Interview with Co.Durham artist Nocciola The Drawer – we chat #Durham2025, colour, importance of communities and inspiring others….

Well Culture Vultures, I’m back with another corking artist interview. If you’ve been following my socials, you’ll know I’ve been partnering with #Durham2025, exploring the County and having the total privilege of getting to know and discover some amazing artists.

It’s a very exciting time for Co. Durham, as they are just one of four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025. The final decision is set to be announced late May (very soon!) and if you watch BBC The One Show (Wednesday, 18 May, 7pm) you can fall in love with Durham like I have, find out what’s been happening across the County lately and what winning would mean to folks. Becoming UK City of Culture 2025 would be such an enabling wonderful thing for artists and creatives in Co.Durham. and the wider North-East – I am SO in their corner and cheering #Durham2025 on to the finish line.

Culture Vulture backs #Durham2025 bid

A new artist discovery for me is Hazel Oakes – aka Nocciola The Drawer. I didn’t know of Hazel before my partnership with #Durham2025 – not sure how I missed her, as she’s fantastic, a beaut feminist and a very talented street artist! But here we are, and I love discovering and celebrating new artists – so swings and roundabouts! I went back to basics with my culture vulturing across Co.Durham; I spoke to communities and creatives and asked them which Durham artists they were excited about and Hazel was a firm favourite! And then once I knew who she was and her work, suddenly I started seeing her all over my socials, in the press and stumbled onto a mural or two – it was fate and I just had to interview her.

So here it is, I got to sit down and chat to Hazel about her work, her involvement in and excitement about #Durham2025 and painting a Metro train!

Well hello, for my culture vulture folks and faves – can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Hazel Oakes and I work under the artist name Nocciola The Drawer; I am a mural artist and illustrator. I specialise in bright, bold colourful artwork that combines female characters with lively patterns, all with the aim to uplift, inspire, empower and celebrate.

And bright, bold and colourful they certainly are! Right, how did your adventure into creative industries kick off?

I love of learning and while I enjoyed lots of subjects at school, the art room was my favourite; you could experiment with so many different things. I decided I wanted to study Fashion Design and went to Northumbria University. I had a year in industry while at Northumbria where I worked in a variety of different brands and high-end fashion houses in London and in France. I thought a fashion designer was the path for me, all of my artwork was inspired by women and the body, so it made sense, but…. I still didn’t see the right role, so I continued to follow my curiosity.

I moved to London and studied a Masters in Fashion part time at Kingston University, whilst working as a bridal consultant in London. While studying I discovered an enterprise programme at the University and learnt entrepreneurial skills and how to create your own job or business. My journey from there to where I am now is a long one that includes starting my own lingerie brand, living in different countries, working in different industries and being creative in different fields. When I look back, I can see how they all connect, the things that I value as an artist and the way that I work now; it was definitely what I would call a squiggly career, but I was always listening to my gut and following my curiosity to see where it led.

My journey into creative industries was equally as squiggly and I LOVE that about artists – it’s never “simple” and a total adventure! Something I’ve been curious about, where did your artist name ‘Nocciola’ come from?

My artist name was picked up while living in Italy; my name “Hazel” is difficult to pronounce in Italian and is quite unusual. I ended up introducing myself as “Nocciola” which means Hazelnut in Italian and it was a great way to connect with locals. Hazelnut flavour is everywhere in Italy, and I recommend having some “Nocciola” gelato next time you go and visit.

Noted, I have an incredibly sweet tooth, so all over that and I love Italy! You have a really uplifting, dopamine injecting colourful illustration style; how did it develop?  

I have always loved colour; when I was studying art at school, I loved Matisse and David Hockney and they influenced my work with colour and shape. I can see hints of my style now in my early work, but it took a lot of experimenting. When I started working under the name “Nocciola The Drawer”, I had a clear vision of my style and the feel that I wanted from the work. I think my interest in facepaint and bodypainting influenced my style, but also my view on the world.

I am a very positive person and I have a bright outlook; that is reflected in my colourful illustration style. Colours have an influence on how we feel, and I like to play with the use of colour to evoke feelings. I create using flat colours with no outline, so the balance is very important to make sure the colours next to each other, “pop” and have contrast.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by the seasons, women, childlike imagination, travel, making the most of the moment, street art, communities and connection. I am trying to spread my joy for life one splash of colour at a time; I am inspired my many things that bring me joy, or I can see bring others joy. I am inspired by women, those who create their own path, who share their passions with others, who are fighting for equality and who go on adventures. I am inspired by places and how people come together in those places. The list of inspiration is long but living life inspires me and sharing the beauty of it with others.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

That is just beautiful! I feel so full of hope! You’re a street artist and your murals bright up the urban environment; do you think folks opinions of street art has changed a little? I think the pandemic has brought a new appreciation to art on the streets and civic spaces…..

I think the pandemic helped people to realise how coming across artwork in your local area while out on a walk can pick up your day; it helped people see that artwork outside and in local areas can make a difference. I think it made people realise that there are other ways to consume culture and art without having to go to a gallery and it made people realise the value of creativity.

I know when I was painting on the streets in Southsea during 2020, the message of hope, the joy I was creating and the image of community, lifted people’s spirits and was a place for people to add to their walks; it was a beacon for joy and I loved seeing the photos of people with my “Rise Up” mural. Street art has the potential to be accessed by anyone, be interpreted by anyone, and can surprise people that weren’t expecting to see art in that space. I think maybe folks are more open to it now, but it’s a scene that has been working hard for years and some people are just stuck in their ways at embrace street art are completely transformed for the better and draw in such a variety of audience which is so exciting.

That’s the ‘value of street art manifesto’ right there! So, if people do stumble onto a mural of yours, what do you hope people take away from your work?

I hope it brightens their day, that it lifts their spirit, that they feel the power of the inspiring or empowering message and that it brings joy and makes them smile. Passion is contagious and everything I create is with passion; I hope that people can feel that.

Do you plan your pieces? What’s the process?

I am a planner, always have been, I think coming from a design background also adds to this. I love to research and get a feel of the place, or the people I am trying to represent. Everything is designed for specific places -whether it’s an indoor mural, outdoor mural or on a book cover. I like to get to know the story, the energy of the community and gather imagery together. Then once I have that information gathered, I can start drawing.

This part isn’t planned, it comes from gut reaction or reaction to the space I am creating for. I might have done a very, very rough sketch of a possible layout or possible ideas but nothing exact, then I digitally draw in illustrator. I will have the image and sizing of what I am creating for and the mood board, and then I draw until I am happy with the final result. If it is a mural then I will hand draw this on the wall when I get to the space, scaling it up from the drawing to the large-scale piece.

Nocciola The Drawer at work

Tell us about a recent favourite project?

I loved working on a huge mural for Labre’s Hope in Rotherham. They are a new non-profit, that are trying to change the perception of homelessness through business. They create handmade cosmetics; I created a mural for their manufacturing room and it has a huge impact on you when you enter the room and lifts up the space. The mural was designed around their core values which I picked up as growth, community and onward.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

You recently created murals in Bishop Auckland, Co.Durham. – how did that come about?  

I have recently created two murals in Bishop; one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall and one on the streets of Bishop on Railway Street. The first one in Bishop Auckland Town Hall is in the new library in the basement; this came about as last year I created a temporary mini mural for the exhibition “Through Soldiers Eyes”. My dad was in the military, so I created a piece from my perspective of a child in the military community, then when the library was opening again, they wanted something to celebrate reading and the community of different people that come to enjoy books.

The 2nd was with the Bish Vegas collective of street painters; they’ve created a legal area in Bishop Auckland for graffiti and street artists to create, experiment and share their style. They are a brilliant collective bringing creativity to the streets and I would love to help bring more girls and women to the street art scene they have created. Hopefully we will be working on some more street art together in the future.

Nocciola The Drawer artwork

That’s great – you’re a real feminist and women appear often in your work, your work is not only empowering but also tools of advocacy…..

I am inspired by women, and I hope that my artwork inspires women. They are who I am trying to communicate with, I feel my sense of community with women anywhere in the world and I love to share perspectives from a female voice. They appear in my work as I want to inspire women and girls to dream big and explore their creativity, I want them to see the different possibilities in the world and know they have a community of women that will encourage and cheer them on. I also want to create imagery of women in areas they aren’t as represented; in adventure, in sport, in tech, industries where the main imagery is men – if you can’t see yourself in those roles how do you know you can be it?

I could talk about this all day, you are firmly in my gang. You’ve recently been commissioned by Nexus to paint a train….. what have you got in store?

The Nexus train commission is very exciting; I love public transport and to have a permanent piece of artwork to be installed on the new Metro fleet is something I didn’t imagine back when I was studying at Northumbria. This piece is also so exciting because it encompasses all the things I love as an artist and human; I am an adventurer as well as an artist and love to celebrate people that come together for social sport.

So, my piece is inspired by the communities of women who come together to wild swim along the North-East Coast. I have been connecting with communities of women who cold water swim, at different beaches that the Metro serves. I have plunged myself into the communities and the sea to get to know how they feel, how the swims make a difference to their day and how they come together to support each other. It’s been fantastic to meet so many amazing women, from women that have done it for years to those that picked it up during the pandemic and have swum every week since. I am excited to share with you the final piece when it revealed this summer.

