An interview with The Social Distance Art Project Team – a response to cancelled 2020 degree shows for artists & audiences

The Social Distance Art Project popped up on my radar towards the beginning of lock down – and what a wonderful gift to lock down me it was! I have discovered and connected with SO many wonderful artists through it.

The Social Distance Art Project started as a response to the reality, that for many students studying Arts related degrees, their final year physical degree shows or degree related “creative sharings” were off the cards and for the majority cancelled. This was truly heart breaking – for many artists, the degree show is THE thing you’ve been working towards for your whole degree and for some, it is their first opportunity to exhibit. These shows are important to their creative career, as a means of showcasing their work, profiling themselves as artists and a moment of achievement! I still meet artists my age (mid 30s) and many still talk about the positive experience and value their final year degree show brought them!

From this challenging and shitty situation, the wonderful TSDAP was born and the team (5 Northern lasses – BOOM!) set up their website to champion artists providing a collective digital space to feature themselves so that folks like me can discover their work. AND as a platform for Universities and students to tell the world about the reinvented digital versions of the degree show and connected events!

Out of the gutting nature of cancelling these final year degree shows and sharings, I think they is an upside…..the TSDAP has shown the potential of taking elements of a degree show online, uniting audiences and artists in this way and being more accessible. Whilst I’m a regular attendee of North East University degree shows – through the TSDAP, I’ve been able to engage and attend things across the whole country and chat to artists Nationally – that wouldn’t have happened before! I hope that Universities consider keeping a digital strand forever!

Another positive, for me, is that the artists and their work are presented within The TSDAP by name and not split up by medium. This has meant, that instead of just seeking out the stuff I normally like, I’ve been taking in such a wide variety of work. Honestly, if you have a spare hour, instead of mindlessly scrolling on social media, go to the Directory and just click through each artist. It’s my favourite thing to do right now!

As I’ve loved the TSDAP so much, I of course, reached out to the team behind it to tell them and to thank them – I invited them to take part in a little Culture Vulture interview so here we are doing just that!

Take it away TSDAP team!

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Well hello The Social Distance Art Project team….. can you all introduce yourselves!?

Julia – There are five fine art graduates involved in the project! The founders were Natasha Alexander, Alex Appleby and Jasmine McKnight (York St John University). Julia Pomeroy (Leeds Arts University) and Emma Trevor (Newcastle University) joined us a little later on as things really started to pick up!

As a proud Northerner and passionate support of womxn in creative industries, I’m buzzing that a womxn led Northern team created this!  Can you each give me a flavour of your journey into the creative industries?

Natasha – I’m originally from Sunderland; I wouldn’t say that working in the creative industries is pushed as a possible career much in the area. I’ve had a lot of “so your degree is just drawing pretty pictures, right?” and a lot of questions about how I will earn a living. I got into the arts because I didn’t have the best time throughout my time in Education and when I decided to go to University, I really just wanted to do something that I loved. As it is, studying a fine art degree has opened up so many doors I never even knew existed. I have no regrets.

Alex – Upon looking at my university choices, I originally planned to study Psychology, a more ‘academic’ choice; but through exploring the possibility of studying Fine Art I knew that this was the right choice for me. Throughout my studies many opportunities and avenues have opened up, and I cannot wait to see where my further studies at MA will take me.

Jasmine – I pursued a creative degree as art is something that is just a necessity to me; there was never anything else that I wanted to do. My degree has allowed me to explore my identity as an artist in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own; now I’m ready to carry on with my artistic career by continuing my practice while pursuing a job in design.

Julia – My degree has given me the confidence to maintain a strong momentum with my practice’s direction (oil painting at the moment) and how to take on the artworld as a freelancing artist. This combination and just being determined that my artwork can have an impact is what’s driving me in this career decision and completing my Fine Art BA at Leeds Arts University this year. I’m ready to see what the creative industries think.

Emma – There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to study fine art at university. For me, the creative process has always acted as a mental escape and studying in order to build my practical skills as well as engage in critical reflection of my work has allowed me to turn a hobby into a viable career path. My long-term goal is to become a forensic art therapist, using my experience to help inmates reclaim their identities and hopefully make a positive impact when it comes to recidivism in the UK.

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A piece by Team TSDAP Natasha

Honestly, if we were in person – I’d love to unpick all of that more over a gin! I’m so excited for you all at the beginning of your careers! So, let’s chat the Social Distance Art Project….for my fellow Culture Vultures, what is it?

Julia – TSDAP aims to give a platform to graduating creative students of 2020 whose degree shows have been cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. As fine art students, we felt like we’d spent the most part of our degree preparing for the exhibition and so were heartbroken at its cancellation.

The project consists of an Instagram (@thesocialdistanceartproject) where we upload submissions daily and a website which acts as a library of all past submissions.

The idea is to give creative students a space to show off their work in the absence of a degree show and a space where students from all institutions can get together in solidarity, getting to know each other’s work and how they’re staying creative during current times!

Why did you set it up? What was the impetus?

Julia – We set it up the day our studios closed. We just felt like we couldn’t just sit by and do nothing when hundreds of students were in the same position as us. We started with the Instagram account, getting in touch with Universities and their followers hoping that they’d get involved. It took off in a way we never expected!

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Emma

It has been so brilliant – honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you for doing it! And well done! From your perspective, how did students feel when the realisation dawned that shows were cancelled?

