien I became.

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Shelley O’Brien

Ohh – I might start telling people “Horts” is my stage name- even though I RARELY get on the stage; it adds an element of intrigue! So what is Mad Alice Theatre Company?  

MATC is a professional theatre company based in Consett Co. Durham (my home-town) producing theatre shows and linked drama and arts workshops touring to theatres, schools, community and outdoor venues in Co. Durham and The North East as well as nationally. We also deliver regular outside of school drama and arts projects for children and young people during term time and school holidays, predominantly the Co. Durham region. We have been established for 15 years and all our theatre productions are funded by Arts Council England.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

Why did you set Mad Alice Theatre up?

Having graduated from drama school and performed with many touring companies nationally, I then found myself working with many local regional companies back home in The North East and became known by Arts Council and knew and worked with many local talented and lovely actors and theatre makers. It was lovely working back home where many of my school friends had returned after university and my family were still based so I decided then this is where I wanted to be based and it was time to grow up as it were so I bought a house back in my home town.

My house was literally at the bottom of Consett and Blackhill Heritage Park where my mum and dad had noticed it had been newly revamped with the addition of an open-air stage (well, a few paving stones!!) It was their suggestion that I put on a play. I was successful in a bid to Arts Council to fund a one-off show, delivering a week of open air promenade performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where I could draw on the skills of theatre makers I knew; also an opportunity too for me to give them work as they have given me over the years which made me very happy!

The overall project was a huge success, had big audiences and the show was welcomed with great reviews! Other venues wanted the show in their park the following year and so before I knew it I was heading up a theatre company which 15 years down the line has seen me produce and act in further tours and retours of 3 new outdoor Shakespeare plays as well as tours and retours of 7 new shows! So much for just a one-off play!

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

Tell me about your journey into the creative arts and performing been?

Very sudden best describes it! I never did any drama or dance or anything theatrical at all as a child (apart from Irish dancing which I loved).  I was really into running and loved academia; I never had any desire or interest or thoughts whatsoever about being an actress. I was approached as a teenager to take up running professionally (800m, 1500m and long distance) but really loved studying so decided not to but instead to focus on going to university which I did to study Biochemistry at UCL London University.

However, during my ‘A’ levels I was really inspired by Rik Mayall and The Young Ones and found myself writing scripts, really just for fun and escapism; my favourite quote at the time being “Reality is for those people who lack imagination” inscribed on a badge I wore fervently on my denim jacket / school blazer. I just really enjoyed the wonderful worlds, ideas and where the imagination could take you too and in retrospect I understand this now to have been my escapism, a safe way to “think yourself out of current reality”. I was too sensible, too ambitious and too much of the mind -set that my body was a temple to over drink or go to wild parties to blot out some of the scary sad and overwhelming thoughts in my mind that presented themselves around that time, understandably due to my brothers dying. So instead taking myself into imaginary worlds seemed the most joyous and sensible coping strategy.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

This is probably where my desire to act started, although I was unaware at the time as I was determined to be a Biochemist and find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. But whilst studying at university I realised although I had the skills for Biochemistry, I just didn’t have the passion like others. I became more involved in writing and improvisation and literally work up one morning, looked out of the window and the beautiful sun shining on the tree branches and decided I was going to be an actress and that it was what I was supposed to do with my life. Sudden indeed!

I went to the careers office at London University and asked how I should be an actress, they gave me a few drama school brochures; RADA was next door to my Biochemistry LAB (I’d never heard of RADA) but I thought it was handy as I could still meet up with my friends. I popped in en route to a lecture but I wasn’t impressed as the receptionist was so snobby so I thought “I don’t want to go here!” (as if they would just say oh yes come in and start!!) but the ALRA LONDON brochure talked about imagination and reality so I knew it was for me!

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

I hand delivered my application in person as there was a postal strike; I’d missed the first round of auditions but my passionate talk about how this school was my calling convinced the principal to invite me to join students selected for a recall, which I did in jeans and danced to Michael Jackson (everyone else had the correct gear!) and then I did an improvisation about “abortion and the confessional box” (luckily I missed having to do a speech as that was in initial audition rounds as I’d never read a play!!) and finally after ringing them about 7 days in a row they offered me a place!! I had the best 3 years ever and certainly the right drama school for me; it was meant to be.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

So tell my fellow Culture Vultures your current show, Rose & Robin? Where did the inspiration come from?

The inspiration for ROSE AND ROBIN came primarily from some wonderful, inspiring, brave, emotionally honest and open and good-humoured people who we were blessed to come to know through drama workshops we delivered (myself and Pete Baynes who plays Robin). The workshops were all with participants of the bereavement service provided by Tynedale Hospice at Home. Geof Keys, Artistic Director of Queen’s Hall Arts Hexham at the time, had asked if Mad Alice would be interested in delivering drama workshops as a means to bringing participants together, raising confidence and providing an alternative creative way to share and talk about feelings around grief and also to have fun.

We invited the workshop participants to come on a journey with us to explore through improvisations and exercises ideas for a show and to see if any material generated might inspire us to create and form the basis of a new play about loss. The people we met had a wonderful time and found the workshops really beneficial; we were so moved and touched by all the experiences and grief shared and were drawn to stories of older people who had lost a life time partner.

Dancing was a strong theme as was nature; also the over arcing sense from all participants of life moving on and how it is so important to talk about feelings of grief as a means to heal. Thus, Rose and Robin emerged; a story of a couple who share a wonderful life together, from childhood to old age, full of dancing and star gazing but with bumps in the road and now one of them can’t remember where they keep the clothes pegs……We hope in our play we have captured the sense of joy, fun, and positivity of all of the participants young and old who inspired this story as well as acknowledging the pain of grief and honouring the love felt for those held dear and whom are no longer with us.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

You can tell from the way you speak, you are such a vivid story teller – I could listen all day! We met before your funding decision from Arts Council, which enabled you to make the show – how did it feel when you found out you got the funding to make the show happen?

I was dumb struck and taken aback as I heard a week earlier than expected!! I had just got off the train at Newcastle, I’d spent the day at the Edinburgh Festival and picked up a voicemail from a colleague saying we’d received the funding!!!! I could hardly catch my breath!!! Speechless initially but then so joyous and also relieved and grateful to all who had helped make it happen, excited too and then overwhelmed thinking crumbs now we have to deliver!!! I spent the evening ringing and emailing everyone to say thank you for helping to make it happen then had a couple of glasses of wine to celebrate, I was so ecstatic!!!

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

I hear that a lot with creatives I work with, the excitement of the funding, and then the terrifying “oh bliddy heck…. I have to do it now” moment!  Who is Rose & Robin for and why should audiences come and see it?

We have created the show on one hand for children in KS2 (ages 7-12yrs) as we always planned to tour to schools so this was the age range we chose (Rose & Robin toured schools in Autumn 2019). We really wanted to create a show about love AND loss; after seeking advice from theatre and bereavement specialists as well as our own knowledge and experience, we thought children would be old enough at 7yrs to understand and take an interest in the concepts we were portraying, particularly about relationships of a couple growing up and growing old together.

