(#AD) An Interview with Workie Ticket Theatre – giving a voice to communities & human stories through theatre making….. #womenwarriors

One of my favourite things about being the Culture Vulture, is that I get to meet people who are truly living and breathing their passion – independent folks making real changes and a big difference to people in the North. Passion and purpose is what gets me out of bed in a morning, and I love to connect with others who connect with theirs.

Workie Ticket Theatre Company is a company of brilliant humans doing just that – they first came to my attached due to the name. As a bit of a “workie ticket” myself – I appreciated their branding……. For that don’t know – a “workie ticket” is a Geordie term for someone who is a bit mischievous, a tinker, someone who pushes the boundaries, pushes their luck……..but in a likeable way. I’m all about pushing boundaries so I really embrace the term and the Workie Ticket ethos.

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Workie Ticket are doing amazing things in the North East– their first project came to my attention on social media. Hear Her Roar, celebrated and gave a platform to brave, bold new writing by some of the North East’s most exciting playwrights. Giving a platform to new talent is something I’m really passionate about and part of my purpose as Culture Vulture so it’s lush to see others championing equitable opportunities. Their current project ‘Women Warriors’ is extremely important and gives voices to the stories of female veterans on stage- stories that haven’t been told, silenced and disempowered – so I was thrilled to be invited over to The Exchange in North Shields to meet JoJo Kirtley founder and co-Artistic director of WT and Lindsay Nicholson, co-Artistic Director of WT. We had some amazing chat about things we’d like to change in the theatre industry in the North East and it was an ace opportunity for a Culture Vulture interview and to find out more about Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange at 7pm – tickets are available to purchase HERE.

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Hi JoJo & Lindsay, right so for my reader and fellow Culture Vultures….Who are you?

JoJo Kirtley, founder of WT and co-Artistic director. I write, produce and facilitate. I am originally from Newcastle but I’ve spent a lot of my career in Manchester.

Lindsay Nicholson, Co-Artistic Director of WT. I’m a performer, facilitator and producer.

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

JoJo– I went to Longbenton High School where I was introduced to drama because of my drama teacher, Ian Williams. He believed in me at a time when I was struggling. I fell in love with Brecht instead of Shakespeare, but I wanted to learn more about how to run a theatre. So, I worked in theatres as an usher, back-stage hand, in the box office and marketing whilst I was at Uni. I studied for my Masters degree in Theatre Studies at Manchester Uni and I then went into youth work and teaching drama to young people excluded from school.

I never saw myself as a writer. Never had that belief in myself. I didn’t write my first play until I was 26, when I was on maternity leave with my son, Tom. I had entered a Royal Exchange competition and later wrote ‘Loaded’ which was produced at 24:7 Theatre Festival. I fell into producing when I was pregnant again with Ry and my pals, Rob and Martin needed a producer to help produce their play, “Away From Home” which I did taking a baby every where with me!

Lindsay – My background is performance. I was in my first musical at the age of 9 – ‘Brigadoon’ – I’ve never been able to stand the sound of Bag Pipes since… After my degree in Performing Arts, I fell out of love with the theatre industry and ended moving into event management and art curation, I enjoyed running a Multi-Purpose Art Space in 2010, moving on to coordinate events at a queer-led art space – both non-profit Pop Ups that aren’t here today but I am immensely thankful for those opportunities that taught me how to deal with floods, minor electrocution and how to zip up a 6-foot-odd, bearded drag queen into a Care Bear dress.

I’ve had the privilege of working and living in some amazing places, teaching Drama one Summer in New York, working on the events team at Melbourne Arts Centre for two years in Australia and a year spent in-between Tokyo and Bali for an events and hospitality company. I realised however I was being pulled back to my original communities and the art of story-telling… I decided to return home and “dip my toe in” the acting world again. JoJo punished me with an 18 minute monologue and since then we have become sound friends and now business partners.

Tell me about Workie Ticket? What is it? How did it start? Inspiration behind it?

JoJo – I had a story I wanted to tell; my story and I wanted to be my own boss, when it came to writing (I am not good with people telling me what to do). I feel like the North East has a very male-dominated theatre industry and there isn’t many opportunities for women.

So, I set my own company up to create those opportunities-first it was just a group of us who primarily to wanted to raise money for Newcastle Women’s Aid and raise awareness about domestic abuse. Then, I realised that I could develop it further but I couldn’t do it on my own so I asked Lindsay to Workie Ticket too. Best thing I ever did!

We’re now a female-led theatre company who want to push boundaries and empower the people we work with through theatre. Essentially, I just want to tell stories that make audiences sit up and listen.

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I got goose bumps hearing that…Tell me about Women Warriors?  