Julia – We’ve had so many messages from heartbroken students and the majority of our submissions start with a note about how disappointed everyone is. We’ve spent three/four years planning for this and it’s just so quickly been taken away and it’s such an awful situation for everyone.

And, your own experiences…..how did you all personally feel when your shows were cancelled?

Alex – It was immensely underwhelming, the degree show was something that drove my practice throughout third year, both in terms of opening up opportunities for our futures and as a final celebration of our achievements. Online alternatives have given us some exposure as artists, but I am still saddened that we did not get the chance to have a physical show.

Jasmine – Extremely disappointed. Our whole degree works towards this exhibition. Now it’s been taken away, it feels like our degree has been left open, without any real closure.

Julia – It was incredibly disheartening that the big finale of our creative degrees just wasn’t going to happen. I think I was subconsciously in denial about it because it seemed so set in stone for such a long time. Once the upset and anger subsided, I learnt that we still need to make the most of showing off our artworks, and for now doing that virtually is the best thing to do.

Emma – It feels like such an anti-climax, we’ve spent the last four years of our lives working towards degree shows which open up so many post-graduation opportunities and are almost seen as a right of passage for it all to be cancelled in a matter of weeks. Documentation of degree shows is vital in future applications for studios and grants so it’s hard not to feel at a disadvantage compared to those graduating in years before us.

For those who aren’t aware of the importance of degree shows within the creative degree framework, can you tell us why they are important?

Julia – There’s such an opportunity for networking; you really don’t get online – speaking in person to other creatives and people from outside of your institution. Even the planning and curation of the exhibition is a really vital experience as we all embark on our careers. Through the degree many of us have had the opportunity to put on smaller shows but the degree show is really where you get to experience the organisational aspect.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Alex

What has the response been like to the project from Universities and artists to SDAP? And the wider world/audiences?

Julia – Universities have been super supportive of what we’re doing! Especially since we’ve been using our home page to promote virtual degree shows across the UK. We’ve had a lot of contact from institutions asking for their shows to be added and sharing links to their student’s work on our platform. I think it’s been really great for institutions to see what others are getting up to and supporting each other.  Wider audiences have been really interested too which has been so nice to see – that students are being noticed as a result of what we’re doing to promote their hard work!

I’ve discovered loads of artists via your website that I just wouldn’t have discovered otherwise and their Insta as a digital canvas representing their portfolio of work – I think this could be the dawn of lessening the importance and focus on physical galleries and increasing the importance of creative digital spaces….what do you think?

Julia – What’s happened as a result of Covid has really given everyone some wake up calls as to the way the world has worked, bringing up a lot of questions about accessibility in particular. It makes you wonder about access to the arts for people who have to live permanently “socially distant” lives; whether that’s due to disability or any other factors. I think digital galleries are a great way to open up creative industries to a much wider audience.

Being able to view so much amazing work from your living room is so amazing whether that’s through Instagram, digital exhibitions or virtual tours. In thinking about the North/South divide that often sees “big names” of the art world exhibited primarily in London too, the five of us living in the North often can’t afford the travel for every exhibition we’d like to attend. And that travel has you debate the environmental impact that traveling to exhibition.

That being said, I really don’t think you can belittle being able to occupy the same space and the effect it has on your experience of it.  Maybe for some forms digital galleries would be a great accompaniment to physical exhibitions to provide an alternative for those that cannot visit.

Absolutely a digital strand to go along the physical! Various forms of research are showing that audiences are more likely to take a risk with art/art form in a digital space than in a venue…. I’ve been engaging more with things like sculpture (for example) that I just wouldn’t normally seek out. Digital space seems to remove the fear factor of being in a creative space and realising the work isn’t to your taste or you “don’t get it”. What are your thoughts?

Julia – I think digital spaces definitely offer the opportunity to spend more time with a piece of work. Especially with more conceptual art, or performance etc being able to view it in your own time in your own space means you have no fear of looking ‘silly’ as you figure out what it is you’re viewing. Perhaps you give certain pieces more of an opportunity in a digital space as it’s less intrusive.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Julia

Going forward do you think having a digital form or platform for graduating artists like this – will/should it continue? I personally love the fact, I’ve discovered works and about educational programmes in other cities, that I wasn’t aware of.

Julia – Definitely! I really think platforms like ours should continue in future years as accompaniments to physical degree shows. We’ve been able to build space for a community of graduating artists from institutions across the UK to promote their work and discuss their practice. The inspiration you can find from other creatives is invaluable and being able to promote your work digitally to such a wide audience of your peers is super helpful for the next steps of our creative careers.

Have you missed the “in person” being creative?

Julia – 100%. One of the big things, is missing the energy that we feed from each other in our studios. The resilience you gain from tutorials and critiques with your tutors and peers is so beneficial to us as art students as it allows you to constantly think about your work from different perspectives and so work and concepts develop at a much faster rate. On top of that, the physical limitations that 2020 graduates have experienced have been at times impossible to navigate. Vacating studios at such short notice has left many of us without equipment or even adequate space to create.

Do you think graduate artists have missed the real time ability to showcase in their degree shows in person and feed off that energy? (Digital can’t replace that!).