I’ve spied that you’ve been involved in Durham 2025 and their campaign…..

I became involved in Durham 2025 at the beginning of 2022 when I took part in their Creative Labs, sharing my big ideas for the County bid and how they would impact the people and make a difference to our culture. From there I was involved in many ideas and brainstorming session with difference creatives coming together in places across the County. It has been so great to meet so many people from across the County in different disciplines and hear their ideas too.

Before the judges visit, I worked with ‘Local’ in Dawdon who set up a Place Lab which is a prototype of something that will roll out across the whole County. It was great to connect with the local community and get to hear their stories and the impact that creativity has on them. Finally, I was at the judge’s lunch when they came to visit. It was great to have so many different people in one room, in the working Men’s club and the atmosphere of the entertainers and the community coming together to show off our County.

Why in your opinion would being awarded City of Culture 25, be good for the creative and cultural scene of Co.Durham?

I think it would be brilliant because it will shine a light on what we have here. We have so many great creatives and interesting places but not everyone knows about it. It will give a chance for us to create things on a bigger scale and to highlight some of the events that we already have that deserve larger recognition. We are no ordinary County, and this will give us the opportunity for us to show it and with bells on. It would mean so much to win the title and it would also unlock the resources to spread creativity further in the areas of the County that need it most.

Completely agree – the scene is bubbling away. Durham is known for its world class heritage and iconic visitor attractions, but the Co. Durham creative scene needs more recognition and is such a strong creative community……

I think that the City of Culture bid has helped us all to reconnect across the County. As creatives are spread out throughout it, this has given us a chance to connect and build new networks too. We have a huge sense of community in the County, and I think the pandemic made us realise the importance of that and renewed energy.

What would it mean to win the City of Culture 25 title, to you as an artist? How do you think it would impact you?

This County has so much important history to celebrate; this would be the chance to be a part to the new history. To me as an artist it would give the opportunity to connect with other creatives on a larger scale, to build projects across the County that are permanent and give me the opportunity to spread more inspiration and joy. You always want to make an impact where you live, where you have family and showcase the difference you can make with imagination and to inspire others to do the same.

Any advice to upcoming creatives in the County? Which events and organisations should they link up to?

I think connecting to as many as possible is important, as it always takes a lot of connections to find ones that work for you. Get in touch with Northern Heartlands based in Barnard Castle, No.42 in Bishop Auckland and East Durham Creates. They are all brilliant at connecting creatives and communities. Go to as many Create North events as possible because you will learn new skills and meet other amazing creatives. If you are into street art connect with Bish Vegas in Bishop Auckland. Always be on the lookout for new collectives and get involved, everyone is very welcoming wherever you are looking in the County.  

I know you’re so busy, is there an upcoming project or something exciting that you’d like to share?

There is an exciting project I have been working on with M&S and Costa Coffee to bring joy to the streets of Newcastle. From the 22nd May you will find something colourful on Grey Street for the week for you to sit back on, enjoy some snacks and connected with others!

I have also been working with the community in Peterlee and East Durham Creates to collect their vision of the past, present and future of where they live; I will be installing a huge bright bold mural with this message very soon.

Anything else you want to tell my fellow Culture Vultures?

Embrace your creativity and dream big.

Such a positive note to end our interview on Hazel thank you so much!

You can connect with Hazel across her socials via Nicciola The Drawer and her YouTube is a hot bed of delicious digital content and project behind the scenes. You check out her website for a feast of colour, purchase prints and accessories and have a slice of her work at home. She’s also open to indoor and outdoor commissions and can create for any surface, space and different communities – so if you’re a commissioner reading this, connect with her.

And as for #Durham2025 – keep all your fingers and toes crossed. Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk #Durham2025 #lovedurham

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Interview is part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

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(#AD) Middlesbrough Art Weekender; an eclectic mix of creative, festival lushness happening across Middlesbrough until evening of 3rd October // Interview with MAW co-founder Liam Slevin.

I’ve got a pure culture vulturing weekend ahead – it’s time for Middlesbrough Art Weekender, 30th September – evening 3rd October. MAW is the North East’s biggest contemporary art festival and it’s taking over Middlesbrough for the next few days to serve a whole lot of art from homegrown Teesside talent and beyond. Attending a festival like this is a great way to support artists (supporting artists can be as simple as checking out their work!) and galleries and indie venues; alongside enjoying a real eclectic mix of creative lushness.

I’m heading to MAW on Saturday (2nd October) and a feast of more than 50 artists showcasing their work via exhibitions, installations, immersive experiences, performances, workshops and activities inspired by Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage across Middlesbrough awaits.  I will be sharing my experience across the day on my Instagram stories – so feel free to check them out via @theculturevulturene

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Middlesbrough Art Weekender is free to attend, family-friendly and accessible. The full programme is available at www.middlesbroughartweekender.com so you can get planning your visit – so if you’re in the North East of England, why not join me in some culture vulturing and visit too!? Top tip though, based on my previous year’s visit, I recommend plotting your route pre-visit so you can make the most of your time at MAW.

Ahead of my visit, I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with MAW festival co-founder, Liam Slevin, to get the full low down about it all and for some vulturing suggestions. I wanted to do this interview with Liam in 2019, so I’m thrilled it’s finally happened; so let’s get to it and hear from Liam.

TRANSMIT, TRANSFORM, TRANSLATE by Stephen Hurrel
Image credit – Stephen Hurrel

Hi Liam, can you introduce yourself for my fellow culture vultures, peers and pals?

Hi, my name is Liam Slevin; I am an artist-curator originally from Ireland and living on Teesside for just over 5 years now. In that time, I co-founded the Middlesbrough Art Weekender and am now its Creative Director. I programme and run the festival alongside my partner Anna Byrne and Kypros Kyprianou

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

I studied Sculpture and Combined Media at Limerick School of art & design back in Ireland. I finished my BA just as the recession was kicking off and Ireland was devastated by it. Recession can be opportunistic for artists, and I was lucky enough to be part of a collective that opened up a gallery. That was the start of my journey……

For those, that don’t know or haven’t visited before – what is Middlesbrough Art Weekender (MAW)?

The tag line is a multi-site contemporary arts festival happening across the town of Middlesbrough but it’s a lot more. The creative energy that’s happening in Middlesbrough right now, is amazing and it’s great to see it all explode over one weekend of the year.

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

Why did you start MAW? What was the inspiration behind it?

I think everything should be a festival! MAW is an opportunity to platform and profile a festival full of artists, creative work and venues.

Quite right too! Tell us about this year’s weekender? What can folx expect?

We have a jam-packed programme of exhibitions, workshops (for all ages) projects that include Virtual reality works and a live lava pour.  This will happen across the following venues, The Auxiliary Project Space, Pineapple Black, The Masham, MIMA, Platform A, Gilkes Street Studios, Basecamp and a number of pop-up spaces along Albert Rd. Make sure to check out our programme page for what’s happening, venues and timings.

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

#1 Working with the estate of Gordon Matta Clark has been an absolute highlight. Jessamyn Fiore (estate co-director) has been so generous with her time and knowledge.

#2 The restaging of artist Russ Walker 1986 Degree show. The process of the re-creating and restaging of the work, alongside all his original documentation has been a really beautiful piece of work to be involved in.

#3 The Navigator North produced public works are all amazing, for the weekender they are putting on Stuart Langley’s Beating Heart and Dominic From Luton’s massive wall Mural. Two pieces that are impossible to miss!

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

#4 Jo Lathwood’s performance and ladder drawings. Jo did a performance a few weeks back out in Darlington and she was amazing. Speaking passionately and engaging about rocks is quite the skill.

#5 Anna Ridler; a lovely contemplative take on Tulip mania mirrored with current crypto currency obsessions. 

Anna Ridler ‘Myriad (Tulips)’ (2018) Photo credit: Emily Grundon

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

The festival is curated by myself and Kypros Kypraniou. We start with a basic word or sentence as a jumping off point.  We then tap into what’s happening nationally and internationally. This year’s theme is Infrastructure. We’ve all been through a wild 18months and the different infrastructures or lack thereof, have been very evident; MAW programme this year is a way for us to make sense of what’s just happened and how we can move forward. 

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

Tell me about the art trail? Can folx do that any time across the weekend?

Of course! The art trail is there is give people the best overview of the festival and what’s on offer. The art trail kicks off at The Auxiliary, from there folks are invited to meander over to Albert Rd, taking in a number of public art commissions along the way. On Albert Rd, we have 5 pop exhibition spaces, and this is where the main festival exhibition is housed.

DYAD

Advice to folx who haven’t attended MAW before? Where should they start?

Head into town, to a participating venue, grab a programme and jump in. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions and point you in the right direction.

Tell me about The Dorman Long Tower Reimagined – A Virtual Reality Experience? That’s going to be so surreal as it was recently demolished……

We’ve been planning a project at the Dorman for a while now, so when we got word it was earmarked for demolition we had a lot of groundwork done for this VR project. For MAW, we’ve reimagined the Dorman as a contemporary art gallery and commissioned three very different exhibitions to take place in a virtual reality experience of the Dorman Long Towers interior and invites you to come and explore. The tower has been transformed into a VR contemporary art gallery, created by artist Iain Nicholls with assistance from Ste Bruce and Connor Clements.