Having said that we have found that due to the mime element, the beautiful musical underscore and the physical theatre aspects of the style in which we deliver the show, younger children are actually equally hooked and enjoy it even though they may not fully understand the deeper meanings they are entertained visually! This was our aim too, as with a family show, inevitably younger siblings come along as part of the family.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

But, the show is also for older people and grandparents too mainly because it is about the life of an older couple from childhood to old age so particularly relevant to this age group. Rose and Robin meet in the 50’s and court in the 60’s so there is rock and roll and waltzing and even the twist so music and costumes and dances will particularly appeal to this older age groups and bring back many fun memories!

So why should folks come…..well because they will truly enjoy it; they will be captivated by the story – Rose and Robin are such likeable fun characters which all ages will warm to, the story will resonate with them, they will laugh, they will find the music beautiful, happy and poignant and the set and props and costumes they will love as they are colourful and imaginative and quirky. There is dancing and an opportunity to dance with Rose and Robin during and after the show which is a joyful moment for all ages. There are sad moments too which many people will be able to relate to, thus a cathartic show and an opportunity for people to share and talk about their feelings but ultimately, it’s a gentle show and very heart-warming and a lovely show to bring old and young together. The overall message is one of love, reassurance and joy so a safe place for any feelings to surface.

Many of us have loved and lost, that could be a most recent loss, a loss from long ago or indeed a pending loss…this show is for all of you.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

You’re taking the show to some “non-traditional” theatre venues and community venues – alongside some lush regional theatres – why was this important to Rose & Robin tour?

One of my reasons for setting up Mad Alice was to bring theatre to and make it affordable and accessible to those people from all backgrounds. Theatre is for EVERYONE. Community venues like libraries attract more audiences, that wouldn’t go to a traditional theatre as they are less daunting and a lovely safe space. Also, it feels that you are bringing theatre to them on their territory and that’s a wonderful experience for a company too! I grew up in Consett a working-class town and when I was a child in the 70’s no one dreamt really of being an actor and going to the theatre wasn’t really what we did…times have changed a lot now …but there remains an urgent need for affordable and accessible theatre bring brought to and offered to communities.

Equally we love performing in theatres as it’s a different experience as an actor and a rewarding one but also encouraging everyone to go to the theatre is a must … plus we can also engage more people too and develop our audiences by touring to theatres and raise our profile so more people get to see our shows which is also what making theatre is about.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

We have toured to schools and have raised funds to offer the show free to many schools e.g. schools in Spennymoor have been funded by our successful application for funding from local councillors and again this helps us ensure children from ALL backgrounds get to see high quality theatre. Plus we invited Grandparents of pupils into the school shows too!

Non-traditional theatre spaces appeal to us as they are different and quirky and this appeals to our style and outlook. It also helps them to generate audiences too and make a museum, community centre or library a successful arts venue too…..

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

From seeing the rehearsal and behind the scenes footage – I’ve had the sense you’ve all had a blast creating and making the show and it’s full of comedy and touching, bittersweet moments!

We certainly have had a right giggle!! We’ve had many laughs touring the show particularly to children in schools, as they have been so vocal and very much so when we are actually performing! One memorable moment which had us in fits of laughter was when ROBIN in the play mimes bringing a dog on stage and he says “Come on boy! Ah! You can see he’s a good dog” At which point one 8 yr. old boy shouts out “You can’t even see him!!!!”

Almost topped by a young girl who was given front of house duties in a community venue to count how many were in the audience and make them feel welcome, a ploy to keep her occupied as she’d turned up early!!! But who took her responsibilities even further when some older people were a bit tearful at a sad moment and she proceeded to go and get them cups of water during the show!

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

It has also been a challenge too which devising always is, as actors both myself and PETE BAYNES (Robin) have learnt a lot of new skills to realise the work, dancing for one but the lovely Nadia Iftkhar – Company of Others was splendid and patient but we did giggle lots too!! Peta Lily was truly inspirational teaching us a lot of new physical theatre techniques and that brought so much joy to us and consequently, joy and fun to the play itself.

But yes, it is bittersweet and touching in many parts too and the fun and humour necessary in a show about loss in its many forms has been inter-weaved through a strong emotional truthful story line which Paul Harman our lead devisor helped us develop and Geof Keys as director kept an eye on in terms of shape and balance.

Donald Marshall’s design has really brought fun, elegance and beauty to the play too and Patrick Dineen’s music absolutely supports and adds to the emotional range of the show.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

What do you want audiences to take away from Rose & Robin?

For older people; warm loving memories of loved ones, joyful memories of their youth, an opportunity to share their feelings and talk about their feelings. A message of hope that after sadness there will be joy.

For children; an even stronger awareness that grandparents were young once and a realisation that they too were naughty, played, had fun, loved, lost and that they have a history! We want them to share and talk about their feelings around loss and to take away the message that it’s ok to be sad, that those we love who have died will always be with us in our heart and that we will feel happy again.

For both generations, a desire to talk to each other, for parents and grandparents to talk to children about their memories and for children and families to talk together about their feelings around loss.


Rose and Robin-38Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

Sum the show up in three words?

Fun, emotional, heart-warming!

What else have you been up to in 2019 – tell me about another project/show you’ve done this year?

2019 saw me doing a further tour of my one woman show ‘She Wins All The Races-A Tragicomedy with Biscuits’ to secondary schools and colleges in Darlington as well as some community venues. I previously toured it 2017/18 to regional and national theatres.

It’s A show I’m very proud of, based on my true-life story, about a little girl growing up her two brothers who were born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – it celebrates the courage and resilience of the human spirit, poignant, powerful, heart-breaking and uplifting, with quirky, physical storytelling and a little bit of Abba!

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She Wins All The Races

What’s next for Mad Alice Theatre Company beyond Rose & Robin?

When you produce as well as act in a new play (which is the case for me on all Mad Alice productions), it’s always very intense and quite exhausting even though exhilarating but I always say “never again”! But as always once the show is up and running you forget all the initial hard slog and do start thinking “oooh, what next?”

I certainly would like to retour ROSE and ROBIN hopefully in autumn 2020 to further schools and theatre venues but hopefully on the rural touring circuit where I can see it playing very well and appealing strongly to village hall audiences…

I’m also, very keen too to get my one woman show to London which has been on my list since its first tour in 2016….

But my mind is certainly starting to mull over a new show possibly for 2021/2022 and I’m thinking of returning to Mad Alice’s roots of open air shows but with a PASSION PLAY, something I’ve always wanted to do. My faith has always been very important to me and it got me through very difficult times, growing up with both of my brothers who died in their teens. I’ve always wanted to do something faith linked however I have a very whacky imaginative side to my nature so I’m currently thinking of how we can make a passion play spiritual as well as presenting it in my own way.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

Well thank you Shelley – I loved your journey into the creative arts and it reminds me, very much the experience for some young people,  feeling obligated and pressured to follow a specific education and career path, whilst wanting to go into the creative industries. It’s like the mind says one thing and the heart drives another – they are TORN…..whilst I’m an advocate for following your passion, I too in my younger years took the “logical” route of chasing a “proper” job by going to study law….. YIKES! Thankfully we came our senses and listened to our hearts….