Julia – We keep reiterating that platforms like ours have only arisen due to the absence of any adequate alternative. This digital space we’ve created, and many of the virtual degree shows that are now being launched, have nothing on the real experience of a degree show. I think most students have now experienced the anti-climatic virtual end to our studies and share this sense of loss.

Are there any artists or creatives that have submitted to your site – that are personal faves? Or doing work that has caught your eye? (All of the names mentioned below you can search out in the Directory of the SDAP website)

Nat – There are so many amazing creatives submitting work to us that it’s super hard to choose! Some of my favourites have Annie Graham’s sculptural practice whom I wrote about in my own blog, Reuben Brown’s exploration of growing up queer in Northern Ireland and Olivia Taylor’s amazing black & white photography of urban landscapes.

Alex – Ameerah Dawood’s work stood out to me, her use of textiles and screen printing has a simplicity and preciseness that I really enjoy.

Jasmine – My personal favourites are Holly Sarll and The Overload Project.

Julia – A personal fave whose work resonated with me was Alice Miller from Loughborough University and her oil paintings. The awkward yet familiar angles of everyday social situations, surrounded by figures, makes us feel like we’re there and her painting techniques make these moments feel fleeting. Ideas that I’ve been exploring with my own paintings.

Emma – Tiggy Beaman’s nude paintings really stood out to me and got an amazing reaction from our community. Also, Adonia Hirst’s work with textiles and soft sculpture, she is from my university so I may be slightly biased, but I’ve always thought her work is amazing.

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A piece by Team TSDAP’s Jasmine

Any black artists or creatives that you’d like to suggest folks check out/champion?

JuliaAD DADA was one of our earliest submissions and his work is amazing! He engages with black culture and identity in contemporary society through a whole range of mediums. His portfolio is super interesting to look at and reflects on the point of view of a black artist questioning British Institutions of art.

How long are you going to keep the project up? How can people get involved at this stage?

Julia – There’s no deadline for the project! It’s been so successful and exciting that we just want to keep going. We’re still taking submissions and soon we’ll be moving towards also posting the work of students who are not in their final year who’ve also been affected by studio closures.

We just want to keep everyone’s timelines creative and supportive at these tough times. We’re looking to begin to support emerging early career artists who aren’t necessarily just recent graduates. The possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.

What’s next for the Social Distance Art Project?

Julia – Our next steps are to evolve the project into representing recent art graduates and emerging artists and become an active contribution to help early career artists venture into the artworld. We hope to provide opportunities online through open calls, various exhibitions ideas and explore what art promotion will be in the future, alongside social distancing. We hope we’ll be able to execute these opportunities in real life at some point. Currently, we have teamed up with SHIM (@shimartnetwork ) who are a fantastic online artist network who present exhibition opportunities through Artsy and we are directing TSDAP artists to them. We have more plans on the way with them coming up later in the year.

As graduating students, do you have any advice to creatives and artists about to go to University?

Julia – Take advantage of every moment you’re given. Utilise the creative people you’re surrounded by on a daily basis, it’s a situation you may never find yourself in again and the advice and support you can receive is invaluable.

Then what about you folks as a team – what’s next on a collective basis and individually?

All– Our work with SHIM and one day hold our first physical exhibition and achieve funding.

Nat– I’m working on my art criticism via my own website before I start an MA in Critical and Cultural studies in Leeds next year.

Alex– I am hoping to study Fine Art MA at Leeds Arts University whilst also working part-time. Working in the community arts sector is something I really enjoy and hope to continue.

Julia– I’ve decided to see how my artistic career will change without being in education anymore and act on the skills I’ve learnt on BA. I hope to find a studio space in Leeds to keep developing my practice and continue putting in my own group shows alongside applying for open calls.

Emma– I’m hoping to find a job as a creative arts coordinator, ideally working with inmates or former inmates, so I can gain the experience needed to study an Art Therapy masters.

Anything else you want to share?

All – We would just like to thank everyone for their wonderful support. We have been overwhelmed by the response from 2020 art graduates getting involved with us and we can only wish them the very best with life after university and what the future has in store.

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Thank you SDAP team – what a wonderful interview and how exciting to hear about your future plots and plans! Check out TSAP via their website and Insta and give them some love – they deserve it for creating this wonderful platform. Very excited for the next chapter and I’ve got a feeling, this is the beginning of something MEGA for this team – both collectively and individually!

All my love, The Culture Vulture xx

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.

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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!

 

 

(#AD) a review of Ladybones – a theatre show about OCD & an interview with the brilliant theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey

The potential power of theatre on audiences can’t be overstated enough; it can educate, encourage questioning, raise awareness, expose folks to new things, tells untold stories of real people, challenge perceptions alongside being a lush cultural experience… I feel like I’ve learnt more from the safe space of watching theatre, than from anything else in recent years.

Every so often I go and see something at the theatre and it really reminds me of that positive power and I walk away with so many thoughts, ideas, an altered state of mind alongside it knocking my socks off. Ladybones, a one woman show about archaeology and OCD by theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey, has been one of my highlights of 2020 so far. What.a.show.  Ladybones is a theatre show that packs a punch, so well put together and really has such power.

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Ladybones tells the story of a young woman called Nuala is working on an archaeological dig and discovers the bones of a girl buried hundreds of years ago and, using her own experiences, starts to put life into the girl’s remains. The play is honest, brave, real, sharp, SO FUNNY (the sex scene!) and charts the journey of Nuala growing up facing super relatable things like dating, sex, work pressure whilst showing the descent into the grips of OCD “madness”.