JoJo – I was at a women’s mental health conference and I saw a post it note that read, “What about female veterans?” and I thought…..GOOD question, what about them? It haunted me…how come I had never thought about women who fight for this country?  Eventually, after some research I met up with Paulie from ‘Salute Her’ and we talked about me writing a play but I started to think that these women needed more…so Women Warriors was born…

Women Warriors has been devised by engaging female veterans through forum theatre and discussion-based workshops. We also spoke to a lot of women veterans at groups and meetings. Some rang us up and told us their stories.

Our main aim with WW is to contribute to their empowerment whilst creating a dialogue about how to support veteran rehabilitation through creative methods. We wanted to centre the lived experiences of female veterans, women who are often socially isolated, overlooked and suffering from lack of support in a theatre production but make it real. We also wanted to raise awareness of the challenges female veterans face in society such as prejudice, discrimination, abuse and PTSD but also celebrate these women. We were lucky to be funded by the Newcastle University Social Fund and work with Dr Alice Cree who is writing about our methodology. Other funders for this stage were Hospital of God, Sir James Knott, Greggs Foundation, Rothley Trust and the Joicey Trust.

Within a safe space, we have facilitated issue-based and forum theatre workshops to develop a series of short plays with five writers. We presented a rehearsed reading of our piece in July as part of our R&D in the build up to producing the first full production of ‘Women Warriors’ It was very well received and the veterans loved it; which was the main thing. Two days before the reading, the Arts Council confirmed funding the full productions and I remember thinking, if the veterans don’t like it then I will send the money back! And I would have.

But luckily, they loved it….and one said to me this week that they felt like they could open up more now and talk about their experiences.

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What can audience members going to see Women Warriors on 9th October at The Exchange expect?

JoJo – I don’t think you can really define this production. Expect to be shocked. Expect to cry and laugh. Bring tissues. There are some real moments of heartache which are pretty-hard hitting.

What do you want audiences to take away?

Lindsay – Really quite simply that they will think about female veterans from now. The audience may be more informed in why people sign up to serve. It is not the same for everybody…

JoJo – When we first started working with the veterans, I thought we would struggle to connect but they are an amazing group of women. I hope audiences see that.

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

Talk me through the process of developing the show up to this point? Who have you worked with?

Lindsay – We made a connection with Charity – Forward Assist to engage with female veterans based around the North and developed a core group of veterans that attended our workshops and…

We knew right away that we would employ practitioner Rosa Stourac McCreery to deliver Forum Theatre Workshops. We see Forum Theatre as a tool for change, it’s an active empowering process – we knew this was the kind of theatre these strong, brave women would be interested in learning about and using. Rosa, also an experienced Director is directing the piece, considering the essence of the female veterans participation at all times.

Dr Alice Cree is an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in critical military studies and political geography at Newcastle University. Alice contacted us to see if she could follow our process for our research originally, but has become a vital part of our team on this project, advising us, drawing academic attention to our work facilitating collaborations and even helping us win funding bids. She is a real Workie Ticket.

Bridgelight Media – We absolutely love these guys!  A young, female led, media company who create sublime work, and have been great supporters of Workie Ticket.  They created our short documentary which perfectly captures our process and the veteran’s voices.

Great North Museum granted us free rehearsal space when they learned of our project and were a great host for our Rehearsed Reading event. It’s interesting to be able to playact in such a beautiful space with so much weight. It’s pretty rad to know that on the other side of your workshop space there are dinosaurs!

JoJo – Even my sister was involved, Dr Jenna Kirtley as she is a psychologist who specialises in working with veterans. She was there to offer support and advice.

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

Lindsay – We have employed 4 incredible local playwrights to capture the stories and deliver them into short plays that explore issues the veterans raised in our workshops.

JoJo – Olivia Hannah has written an incredible play about being a mother after years of training as a soldier and the impact that has.  When we first read the play, we both cried.  Juliana Mensah writes about mental health within the military and when I watched it for the first time, I had goose bumps; such a clever piece of writing. Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock- whose piece explores homophobia in the Army has written a play that gives us hope. She worked with one particularly amazing female veteran who rang me out of the blue and said….please tell my story.

Our play is about a group of women who meet in a women’s veteran group and ask the question-what about female veterans? They also like to eat a lot of cake! I have also written all of the interlinking scenes which were the veterans’ real responses to particular questions we asked them questions like what it means to be a “woman warrior”?

Why did you chose The Exchange in North Shields as your venue?

JoJo – When I first started Workie Ticket, nobody knew me and I was finding a lot of closed doors from all the main theatre houses in Newcastle, which is standard. The Exchange was not one of them. Karen and Mike who run the Exchange were lovely and have always made me feel welcome. My sons come with me to a lot of meetings and now, they hang out there and go to their drama club. I genuinely feel like The Exchange is a lush place and I wish they were supported more.