Bobby Benjamin

I invited local artists Bobby Benjamin and David Watson to recreate a show that they have done through Dovetail Joints. They present traditional painting with a post-industrial town narrative. US artist Birch Cooper also exhibits hyper-realistic sculptures that can only be experienced in VR worlds, while new arts space WetDoveTail showcase their studio holders through digitally created 2D & 3D works.

Birch Cooper

For folx who want to stay out a little bit later across MAW and have some bevs – where would you recommend going? What’s on?

On Friday and a bit more arty, we’re working with local legends Bobby Benjamin and John James Perangie for a Picasso Baby x MAW collab. That’s on at Disgraceland and Gordon Dalton’s road move, filmed across the A66 is happening at Pineapple Black. On Saturday night, it is to Basecamp where Mouses will be making a racket. Mouses are one of the first bands I saw when I moved to Teesside; I think it was Stockton Calling 2016 and I’ve loved them since.

ESTATE at Platform Arts Centre Easterhouse Glasgow – Image credit Coulson & Tennant

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

Any Teesside artists that are up and coming, that you want to tell me about and profile?

Loucey Bain, she’s great and is doing some amazing work.

What’s next for you after MAW?

Back to Auxiliary work; we’re changing how the space runs and are opening it up to other curators etc to run the programme. It is also grant writing time for us so there’s always that excitement!

Oh I hear you…..how can folx keep up to date with you and the festival?

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

Thank you Liam – you’ve really whet my appetite and I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead. Check out my Instagram Stories (@theculturevulturene) across the day to follow my MAW Saturday visit or better still, why not join me and VISIT!? Get plotting and planning your route via: www.middlesbroughartweekender.com/programme and you can download the programme via: https://buff.ly/39ciuaq

Interview with writer, director, actor, content creator & fave human – Eilish Stout-Cairns, ahead of her theatre directorial debut TONIGHT!

I’ve been looking forward to this interview for AGES as it is with one of my favourite pals in the entire world, but first some context! Today, Monday 25th January, is the premiere of the theatre performance The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust.  This production is free to watch and will premiere tonight at 7pm– streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page.

This theatre show tells the remarkable true story of two eccentric, opera loving lasses from Sunderland who achieved truly extraordinary things! The sisters, who lived to travel the world to listen to their favourite opera performers sing, used this passion as a cover, to secretly work to bring Jews out of Nazi Europe. In total, the Sunderland sisters, Ida and Louise, saved the lives of 29 Jews during the Holocaust and this theatre show tells that courageous story. Extraordinary lasses who did extraordinary things!

Graphic advertising The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust

This production is part of Brundibár Arts Festival; the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. I’ve supported Brundibár Arts Festival for the last few years – it’s a super important and special festival; it seeks to find new ways to positively document the astonishing achievements of artists under adversity, and to keep their stories alive through music and the arts. They will be back (hopefully) with an in-person festival in 2022!

I’m so excited to watch The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust tonight and not just because it is part of Brundibár Arts Festival or because it is amazing two amazing North East women, I’m super excited because it is Culture Vulture pal Eilish Stout-Cairns directorial debut! YAS! Eilish is such a glorious and talented creative chameleon and one to watch with a bright future ahead.

I recently caught up with Eilish for this lush interview – we chatted Cook sisters, mental health, social media, Melva and online trolls….over to you Eilish!

Eilish Stout-Cairns head shot on a beach

Can you introduce yourself for my readers? 

My name is Eilish Stout-Cairns and I’m a 24 year old actor and creative freelancer from the North East.

Well hello Eilish! Can you describe what you do?

Goodness, second question and it’s already a tough one! I act, I work as a content creator for two online companies- with that I also video produce, I work as a facilitator for young people, I just wrote my first show last month and I guess now here I am directing The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust. It’s a big mixed bag!

Picture of Eilish Stout-Cairns performing

Questions like that also send me into an existential crisis! How did you get into creative industries?

As far back as I can remember I wanted to act. I loved being on stage, even if one of my earlier roles in life was ‘Window Number Two’ in a Youth Theatre production of PeterPan- I made that window my own! I jest. But I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.

I left sixth form at 18 and went on to work in makeup, all the while still auditioning- without having a clue what I was doing, then I went on and trained at Project A at the Theatre Royal when I was 20, since then I’ve been in the professional industry.  

Eilish leading a workshop as Feggis in a school

People don’t really understand the fact that us creative freelancers – do A LOT. Multiple projects, jobs, businesses, freelance shenanigans. I think your portfolio of work sums that up……can you briefly describe the melting pot of wonderful things you do? 

Wow, Okay!  Being an actor was always my main job, even if, at the start, that didn’t necessarily make me that much money. So, then I had to put my eggs in other baskets. I trained to become a spray tanner in April 2019, bought the kit and I am now a Silver Level Professional Mobile Spray Tanner! But of course, that was also freelance, I then because a facilitator for theatre, drama and creative learning company Mortal Fools and started working with them on some of their projects for young people such as: Future Ready, a project they do with Collingwood School in Morpeth. I then started to work for them as a youth theatre practitioner and still am to this day.

Back in June last year, I applied to be a content creator for an online company Latest Deals, they hired me and 4 weeks later, so did their sister company- Latest Free Stuff, with them I make short videos, I do Facebook Lives, run competitions etc. It’s a bit like QVC but in a more modern way!

Eilish in character

What is the Brundibár Arts Festival? What’s been your involvement in it?

The Brundibár Arts Festival is the first annual Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. And that topic is something that personally I never learnt much about. I didn’t know about the music associated with the Holocaust and we should, as it’s such an amazing way to keep individuals’ stories alive.

I was part of the Festival last year as an actor in the performance- The Last Cyclist, and this year, myself and Northumberland Theatre Company had an idea- we approached the festival and here I am directing this year’s show!

Brundibár Arts Festival is important because, it shows us some of the great works of art that emerged from such horrific circumstances.  We should be educated on these things; the art we see in the festival is often a lesser known story and we’re truly giving it an important platform and telling human stories of creative courage.

Eilish performing at Gosforth Civic Theatre – The Last Cyclist – Brundibár Arts Festival 2020

Tell me about this year’s production – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

The production is all about The Cook Sisters; two ordinary lasses from Sunderland who achieved extraordinary things. And that’s not me calling them ordinary- they called themselves that. It’s such a gorgeous local story about two young women who saved the lives of 29 Jews, that a lot of people may not know about.

Why is it important to shine a light on lesser-known courageous stories of women like this?

Because often, when you think of wars or fighting or courage, you may think of a male dominated picture. And that’s not the case. For years. We learnt from male dominated history books and it’s time that that was changed.

When I was at school, I can’t remember learning about one woman who wasn’t a wife of a man. Apart from maybe Cleopatra and we glossed over her. – The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust isn’t a story of royalty, it’s about two ORDINARY lasses who were young and passionate, and the things they achieved are worth knowing and celebrating.  These women saved lives.

What do you hope people take away from The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust?

I want people to sit, enjoy it and to allow themselves feel – then to go away and learn more about the sisters.

Why should people tune in later today at 7pm to see the production? 

If you don’t know the real story of Ida and Louise Cook- you need to watch it! You’ll wanna learn. And even if you do know their story, still watch it- feel proud that you know this story and that you’re a part of it. The performance is littered with music, opera and it’s uplifting. There’s something for everyone.

I’m so excited to tune in later to see your directorial debut! Right so tell me about your role at Mortal Fools?

I started working with Mortal Fools back in 2017 with their first production of Melva and then toured a new version in 2019/20. And now it has been made into Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, an interactive, online storytelling game and one-stop resource to support children’s everyday worries and anxiety

Then I started working as a facilitator for them in January 2020 working with various schools, running the younger Youth Theatre sessions and participating in their audio theatre experience When The World Is Loud back in August. They can’t get rid of me!

Team Melva during 2017 show run in Prudhoe

Tell me about Melva and your involvement? And the big Q, who is Feggis?

Melva is a show for children (and their parents/carers) and it’s all about mental health! Worries are “worrits” in the show and Melva is dealing with a lot of them and it is giving her  anxiety. Melva approaches these subjects in a light-hearted, accessible and child friendly way and it invites young people to talk openly about their own worries and thinking about how they might manage them. Melva also shows that grown-ups get these worries too- and that that’s okay!

Feggis! Yes, one of my roles in Melva (There’s 6 in total- 4 in one scene!) is Feggis the talking, fainting goat. Feggis went to goat school and that’s why they can talk but not write. Feggis helps Melva be calm and chill out- showing her how to breathe! Feggis is an audience favourite and pretty adorable.

Eilish as Feggis during a Melva workshop at a North East school

Melva Mapletree & the Quest for Barnabas Boggle, Mortal Fools’ interactive, online storytelling game launches to schools TODAY! What was your involvement in the game?

I’ve played it and it’s fun! It did leave me going- Is that really my voice?! And seeing this character, I’ve worked on for three years in animation is so weird, but in a wonderful way! We had quite heavy involvement in the game development, from the very beginning with some of our initial ideas being brought in to the final project, It was lovely for it to be done this way and was so collaborative! The Melva cast are so rooted in the characters and the story, so having a say in this next chapter felt vital.

Graphic depicting Melva game

And you managed to find time in 2020 to write a Christmas show?  Tell us more!