Nuala draws comparisons between herself and the bones of the girl found on the dig – the skull she takes home; it both signifies the madness she is feeling alongside providing comfort and eventually symbolically leading to her release from the grips of OCD. The play is SO well written, moving and I fell in love with the character Nuala; her infectious personality, her engagement, the way she spoke to the audience and I was captivated – the way Sorcha has written the character and how she plays her, is just beaut – my eyes did not leave her through-out the performance.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

There are two things that I really took away from Ladybones:

1. It really does communicate to audiences the reality of OCD and is a real depiction of mental health challenges. Through-out watching it, I thought of my own history with eating disorders and depression and how brilliantly, Sorcha depicted the human experience, intrusive thoughts and that snowball descent of feeling so disempowered, out of control and for lack of a better word  “crazy”. And yet – the show is so up-lifting and I walked away with a renewed motivation and passion to continue my own work with young people and mental health.

2. The power of good audience involvement and engagement. Through-out the show, the character Nuala engages with the audience, speaks to them and involves them in the story. Now as an introvert, audience participation makes me want to curl up and hide – but on entry to Alphabetti Theatre – you were asked if you’d be up for participating and if you were, then you could wear a pink sticker. I loved that idea and think it should be rolled out across other theatre shows. I did offer to participate, was pink stickered up, had to read out a passage as part of the story and it felt lush!

Ladybones is creating ripples across the theatre community and has been receiving ace, thoroughly deserved reviews. The show has paused touring – but will be back in the coming months and when it does, go.see.it. Keep an eye out for it touring. I had the lush opportunity of chatting to Ladybones theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey after the show at Alphabetti – we had some lush chat about the show, it’s positive impact and I left determined to tell more people about how fantastic the show was and what TALENT Sorcha is; I was delighted when she agreed to a Culture Vulture interview.

So here it is – an interview with theatre maker, writer, performer: Sorcha McCaffrey

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Sorcha McCaffrey

For my Culture Vulture followers and readers – tell me who you are and how you’d describe what you do?

I’m an actor, writer and theatre maker from a Yorkshire village on the moors. I’m now based in Manchester, and I make theatre and tell stories. Ladybones is my first play.

Did you always want to be a theatre maker/actor?

Not at all – I didn’t realise acting or making theatre was something you could do as a job. When I was younger, I mostly wanted to be an archaeologist (hence the main character Nuala’s profession in the play) or a pirate (hard to get into in West Yorkshire, also not very practical/moral).

Be more pirate! Tell me about your journey into the creative sector and theatre making?

I trained as an actor at drama school and was temping as a receptionist between acting jobs to pay the rent. I would come home wanting to keep my creativity alive and write before bed – these late-night scribbles ended up becoming Ladybones. I’ve learned so much about making theatre with this project, and it’s been a brilliant chance to realise that you can create your own work, rather than needing permission from other people to be creative.

What projects/things were you involved in before Ladybones?

I have worked as an actor with the John Godber company, at Contact Theatre, and at Co:Lab Festival at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I’ve also been part of Young Identity spoken word collective, run by a brilliant poet called Shirley May. I took part in the Royal Court writers’ group in London, and these groups gave me the chance to see that my voice is valid as a writer.

So tell me about Ladybones – what’s the show about?

Ladybones is an interactive one-woman show about OCD, dungarees and being weird but not a weirdo. It follows archaeologist Nuala as she unearths the skeleton of an unknown girl. As she is sucked into the mystery of who the girl was, her ordered life starts unravelling. It’s about what it’s like living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but it’s also funny and moving.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

I was surprised how funny it was – lots of laugh out loud moments – the inspiration behind Ladybones is your own story and experience with OCD – can you tell me a bit about your OCD experience?

I’ve had OCD since I was tiny, maybe four or five, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20. Growing up, my head was full of worries and patterns and scary intrusive thoughts – I used to wake my mum up in the night to check she hadn’t died. When I found out fifteen years later that the frightening spiral of thoughts and compulsions I was stuck in was actually Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it was a relief.

For years I had believed there was something deeply wrong with who I was, so to discover that it was an anxiety disorder I was suffering with gave me hope that I could have a better quality of life with the right help. I googled OCD and came across the charity OCD-UK, who really supported me. I found CBT therapy really worked for me, and my life is so much better now I’m not trapped by OCD.

Of course, all mental health experiences are individual – did you research any other folks OCD experience to develop the show?

I wanted to write from the truth of my own experiences, and I didn’t want to speak on behalf of other people, as individual experiences can be different and nuanced. However, it was really important to me that I represented OCD in an honest way so we  partnered with the charity OCD-UK to make sure we were coming from an informed place and also able to offer info and support to people who watched the show.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

How does it feel putting yourself and your story on stage? How much of the personality of the character is you on stage?

Now it feels very liberating, but at first it was terrifying, the idea of vomiting up this tangled experience on stage without knowing what people will make of it. It’s been so heartening that people have connected with the character and her story. I’d say she’s a version of me with an added dollop of imagination. But the core of her is me.

The show is very funny (alongside poignant, captivating etc) – did you intend the comedy? Does writing comedy into theatre coming naturally to you?