Lindsay – We have a great relationship with The Exchange – they are very supportive. The venue is gorgeous and interesting and great theatre does happen outside the city centre believe it or not…;)

What does it feel like to give voices and opportunities to unheard and often overlooked folks? Why is it so important to you?

JoJo– It’s important because we’re living in a World where we need to speak up and speak out. It’s 2019 and I am still having the same argument about women’s rights as I did twenty years ago. I guess I don’t want to grow old (older…) and wonder why I let so many things happen without saying something.

Lindsay – It is really humbling when people share their stories with you – a great deal of responsibility goes into listening with sensitivity and then holding those stories with great care. It becomes your duty to bring awareness to these people’s experiences or struggles and it can be quite the challenge to make sure you are presenting it with the right respect, clarity and compassion. It’s important to us because it’s our way of fighting, our activism, to make these voices heard and to engage people into listening to them. By hosting and engaging people in these conversations we are on the first step of looking at affecting social change.  Theatre is a great tool for empathy.

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Tell me a bit about the previous project “Hear her Roar”?

JoJo – The HEAR HER ROAR project highlighted Tyneside women’s real stories and raised awareness of women’s issues such as domestic violence, working mothers, abortion, sexual assault and sexuality.

HEAR HER ROAR was our first major project, which celebrated the talents of North East women, collaborated with community groups and charities such as Newcastle Women’s Aid and promoted equality within the theatre industry. HEAR HER ROAR was successfully launched above the Bridge Hotel Pub in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, on 10th November 2017 as a night of script-in-hand performance of new short plays to give a flavour of our work and to highlight the specific themes.

We sold out.

We developed a network of creatives and we were even featured in The Guardian’s Readers’ Favourite theatre of 2017. I couldn’t believe it! In January 2018, we received funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Catherine Cookson Trust, respectfully to deliver our February to September educational programme which included a full-scale theatre performance of our plays for International Women’s Day at The Exchange in North Shields, on 10th March 2018 and was part of celebrating 100 years of Women’s suffrage.

Again, completely sold out!

We also collaborated with the Red Box Project to collect sanitary products for local schools and collected for Newcastle Women’s Aid. In total, we have raised over £1300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid.

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

JoJo – Without a doubt. My Grandad Joe used to call me a workie ticket when I argued back with him and that’s where the name came from too. He was a bold man who I adored and a workie ticket himself. I am a trouble maker but for all the right reasons. People need to be challenged.

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

In 2019 I think now the responsibility is educating people about Feminism because there’s too much toxic language and attitudes towards it. Educating people that feminism doesn’t mean the reversal of power, “women taking over” – It’s equal rights, it’s women being safe, being heard.

There’s not any ‘one way’ to be a feminist or define feminism.  You have agency – I think people forget that, when they hear language of feminism, many people and communities do it their way, everyone can be a feminist in their own way. I may not conform to some women’s idea of Feminism but I take responsibility to empower women and I am making that my work. For Workie Ticket it has always been about giving women a voice, levelling out the playing field, pointing out injustices and inequality and advising or indeed leading conversations and actions on how to make a fairer society for everyone.

Sometimes feminism is nurturing my male friends when they have been victims of toxic masculinity and reminding them that they don’t have to be oppressed by or conform to harmful male stereotypes.  Feminism is the pursuit of freedom – for everyone.

JoJo – I have been a feminist since I was 10 years old. Things have only slightly changed and I am now 38. I read recently that Apple originally made Siri to deflect questions about feminism and the #metoo movement. That says it all for me. It’s like the modern day way that women are being silenced and written out of history! So, the fight for equality must go on. Only feminism in 2019 must be intersectional, otherwise, what’s the point?

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

Lindsay – We are currently in chats about taking Women Warriors to NATO annual conference in Brussels next year…which is scary and huge but also really necessary for us to speak truth to power. To have the opportunity to be starting to believe your practice could have the power to become Legislative Theatre is just incredible!  We are looking at touring the production and we will be crafting our drama for wellbeing programme so we will get to continue working with loads of other lovely communities.

JoJo – I would like a decent nights’ sleep and a spa break…with some rum.

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Thank you Lindsay and JoJo! YES……it’s so important that independents like Workie Ticket exist. It’s important to the women in the North, the talent in the region, community minded folks and proof that yes indeed, exciting new theatre exist in venues outside of the city centres – in fact some of the best theatre I’ve seen recently, is at venues like The Exchange.

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

  1. Join me, on 9th October at The Exchange for Women Warriors – there are still tickets available to purchase.
  2. Embrace your inner Workie Ticket….we all need to be workie tickets in today’s society to make the changes we want to see.