Maybe we could write a show together about our alternative reality lives as a biochemist and a lawyer.

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

So Culture Vultures, I hope you see Rose & Robin and bring your mini Culture Vultures….. I’m heading to the Darlington Library performance and can’t wait.

Rose & Robin is twirling its way across the North East-

  • Darlington Libraries Central – 15th Feb, 2pm
  • Greenfield Arts – 18th Feb, 10.30am
  • Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham – 19th Feb, 2pm
  • Gala Theatre & Cinema – 20th Feb, 2pm
  • Arts Centre Washington – 21st Feb, 11am & 2pm
  • Maltings Berwick- 22nd Feb, 2pm
  • Gateshead Libraries Central, 28th Feb, 1.30pm

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

That’s all for now Culture Vultures, until next time!

Interview with LUSH comedian AND self-confessed Divvy Si Beckwith.

Today’s blog interview is with my long-time pal Comedian Si Beckwith a head of his show “Get Lush” on Monday 3rd Feb at The Stand Comedy Club Newcastle. Over the years Si and I have lost touch and reconnected more times than I can count.  We have known each other across several lifetimes and awkward stages of life…..an emo phase, an indie phase, a phase when we were both super skint and ate A LOT of chips from a local chip shop, when I made chain smoking look like an Olympic sport, a time when I hadn’t even discovered gin yet, endless bad haircuts, terrible tattoos (mine), poor choices in music (also mine), controversial choices in top 10 film lists (yep – mine too) …..

Get Lush - Event Cover

So now we are beyond those awkward stages…(I’ve defs got a bad hair cut or two in me left – I mean WHAT was 2018 Horts hair about?!?!), it’s lush to catch up again and find out more about Si’s upcoming show, why it’s a must see and what 2020 holds.

For my fellow Culture Vultures, who are you?

I’m Si Beckwith. I’m a stand-up comedian, writer, podcaster and utter, uttery divvy.

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

Gosh, I’d totally forgotten about the word “divvy”, I need to reintroduce that into my life. So, tell us about your journey into stand-up/comedy?

I’d always written; and found that the funny bits were the bits I was enjoying writing most. I’d always watched stand-up too but hadn’t seen loads live – I scoured YouTube for loads of videos of amateur comedians, and it was then that I realised that ‘oh, ANYONE can give this a go.’ I went to an open mic night and booked myself in for a spot a couple of weeks later. I’ve just never stopped since.

We’ve known each other a long time – through MANY bad hair-cuts! What was the tipping point into doing comedy professionally?

We have, and ALL the bad hair cuts. I think at one point I was 30% fringe. The tipping point was just not ever wanting to get a real job again. It’s amazing what not wanting to go back to working in a call centre will do for your work ethic into the creative thing that keeps you away from it. I sort of fell into MCing/compering too as it was something I didn’t expect to be such a cornerstone of what I do, but I love it and get some amazing bookings hosting and it’s opened a lot of doors and certainly pushed me on to being a better act.

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You are a super good host and look so comfortable on a stage. We used to argue quite a lot about our lists of favourite movies, bands, songs etc. so continuing that theme, what’s your top peer North East comedians and why?

Louise Young is one of the most naturally talented people I’ve ever met. I saw her about a year before she’d even did comedy and even longer before we’d even met and became friends; she did a poem at this open mic night that blew me away. She’s such a good joke writer and such a unique mind.

Lee Kyle has a wonderful attitude to comedy and constantly makes interesting things. I like things with a DIY ethic and Lee certainly has that. I think Hal Branson is a properly talented man and always a joy to be on a gig with. I’ve really enjoyed working with Ken McGuinness who is a very new act but writes some properly clever comedy. He’s doing support for this show, alongside Anja Atkinson who is really funny and has just constantly developed as a comic. I could list so many though, the North East has a bunch of really talented comedians.

Onto your show…When and where is “Get Lush” on and what is it about?

It’s at The Stand in Newcastle on Monday 3rd February. It’s a daft show about trying to be a better, failing, but still trying. There’s a lot more in there about being working class than I expected, and some really silly drawings. It’s mostly though, just a show about trying your hardest and why it’s okay to be a bit of a knacker.

Main 1 by Ben Smith at Photography North.

Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

What was the inspo behind the show?

‘Get Lush’ has been my New Year’s resolution every year for about 15 years. I’d went for coffee with a mate (Rosa Postlethwaite, who is an excellently talented creative) and I’d mentioned it being my regular resolution to myself. She said it stuck with her, she’d mentioned it to friends, and it was a good thing to hang a show on, (she said it much more eloquently than that) so I did hang a show on it.

Love Rosa! Have you felt January pressure to ‘Get Lush’, with all this New year, new year bobbins?

Not really. I’m comfortable with the fact now that my favourite meal is just TWO meals, so it is what it is.

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Second breakfast and second lunch always and forever! So why should people come and see the show?

It’s funny, I’m trying my hardest, there’s a bit about the Jarra March in there and I’m better at drawing than I let on.

Sum it up in 3 words?

Lush. Proper lush.

How much are tickets and where can I get mine from?

Tickets are £7 (a fiver for concessions and Stand members) and you can get them from The Stand’s website here.

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

You performed Get Lush before at Alphabetti (or a scratch version) – what were audience responses like?

So, so good. It was just lovely, and most of the audience hung around in the Alphabetti bar after and was great to have such positive, kind words. NARC Magazine reviewed it super positively too, and it gave a good jumping off point for tightening up the show.

And what are the plans after the show – you’re taking it to Edinburgh Fringe?

The Edinburgh Fringe indeed. I’ll take it to a couple of other festivals, preview it a few places, and there’s a couple of other North East venues I want to take it to.

Have you performed at the Fringe before – what is it like?

I have. I did a two-handed show back in 2013. I’d not been going long when I did that and learnt so much doing it. We did a compilation show too, so doing two shows a day was a big learning curve. It’ll be my first year with a solo show, so that’s really exciting.

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

I read “two handed” as tap dancing for some reason (It’s 2am) – would love you to add a bit of tap into the mix. You organise and compare comedy nights alongside your own stand up – can you tell me a bit about that and where we can catch you/a night you’re involved with next?

I do. I run so many now, as I’ve just taken on running comedy at two new amazing venues (all is under wraps a bit at the moment as I wait on a couple of big announcements). The gig I run at The South Causey Inn is amazing though, pretty much all shows have been sell-outs, and the line-ups for next year are UNREAL with Live At The Apollo acts headlining two of the shows, and the bills are just full of some of my favourite funny people. The next one there is Saturday 15th February with Jonny Pelham headlining. We’ve also just started a night at The Bridge Hotel which runs from February and there’s an announcement about that coming very soon too.

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

Well keep me in the loop – You also run a podcast – can you tell us about that?