Eeeek, This was big! I wrote my very first show the back end of last year- The Elf Who Saved Santa. It all stemmed from a casual chat with Northumberland Theatre Company about a silly Christmas idea I had, to which they said- write it! And I did!

The show centres around Bubblegum, a little elf with a big heart who tries really hard but might not actually be great at what she does- apart from music! It tells the story of Santa feeling lonely, jumpy, grumpy and lost because of everything that was happening in the world and COVID-19- so Bubblegum tries to show him that the Christmas spirit still exists. It touches on some mental health topics too and it shows that even the people we least expect can feel sad sometimes.

Eilish as Bubblegum

What was it like being able to bring something magical (and very contemporary) to families at such a challenging time?

We got some brilliant feedback, which was so rewarding with it being my first show! It was filmed and put online; not getting that initial audience reaction like you get in a live show, just left me unknowing and worried that people wouldn’t like it! But it was well received with some people even saying it helped their children understand adults’ emotions better.

I think it gave everyone some much needed relief at this odd time. I think it’s important that there was something out there to help families have conversations about their emotions at the moment. Life is weird and none of us REALLY know what we’re doing- so talking about it can offer a bit of relief. I’m pleased I was able to help some people do that.

Eilish performing Christmas 2020

You’re a gigging actor, theatre practitioner, writer and now Director – what’s the impact been of COVID to you personally? Has it made you “pivot” at all? 

COVID-19 definitely made me re-think some things. I had two tours cancelled and multiple shows- like many others! I was fortunate enough to be working online for the Mortal Fools Youth Theatre when this first started- so that kept me busy. I’m not going to lie to you though, I’m sick of the sight of Zoom! I can’t wait to never use it again!

Because of COVID- I applied for the content creator job- something I probably would never had had time for, as prior to the pandemic I was working at the O2 Academy Newcastle and the Airport. (Both of which I’ve now been made redundant from) So now I spend Monday-Friday (usually) filming, editing, being on social media and it’s taught me so much! I’ve done multiple social media courses, I’ve became a Mental Health First Aider, I even did an Excel course! I guess having all this time made me want to better my skills. I’m now pretty capable in editing and have done a few fellow actors showreels, I’ve learnt how to use greenscreens and done a lot more VoiceOver work. It’s made me adapt and grow the skills that I maybe didn’t use so much.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been given the jobs that I have had during this time. But I’ve also worked my arse off for them and created my own work- I ain’t waiting for anyone else, I’ve gotta make work for me!

Eilish as Feggis performing in Melva with actress Katie Powell (Melva)

What do you think the theatre landscape will look like beyond COVID?

Well, this is a question and a half! I think streamed performances will be common, and to be honest I don’t really know about the wider landscape. I’d like to think there’d be more appreciation for theatre, and for artists. Because people have gone so long without them. Maybe people won’t be on their phone during a performance anymore or look down on our jobs and stop saying “yeah but what’s your real job? or “what else do you do to support that?”.

2020 has oddly been the first year I’ve been able to support myself financially solely by being a creative! From a professional perspective, I think casting directors are being more lenient with self-tapes and imperfect zoom backgrounds. If I was being sickly positive, I’d say this has forced us to use our brains in a different way, a new way of accessing and making theatre- and that’s not a bad thing. That being said, I cannot bloody wait to be sat front row in an auditorium again!

One hope personally in 2021? 

I want to achieve a better work/life balance. 2020 was an odd year and I don’t think I took enough time for me, when realistically that’s all I had to do. I’ve set boundaries and I’m hoping to stick to them, 2020 has taught me that ultimately family and friend comes first. They are the people who matter. There’s no point being consumed in work if you’re not happy with yourself at the end of the day. I want to get that happiness back! I also want to do music more; I play ukulele and guitar and I was gifted a piano early last year- I don’t play or sing half as much as I used to and I miss that.

Eilish playing her Uke

Work life balance….what is that!? You work on social media like me…..social media is a brilliant place but also TOXIC AF. How do you manage trolls? Any advice to aspiring content creators in this area?

Oh my goodness! Learn and accept that people can be stupid and are bored right now so have time to type silly comments! I’ve had hate because I ordered a medium meal at McDonalds instead of a large! Or that I wore the same top 2 days in a row! (Most of the hate came from middle aged white men).

I usually laugh at it, but sometimes- especially if it’s a wide viewed video- the hate can come thick and fast. I did a 60 second video on Doritos once and I never knew people could get so angry about those chilli heatwave triangles of deliciousness!

MY advice is to sit in the sadness for a minute, then try to brush it off- ultimately those people don’t know YOU and you wouldn’t want them too. It’s worth noting that whenever I’ve had those comments- there’s always a stranger or 5 sticking up for me, which is so beautiful.

Wider career advice wise, LEARN EVERYTHING! If you can film, edit, voice record, do admin, graphic design, know the best times to upload on different platforms and understand algorithms- even just basic on all of that- that’s AMAZING! You can never have enough skills; social media is ever-changing and it’s changing fast! The quicker you can adapt and keep up- the better. But also, don’t beat yourself up about it. There’s enough people trying to do that for you! Keep that chin up and be you, unapologetically!

Eilish laughing

Any other new projects/happenings on the horizon for Eilish in 2021?

Aside from Heroines! Melva is coming back! We’re filming the show (oops, am I allowed to say that?!) and I couldn’t be more excited. I also have my first Adult Panto tour booked in for this year March-July (fingers crossed) where I’m playing two characters- I’m starting to see a multi-character theme here. I’m beyond excited for the show and we’re playing in some gorgeous venues like the Darlington Hippodrome! I’m still writing, as and when, and who knows, those thoughts could become another show! There are a few things pending which I know I’m DEFINITELY not allowed to talk about- so, if you’re interested- WATCH THIS SPACE!

Eilish performing in Melva 2019

Ohhh we will Eilish….. we will be watching. (Sounds a little bit creepy…..). Make sure to watch the premiere of The Cook Sisters: Heroines of the Holocaust later today at 7pm.  This production is free to watch and streamed live over on Gosforth Civic Theatre Facebook page and is part of Brundibár Arts Festival.

Graphic promoting The Cook Sisters performance TONIGHT

Interview with North East actor Andrew Finnigan – newly appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Andrew Finnigan – North East based professional actor AND the newly appointed Customs House’s Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. This news is hot off the press so I was buzzed to be one of the first interviewing him!

I’m working with the folks over at The Customs House for Takeover 2020 to champion the festival – you can read my blog post all about the Takeover HERE and find out more about it; but just to remind my fellow Culture Vultures, The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people. 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 chatted to two of this year’s team Harrison and James HERE.

 Takeover 2020 was set to happen May half term but for obvious reasons it has been postponed – so instead it’s (hopefully) something for North East young people later in the year to look forward to and enjoy; new dates are yet to be announced.

The Takeover Young Writer residency is an opportunity for an emerging theatre writer, under 25yrs old, to write a piece of theatre with young people’s voices and a North East narrative rooted at its heart. This piece will be staged at The Customs House as the finale piece of Takeover Festival 2020! The residency comes with support from the Takeover team and mentoring from a professional writer; this year’s mentor is the eminent playwright Tom Wells.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2019 – Elijah Young; you can catch up on that interview HERE. But now it’s time for Andrew Finnigan – I caught up with Andrew by phone and had a really good natter; I was super impressed that this is his first writing experience and got such a sense of bubbling energy, enthusiasm and talent. And his piece for this year’s Takeover Festival, sounds brilliant and I’m excited for him to share with you a glimpse.

So step right up Andrew, here we go go! An interview with Andrew Finnigan, this year’s appointed Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020. BOOM!

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit – Andrew Reed)

Hiyer Andrew – lush to digitally meet you! So can you tell my fellow Culture Vultures, who you are….

I’m Andrew Finnigan; I’m 23 and work primarily as an actor. I’m based in South Shields but kind of up sticks to wherever work takes me.

Textbook question – can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Oddly it wasn’t a route; I didn’t even realise I was starting at the time. Me and my best were kind of forced into doing the school musical when we were about 13, but it turned out I quite enjoyed it so I started taking looking for ways I could get more into that kind of thing outside of school.

I joined the Customs House Youth Theatre when I was 16 and from there, started to appreciate theatre and storytelling even more. In 2016, I was cast in a play called Broken Biscuits, from an open audition where you didn’t need to have any formal training or an agent to go along; I had neither at the time. And that was the start!

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Andrew Finnigan in Broken Biscuits (Photo credit unknown)

Youre primarily an actor – can you tell me about the most recent production you acted in?

The last production I worked on was a Sam Steiner play, You Stupid Darkness!. It tells the story of 4 volunteers who answer the phones at Brightline during the a time when society is on the brink of collapse – the volunteers listen patiently, once a week, to outpourings of  stranger’s woe, offering the hope of connection – a hope they come to rely on just as much. You Stupid Darkness! had a five week run down at the Southwark Playhouse in London and actually finished up not long before the lockdown was put in place so timing wise we were quite lucky!

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness! (Photo credit Matt Austin)

So on to the main subject of this interview – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2020 – HUGE congrats on being appointed! So lush to hear some happy news like this, during this challenging period – what prompted you to apply for the residency?

I’ve known about the Takeover Young Writer in Residence scheme since it started in 2018 but hadn’t considered applying as a writer!  For the application stage, you had to submit 10/15 pages of a script and a friend of mine said I should try and think of an idea and produce something. It was quite a nice low pressure way of working and felt like a well “why not?” situation.