Over and Out.

This Is Not A Wedding; wedding parties, anarchy and dance….

For this Culture Vulture Interview….i’ve got a goody! I wanted to interview them a few months ago but alas it did not work out. I’ve been watching Gracefool Collective from a far (queen of sounding creepy over here) for some time and their current touring show, is just SO Culture Vulture.

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Full of anarchy, songs you will love, an existential crisis and wedding bells….’This Is Not A Wedding’ is a must see show and it’s coming to Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October – you need to get your tickets ASAP! As someone who is full of anarchy myself, proud feminist and unmarried and over 30, this is all right up my street and so timely…….especially as Mama Horts talks like this on repeat…. ….

”So…when will you get married?”

“Girls with tattoos don’t look very nice in wedding dresses”

“It must not be very serious, if you’re not engaged yet?”

“I always wanted to wear a hat”

“Do you think you will ever get married”

“You know most people your age are married, with a house and kids….”

Uh huh. That’s a lot of pressure. For the record, I’d make a terrible “wife” in the traditional sense – that power relationship has never sat well with me since a child; I remember being so confused as to why women gave up their name and saying to my Mum, “but I really like my name”. I guess marriage is about compromise – but I’ve always seen it as losing my identity, something “grown-ups” did and like a bigger version of Christmas….and I hate Christmas.

However, I treated my 30th birthday like a wedding. It was MEGA – invitations, venue, cake, DJ, cheese cake tower, decorations, speeches, drinks on arrival and I devised a quiz all about myself for attendees……it was my 30th birthday and I can host a quiz about myself, if I want to…..

I digress…. So yeah, weddings aren’t for me. My pals aren’t really the type to get married either….. all in long term things but quite happy as they are. A part from my best Kate, who had the wedding to end weddings…..the only wedding I’ve ever really properly enjoyed going to. It was mint…. Such good time, good vibes and so much cheese. None of the boring stuff……it was genuinely lush and Kate’s take on a traditional wedding.

So I’m loving the sound of Gracefool Collectives’ new show and of course, I’m totally there seeing it at Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October (AND YOU CAN TOO – BY GETTING YOUR TICKETS HERE ) but I thought I’d catch up with Rachel from the company and find out more about these brilliantly talented folk who seem like my creative soul mates.

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Well hello, Rachel, from another Rachel! Do you think they’ve realised us Rachels’ are slowly taking over the world? Tell my readers a bit about you?

I’m Rachel from Gracefool Collective. We four Gracefools, make post-intellectual-pseudo-spiritual-feminist-comedy-dance.

Tell me about your journey into the arts?

I started via the classic route of a baby ballerina in the local pantomime in Bridport, Dorset. I did high octane roles such as ‘sunbeam’ and ‘jewel’ and ‘storm,’ before deciding I liked things a bit more abstract and took G.C.S.E. and A level contemporary dance. After a stint in the youth dance company in Dorset, I thought I’d give dance school auditions a try and somehow ended up at the amazing Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

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Ohhh I was a baby ballerina…..but I lack the necessary grace, precision and I’m not very girly….more stompy! So, how did Gracefool Collective start and what united you?

We were all in each other’s choreographies at NSCD and were united by a general creeping feeling that we found some contemporary dance a little beige. We figured out we preferred disco balls, satire and copious amounts of glitter and it snowballed from there.

In our third year, we made a work together which was an interactive auction with a rapper as the auctioneer and a barbershop quartet of phone bidders. You could bid on lots such as ‘true love,’ ‘mojo’ and my personal favourite, ‘ghost in a jar.’

Now, we make work which is feminist, forthright and fiercely funny. We make wildly entertaining interdisciplinary contemporary performances about the absurdities of modern existence. We aim to provoke, delight, and defy convention through a series of sketches, scenes and images that offer a mixture of play and provocation. This still comes with a side of glitter.

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Honestly, you are all my soul mates… I wish to be covered in glitter at all times and hear the call of the disco ball daily. So, tell me about the show at Arts Centre Washington in Sunderland? When is it?

‘This Is Not A Wedding’ captures the pressure of coming of age in a celebration event like no other. Four bridal-clad women desperately and determinedly offer new versions of long standing traditions reminiscent of rite of passage ceremonies. Over one hour, they embark on acts of anarchy, including a perfunctory sexy version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and an apocalyptic karaoke sermon featuring Edith Piaf. They roll down the aisle in a ball of brides, perform a robotic bridal march to Taking Head’s Road to Nowhere and make existential speeches questioning the meaning of life. The performers consistently negotiate with the audience – ‘guests’, asking for suggestions and appealing for feedback. Through fast-paced comedic scenes, we communicate our confusion about the expectations of adulthood, all whilst keeping our ‘guests’ satisfied. The pressure and tension of whether we have been successful is constantly questioned. You know that existential crisis about all your achievements that you have when you approach 30? We’ve tried to put that on stage!