I do, it’s me and Ken McGuinness through our Hope For Proles production company. It’s called The Greatest Film You’ve Never Seen. We chat to excellent guests about the best films that they should’ve watched but haven’t. We get to know what it’s like when the film comes into conversation, do they lie and say they’ve seen it? Do they know much about it? Then, and this is the best bit, we get them to describe their own version of the film based on the limited knowledge they have. It’s also, according to my fiancée and fan of the show (I make her listen), a lot of me being a tit and Ken keeping me in check.

Will give it a listen tomorrow – love the concept! So, what’s next for SI in 2020- anything you can share?

Loads. More shows. Lots of gigs. I wanna debut a new show in June (ish) which will be next year’s Fringe show. Got two more podcasts in the pipeline. A play potentially later this year. And there’s some sketch stuff coming soon (alongside the BBC Radio Newcastle Grin Up North stuff) which I am very excited for.

Anything else to close on?

Just stay lush!

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So get your tickets for Get Lush, it will be proper lush. The Stand is a lush venue (they do a lush dinner too) and I will be cackling away in the audience (you’ll hear me from 10miles away). I’m excited to see what comedy shenanigans Si brings to the fore across 2020.

 

#AD Observe Experiment Archive – a photography exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Photography exhibitions for many years, were my comfort zone in art gallery spaces. In my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t feel empowered enough in my own creative sense of self to comment on paintings, sculpture, textiles etc. But photography to me always told some kind of a story! The first photographer that I ever became truly aware of as an “artist” was Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a Finnish photographer that ended up living in Newcastle and has an extensive body of work. I loved her depiction of Byker and the sense of place, people and home – she managed to create.

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Neon at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

I’ve always been a fan of photography as a means to communicate and explore difficult issues – to display various shades of the same thing and of course, to capture a moment. In fact, I’m working up a project funding proposal at the moment with photography at the heart of it. But my love of photography and respect for it as an art form, has grown exponentially as a social media and marketing professional – it’s ALL about the high quality, visually impactful visuals. And that’s why I invest so much money and resource into the photography of events, projects, people, audiences, places, venues and moments. The right image can have far reaching impact and tells a story….

I was recently, invited to view Observe Experiment Archive – a group photography exhibition curated by North East Photography Network at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – support by Sunderland Culture. For those Culture Vultures unaware, yes Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens does have a beautiful gallery space so add it to your gallery culture crawl list…. It’s where the Da Vinci exhibition was housed AND they are one of three new venues, to have been selected to present work from The Arts Council Collection (first exhibition in February) until 2022!

It’s great to see how many folks have followed my “story” showcasing my exhibition visit and how many of you have followed up my social media posts, championing the exhibition, telling me that you’re going to visit or have visited!

Observe Experiment Archive is available to view until 5 January and presents multidimensional view- points of our ever changing world. It’s for the curious seekers, experimenters, future innovators and creative thinkers – my visit lasted over an hour, I read ever interpretation cover to cover, it got me thinking, reflecting and full of wonder for the natural world and how we have interacted with it in the past, present and the possibilities that lie in the future. The exhibition explores human interventions, innovations and inventions and the global challenges that can no longer be ignored.

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The exhibition showcases the skill and diversity that exists within contemporary photography, reflecting scientific and environmental concerns through both a modern and historical lens. I went in with an open mind – I’d read the blurb before going in, on the website, which in no way captured how truly fantastic this exhibition was. It’s certainly in my top 5 of 2019.

Beautifully curated, inviting and thoroughly interesting. The supporting pamphlet that you can pick up on entry, was the perfect thought fuelling accompaniment to the exhibition as I walked around taking it all in. All 8 photographers featured are very different in style, subject manner and provide a gateway for folks like me, to consider, explore and observe the world in a new way. I learnt a lot, thought about things that I hadn’t really considered in a world that is so busy and it certainly triggered my appetite to learn more.

This exhibition is in no way passive – it invites you to think, reflect, go on google, check out the photographers, participate in their narrative and really demonstrated to me, the unbelievable power of a photo to capture a moment, tell a story, challenge a pre-conception and to trigger thought and potential change. The thing I loved, is that the current state of play around themes like the “environment”, “intrusion of technology”, “human intervention”; the press and on social media present it in an often angry and preachy manner – things MUST change dogma and those who are not participating in the change…. Well, they are unfavourable. What this exhibition manages to do, is explore and present, many of the same elements, impacts and what humans have done, doing and may continue to do but invites you to question and reflect on WHY.

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I’m going to give you a little overview of my thoughts on each photographer’s work in the exhibition – without hopefully spoiling it, as you have until 5th January to visit so go go go! Order presented is based on how I worked my way around the exhibition.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s work is a colourful guide to the flora and fauna of the world – it presents a catalogue of curious creatures and their life forms mixing fact and fiction, whilst demonstrating the present and possible effects of human intervention. His pieces are visually stunning and thoroughly Insta ready and his work explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. To accompany the exhibition, there is a wonderful A3 size hand-out which I skimmed over, but properly read when I grabbed a tea at Holmeside Coffee. Very interesting!

Robert’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Maria McKinney’s recent projects have examined the relationship between humans and cattle collaborating with cattle breeders and genetic scientists. From this work, there is LOTS of learning, especially for me as someone who doesn’t have much knowledge around how humans influence breeding of animals and their genetics. Contemporary cattle farming is depicted in large scale animal portraits, which really do remind me of large scale cow portraits from 18th & 19th century, that can be seen in the collections of Bowes Museum, Northumberland and Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

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Maria’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (Robert’s in back ground)

Mandy Barker’s work, I found I kept on going back to on my visit to view again! Mandy’s work investigates and showcases marine plastic debris by collaborating with scientists. Her main aim is to raise the awareness of plastic pollution and effects of plastic on marine life. Her photographs are visually beautiful – it wasn’t until, I got up close that I realised exactly, what I was looking at. Whilst, we know humankind treats the sea, like our dustbin, seeing this…… well, it really demonstrates that fact and I think Mandy’s naming of this work, as “SOUP” is just perfect. You can see toys and possessions that I imagine at some-point were much loved and now, they end up floating in the sea creating a kind of “plastic soup” – the plastics float forever, attracting marine life to them, which will eventually lead to their death by poisoning or choking.

Mandy’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Liza Dracup’s work, embraces an ethos very close to my heart and something, I try to practice as Culture Vulture in my own work; looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary (we are all extraordinary in some way) and the perfection that exists within the imperfect. Her work was full of colour, light and made me smile. This collection of work is inspired by Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb – which makes sense as the theme of light and bringing to light nature features in her work. Also loved that she had included the practice of taxidermy, as a means to connect the past and present natural world – I’m fascinated with the practice and it’s having a huge revival!

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Tessa Bunney’s work was super interesting – contemporary farming is not something that I really think about (I probably should – as you know, I rely on it to eat…). In her work, she showcases the faces and new world of farming, a mix of traditional practices, innovation and artisan. A theme that runs through this work concerns, the changing nature of rural life and how humans have really shaped that landscape. I’ve worked on a few “rural” arts projects recently so I’m aware of the disconnect between the rural work that we rely upon and the urban world, that for folks like me, is our work and playground.