Thank you, so kind! I definitely wanted there to be moments of real lightness and humour, as I wanted to bring the audience into the story and make them feel like they belonged in it. I think life is funny a lot of the time, even the difficult/upsetting bits, and I also wanted it to be a joyful experience for the audience. I wanted people to feel like they understand OCD more after watching, but without it being just a dark or preachy experience.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

And I think you certainly managed that! I LOVED the movement element of the show and how you used the space (the “sex scene” was genius) – who did you work with to develop that?

My director Lucia and I worked on the movement – we wanted the story to feel like it was drawing you in and constantly on the move. The sex bit (lots of ridiculous jumping about and silliness) was a fun way to imaginatively play with the scene. The character’s thoughts are quick and jump around a lot and we wanted the movement journey of the play to reflect this.

I have a rebellious nature and activist soul – I felt like I saw that in you! Would you describe yourself as an activist?

You know what, I think I am beginning to, yeah. I underestimated how much of an impact theatre can have, and people have been so open in sharing how this show has changed things for them, whether it’s feeling less alone as someone with OCD, or finding hope for a loved one.

I think there is power in connecting with other people on a genuine level, and I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to the show we’ve made. I think if you are able to give an audience member something valuable, however small-scale that might be, it makes the project worth making.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Can you talk a bit about the queer element / themes in the show?

As a queer woman I haven’t always seen my experiences on stage or on screen, and I wanted to be genuine with the story I’m telling. Nuala’s sexuality is an important part of her but not necessarily the focus of the narrative. I think representation is important, and the more intersectional experiences that are put out there, the more open and empathetic we can become.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

I’d love people to come and see the show, have a laugh, be moved, and leave feeling less lonely than when they arrived. I want this show to give people a little chunk of hope.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Do you have  any advice to people currently in the midst of their own OCD struggles?

OCD is so trivialised, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it can be horrendous and terrifying and exhausting to live with. I think if you can reach out to somebody supportive that’s a proper start, and OCD-UK are a brilliant charity that helps people and they really understand what OCD is like to deal with.

I’d also say although it can feel impossible, there is hope for recovery. Six years ago, when I was really ill I could never have imagined having a wonderful quality of life, let alone making a show about my experiences, but here we are. A delightful plot twist.

Where can people see the show next? Why should they see the show?

We are at Oldham Coliseum on 14th May, Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax on 15th May, and we finish our tour at Slung Low in Leeds on 7th June. Whether you have OCD yourself, support a loved one, or don’t know anything about it, come along for a funny and moving immersive hour that will change how you see mental illness.

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What’s next for Ladybones post tour?

This tour is as far as we’ve got in terms of plans for the show, so catch the last few dates while you can! It’s been amazing to take Ladybones to London, Edinburgh and all over the North of England and meet so many different wonderful audiences. We’ve also recorded Ladybones as an audiobook on Audible as part of a collection of new writing from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe if you fancy a listen!

What’s next for you post tour? What else do you have planned for 2020?

A nap and a lot of toast. Then this year I’m working on a new play (a sort of postapocalyptic queer love story), some writing commissions, and I’m a supported artist at the Oldham Coliseum theatre. I’m excited for what comes next!

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Well thank you – Sorcha – I certainly feel like this lass is one to watch for the future. I can’t express how amazing the show Ladybones is and that you should go and see it. You can check out more about Sorcha on her website and visit HERE for the Ladybones trailer.

If you are reading this and identify with any of the issues discussed OCD-UK is a great organisation to connect with and reach out to.

Disclosure – I have not been paid for this post but I did receive a complimentary ticket to see the show.

Interview with Elijah Young – script writer, theatre maker, actor, Takeover’s Young Writer in Residence 2019.

Those who read my blog and/or follow my social will know that I’m working on Takeover Festival this year. You can read my previous post about Takeover festival, opportunities and call-outs for young people open now AND hear from Takeover Festival 2020 team members Harrison & James.

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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.

The current call outs are an opportunity for young people to contribute their creative work and/or to get involved and shape the festival. This year’s Takeover dates are 25th-29th May (get them in your diary!) & a five-day festival awaits for young people. Each year The Customs House is taken over by young emerging artists and arts professionals (25yrs and under) for a week of theatre, cinema, music, dance, poetry, hip hop and visual art.

But there is one call out in particular that is the feature of this blog post today – Young Writer in Residence 2020 . This call out is a fantastic opportunity for a current or aspiring theatre maker/writer to get their work from script to stage and seen! The successfully appointed Young Writer in Residence will benefit from mentoring from a professional writer alongside working on their piece and developing it for the stage within Takeover festival team and Customs House. The Young Writer in Residence’s play will be staged at Customs House as the finale piece of our Takeover Festival on 29 May (another date for your diary!).

Takeover Festival team are seeking submissions from a North East based young person, 25yrs and under and submissions should have young people’s voices at its heart, and a narrative that is firmly rooted in the North East. You can find full details about submission process HERE – and the deadline is Monday 16th March at 5pm.