This non-wedding event invites audiences to question the rigidity of life’s milestones, celebrating non-conformity, personal choice and the challenge of coming of age.

It’s at Arts Centre Washington on the 3rd October, 7.30pm, £9 / £7.50 (conc) / £5 (Students).

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Yep…. My life is on long existential crisis/ social experiment….. Why did you make a show about weddings? What was the inspo?

In all honesty we started by just wanting to a make a show which had a semi recognisable structure. We thought this might be easier to pin our ideas around! But as all good Gracefool pieces end up, slowly our personal crises entered the work. We were all questioning what we were doing with our lives and what the next steps were. That morphed it into a show which now doesn’t look like a wedding at all, but just uses the idea of the wedding or celebration event to frame our thoughts about the pressure of time and the deadlines society expects us to achieve.

When seeing the title, lots of people have asked if we don’t like weddings, but it’s not as clear cut as that. As feminists we naturally question the traditions that are expected of us as women, but we appreciate the power of bringing two families and communities together and the moments that celebrate being alive. Plus, we LOVE a good party.

Our questions are more about how this seems to still be considered the pinnacle of a woman’s success. There seems to be a point where everyone starts to question when you are going to get married or have children. Deviating from this norm can feel like a real rebellion or even be perceived as frightening or unacceptable. What if you have other priorities or beliefs?

Adding to that, there is a huge amount in the show about time – am I supposed to have done all the things I wanted to by now???

Really, we’re just giving you a window into the inner chaos of our minds.

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I do love chaos….So what can audience members expect and why should they come?

This Is Not A Wedding is for anyone interested in laughing, crying, singing, dancing, coming of age, coming together or coming apart at the seams. Come along for riotous fun, or as one of our audience members said,  “a bonkers hour of clowning & baffoonery … but like all excellent fooling [with] an undercurrent of deep questioning about life & it’s meaning”.

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Any audience feedback so far? Any quotes you can share?

Here are some of the best:

“@gracefoolC ‘s #Thisisnotawedding was brilliant – dark clowning with a serious undertone about life and existence …a Samuel Beckett in a wedding dress!”

“AMAZING! Anarchic, thoughtful, clever, unpredictable, contemplative- surprisingly moving at one moment of bleaker vulnerability. And just hilarious.”

“Totally joyous, cheeky, self-aware, laugh out loud fun and all wrapped up in poignancy. Winner.”

“Such a clever exploration of recognisable rituals, really rich with imagery, feisty and stylish. Impressive stuff.”

“Loved this last night! You’re a mighty, talented and gutsy collective of women with awesome comic timing #Thankyou”

“Thanks for having me, Gracefools! I laughed hard and long – congrats on another great show.”

“You guys completely cracked it…some of the best work I’ve seen in 30yrs in dance and theatre”

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Anarchic, raucous, unpredictable

Do you have an idea of your “perfect” wedding? (Mine has always been in trainers and non conventional – big party….artist commissions for the decorations)

A massive party with great (preferably unlimited) food and an excellent sound system. I’m getting married next year and there are alpacas at the venue. Perfect right?

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Yesss! If I was getting married Sebastian (my cat) would be my best man…..Why does society fixate on the brides dress? Why does society fixate on the traditions?

I don’t know really, it seems odd when you really look at it. The dress is such a big tradition – we know what a bride is ‘supposed’ to look like. We like things that make us feel part of the ‘group’ and if we all do the same then we’re part of that right?

Or, maybe there is so much uncertainty in life now maybe we like to hold on to things that feel certain? I guess that we like things that make us feel safe and like we understand the,. Perhaps because there is so much choice now, it’s safer to go with the route we know, which is why it can be seen as scary if someone takes a path you haven’t considered. Anything can be scary at first if you haven’t experienced it, or know someone who has. Plus, I suppose as a society we aren’t used to women having lots of choice – so we’re still getting used to women having agency to make varied and different decisions.

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The dresses in the show are amazing, outrageous and difficult to move in. They are real dresses that have been worn for weddings or were bought to be worn at a wedding. A normal bridal outfit is very performative. It really is a costume in a performance when you think about it! What’s interesting is that you can look at hundreds of bridal dresses and they don’t look very different from one another. On this specific day society expects a woman to be at her peak in a very particular way. When seeing this, you question whether the scope of what womanhood is supposed to be is still incredibly narrow. What are we emulating and why? If we are now becoming more open to different ideas about womanhood, why isn’t there much movement in this particular aspect?