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Penelope Umbrico’s work was one of my favourites- especially as I’ve just wrapped a large scale outdoor event that was all about celebrating the moon! Penelope displays screenshots of photographs since 2015 that are tagged “full moon” from Flickr. These screen shots are presented both in print and in digital form. I could have stared at the digital screen for hours – one moon with MANY different representations! Really interesting and beautiful – I liked the element of collecting content from a digital platform, consuming it and then sharing it with a wider audience…… in that way, so many people have contributed to the work and have ownership of it.

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Penelope’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Sophie Ingleby’s work ‘Seed’, explores human fertility treatment. Now this is something that I am extremely aware of, with lots of my friends having fertility challenges (1 in 6 couples struggle to become parents). I guess, as a trigger warning, this element of the exhibition might not be right for you, if you’re very close to that journey right now or potentially at the recent closing of that capture – but none the less it’s fascinating, showcases the process, the science, the embryologists leading the way, the people hoping to become parents one day…..

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Sophie’s Work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Last but not least, Helen McGhie’s work explores the nature of darkness and astronomical observation. Again, coming out of wrapping a project all about the moon which also explored space, time, the stars, and moon-landings etc. – this work was just fascinating to me. Helen captures her own personal encounters with the night sky, which are just beautiful to look at and also presents a collection of photographs of objects used as a Northern Astronomer. I spent ages looking at each object capture – really interesting and certainly a bag of tricks.

Helen’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This exhibition was organised by North East Photography Network (check out their insta!) who were established in 2009 to promote and develop photography in the North East of England and beyond. They work with photographers, artists, curators and a wide range of cultural partners, to create a lively and informed context for photographic activity and to encourage new audiences for photography. NEPN are really going great things – providing commission opportunities, ensuring visibility of photography within the cultural landscape and showcasing what contemporary photography is and could be in the future. Observe Experiment Archive is not only an opportunity to check out an amazing exhibition, but it’s also an opportunity to get a sense of what NEPN is all about. So if you’re an aspiring photographer or photographer in the North East, they are THE organisation to connect with.

Observe Experiment Archive is on to view until 5th January at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, check it out this week or this weekend….you honestly won’t regret it! It has certainly, reignited my interest in photography and given me A LOT to think about.

 

An interview with rising star actress, performer & lush lass Katie Powell…

It’s been a little while since I interviewed anyone from the theatre sector….so when I met actress Katie Powell in 2019 and found out, she started off her career in Live Theatre Newcastle Youth Theatre, I thought she’d make an interesting subject and added to my “must interview list” – yep I actually have one such list. As someone who REALLY champions the impact and importance of Youth Theatre opportunities for young people, it’s really LUSH to meet folks who have used it as a spring board and actually pursuing a paid acting/performing career in the North East. Katie is also walking, talking proof that there are PAID acting jobs in the North East (truth bomb alert) and that also, there are opportunities for folks to make their own “companies” and devise work….. just takes proper GRAFT, passion and overcoming a “worrit” or two….

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Melva (Katie) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson

However Youth Theatre opportunities are not always about a career in performing and often are a channel for creative expression, developing communication skills, developing confidence, a safe space to make sense of the world and their identity, socialising with like minded folks, not to mention a place to experience devising, performing, tech, lighting, set design, directing etc. But for some like North East based actress Katie Powell, it was the start of her adventurer into performing….
I met Katie, face to face, during the read through before the recent 2019 tour of Melva  – a Mortal Fools‘ theatre show and touring theatre schools package, for 7 – 11 years old and their families. Melva tells the story of a 10-year-old girl (played by Katie) whose struggles with anxiety, or ‘worrits’ as she knows them, keep her from leaving the house. Her Grandpa has grown so worried about her that he fakes his own disappearance in the hope that it will compel Melva to leave the house and overcome her ‘bad worrits’. What follows is a funny and poignant adventure for them both, where each learn how their ‘worrits’ affect them and new ways to tackle them separately and together.
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Melva (Katie) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
So, I thought ahead of Melva, storming into 2020 for a school’s tour in partnership with Children’s North East and having a public outing at the wonderful Gosforth Civic Theatre Wed 4 & Thu 5 March 7pm (get your tickets HERE), I thought I’d catch up with Katie for an interview as I work my way through my “must interview list”….
So step forward Katie Powell – a star on the rise with really good energy…. she also manages to pull off wellies like no other….
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Katie Powell
So well hello, for my fellow Culture Vultures – who are you? 
I’m Katie Powell. I’m 26. I’m an actor and theatre maker from Washington – Sunderland but now living in Newcastle.
Tell me about your journey into theatre making? Are you a trained actor?
I went to Gateshead College and did a BTEC in Performing Arts from aged 16 to 18. I was also a member of Live Youth Theatre and Northern Stage’s Young Company around the same time.
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Katie Powell
Tell me about your mortal fools involvement with Melva?
I rehearsed and performed Melva in a pop-up venue on Prudhoe high street over Christmas 2017 during the first iteration of it, when it was directed by Anna Ryder. When Mortal Fools, got the successful Arts Council Funding, I re-rehearsed and toured Melva in Northumberland in Autumn 2019 as well as participating in the delivery of school’s workshops afterwards with pupils.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
Why did you audition for the part of Melva?
I auditioned for the part because I love children’s theatre; some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen was made for children and when it’s done right it can be life changing. I thought the team working on Melva were lovely, talented people that I really wanted to work with and learn from.