Takeover Young Playwright in ResidenceNow I could wax lyrical about how amazing this opportunity is for a young writer – but I thought I’d interview last year’s Young Writer in Residence 2019 – who thanks in part to the residency has been making waves in the North East theatre scene, evidencing what an amazing platform this residency is. Elijah’s play Isolation (last year’s Takeover play) was shortlisted in the British Theatre Guide’s best of North East theatre in 2019 for Best New Play category. Elijah also won Most Promising Newcomer. BOOM! #ganon

I recently caught up with Elijah to find out more about his experience as Young Writer in Residence 2019, what he got out of it, what he’s gone on to do after the residency and why (in his opinion) other young people should apply for Young Writer In Residence 2020! Elijah and I have met a few times in passing but it wasn’t until last week at Live Theatre that I formally said “HIYER!” So without further ado – a Culture Vulture interview with Elijah Young!

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Elijah Young

Hi Elijah, please introduce yourself to my readers…..

My name is Elijah Young, I’m a playwright/actor from Teesside and I’m one of my parents seven loud and annoying children.

How would you describe the melting pot of all the creative lushness (writing, acting, day job?) you do?

What a lovely worded question! I’d describe it as a massive bag of pic ‘n’ mix, my day job being a mouthful of unwanted liquorice haha! I recently had a job in a panto as a skunk where I finished a show at one theatre, took off the makeup and raced across town in an Uber to see my play performed at a different theatre so yeah, a bit of a mixed bag.

Oh I hear you – Uber queen over here balancing MANY spinning plates! So tell me about what you were up to before being appointed as Takeover 2019 Young Writer in Residence?

I’d just graduated from the Project A acting course at Theatre Royal Newcastle and had a few jobs after finishing training. In the November of that year, I had my first finished piece of writing staged. That was my short play Fag Break and it was in ‘a 10mins to’… scratch evening at Live Theatre.

You do lots of acting on stage as well as write too – does one help the other?

Being an actor makes me a better writer, period. I like writing the sort of scripts that would excite me as an actor and that’s always something to refer back to when I’m reading a draft. I’m obsessed with writing dialogue. When I check if a scene works, I tend to record a character’s lines and leave the gaps in, for the other character and speak them out loud to hear how the rhythm of the dialogue sounds and see if it flows.

That is so interesting; how would you describe your writing process?

It’s chaotic and stressful but what keeps me calm and centred is that I always know how my play will start and how it’ll end. So, for me, it’s about getting from A to Z and figuring out what letters go I the middle.

Everything I do is pretty chaotic, I think it’s a sign of a true creative brain – How would you describe the types of subjects you write about?

I would probably describe them as personal because I put a lot of myself in my writing as I think all writers do. But before any of that, I want to make people laugh so I’ll always try and find humour no matter how depressing the subject matter is. You can imagine I was a very attention seeking but also entertaining child.

So let’s move on to Takeover Festival and your involvement in 2019. Had you heard about or been involved in Takeover before applying to be Young Writer in Residence 2019?

I hadn’t been involved but I heard about it as I remember literally everyone talking about WORMTOWN (Young Writer in Residence 2018 Reece Connolly wrote WORMTOWN). There was a major buzz about it and anyone involved were like the cool kids in school. It was, for sure, the hottest ticket in town at the time.

Why/what made you apply to be Takeover 2019 Young Writer in Residence and how did you feel when you were applying?

When I saw the opportunity I knew, despite how daunting it was, if I didn’t apply, I’d be utterly stupid. I think ultimately what scared me most was committing to writing a full-length play which I had never done before.

All brilliant, new things are daunting at first! The amount of call outs I’ve applied for that I’ve been excited and terrified in equal measure! Did you link up with Reece – Young Writer in Residence 2018 at all about WORMTOWN? Did you see it?

Yes! I got so much encouragement from him and I still remember our conversation after I’d seen WORMTOWN which is just mental because little did I know I’d be in his place a year later.

How did it feel pressing “send” your Young Writer in Residence 2019 submission?

Well I submitted quite late in the application process. I was really pushing it close to the time but that doesn’t surprise me as I’m such a perfectionist. Pressing “send” was actually a relief that I’d got it done.

How did you find out you were successful and what did that moment feel like?

It’s actually a really funny and lovely story because at the time I was with a guy, who’s now my boyfriend, but back then we’d barely been seeing each other for a couple of weeks. And I got this email and I’m in his living room suddenly shaking, screaming and jumping around and he’s stood in the kitchen baking and not knowing what to do with himself haha!

That is lush! So, tell us about your experience as Young Writer in Residence – what happened following being told you’d been appointed?

Things just sprang into action. I had a lovely meeting with Jake, the director and Fiona from the Customs House. I remember going to the toilet at one point and I did a five second dance party like a right dweeb.

I was then mentored by the talented and lovely Tamsin Daisy Rees who luckily was already a good friend of mine (and I was also a big fan). She made the process so easy, really took care of me and her advice was priceless as she has a brilliant eye for detail. We would have weekly updates whether that was a cuppa or a phone call and I felt proper looked after.

Being in the casting room was bizarre but lush as it was the first time I heard the script come to life. We took a really long time to cast it but our final decision on casting was the perfect fit.

I love that this residency not only provides a huge opportunity for a young writer like yourself but by having 8 characters, also provides a mega opportunity for aspiring and emerging young actors too. Did you feel daunted at any point with this being your first full length piece coming to life on stage with 8 parts?

Yes, a thousand times yes. It’s crazy to go from writing short plays for two to writing a full-length play for eight. But I also really enjoyed playing around with eight distinct characters. It would have taken me so long to dare to write more than three people in a play if it hadn’t been for the residency.