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What wedding traditions would you get rid of?

Anything that seems like you are doing it because you feel you have to. Oh and the obey bit. Absolutely not cool.

Why is there so much pressure to get married? I’m 33, unmarried (never been interested in getting married), society makes me feel that it is something i should be doing and lush friends often ask “so when are you getting married”…Spoiler alert: probably NEVER….

It still feels like the pinnacle of women’s achievement is marriage. I think sometimes as a society we can still find it difficult to see a woman as having value on her own, not just existing as an extension of her husband/partner. But I also feel that when those questions come they often aren’t ill-meaning – they’re habit. We’re just taught that that is what we are aiming for as women.

At the end of many fairy-tales and movies you find true love and… well, that’s usually the end! We’re able to question so many more of the things that are expected of us now, to have children, to not have children e.t.c. but it is still against the social narrative to choose a different path. I always think that it’s not all that long since we got the vote and we’re still arguing about whether women should have rights, choices, agency…the list goes on. It takes a long time for attitudes to change. Hopefully the question one day will just be, ‘what do you want to do?’

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Previous shows/projects you want to tell me about?

Our last show This Really is Too Much won the Stockholm Fringe Festival GRAND PRIX, the Swedish Festival’s top award and was part of the prestigious Underbelly Untapped award for innovative new writing at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe.

It combined dancing with dark comedy to delve into a world of farcical stereotypes and preposterous power struggles, wrestling with gender, identity and social convention. This Really Is Too Much was an outlandish and wildly entertaining medley of absurd political speeches, talent contests and box ticking.

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Highlight for 2019 for Gracefool Collective?

Being one of the top 9 moments on the BBC’s Dance Passion Day!

What does it mean to be a feminist in 2019?

Intersectionality and Listening.

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What’s next for Gracefool collective?

Due to our collaborate ethos and non-hierarchical structure, ideas don’t develop fully until we’re first in the studio for a new work, so… we’ve no idea! It will probably become a work that deals with what we are concerned about now.

At the moment we are thinking about how Brexit impacts upon this as internationals working professionally. We’re dealing with loss, grief, trying to find a sense of belonging and whether or not to have children. This work touches on ideas of impending doom and the apocalypse. We’d love to explore this existential crisis further!

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Wow…..I want to join Gracefool Collective….love what their about and the energy is palpable. I love creative folks with real purpose …

So are you going to join me and come and see ‘This Is Not A Wedding ‘ at Arts Centre Washington, Sunderland on 3rd October? You can still get your tickets HERE!

(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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Masculinity, #ladsladslads & theatre making – an interview with Jake Jarratt…..

An area I’ve been intensely interested in from a self-reflective exploring view point is gendered normative behaviour….as a 33yr old woman without children, on a non-conventional career path who embraces being quite eccentric and introverted as a badge of honour, the older I’ve gotten, the more aware I’ve become of society trying to pigeon hole me and push onto me, gender conventions or make excuses for me as to why I don’t succumb to them.

The more I don’t succumb, the more society tries to reinforce them and with more energy. I sometimes wonder, at what point others will accept the way I am, in the way I have learned to do so. Or I wonder, when I will stop playing up to this “eccentric” characterisation of myself…. !?

I never thought I’d get married or have children, I never spent time agonising over boys (I didn’t get it), I always knew as I can see a lot of my Father in me, that I would be fiercely ambitious and introverted, I had no interest in being in fashion or “popular”, I just liked what I liked…… I’ve forever been positioned as a “tom boy” or “ladette” as I’m not girly…..

Actually the term being “girly” always offended me even as a child and I have memories of trying SO HARD to play with Barbies, have Polly Pockets and “girly” things….it was exhausting but it made people happy and I was curious enough to see what the fuss was about. I remember having the realisation of holding a polly pocket as a mini me and thinking “this is a bit shit” and deciding to go back to collecting woodlice, building dens and tending to my imaginary horse farm where I played both the farmer and the horses….what can I say, I’m versatile!?

But there is something in rejecting the above and still for some reason carrying around this weird feeling of disappointing the universe that I’m not, never was, or ever will be what society seemingly demands of me. I’m the lass who quotes South Park and Family Guy like a second language, that loves to be outside in her own head, that really loves to wear bold dresses but equally loves to dress like an 80s power suited man, I hate talking about my feelings, I’m not emotional enough, I HATE cooking, make up is functional, I’m always the more dominant one in a relationship who takes a traditionally more “masculine role”, I’m the big spoon, I don’t have kids and I don’t feel empty not having them, I find commitment and stability absolutely terrifying…..