Can tell me about the moment you found out and how it felt to find out you’d been successful?

I actually got the email telling me on the first day of lock down so I was really pleased I’d have something to work on. I was also hit with a sudden realisation that I had to actually finish writing it and that 10 pages was just the start, but the thought of finally seeing it on stage during Takeover 2020 really keeps me motivated.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (Photo credit Sam Taylor)

This is the first piece of theatre youve ever written (exciting!)  – where are you seeking inspiration for your writing?

I’ve been using my time to watch any TV or movies that I feel sit in the same world as what I’m writing. I often think there’s nothing worse than reading or watching how an adult thinks teenagers act or talk, but shows like Sex Education on Netflix really seem to capture the awkwardness and goofiness of what being that age is like, so I’ve definitely been coming back to that for reference points.

Agree with the adult perception of young people depicted in media– it can be SO cringe! Can you tell us about your piece? A flavour of what it is about, the storyline and the vibe?

So, the play is called Cherryade Supernova. It follows Josie, whose mam has convinced her to throw a house party while she’s away in the hope that she can make some new friends. She throws the party and an array of different personalities show-up! The piece is really about Josie kind of navigating her way through the night as best she can. Vibe wise, it’ll hopefully be reflective of how awkward house parties actually were (or are!) when you’re a teenager and just the messiness of it all.

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit Rich Kenworthy)

I was the Queen of social awkwardness as a teenage so I can relate – sounds brilliant and absolutely love the name! How far have you got with writing and can you tell us a bit about your writing process?  

Currently I’m about half-way through my first draft. I’m going at a steady pace at the minute but I’m happy with the progress it’s making. Since I’ve haven’t written theatre before I’m kind of figuring out what kind of writer I am during this process; whether I work best writing chronologically or if I start with the scenes I see a bit more clearly first. It has just been trial and error really seeing which way fits me best. I have so far drawn a lot from my own life when writing too; injecting some of my own experiences at pretty tame house parties.

I know this is your first writing experience – but how do you think lock down has impacted your writing? Many creative folks are struggling with being creative and concentrating (I hear ya!), how are you finding it?

It has been a challenge but I’m starting to get used to it now. For me personally, it has been about finding my rhythm of when I get the best work done. I’ve found that I actually focus more later on in the day so I make sure that most nights I sit down and try and get some stuff written then. Not putting pressure on myself to get lots written each day helps too; if I’ve had a bad day and not gotten much down, I tell myself it’s okay – right now even half a page’s work is a small victory in itself.

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Andrew Finnigan in You Stupid Darkness (Photo  credit Ali Wright)

What are you excited about within the residency? What do you hope to get out of it?

Since I only really have experience being on stage, I’m really looking forward to being on the other side and seeing how it feels watching my work performed by others. I’m also so pleased that my piece is being directed by Abigail Lawson too. We worked together on Wormtown and I think she makes great choices as an actor so have total faith she’ll do an ace job when it comes to the play.

You just mentioned Wormtown by Reece Connolly – Takeover Young Writer in Residence 2018’s piece. I didn’t get to see it – as one of the actors who starred in it – can you tell me about the production and your experience?

Wormtown was Reece’s take on the old piece of North East folklore, The Lambton Worm. It followed a group of teenagers from stopping a giant monster wreaking havoc on their town. I’m a massive fan of sci-fi in movies and tv, so for Reece to make a piece of sci-fi theatre, it was something I hadn’t really read or seen before and he’s such a unique and talented writer so I feel very lucky to have been a part of one of his early productions.

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Andrew Finnigan in Wormtown (far left – photo credit unknown)

Sounds amazing! As part of the Takeover residency experience – you have access to a range of support and a mentorship – can you tell me a bit about that and how that is working so far?

Each year the writer in residency is paired with a professional writer as a mentor and this year’s mentor is Tom Wells. Tom and I have actually worked together a few times over the past few years and I’ve acted in two of his past productions, Broken Biscuits and Drip. We usually schedule FaceTime catch ups every couple of weeks where I’ll send him any progress I’ve made and we’ll discuss them over a cuppa.

When I feel I’ve hit a bit of a wall, it is nice knowing that Tom is there to give me advice on how to work through that. I feel like I couldn’t have been paired with a better writer, as Tom’s work is always so warm and playful, and that is definitely something I hope to mirror in my own writing.

tomwellsPlaywright Tom Wells

Tom is just brilliant – you’re going to learn so much! Like last year’s Takeover Writer in Residence Elijah Young, you’re an actor! Do you think your actor experience could make you a better theatre writer and maker?

I think it helps in the sense I’m seeing what I’m writing from the perspective of an actor too. Since the play has to accommodate eight actors, I’m always aware of having to juggle so many characters on stage at one time and not wanting a character just sat there without bringing something to the scene. I also don’t want it to feel like it’s overcrowded without purpose in the story.

It is hoped that your production, Cherryade Supernova will be shown later in the year (everything crossed!)- you’ve certainly whetted my appetite – can you tell me a bit about what you hope the audience experience to be?

I think the main thing I want is that the audience has fun when watching. I want people to have an experience where they maybe see a bit of themselves in some of the characters and have a few laughs in there too.

You used to be a part of Customs House Youth Theatre, you’ve performed as part of previous year’s Takeover performance and now you’re 2020 Young Writer in Residence! What do creative opportunities like The Takeover at Customs House mean to you?

Over the past 8 years the Customs House has become a second home so I’m dead pleased my play will be given a life there. There is real history in that building so to be able to add to that is really special.

I think the most important aspect of the Takeover is being able to give chances to young people who might not have had creative opportunities otherwise. It is rare you’ll find opportunities like this where you don’t have to have any previous experience or relevant professional training. The Takeover is all so inclusive and accessible so I think it makes it a lot less daunting to get involved.

Youre from South Shields – what does having a venue like Customs House mean to you? Why is it important to young people?

The most valuable thing the Customs House have given me is guidance and support; especially in a world where being an actor is considered “a pipe dream”. I think that is really important for young people, especially with creative subjects being dropped or overlooked in schools; the Customs House is somewhere for us to go and be encouraged to engage and develop without a sense that working in the arts is unachievable. I’m doing it!

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Are you a theatre goer” yourself? If so – have you got a production that you recently enjoyed that youd like to tell me about?

The last piece I watched actually was a video recording of Sea Wall, a monologue by Simon Stephens. It was a piece that was originally performed at the Bush Theatre in London in 2008 and then later recorded a few years later. It was put on YouTube free to watch for a short period during lock down; which I think is a great idea making it more accessible. It is performed by Andrew Scott (Moriarty in BBC 1’s Sherlock) who I just think is brilliant. He just melts into the part and makes it so quiet and truthful; it’s really moving. It’s definitely worth a watch if it’s still online. (It is currently available to watch here!)

Any advice youd like to share, to anyone like yourself this time last year, who haven’t written theatre before but curious about it?

I think my advice would be that if you have an idea, just start writing to get it down. Don’t worry if it won’t be read straight away by anyone else, just write for yourself and see how it feels.

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

Well thank you Andrew – really excited to see Cherryade Supernova and for Takeover 2020 – make sure you keep your eyes out for Takeover 2020 dates and come and see it! I will be there with bells on! It’s always such a pleasure to meet someone towards the beginning of their creative career on the edge of something brilliant and if you’re reading this and feeling creatively curious, please take Andrew’s advice about just getting started! If a global pandemic has taught us anything – it’s that life is too short to sit on something and wait; just get out there and have a go!

For all things Takeover 2020 – follow @CustomsHouseLP on social! For all things Customs House follow @theCustomsHouse on social too! I will be championing happenings and more features on Vulture so keep an eye out too!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with super talented Sunderland musician Faye Fantarrow; loving Kings of Leon, importance of supporting new music talent, refusing to be pigeon holed & big, bold ambitions!

When you think of North East music (and fringes) scene – what or who comes to mind? I’m probably going to show my age here – but I think of The Futureheads, Maximo Park, Nadine Shah, Sam Fender, Field Music, Kenickie, Becca James, Frankie & The Heart Strings & Cheryl Cole (how could it be a list without Chez!). Lush talents folks producing lush music – and many also organising festivals, cultural happenings and lushness across the region.

I don’t attend as many gigs as I used to – but I do have lots of musicians and bands reaching out to me as The Culture Vulture and I see LOADS at the events I work on and the venues I support; so I know that we have an AMAZING music scene and we have a brand new generation, ready to graft to make it, developing their craft and doing amazing things. But the fact so many reach out on the regular signals that there is often little help and support for new musicians who want a career in the industry. And for those without access to expert advice and financial support to buy equipment – progression routes into music in the region can be TOUGH.

But there is a shining light! There are a lot of exciting happenings going on in Sunderland and there is a reason why lots of new music talent is coming out of it, permeating across the North East. Organisations & creative individuals are joining forces, investing into and facilitating new music talent development at the grass roots & helping them overcome any barriers they may have in the music industry. There’s only one thing that excites me more than a organisation investing into the creative & cultural sector….it’s when MULTIPLE orgs come together to do it as collaborators, sharing knowledge and hopefully, creating more impactful opportunities for nurturing new talent.