But it just felt like an incredible opportunity and I was awarded the residency when I was 20 years old which is just mental. I really see it as a major turning point despite being so early on in my writing career. In a lot of ways, I’m still reaping the benefits of that commission.

So, onto the piece you wrote as part of your Takeover residency Isolation – tell us about the piece?

Isolation follows the story of six students and the day they all spend together stuck in an isolation block at school. The day also a year since another student had killed himself. With that layered on top of them being in a small room together for eight hours tension starts to rise and eventually hell breaks loose.

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

Isolation tackles some really complex themes which are so pertinent to many young people – what was the inspiration for the show?

The play originally was just two characters which were two young lads struggling with their mental health. The Young Writer in Residence opportunity then allowed the piece to be on a much bigger scale but it still carried similar themes. All the characters in the play have all at one point felt isolated and that’s something I think resonates with many peoples school experience.

Isolation received rave reviews – how did it feel audiences seeing your work on stage as part of Takeover Festival 2019?

Absolutely terrifying. I remember a friend saying before the show that he’d never seen me so nervous. In the end, the audience we had were so lovely and people were so kind to me after the show. Although nothing will ever top my Grandma saying “I’m a fan of your work”.

Nothing better than a proud Fam! What did you want audiences to take away when watching Isolation – did you have a “mood” in mind?

The way theatre is, an audience will take away whatever they want really but I personally like a hopeful endings. In saying that, I always want to create a sense of reality, I’m not into playing “happy families”. Isolation ends with Dale staring at the electric tea light and I like that simple representation that there’s a flicker of hope.

So, what happened to you and Isolation after the residency?

I started work on my short play ‘NASA lie the Earth is flat no curve’ (Which is the longest title I’ll ever have for a play). That happened in September at Alphabetti Theatre as a part Three Shorts and it had a week’s run which was the first time I’ve ever had a run. Isolation then went to Alphabetti in October for a week which was absolutely chaotic but completely worth it.

What are your next plans for Isolation?

Bigger and better is the plan! There is a theatre that is interested in taking it before it potentially tours and I’m unaware if I’m at liberty to say where but that’s very exciting! I’m definitely wanting to extend it as it was only an hour before and with there being so many characters it’s hard to say everything you want to in under an hour!

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

Can you sum up what you learnt, professionally AND personally, during the residency?

I believe the Young Writer Residency taught me about the kind of playwright I want to be. I learned so much about my process and what matters to me when it comes to writing. I really see it as a major turning point despite being so early on in my writing career. I mean I was 20 years old when my first play was produced, how insane!?

And I’m still reaping the benefits from the residency!  From the success of Isolation, I’ve had a performing arts school contact me about studying it, I’ve been made an Associate Artist at Live Theatre and I’ve been offered seed commission from a theatre to write my next full-length play. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in my career without it.

As last year’s writer – do you have any advice to any folks, thinking or curious about applying?

They should apply because it’s not only brilliant but it’s the kind of opportunity that is unheard of for young writers in the North East. My advice would be to go for it, full throttle and really show why your story needs to be heard.

Why are opportunities like Takeover’s Young Writer in Residence important?

These opportunities are important because they kickstart your career. Also, it’s a massive learning experience to be mentored by another playwright. You can learn so much from them and I really did!

This year’s Young Writer will have Tom Wells as a mentor, how incredible!

I bliddy love Tom Wells! Do you think there are potential writers who would be perfect for this residency but are gigging actors or creatives who don’t see themselves as a potential writer? Any advice to them to spark that writing process?

I know a lot of actors who write but don’t realise they do. I was in a similar position when I was first encouraged to write. The beauty and the curse of being a freelancer in this region is that it’s hard to make a living off just one discipline but I don’t think there’s any shame in that. Being a writer doesn’t make me any less of an actor and like I say it actually helps that I am both. My advice is to test the water!

I saw a scratch of your piece Golden Daffodils at Live Theatre as part of Queer & Now 2020…Tell us about Golden Daffodils?

Golden Daffodils is an extract of a play I’m working on that was staged for Queer and Now scratch night as a part of Live Theatres first ever queer festival. It’s about the relationship that blooms (pardon the pun) between a woman and her new care worker.

Do you think you’d be writing and working on a play like Golden Daffodils if you’d been Young Writer In Residence 2019?

Golden Daffodils is actually my fourth commission since Isolation so a lot has happened in that time. I definitely feel the residency got me into just constantly writing and I’ve had something to always be working on since then which is a massive blessing.

What are the plans for Golden Daffodils longer term?

I definitely want to extend it. What you got to see was only a 15 minute piece and that relationship

between the two needs so much more time to grow. I love the concept and the characters but I’m also wanting to share more on the research I did about gay elderly women in care and I’m very passionate about getting that story told.

And finally, what else you got going on in 2020!?

A play I was commissioned to work on by Blowin’ A Hooley theatre company at the back end of last year has just announced its tour! The project is called Yarns from ‘Yem and it’s four short plays by local writers which tour to venues around the North East. My piece is called Biscuit Tins and it’s directed by Tracy Gillman. We had our first read through recently and I think it’s going to be a lush evening of theatre!

Ohhh I need to go and see that! And wow – what a year it’s been for Elijah Young last year’s Young Writer in Residence 2019 – sounds like the residency really did kick start his career! Young Writer in Residence 2020 call out is open now- all info and details HERE – and in Elijah’s words “just go for it, full throttle and really show why your story needs to be heard.”