I’ve been told that some of my personality traits and the above make me quite “masculine” – that I could be intimidating to men….off putting. It’s weird isn’t it, how we have such a fixed ideal of what it means to be masculine or feminine? I’ve been classed as a hyper-masculine trait exhibiting female…..

And my Dad wasn’t classed as an A Typical “manly man”- he had no interest in being one either. So my Dad not “masculine” enough and me, who is very much like my Dad, with my supposed “hyper masculine” traits…..

We live in a bizarre world. A world where men are supposed to be strong. And women who are strong aren’t girly enough and too masculine and men who struggle sometimes are weak and told to “man up”. And whilst things are changing slowly…..there is a lot of work to be done.

I’m delighted that theatre maker Jake Jarrett is using masculinity as a theme and starting point for his show “Blokes, Fellas, Geezers”…… especially as you can see from above I’m extremely interested in this topic and how we keep telling kids they are free to be who they want to be and yet, reinforcing gendered stereo-types over and over again. Even I had to apologise in a meeting recently, when I used the term about myself “growing some balls” ….it slipped out and it reminded me, that what it is to be masculine and/or feminine is so ingrained in our minds that even I use an outdated phrase like that when championing strength and courage and of course, I totally cringed and wanted the ground to swallow me immediately.

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(Jake Jarratt)

As you can tell, this subject topic gets me buzzed and I’m super excited to see Jake’s show on 26th September at Arts Centre Washington, Sunderland; we are invited to enter Jake’s world, where the men are men and the pints are cold and what it’s like to inherit working-class masculinity whilst discovering what kind of person he wants to become.

I didn’t know Jake before this blog post (I’ve seen some of his past acting and writing work and heard of him as an emerging talent) but it was the subject content of this show that made me buy a ticket and to reach out to find out more ahead of the show.…

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Hi Jake, for my readers….Who are you?

I’m an actor, theatre-maker and part time book-maker from Crook in County Durham.

I ask this question to all the people I interview; can you tell me about your journey into the arts/creative sector?

It was the usual thing of doing school plays and then attending a drama group that triggered a variation of stuff; from Christmas shows to issue-based work that was used to educate audiences at other schools and conferences.  I loved ‘Bouncers’ by John Godber and ‘Bones’ by Peter Straughan at school and that style of work. Writing that focuses on people and places that are familiar to us is what excited me when I was younger. Paul Charlton went to the same drama group that I went to, and seeing him do really well and seeing his sketch show ‘The Ginge, The Geordie and The Geek’ on the tele was inspiring and showed that it was possible as well.

After doing drama for my GCSE’s and at A level, I finally went on to do 4 years at Northumbria to study drama. Where I spent 2 years hating the subject and really enjoying the last 2. It was during the last 2 that I found a buzz for performing again, and a buzz for making and writing my own work which was very new to me. And after graduating (which is nearly 2 years ago) I decided to make a career as a freelancer in this mad industry.

Katie Jarvis making her own presse drink at Bottlegreen. Wednesday 21st of January 2015

(Bouncers)

So on to this show ‘Blokes, Fellas, Geezers’ – what’s it all about?

The show is about inherited masculinity in the North-East; that is boiled down and filtered through a father/son relationship. It focuses on how boys through to men are told or taught to behave in a specific way that fits a mould of what men in the north-east should be. This is the second time I’m doing the show and what’s been a big focus this time is looking at what makes a father want to project toxic behaviours on to their sons.

I know this is a tough question, but if you could sum the show up in three-words?

Fast, funny, familiar

Who would you like to come and see the show or who do you think it will appeal to?

Anyone from the North-East (I know that’s a massive range haha!). It’s a piece of work that looks at the region as it is now. We see a lot of work from the time when the mining and shipping industry was thriving, and I think it’s nice to make a piece of work that looks at the place in the present.

I think my show will appeal to men of all ages. The performance gives an insight to how men react to their environments and deal with their mental health. You see one character having to live up to a reputation laid out by his dad. And you see another character struggling to deal with his life and how that affects his relationship with his son.

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Why should people come see Blokes, Fellas, Geezers” on 26th September at Arts Centre Washington?

It gives them a chance to see and explore what’s happening at either side of masculinity. Why young people are growing up and feeling they have to behave in this way and seeing why fully-grown men are behaving this way. It’s a performance that allows us to look at toxic masculinity as a whole rather than just blaming an individual or a group of individuals.

What do you want the audience to take away from seeing your show?

To understand what’s making men tick. A big part of putting the show together has been looking at why people do the things they do and just to leave with that in their heads or the back of their heads. We’re quick to judge and write people off, but just to open up, reflect and think why?

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How do you feel about the pressure to behave in a “masculine” way?