The Tonalities

The Tonalities

One such Sunderland-based arts organisation doing just that; We Make Culture CIC. They believe that accessible music making opportunities, enhances lives and builds communities. One new strand of their work is the lush Young Musicians’ Talent Development Fund, launched in October 2019 supported by Sunderland Music Hub, it identifies and supports young musicians in Sunderland to take the next steps to develop their music or careers. Young musicians or bands applied and had the opportunity of securing £500 worth of bespoke support, ranging from equipment to develop their live performance to mentoring to help market and promote their music.

Young Musicians in Sunderland at Pop Recs.

10 bursaries were awarded early 2020 to young musicians and bands who are ready to progress their careers. One young musician who was successful in securing a bursary, Faye Fantarrow aged 17. About the bursary she said “As a young female singer songwriter establishing a foothold in the music industry is very hard and for that reason I’m going to use this fund to help in the next steps of my career by linking up with a mentor. I’m also releasing a new single in the spring and will be using part of the fund to help promote that.”

Well that peeked my interest and I checked out Faye’s music. What a voice and what a talent! So I decided to reach out to Faye and nab an interview….

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Faye Fantarrow

So hiyer Faye – you’re a fantastic female singer & song writer and you’ve got lots of folks sitting up and taking notice! Have you always been musical? Journey into music?

I began singing in primary school as part of the school choir but didn’t think it was cool enough in secondary! I always enjoyed singing and got my first guitar when I was twelve but didn’t really pick it up properly until I was around 15.

Tell me about your music? How would you describe it?

I think all artists hate this type of question; it’s hard to pigeon-hole yourself into one genre/style, each song is different and doesn’t always fit a set type.

Where do you seek inspiration for your music making and writing?

Basically looking out of the window, watching people, the world, and also personal experience.

Do you perform much? How do you feel about performing in front of others?

I’ve not been performing long and I haven’t turned down a gig yet …I do love performing.

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Faye Fantarrow next gig ^^

You’re 17…. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you…. Are you going to pursue music full time? Go to Uni? Get a job? What’s the dream?

Ultimately the dream is to write and perform full time but I am also a realist and I know very few people are lucky enough to achieve it so I so have a back-up plan. I am currently studying A-levels and have applied to Uni’s but I’m also planning to take a year out to fully focus on my music and see where it takes me….

How do you find the music scene in the NE?

It’s improving and there are a few opportunities but not enough; it is still very heavily dominated by white male indie bands. So while any music scene is better than no music scene, I still think Sunderland venues need to wake up to the talent and diversity that is not being tapped into.

What do you think are the challenges/barriers to young musicians like yourself?

Getting your music heard! Also the way music is produced, is changing rapidly with the emphasis now on the artist to record their own stuff, out of their own pocket and studio time is very expensive which puts a possible career out of reach for most young people across Sunderland.

There is a widely recognised gender gap in music in terms of female musicians – do you think it’s harder to be a female identifying musician?

Most definitely; you just have read the twitter comments on Annie Mac’s account when she voiced this opinion. I was shocked by how many people (including females) thought the bias was ok as there aren’t any good female artists out there (in their opinion) and this way of thinking will continue unless women are given an equal share of stage/air time to show how we deserve to be there.

Are there any regional performers that you admire?

Martha Hill, Eve Conway, Kay Greyson and Big Fat Big.

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Faye Fantarrow

Who is your fave band?

Kings of Leon!

MINE TOO…. Fave type of music?

I can’t limit myself to a type of music and why be denied?

Advice to musicians wanting to get started who might see you and what you’re doing as inspiration?

Stick to making the music that makes YOU happy and if someone tries to change you walk away, it’s their loss!

How did you get involved with the Young Musicians Talent Development Fund?

A friend of my sister mentioned it to her as they knew I liked to write my own stuff, then as part of YMP I saw the fund advertised and applied online!

How did it feel to secure a slice of the fund and see your name announced?

It was fantastic and a great opportunity; it felt very special.

What are you going to use the fund for?

I am using the fund to help move me forward and get my music out there, I have been very lucky to have Sue Collier appointed as a mentor for me too!

Where can we check you out/listen to your music?

I have some of my music available on Soundcloud and my debut single, Lines, is available on Spotify and Apple Music. I am working on new music and will be back in the studio soon so please keep any eye on my socials for updates!

Where can I see you perform?

I am at Independent Sunderland March 7th supporting the brilliant Martha Hill along with Mt.Misery.

Anything happening across the region in 2020 – that you want to tell me about?

Keep an eye out for the Lamp Light Festival on 8th & 9th August in Sunderland; it should be fantastic!

Faye Fantarrow

Faye Fantarrow

Well how lush – I’m really excited to see what Faye does next, feels like she’s on the cusp of something special!

You can follow Faye on her socials & of course, give her music a listen!

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And keep an eye out for We Make Culture & Sunderland Music Hub for all the great work their doing across the region!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures. Until next time!

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!

NOVAK from VJs to world class projection design: Bringing light to spaces and places through projections…

I’m currently working on Heart of the House – a joint collaboration commission between The Cultural Spring & The Customs House to celebrate 25yrs of The Customs House. I first put myself forward to work on the project at the beginning of Summer 2019….and I pretty much pestered The Cultural Spring until they gave me the gig. But that’s how excited I was about this happening in the North East.

For those of you, that don’t know – Heart of the House is a FREE outdoor visual spectacle designed by the world-class team at NOVAK that is on across 25th, 26th & 27th October on the side of The Customs House, running continuously from 6pm-10pm. It’s a total must see and experience.

More info on Heart of the House and FAQs can be found HERE.

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NOVAK have designed a 10minute long projection that will be rolling continuously across the night on the outside of the Customs House building celebrating the building’s past and present, and you’ll be taken on an enchanting journey of nostalgia, fun and illusion.

Expect to see everything from ship building and coal mining to music and performance with South Tyneside icons and pantomime characters popping up. The projections will feature the history, cultural rebirth and legacy of one of the most famous buildings in South Tyneside.

Of course, I love the folks at Cultural Spring and all their projects and events are ace – but it was certainly the NOVAK link that really got me excited. I love their work, I love their innovation, I love their humbleness, yep…I’m An unashamed NOVAK super fan……And they are one of MANY North East creative businesses that exist in the region that are absolutely flying and doing work on a global scale.

NOVAK specialise in motion design and create projections, art installations and stage visuals for music artists (Shawn Mendes!) and video for theatre performances. NOVAK has had work featured across the world at some of the most highly regarded arts festivals, including Lumiere and music festivals including Glastonbury and Coachella. NOVAK also created the stunning visuals in The Cultural Spring’s past commissions RUSH and WordPlay.

 

The festival of light - Southampton

Festival of Light – Southampton

I’ve experienced NOVAK at both light festival events, special moments marked with a projection onto a building and of course, stomping and dancing the night away at a festival and yes, Dippy at Great North Museum. At Dippy whilst everyone else, was of course, enamoured with Dippy the main star – I was blown away by NOVAK’s animation and the beauty of the interpretation on the walls. I kept telling random strangers – “now THIS is how you engage families in a museum!”. Their technical brilliance and detail is inspiring….. and you can experience it too at Heart of the House!

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Dippy

I’ve always been fascinated by motion design, digital art and projection….. I think because it’s just not my skill set and beyond me – to me it’s so magical! I remember watching the H&M Amsterdam store opening in 2010 and just being blown away. A building actually brought to life!

Anyway – back to NOVAK – I’ve wanted to interview the NOVAK lads for ages and working on Heart of the House presented such a good opportunity. I even blagged an invitation to their studio – very exciting. In between, their several big commissions alongside Heart of the House, Adam – the studio Director kindly let me interview him.

But before, we go into the interview – you need to watch their show reel which gives you a taster of their work; the quality and ambition of it.

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Lumiere London

Hi Adam, let’s start at the beginning – What is NOVAK?

NOVAK is a creative studio based in Newcastle upon Tyne that specialises in motion design and immersive installations with a big emphasis on projection design.

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How did it all start? What was your journey into creative industries?

It all started in the night clubs of Newcastle. All of the members of NOVAK met through VJing at local clubs and from these encounters we started to gig together which naturally progressed into greater collaborations.

A notable one of these was our AV show, 3D Disco, which we toured the world with for a number of years performing in Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Vietnam and everywhere in between!

During this time we started to develop other creative outputs, including projection mapping which has become a key part of what NOVAK is today. We have created projection mapped artworks at variety of locations, including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the Singapore Art Museum, Durham Castle to name but a few.

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Royal Pavilion in Brighton

Wish I’d been around for 3D Disco….I’d have been alllll over that? So you’ve created work for Cultural Spring before with Rush and Word Play; can you tell us a bit about that?

On both of these shows NOVAK, in collaboration with Southpaw Dance Company, designed and produced all of the projection content, which was integral part to both shows.

Rush in South Shields was the first project that we worked on with Southpaw Dance Company and we have since then gone onto collaborate with them on many more projects including shows as part of Hull City Of Culture and Greenwich and Docklands International Festival.

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HideOut Festival

What is Heart of the House (from your perspective!)?

It is a joyful celebration of the many art forms and creative practices that are at the heart of The Customs House.

How did you get involved in Heart of the House?

We were invited to tender for the project.

What can audiences expect from the projection onto the side of The Customs House?

The artwork depicts a variety of art forms and creative practices; each with its own very distinct and colourful look, all of which will transform the facade of the Customs House into a something that has never been seen before!