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Melva (Katie) & Feggis (Eilish Stout-Cairns) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
Tell me about your Melva character?
Melva is kind, brave and clever. In the beginning she’s very nervous and it makes her grumpy. She soon learns she is resourceful, capable and the world outside isn’t all bad.
My type of gal…. What do you think about your new animated/graphic designed version of Melva designed by Swaddle Creative in the promotional materials and school resources? I work with Laura Swaddle a lot and she does a lot of the graphic design for Mortal Fools– I think she’s really NAILED IT….
It’s brilliant. I’ve always wanted to see myself as a cartoon. The animations and graphics really add another dimension; they frame the show beautifully.
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Melva designed by Laura Swaddle – Swaddle Creative
You were part of Melva in its 2017 form and now in the new version in 2019 – from your perception, what’s different?
I feel like the whole show has matured a little bit. We’re all a bit older and a bit wiser. We know which bits worked and which bits didn’t so much. We know how brilliant the story is and the impact it can have. We now have a renewed confidence and pride in sharing it.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
What were you like as a younger person (Melva’s age)?
When I was 10 (11 tomorrow) I was quite similar to Melva. I felt very anxious about what people thought of me, but at the same time I thought I was the cleverest person who ever lived. Not much has changed.
Sounds like me as a mini too…..Why should people come and see the show at Gosforth Civic Theatre Wed 4 & 5 March 2020? Or why should schools book the show?
Melva is about children’s mental health. We show the children how to take good care of themselves and talk about it. And what could be more important than that? Melva herself is funny, cheeky, brave, vulnerable and clever. The children will leave having gone on a great adventure and having been firmly reassured they’re not alone.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
As well as being the lead character in Melva, you’re also leading on some workshops – how have young people been responding to Melva?
It’s been really lovely to meet the children after they’ve seen the show. I love answering their questions and seeing how much information they’ve absorbed and how exciting the day has been for them. Also, their banter is brilliant.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
What are “worrits” and what are yours?
Worrits to me are little worms of anxiety that wriggle in your tummy and sometimes go up to your head where they can grow bigger and take over if you don’t take care. I have loads of worrits. I often worry that I’m not good enough at playing Melva or that the children in this school won’t like me.
The core team of Melva is so lush – does it feel like a family? The giggles you have with Stan/Gideon seems to continue off stage?
Going to work with the Melva team everyday has been the best part of the job. Absolutely everyone is lovely, enthusiastic and hard working. We have lots of laughs. Stan/Gideon picked me up before 7am most mornings on the tour so we had plenty of half asleep, coffee fuelled hysterics.
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Melva (Katie) & Gideon (Stan Hodgson) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
So onto the rest of your work….tell me about Your Aunt Fanny? What is it?
Your Aunt Fanny is an all-female theatre company made up of 7 women (sometimes 5, sometimes 6) from the North East. In the last 18 months we’ve written an hour long comedy sketch show “Minge Unhinged” and taken it on a summer tour. We have just finished “Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular”, a full length alternative Christmas show in collaboration with another local theatre company – Bonnie and the Bonnettes – and commissioned by Live Theatre.
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Katie in Your Aunt Fanny for Bonnie & Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular
How did Your Aunt Fanny unite and first start?
We formed in 2013 and performed as part of Live Youth Theatre for 2 years. We reformed in Autumn 2018 because we are all best friends and Your Aunt Fanny was the most fun any of us had ever had on stage. At this point we started to write our own material and realised we had lots to say and lots of experiences we needed to laugh about.
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Katie Powell in Love Spell (a short film)
AND super excitingly, you’ve just filmed a little something for Channel four – tell us more?
Channel 4 commissioned one of our sketches to be filmed for their social media platforms. This was with a project called North East Comedy Hot House in collaboration with Northern Film and Media. We’re really proud of our sketch and hopefully it’ll be up soon so you can all see it!
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Filming for Love Spell (a film short)
You’ve collaborated with Bonnie and the Bonnettes for some Christmas shenanigans – are more collaborations planned?
Minge Unhinged is going to Vault Festival in London in February in association with Northern Stage. We are performing as part of a double bill with the Bonnies newest show “And She”.
Aside from that, we 100% plan to work together again in the future; working together was joyful from start to finish. We realised almost immediately we have the same approach to theatre making. They’re also just lush people.
You’ve just announce an Aunt Fanny show in 2020 – tell my fellow Culture Vultures more?
We are in the process of making a brand new, hour long, comedy sketch show to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2020 with previews at Live Theatre in July. We pitch our shows as “a night on the town with your wildest, oldest, filthiest friend”; some of our comedy is clever, some of it is bizarre, some scary, poignant, empowering, uplifting – but overall you’ll leave having had an absolute hoot.
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Katie Powell in Sketch character
What’s next for Katie in 2020? What’s next for Aunt Fanny in 2020?
In February Your Aunt Fanny are taking “Minge Unhinged” to Vault Festival. Then I’m back touring Melva (woo!) with 2 performances open to the public at Gosforth Civic Theatre in March. Then from June I’ll be back with the Fannies making our new show.
I have also just finished a short film called “Love Spell” which was funded by the BFI and will come out in 2020. If anyone wants to hire me for a lovely acting job in between these dates I wouldn’t say no. Or otherwise I’ll be answering phones in an office (which I do actually quite enjoy and gives me great writing material). I also hope to go on a lovely sunny holiday.
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Katie Powell on stage
Well thank you Katie – a lass on the rise in the North East; excited to see your next Your Aunt Fanny show….. follow Your Aunt Fanny on social to keep up to date with their shows and you catch catch Melva at Gosforth Civic Theatre on 4 & 5 March 2020 and tickets are available from HERE.