It’s concerning. Because men, no matter what age, feel like this is an appropriate way of dealing with how they feel, because they’ve been told that any other way is a sign of weakness. And you’re left with men dealing with their issues in damaging ways; which sometimes goes on to affect their relationships with family and friends as well as themselves. I think there’s more out there now to try and break that “Grow some balls” stereotype with men’s mental health groups and its presence in the media; but still think there’s stacks more to be done.

What’s your advice to young men still trying to figure stuff out?

Look after yourselves and your pals; always check in on each other. It’s a proper man thing to struggle on with dealing with your mental health and one of your mates will be as well, and I’ve seen that from either side.  But being more open will make it easier as you grow up. And I suppose its finding who you are and not feeling you have to live up to an outdated stereotype. And not being afraid to admit you’ve gotten it wrong. I can’t count many times I’ve done something and I realised that I’ve been a dickhead. It’s about realising we’ve made mistakes, and stopping ourselves and pals from making them again.

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Tell me about your work before this show?

This is my first one – my first solo show. So this is me bairn I suppose.

I co-wrote and performed in a piece with Cameron Sharp who is one third of Bonnie and the Bonnets called ‘Wank Buddies’. It looks at 2 lads, one gay, one straight, at a Uni house party and how they are very similar as people and how their sexualities have dictated a journey against each other.

I co-wrote and performed in a little project called ‘Two Heads, One Shirt’ with Andrea Scrimshaw that looked at genders in sport and how men and women’s sports are regulated differently.

In the spring I performed in a belter show called ‘Isolation’ written by Elijah Young, which looked at a group of students in a struggling school, and how their home lives and other issues affect their relationships with one another.

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What do you think the difference between solo performing and performing with others?

I much prefer working with others. The first time I did this show for 90% of time I was by myself for writing and performing. It’s so much more enjoyable to share your time writing and rehearsing with people. ‘Wank Buddies’ with Cameron was class craic, we spent a lot of time in the making phase of the show and it was mint to share that with someone.

With ‘Isolation’ there was a cast of 8 which was great because you get to see what people are doing differently in rehearsal room so it’s a good learning experience, as well having 7 other people to put up with my shit banter ha.

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(Wank Buddies)

This is the second outing of this show, what are you doing with it this time?

Yeah, I’ve made a lot of changes to the script which are going to be good to play with. I’ve also gotten funding to build a team up, so it’s nice to see what we can do to make the performance more than just me on stage with cardboard boxes. Scott Young from Odd Man Out is directing, he’s also been helping me with the writing, so it’s good to bring another head into the show as well to see what we can do with it.

As a freelancer like me, you’ll have a million different hats on…what else are you up to alongside Blokes, Fellas, Geezers?

I’ve been getting ready to work with November Club, who’ve got a project at the Lit and Phil, which is really exciting. Following on from Wank Buddies, Cameron and I, along with Jack Lloyd, Dan Watson and Elijah Young have looked at making a piece as a group that focuses on male mental health set in a super market. Its working title is “The Meat Aisle” which is subject to change though and its very early doors.

Also ‘Wank Buddies’ goes back out on a tour next year which is exciting; I cannot wait for that.

Other than that, it’s been reading plays and going to auditions. Just trying to keep busy.

Wank Buddies written and perfomed by Jake Jarratt and Cameron Sharp in Elevator Festival 19 at Live Theatre 7

(Wank Buddies)

What is your highlight of 2019 so far?

Oooo ermm. Doing Elevator at Live Theatre was great; I’d love to do that over again. I enjoyed taking Blokes, Fellas, Geezers down to Hull and Farsley. It was nice to get outside of the North-East and take my work outside the region.

What’s next for 2020?

2020 see’s WB come back out and hopefully go to a venue in London. I’ve never performed in London so it be nice to tick that off the list. I will probably end up spending about £100 bar on a sandwich.

After WB I want to spend some time focusing on writing. I enjoy writing, but BFG and WB have been done under a pressure to get them out in time for a show. I want to spend some time getting better and learning more about the writing process. I don’t have a writing back ground, so I think it be nice to take some time to just focus on that.

Saying that, I also want to focus on my performing; looking at working with more theatre companies as an actor. And I want to look at working outside the region more in theatre or film. I find I learn more watching and hearing from other performers and it be belter to get in these spaces more often.

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Well thanks Jake!

So Blokes, Fellas, Geezers is coming to Arts Centre Washington on 26th September and is the first show on this tour run….you can get your tickets here! Exciting new theatre from an exciting lush new theatre maker…..

It’s also on a three shows for £15 special, if you fancy making a habit of Arts Centre Washington Theatre shenanigans on a Thursday night!

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There are other dates for shows too if you can’t make it including 5th October at Gala Theatre .