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Ohhh gosh – the NOVAK superfan within me is already getting excited! So what about the making process and the groups you’ve filmed to create the projection?

Key to the Customs House is the community and the different people and groups that engage with it. To reflect this, we have worked with various groups, including the Youth Theatre, the Indian Classical and Bollywood dancers, the Customs’ Breakers, amongst others, which will all feature in the projection.

When you run with an idea like Heart of the House, projecting onto a building, are there moments when you don’t know how you’re going to realise your vision? Projecting onto a listed functioning building must create some interesting challenges!?

It is always a challenge when creating a work to be projected onto something that was never designed for that purpose, but a combination of experience and some new technologies allows us to understand how things will translate onto the surface of the building.

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Newcastle University Freshers Week 2014

Well if anyone was going to do it, you folks are certainly the ones to make it happen! What would you like audiences to take away from watching Heart of the House?

A sense of joy and wonder!

Tell me about some other projects you’ve been working on? Enchanted Forest?

Most recently we presented a new work at Leeds Light Night called ‘Pleasance’, which was a 35 meter long ground projection. And presently we have another new work showing at Enchanted Forest called ‘Constellation’ which is a projection onto a water screen located in the loch in Faskally Wood, near Pitlochry.

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Pleasance – Light Night Leeds 19 (Photo: Rooster PR)

Advice for folks wanting to get into the world of digital arts, outdoor arts and animation?

Always strive to do something original and don’t always look in the obvious places for inspiration.

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Flux – Newcastle Central Station (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

Highlight of 2019 for NOVAK?

Very hard to say, as nearly all of our projects this year have been a lot of fun; they have been varied from presenting a digital artwork in Newcastle Central Station to projection mapping the National Theatre in London. Designing projections as an accompaniment for Dippy’s visit to the Great North Museum was certainly a high point this year as well as being quite a departure from our normal works.  We certainly expect that we will look back at Heart of the House and see that as one of the highlights!

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National Theatre – London

Absolutely! So post Heart of the House….What’s next for NOVAK in 2020?

Before we get to 2020 we have other projects to present after Heart of the House, including a projection on the inside of Doncaster Minster, which we are really excited about! As for 2020, early in the year we are collaborating again with Southpaw Dance Company on a new show in London, which will be really spectacular! Plus lots of others that I can’t talk about just yet!

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Constellation – Enchanted Forest

Well on that note of anticipation – that’s it from Adam and NOVAK. Heart of the House is going to be a beaut of a projection and is your chance to see NOVAK in action doing what they do best  – lighting up a building with a really special and innovative projection whilst capturing the past, present and future of the building.

You can view the projection ANY time 25th, 26th & 27th October between 6pm-10pm. The projection lasts 10minutes and will be continuously rolling so Heart of the House is a drop in. You can also head inside Customs House, see the Customs House Elmer inside and take in celebratory banners co-ordinated by The Creative Seed, made with various South Tyneside community groups and schools.

More info on Heart of the House and FAQs can be found HERE.

I’m now off to plot how I can persuade NOVAK to bring back their 3D Disco…..

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#AD – TakeOff Festival 2019 – a LUSH family theatre festival across Durham 21st Oct- 26th Oct. #readytotakeoff

I’m ready to TakeOff….. always.

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TakeOff Festival is England’s leading festival of theatre for children and young people and it returns 21-26 October 2019 across County Durham.  It’s a beautiful, jam packed week of lush theatre shows for minis and families across multiple venues.

It’s become a passage of life….my early 20s were all about music festivals and that type of shenanigans….my early 30s (clinging to the early bit as nearly 34) is all about taking my friend’s minis to theatre festivals. And to be honest, I’m really not sure who enjoys it more…. For them, they have a magical experience full of high quality family theatre and storytelling escapism…and I…..well I have the same experience really and hang out with lush mini humans – I can’t wait.

If you haven’t heard of, or been to TakeOff before…well it’s LUSH and a North East family fest gem! The beauty is that you can book for loads of theatre shows (sorting out your half term in an instant – like the pro parent/grandparent/carer that you are!) as they is something different every day or you can dip in and out picking something you fancy.

TakeOff Festival is produced by Theatre Hullabaloo and supported by Durham County Council. I really love Theatre Hullabaloo; they were an organisation that I was aware of from day dot Culture Vulture, as pioneering theatre makers that make, tour & promote theatre for young audiences that inspire the imagination and challenge the mind.

They believe that theatre should and could be part of everyone’s childhood – an ethos that I am super passionate about AND they prioritise young people  in their work linking with specialist creative and education teams at every stage of the theatre making process. All their theatre making has passion and purpose – a theatre organisation, that champions audiences as the priority is certainly an organisation that is VERY Culture Vulture.

So I totally suggest you make theatre and TakeOff Festival part of your Autumn 2019 half term experience across 21-26 October!?…..There are LOADS of performances for various ages to choose from and there is the TakeOff Festival family day on 26 October in Durham city centre; a fun-filled family day of world-class children’s theatre, storytelling, installations, arts and crafts and much more!

Whilst the whole programme looks MEGA, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you my Culture Vulture festival picks to hopefully inspire you to go and see some lush theatre at TakeOff Festival. There are also some specialist SEND shows including Playful Tiger.

Hide & Seek (By Theatre de la Guimbarde, France)

Pelton Community Centre

22 Oct, 1.30pm

Two siblings have been put to bed for the night, but these children have more exciting plans in mind!

Become part of their simple game as they reinvent new ways to play hide-and-seek. In a rediscovery of the pleasure of hiding oneself in order to discover oneself, Hide-and-Seek invites audiences to experience the acrobatic adventures that ensue past these children’s bedtime.

Suitable for ages 2-5 years.

Tickets available HERE.

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Sky (By Teater Minsk, Denmark)

Gala Theatre, Durham

23 Oct 11am & 12,30pm, 24 Oct 11am & 12.30pm, 25 Oct 9.30am & 1pm, 26 Oct 10am, 1pm & 2.30pm.

Jump onto a soft cloud and feel the wind whirling and whispering as two dancers make the space around you twist and turn.

Lie down and look at the sky through your toes!

Can you see the world from upside down?

Can you hear the stars?

Everything is in motion in this beautiful dance theatre for minis and their families.

Suitable for ages 2-4yrs.

Tickets available HERE.

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Sky

There Is A Noise (By Hestnes / Popovic, Copenhagen)

The Hullabaloo, Co Durham

23 October, 6pm

From the diary of a 16-year-old grandmother in 1945 to the narrative of escaping war as a child, this piece investigates memory. The audience is invited to sit around a table while stories unfold around them in the midst of frying waffle ooze. We look at the blurry line between facts, memories and emotions of experiencing war as a child and question how to retell. The piece dives in to the confusion and unease of carrying such a story with you and the difficulty of sharing it.

What can we share with others and how can we relate to something that we do not understand?

Suitable for ages 13yrs+

Tickets available HERE.

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There Is A Noise

Jabberbabble (By Theatergroep Kwatta, The Netherlands)

The Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College Durham

25 Oct 9.30am, 11.30am & 1.30pm and 26 Oct 10am & 12noon

A show about four birds and one nest. Nobody understands their jibber jabber lingo. What if we don’t speak the same language but still manage to understand each other?

A delightful show that is entirely sung, as it should be with birds – by the end of the show, no one will be strangers. #fourbirdsonenest

Suitable for ages 4-7yrs.

Tickets available HERE.

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Jabberbabble

Tiger Tale (By Barrowland Ballet, England)

Gala Theatre, Durham

26 October, 11.30am & 4pm

Something wild is prowling. She can hear it through her bedroom walls, but her mum and dad seem stuck in the dull routines of their everyday lives. Until one day the wild breaks in and everything changes.

A troubled family’s world turns upside down when a tiger invades. It’s chaotic, it’s dangerous but brilliantly funny as the tiger reignites the family’s love for one another. With captivating dancers, enjoy the thrill of sitting right up close to the action and the chance to explore the set at the end.

Suitable for ages 7yrs+

Tickets available HERE.

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Tiger Tale

So those are my suggestions – but there are loads of other shows – you can download the full programme from HERE!

If you go to watch the above shows or any others – let me know what you thought!

Also, this year this is The TakeOff Festival family day on 26 October in Durham city centre with a fun-filled family day of world-class children’s theatre, storytelling, installations, arts and crafts and much more! There’s a great mix of free and paid for events so something for all the family to enjoy!

You can check out what there is to at Family Day HERE.

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Until next time Culture Vultures….get plotting your half term shenanigans with your minis!

An interview with theatre maker Rebecca Glendenning; a Bonnie Workie Ticket and certainly one to watch….

I’ve wanted to interview this lush human for ages – she’s a mega talented writer, performer and theatre maker and reminds me of a younger version of myself…..if I could sing, or dance…or perform…..my point is, we are both passionate about similar things, we love to write and we like to tell stories – whether our own or enable others to tell theirs.

Rebecca Glendenning pops up in my head often has a person who is REALLY doing exciting things on her own terms as a theatre maker and writer. As someone steam rolling towards my mid-30s (make it stop!), it’s lush to look back onto others and see folks, like Becky in their 20s in the creative sector doing exciting stuff. She’s one to watch and from the moment, I saw her perform on stage in the first Bonnie and The Bonnettes’ show a few years ago – I knew she was special. I knew she was my type of human and it’s a pleasure to watch her career gather speed across various projects.