Interview with street artist & graphic designer Mul – “if people hate what you do, do it more”

If I have one piece of advice for you Culture Vultures for 2020, it’s put down your phone, get outside more and be a tourist in your own city. Northern cities are FULL of beautiful street art – work by amazing regional, National and International street artists are waiting for you to discover. Actually the North East is well known for its street art and I discovered recently, big name street artists actually visit here, seek out mural spaces and create their own mark on a NE city or town.
And if like me, you spend way too much time with your head down in your social media feed, you’re actually missing out on this lush art to discover, different styles AND the urban landscape is ever changing with new murals.
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Alex Mulholland mural in Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar)
Over the summer, I worked on a project exploring Ouseburn Valley and all the street art there – I visit the Ouseburn all the time, but largely in a passive auto pilot manner, as I’m looking at my phone and scrolling my feed. Over the Summer, I decided to put down my phone and suddenly, paths that I’d walked MANY times before sprung to life with pieces of work and street art, suddenly popping out; they’d been there YEARS but i’d never seen them before. I discovered SO many new artists.
One of those Ouseburn street artists is local artist Alex Mulholland a.k.a. ‘ Mul’! I’ve been a fan of Alex over the last few years – his bright murals brighten up my day when I’m walking around Ouseburn and Heaton and his Insta is just lush – he regularly posts new work. He’s got such a beaut style; Alex is graphic designer, street artist and he makes prints of his work too. He also takes commissions.
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Alex Mulholland – Mul
I first properly discovered Mul when i found out he was going to be spraying a design on the side of Thought Foundation caravan in their yarden! I wish children’s play areas were as cool as that when I was a mini….no rusty nails with a broken swing and instead street art, colour and lush space to play.
Recently, reached out to Mul for an interview to find out about his practice, what inspires him and to connect with him as an artist massively on the rise, getting commissions Nationally.
So over to you Mul….
Hi Mul, for my fellow Culture Vultures, tell me who are you and what’s your practice?
I’m Alex Mulholland or ‘Mul’ and I’m an artist and freelance  graphic designer from Newcastle.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell me your journey into the creative arts?
I probably started my journey when I was about 12 years old, that was when I discovered graffiti. Since then I have completed my degree in graphic design at Northumbria University and I started working for myself.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Your pieces are so lush and bold – where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?
I guess inspiration comes from everywhere; I never seem to find it when I’m looking though. It always suddenly pops up out of nowhere; like a van driving past with something on the side of it. Apart from those random occurrences, music can also be very influential for me alongside travelling to new places and seeing art on the streets.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You designed and sprayed Thought Foundation in Gateshead caravan, how did that commission come about?  I know what is used to look like before, you’ve done an amazing job!  
Thought Foundation was an interesting one. I’d never painted a caravan before but always wanted too after seeing ones Sickboy had done. I wanted to make the piece as colourful and crazy as possible and it was actually just made up there and then.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us a bit about your big piece in the Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar in Newcastle)? What was the inspiration? 
That wall as really fun; I prefer painting bigger as there’s more space for creativity. I didn’t go into painting that wall with a sketch, I wanted to freestyle it and make it up as I went along.
I always have the most fun when I do that, as I’m not beating myself up if something doesn’t look how it does on the sketch.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You have a very distinctive style, I think you can always tell your work from a mile off – how did it develop?
The current  ‘style’ has only been developing since January 2019. I hit a bit of a turning point with the art I produce and stopped what I had been doing for the previous four years. I think that if I hadn’t done that and made that decision, I’d still be stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
And where is the fun in that!? Do you like the mystic surrounding street artists? Often the pieces and style is recognised – but the person remains unknown….
I do understand it yes; I do think it’s more of a legal thing rather than the artist necessarily wanting to remain unknown (but not in all cases). The art I produce now I happily put my name to because it’s me and not an alias if that makes sense.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
As someone who champions and celebrates the North and loves street art – I’m thrilled people are seeing it as the exciting art form it is. There is a real buzz around street art and murals at the moment in the region – do you feel that too?
I’m glad this is becoming more accepted and celebrated up North. Places like Bristol and areas of London have been like this for a long time and I always love going to paint in places like that as it’s almost received with open arms.
Also having travelled and painted all through Europe you get a sense of how accepted it is in other places. Most cities now have designated areas for it and people travel from all over to paint and see the pieces.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
One thing I’ve always wondered is that outdoor art pieces have to survive the elements, but I do love it when it ages with it’s environment – do you enjoy the creative challenge making outdoor art?
Yeah! I mean my generation is lucky where that is concerned; we get the best paint for the cheapest price, delivered to your door and most of it will stand the test of time.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you take commissions? How would people get in touch if they wanted you to create a piece for them?
I do take commissions; the last ten months have really been great for that, lots of people are seeing my work and getting in touch for a whole range of fun projects.
You can contact me through my website http://www.mul-draws.com  or drop me and email at: alexmulholland@mul-draws.com
Alternatively I’m also on Instagram and Facebook @Mul_draws
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us about other street artists that inspire you?
I guess my biggest inspiration would be Keith Haring; he really pioneered street art in New York back in the 70’s and 80’s. His style is fun and bouncy which I guess is how I strive my work to be.
From the UK, artists like Stik, and D-face. I couldn’t leave Shepard Fairey out either, as he was probably my first exposure to street art way back in 2006 when he and other artists did the ‘Spank the Monkey’ exhibition at the Baltic.
Some of my favourite street pieces in Newcastle are still standing from that exhibition- The Obey paste-up mural on Falmouth road in Heaton and numerous Space invaders dotted around Newcastle and Gateshead. I think that they were the first pieces I saw and have definitely stuck in my mind ever since.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If i had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?
Yeah one springs to mind but it was under another alias so I can’t reveal.
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Why do you think street artists are typically male identifying? There are some fantastic female identifying street artists too – but they seem in the minority.
Street art stems from graffiti, which is well known for being egotistical. I would love to see more females doing it especially up North. I can only name maybe one or two that do it up here which is a shame really.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Any advice for future creatives and street artists?
If people hate what you do, do it more.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Highlight of 2019 so far?
I had a great client that I’ve designed some hockey sticks for and a clothing line that will hopefully be going to the Olympics in Tokyo next year. I also got to produce a mural for them in Shoreditch, which was amazing.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Final question….what’s next for Mul in 2020 – anything you can share?
I am working on a few projects for 2020 at the moment that I can’t talk about at the moment but you can expect lots of big walls and collaborations. So make sure you follow @mul_draws on Instagram to stay up to date with that.

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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Thank you Mul; that is ace and I’ve got some amazing street artists to check out from your recommendations and if you’d like to discover more street artists, put your phone away and get exploring your city, you’ll discover loads of street art. A good place to start is the Ouseburn; you’ll see Mul’s piece there too – tell me what you think of it!? AND why not, swing by Thought Foundation and check out their Mul designed caravan; they also have a lush cafe, shop, exhibition on and events programme too.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Until next time Culture Vultures……

Dan Cimmermann – artist interview; colour, rebellion, street art and re-imaging British historical figures…

You may have noticed over on my social media accounts that I’ve been selected to be one of two bloggers in residence over at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle. Basically, I have the glorious opportunity of creating content on Culture Vulture (and on their platforms) championing their artists, commissions, exhibitions, art of sale, residencies etc. As a passionate advocate for independent and original art – it’s a match made in heaven!

The Biscuit Factory holds a special place in my heart and lots of happy memories – it’s an independent gallery space (the largest indie commercial art, craft and design gallery in the UK); it is enabling and doing great things for the artistic community in the region, alongside bringing people like me National and International artists and their work into their gallery. Housed in a former Victorian warehouse, they showcase and sell the work of over 200 artists and makers in seasonally changing exhibitions. They champion independent, original and handmade. It’s a space that I’ve discovered so many new artists and art forms……each exhibition is an eclectic mix of art, prints, sculpture, interiors, craft and jewellery.

One of the artists currently on display at The Biscuit Factory, Winter Exhibition is Dan Cimmermann. He also happens to be one of my all-time top favourite artists, who I stumbled upon when visiting The Biscuit Factory a few years ago…. As soon as I was awarded The Biscuit Factory residency, I was determined to make sure Dan Cimmerman, would be my first artist interview.

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Dan’s work and The Biscuit Factory has long been intertwined in my head and I remember visiting the gallery space at the beginning of my Culture Vulture journey and falling in love with one of his big pieces. I didn’t know who Dan was, why I liked it so much – but the combination of colours, brush strokes and a historical female figure, made me fall in love. It was bold, it was empowering and it was exactly, the type of art I wanted to see more of and champion. Dan’s work and style is me in my visual arts comfort zone – it’s the type of art that I feel at home looking at.

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The first piece of Dan’s work I fell in love with

Then began the Cimmermann rabbit hole – I mentioned the piece to my pal Bobzilla (another extremely talented artist) and I fell into this world of Dan’s work. Those who follow my social channels, know I’ve long been an advocate for street art and street artists to be a respected genre in their own right and I’m head over heels for street art. I’m a street art addict! If you’re a street artist on Insta, I probably prolifically lurk your channel, I go on street art city walking tours, buy books on it, go to talks on it….sometimes it’s the only reason I visit a city, the street art! And I am so excited and happy that street artists are getting their rightful place in gallery spaces and commissions. It warms my heart – it really does. Dan is one of those artists; he has managed to make the bridge between street art and a gallery space……

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Dan Cimmermann in Tokyo

The Biscuit Factory, has exhibited and featured Dan’s work for a few years (he’s been making work since 2001 though) and the eagle eyed of you, if you recognise Dan’s style, will have noticed a beautiful mural outside Ernest Newcastle, which was an outdoor installation commission by Great Exhibition of the North. Folks were invited to walk him do some live mural painting…And inside Artisan event space connected to the Biscuit Factory, another mural is waiting to be discovered. It’s an absolute BEAUT.

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Mural inside The Biscuit Factory

Cimmermann’s colourful paintings and murals are a blend of ‘street’ and ‘studio’; through a process of reworking layers of paint and pen, he adapts classical works of 18th century portraiture. His work is often a reflection upon British identity and a rebellion against societal rules of old, he’s also not shy about using politics and themes like Brexit in his work. So I wasn’t surprised to stumble across more of his work in the Art of Protest gallery in York this Summer.