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Rebecca Glendenning

So I’ve wanted to interview her for a while, but of course, I try to find reason and purpose to interview – so the stars aligned when I was meeting Workie Ticket Theatre founder and Co-director JoJo Kirtley and Co-director Lindsay Nicholson recently, about their project Women Warriors and they dropped Becky’s name as a writer on the project. I was already in love with Women Warriors, a theatre project giving voices to female veterans but hearing Becky’s name made me love it more and I did a little excited dance in my chair. Yep… I dance…in business meetings…learn to love it Culture Vultures. #professional

Hi Rebecca, tell my fellow Culture Vultures who you are?

I’m Rebecca Glendenning, a theatre maker and stage manager based in Newcastle. I’m also co-founder of Bonnie and The Bonnettes who are a Newcastle based theatre company. I make fun, affecting work, influenced by politics, gender, and sexuality.

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Rebecca Glendenning

I love asking this question as it’s so different for everyone…tell me about your journey into the creative sector and theatre?

I’ve always loved writing; I used to write books and plays when I was little and just never stopped. I came to Northumbria Uni to study Drama and Scriptwriting in 2013 and in my third year I met Hattie and Cameron who are my Bonnie and The Bonnettes co-founders.

When Bonnie and The Bonnettes, as we are now, first started in our third year of Uni, we performed at one of The Letter Room’s Bonenkai nights and at the first Curious? Festival; getting our name out there. At the same time I was learning basic technical skills through University and volunteering at the old Alphabetti Theatre in the basement. That summer I was one of the volunteer technicians at Northern Stage’s Edinburgh venue in Summerhall and we had a weeks’ worth of training as part of that and then the month of experience working with some really mint artists.

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Curious Arts Festival

Then once I was on the MA Theatre and Performance at Northumbria with Hattie and Cameron we were able to finish making our debut show Drag Me to Love, which we performed at Northern Stage in 2017, start The BonBons Cabaret, and start thinking about our second and current show, And She.

Whilst this was happening I was working more at Alphabetti as a technician! Now that I’d had some training, I started doing bits of Stage Management work on regional tours and for local companies which lead to more stage management and tech work, and then in 2018 I was offered my current job as Technical Co-ordinator of Alphabetti Theatre. I feel like I’ve rambled there, so much has happened in such a short amount of time!

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Bon Bons Cabaret

I’m queen of the excited ramble so ramble away! How did you find out about and connect with Workie Ticket Theatre?

Workie Ticket Theatre founder and Co-director JoJo Kirtley put a call-out on Facebook for plays surrounding women and women’s issues for their ‘Hear Her Roar’ performance night, and my friend tagged me in it. I replied saying I had something for it, and then JoJo got in touch. It was a piece about falling in love with a girl for the first time when I was fourteen. It’s always nice to meet other theatre companies, and working with such a lovely one was a bonus!

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JoJo and Lindsay from Workie Ticket Theatre

Tell me more about your ‘Hear Her Roar’ contribution? I didn’t get to see it but I heard it was really fantastic….

For Hear Her Roar I wrote a piece about falling in love with a girl for the first time when I was fourteen, and all the excitement and cuteness and internalised homophobia that goes with that.

I performed it at two separate Hear Her Roar events and it was a great experience both times. JoJo and the team were really supportive, and so when JoJo got in touch again asking if I wanted to contribute to the Women Warrior’s project I was like, YES!

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The power of social media (other creatives take note!)…So onto Women Warriors;  what was/is it like being a part of their creative team?

Lush! So so Lush!

This was my first ever writing commission. From day one, you just get such a sense of how much the project means to everyone involved, and the care they take with the female veterans and the writers and every member of the team, it’s just lovely!

During the sharing we had a few months ago, which was the first time most of the team had all been in a room together, there was such a caring atmosphere and it just felt so SO special, which I know sounds a bit cliché; but you could tell how much hearing their stories being told meant to the veterans, and how much it meant to the creative team to do them justice.

Tell me about Women Warriors from your perspective – as a writer and part of the creative team?

I think my experience of the Women Warriors project was slightly different to the other writers because I was paired up with a veteran and based on one to one conversations, instead of going to the groups. The reason we were paired together was because she is a gay woman and served at a time being gay was illegal in the British Military.  As a gay woman, JoJo thought that would be a topic very close to my heart.

It’s been a lovely experience that I won’t forget. It’s been amazing to meet her (the veteran) and learn about her life, what she went through and the amazing person she’s come out the other side as. Also as a younger lesbian, it’s been really interesting to learn about an entire section of our history I had no idea existed and not from books but from a woman who lived it.

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Tell me a bit about your piece/ part of Women Warriors?

As I sort of mentioned in the previous question, my contribution is about a female veteran who is gay and served at a time when it was illegal to be gay in the British Military; so she was paired up with a man who she had to marry or she’d be kicked out.

At the time she was recruited, she was homeless due to an abusive home life and being kicked out of the Army would mean going back to that so she married him, and he turned out to be abusive. The piece focuses on her journey through the military having to keep her sexuality a secret and now the amazing work she does to help LGBTQ+ people and how she’s turned such a negative experience into something that helps others.

She’s a bit of a personal hero of mine now, I won’t lie.

Tell us about the process for writing it the piece?

For writing it, I asked the lovely veteran I was paired with a lot of questions, and started out by putting it all in a timeline – she’s done quite a lot! Because it’s based broadly on her life outside the military, as well as inside, I had to leave out a lot of the things in that timeline but it was a really interesting experience hearing her talk. Then it was lots of edits and redrafts until I was happy with it. It was mainly chatting, and taking notes, and asking more questions.

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Bringing her story to life on stage must be such a meaningful moment for you both! So, I’m coming to see it but why should audiences come and see Women Warriors ON 9TH OCTOBER at The Exchange (tickets are still available HERE)

I think, people should come see it because it’s a perspective that’s not heard, and it’s such an important one. There’s so much of life in the military that people who aren’t a part of it, just don’t know, and people know even less about what it’s like for a woman. It’s eye opening, funny, and tender, and just a really good watch.

Try and sum it up in 3 words for me?

Empowering, devastating, vital.

You’re doing LOADS at the moment…. Tell us more?

Right now Bonnie and The Bonnettes are in the middle of touring And She; and gearing up from our Halloween BonBons Cabaret on the 26th of October at Alphabetti. I’ve just come back from stage managing the tour of Holly Gallagher’s show Tensile Strength which is a joy to work on. I’m extending the short piece I wrote for ‘10 Minutes To Stake a Claim’ at Live Theatre Newcastle called ‘Chained Reaction’ too, which is about a woman seeking revenge after her friend is spiked and killed on a night out, which is very fun to write.

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Bon Bons Cabaret

Congrats on your recent tour of And She (I absolutely bliddy loved it and my fave show of the year)…. Tell my fellow Culture Vultures  about the show and where they can see it next?

Thank you! The show is part gig-part mums living rooms, and it the three of us (Bonnie and the Bonnettes)  exploring motherhood, femininity, and woman hood through our mum’s stories, as well as our relationships with our mums now that we’re adults living away from home. There’s original songs from the incredible MXYM, and the feel good element that people know us for; we love a party, but with very real moments too because no parent-child relationship is perfect.

Our next date in the North East is the 7th of November when we’ll be at ARC in Stockton, and out next date is Barnsley on the 19th of October. You can see other tour dates HERE.

 

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And She

I’ve heard rumbles about a NEW show- I’ve always got my ear to the ground – I’ve heard you’re writing a show about you growing up and mosh pits? Can you share anything about that?

Yes!

For Bonnie and The Bonnettes’ third show we’re teaming up with The Six Twenty to make a show called ‘I Died in a Moshpit’, which I’m super excited to be writing.

It’s a lesbian coming of age story from the moshpits of the Leeds underground punk scene. It’ll be gig theatre, and we’ll be working with two actor-musicians to make it. It’s feeling invincible at 17, and terrified of what’s coming next, but maybe if you hold their hand whilst that band play that song, it won’t feel as bad.

I love the sound of that! Big fan of The Six Twenty too – so yey! So finally…. what’s next for Becky?

This Christmas, I am lucky enough to be working on three shows; two for the lovely children’s theatre company Kitchen Zoo who are bringing WOLF to Northern Stage this Christmas in stage 3, and The Three Bears at Christmas to Queen’s Hall in Hexham. I’ll be working on them as Stage Manager and Company Stage Manager – I’m excited to be back in the room with such a lovely company.

And as a performer I’m hyped to be working on Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular at Live theatre which is a Christmas show for grown-ups and is Bonnie and The Bonnettes and Your Aunt Fanny. We’ve just had two weeks R&D together and I can’t give away too much but you’re in for a treat.

Tickets are selling really fast so please grab them whilst you can!

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Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular

Well thanks Becky – that’s a whole lot of something and a whirl wind tour of past, present and future Becky (I watched Muppets’ Christmas Carol recently and I’m running with it). There is STILL time to nab the final few tickets to see Women Warriors tomorrow (9th October) at The Exchange in North Shields – get them from HERE and for anything else Bonnie and the Bonnettes related…. HERE.

That’s all for now Culture Vultures.

(#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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