Dan is currently exhibiting a small selection of pieces at The Biscuit Factory as part of their Winter show – they are open to view every day between 10am-5pm. However, check out their website for their Christmas opening times as they are different. Those who know Dan’s work – will know some pieces cost well over £1000….. and some much more than that, but with this exhibition there are a mixture of price points – I’ve got my eye one…. It’s a beaut! However, if like me, a larger Cimmermann piece is the ultimate dream; The Biscuit Factory run their Own Art Scheme – a programme run in partnership with Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland. Own Art makes buying art easy and more affordable by letting you spread the cost of your purchase over 10 months with an interest free loan. So it could be more within reach than you think!

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

So enough of me and my fangirl moment for Cimmermann and his work – and let’s hear from the man himself. I reached out to Dan a few weeks back, explaining my residency at The Biscuit Factory and was delighted he responded and agreed to an interview. A testament to despite being an Internationally successful artist which a busy schedule, that he still has time for a lass from Gateshead who loves his work! (If you follow his social, you’ll see that often his family champion his successes too – they even comments on my Insta posts when I’ve champion Dan’s work – literally so LUSH!)

So over to Dan Cimmerman….

Let’s start with the textbook Culture Vulture question, tell me about your journey into the arts?

Cleveland college of art and design, Middlesbrough and then Leeds met Fine art.

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So quite a “traditional route”….Did you always want to be a visual artist?

Yeah. I did want to be a graphic designer at first but I found working to a brief too restricting. I was more suited to fine art, doing what I wanted and with the element of chance I can pursue in painting.

You have a very distinguishable style…. how did that develop over the years?

I’ve always been interested in portraiture. It started at sixth form college, where I would imitate Freud, Bacon and Shani Rhys Jones. Also, Alison Watt, Peter Howson and Hockney too. I travelled a lot after university and found it fascinating how the world imagined Great Britain and the Brits. The stereotypes of the English gent for example or the threat of the hooligan or drunk Brit abroad.

So I started to bring this into my work via figures from British history, defacing them and disfiguring them like a beautiful old pub would be defaced and scarred over time by new generations.

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Tell us about your creative process? How do you go about painting a piece?

I work with quintessential British characters. I’ve painted Captain Cook, George Stephenson, portraits from Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Figures from high art and the upper echelons of society, something that felt a million miles away from my background in Middlesbrough. I never plan a painting or sketch first. All of the experimentation occurs on the canvas or wall. I react to what’s good and bad and build a composition from there.

Chance is the most important thing; it’s finished when it feels balanced.

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How do you select your characters to represent in your portraiture?

Something that strikes me as powerful or interesting to reproduce. It might be the pose, the history behind a portrait or the scale. Changing the scale can be really exciting – creating a large head based on a small portrait gives a new meaning and potency to the original.

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Since starting The Culture Vulture, I’ve discovered so many artists, like yourself – but I used to when I first started out a few years ago, make a tradition of visiting a big piece you had in there and used to always say “when i’ve made it big – i’m going to buy that piece”… I’m still working on it!

Let’s talk – I can give you a discount!

Now let’s chat about you and the Biscuit Factory….How did your relationship with Biscuit Factory start?

I started exhibiting there a few years ago; it was great that they wanted so many pieces for a group show. The space is so vast that their seasonal shows are like a series of solo shows in one. I showed 15 pieces the first time and then had a solo in the main space in 2017 entitled, ‘Northern Soul’. They are a great gallery to work with and they have championed my mural work too – I have produced two large pieces on site there.

I’ve visited The Biscuit Factory many times – I like that they help to make art accessible to the public and champion the work of young artists with their student prizes.

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Mural commission by Great Exhibition of the North outside Ernest, Newcastle

They are one of my fave galleries on a National scale, not just regional….Why do you think it’s important indie galleries like this exist?

The arts are suffering in state education so galleries like this are the future for creatives to meet, buy and show their work.

You’ve got a small pop up exhibition in their Winter Exhibition – tell me more about the pieces in it?

All the pieces were either produced or inspired by a recent residency I did in Tokyo, Japan. They focus on the Brit abroad, a kind of contemporary grand tour for normal folk. The smaller pieces are based on a procession of figures through the streets of Tokyo. There’s a lot of movement on the streets there, thousands of people moving in one direction in an incredibly orderly fashion.

The larger pieces try to simulate my feelings of being alone there – strange language, food, honour rituals, behaviour. Brit abroad. And the compensation for many blunders I made because I was British.

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

I’m gradually growing my collection of art – in fact moving into a new place in 2020 and I’ve probably thought more about the art I’m purchasing than functional things like “buying a bed”…..Why do you think is a good thing for people to have/own art in their home?

Everyone needs something to stimulate their minds. Whether that be art, design, film, tv. Some kind of visual stimulation. I couldn’t imagine not having art on my walls at home.

You’ve got a large mural piece in Artisan space on the wall in The Biscuit Factory with Henry VIII vibes- can you tell me more about that piece?

Again this is based on my time in Japan, it was completed very soon after my return. I used figures from the Tudor period to represent the stoic, regimented approach of the Japanese. I merged these with geometry and shapes that I saw on the streets of Tokyo.

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Mural inside Biscuit Factory

What other street artists/visual artists inspire you?

Loads. Favourites at the moment are Justin Mortimer, mr Ayrz, Micheal Reeder, Tom Wood, Nicola Samori, Howard Hodgkin, John Wentz, Emilia Vilalba, Neo Rauch, Erik Jones, Ben Slow. I could go on and on.

Do you have a preference painting on canvas or on walls? Is there a process difference?

I prefer canvas in the studio as I can keep dipping in and out, reassessing and refining. But the excitement of a wall piece is hard to beat. I want the work to be immediate. I don’t want to spend too long refining a street piece, I want it to be quick and filled with the energy of that session.

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Well you certainly capture your energy in your pieces – You’ve had such a long career – do you have a highlight you’d like to share?

Portrait of my dad in the BP Portrait Award in 2001. Or getting my work in an exhibition in New York. That’s always been a dream since day one.

Any advice to any aspiring visual artists?

Work hard. Develop a style. No matter how good you are, you need to keep producing work and invest the time to develop. There’s no magic bullet.

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Any advice to artists wanting to approach The Biscuit Factory to display their work?

Get a solid series of work together and send them across to the folks there. Be honest and open about what you want to achieve.

Do you have anything planned for 2020?

Potentially a solo in London and Sheffield. Group show in New York at Booth Gallery. More work with the Biscuit Factory, Sidney and Matilda, Sheffield and Rise Gallery, Croydon.

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Well, that sounds like a busy 2020! Thank you Dan…. It’s so brilliant to see a Northern artist make it regionally, Nationally and Internationally and such a great message for the next generation of creative artists.

Also love the “work hard” message….. a career in the creative industries is not impossible – but it’s about giving 100%, working hard, being authentic…

You can check out some of Dan’s work on his website and you can also visit The Biscuit Factory to view his currently, exhibited pieces. Head on over to their website for info on their opening times this festive season!

Over and out Culture Vultures