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

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.

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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!

Twitter

Youtube

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!

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

For my Culture Vulture followers, Who are you?

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

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

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Shelley O’Brien

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

Why did you set Mad Alice Theatre up?

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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


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

Sum the show up in three words?

Fun, emotional, heart-warming!

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

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

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

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She Wins All The Races

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

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

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

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

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

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

Get Lush - Event Cover

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

For my fellow Culture Vultures, who are you?

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

Get Lush - LIVE (4)

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

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

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

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

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

Main 1 by Ben Smith at Photography North.

Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

What was the inspo behind the show?

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

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

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

Facebook Cover Photo

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

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

Sum it up in 3 words?

Lush. Proper lush.

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

Anything else to close on?

Just stay lush!

Get Lush - Insta Square

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

 

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

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

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Melva (Katie) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson

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

(#AD) A Haunted Existence – part review, part interview, 100% brilliant & important theatre…

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So picture the scene; it’s 2013 and I’m on a train. I’m younger, i’m confused and i’m looking out the window heading towards an adventure for the weekend. I meet this lush lass and even though i’m an introvert, we get chatting away – there’s something so special about a train journey meet. It’s sacred, it’s secret, you can be totally honest and real as it’s quite likely, you’ll never meet that person again. We chat about so many things but sexuality is a common theme (something which i’d never discuss with my nearest and dearest); we discuss our journey with self acceptance, exploring the binary and experimentation – all whilst there is a flirting energy and growing common bond.
The person opposite us, is eagle eyed through-out the whole conversation and has a constant disapproving stare with various tuts. One too many train wines later, there is a kiss, mostly to rebel against Mrs Disapproving; then the train journey ends, we swap numbers with no real intention of staying in touch but happy that in that moment, I was able to be my true self and open. It was a perfect train journey.
Now let’s compare this is to the story and subject of talented theatre maker Tom Marshman’s BRILLIANT play “A Haunted Existence” on a week long run this week at Alphabetti; we learn about Geoffrey Patrick Williamson in 1953, a lad of 17 on a train who meets a man at a time when being gay was not just considered “morally wrong” but a proportion of society, but it was also illegal and regularly punished with jail time and aversion therapy/torture. Geoffery chats to this man…I imagine him at 17, exploring his identity and sexuality (like most young people at that age), that spills over into an interaction on the train – one perceived as “safe” with a stranger. The person who he is chatting to, he feels a connection with and ends up having a moment……that moment changes his life forever. He is arrested by an undercover police offer for homosexual “improper advances”, interrogated and later (after pressure) gives the men of 15 other men, who are arrested.
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The parallels between the two train journeys are clear but the outcome so different – how many of us have had these “moments” of totally honesty with strangers without consequences!? The sanctity of connections with strangers for many of us is SO important and a total life line. To have a “secret” moment of being “real” violated like Geoffery’s makes me so sad….. this is a theme that is often brought out in a Haunted Existence – men like Geoffrey “love seeking” and “in it together and in it alone”. These fleeting moments with strangers provided solace and a sense of hidden “collectiveness” in a world that chased their true selves to hide, to be silenced and often alone with it. Everyone needs to have those moments in their lives – especially a young person like Geoffery at 17.
A Haunted Existence has been on a run at Alphabetti this week (you can see it tonight or tomorrow still – Tickets are £6-8 and available HERE) and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since, a sign of a great piece of theatre. A Haunted Existence weaves together history and hearsay to highlight turmoil, stigma and heartbreak and tell the story of Britain’s very recent, shameful past.I had the pleasure of being invited to the opening night on Tuesday and it was just fantastic and SO moving- if you see one piece of theatre this year, you NEED to see this. There are still some tickets left for tonight and tomorrow.
The forgotten/untold stories of Jeffery and the 15 arrested men are told beautifully exploring their “haunted existences” as gay men unable to live as their true selves, some stripped of their freedom, some faced aversion therapy and all lives changed forever. Tom combines music, rhyme, movement, projection to tell these stories and whilst it is a one man show- through the innovation of the projections, many characters are present on stage.
I had the pleasure of catching up with talented Tom Marshman before his opening night at Alphabetti, over the phone for a quick interview about his journey so far as a theatre maker, making the show and what’s next…..
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Tom Marshman
Tom Marshman has been making theatre since 1997 and has a catalogue of interesting, innovative, evocative projects that blend movement, dance, performance, contemporary theatre, installation, film, project and artistic residencies – this boundary blurring is something that I find utterly aspirational. You can certainly see it in a Haunted Existence; the storytelling is brilliant, Marshman’s flair for strong visual characterisation is evidenced at a time when new technology is more available than ever to theatre makers, so this type of storytelling has gone from impossible to the core part of the likes of Marshman’s theatre making. I asked Tom about this and he talked about the collaborations, artistic input from other theatre makers and creative professionals, that had enabled him to put his vision on stage. Another reason why I love the creative sector, the sentence “i have this idea but i’m not sure how to make it happen”, is like a battle cry to the sector and usually results in the ability to assemble a team of hot talent to make it a reality. And the team behind A Haunted Existence, are just that, TALENTED!
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Tom revealed in our interview that his journey into theatre making was purposeful but over time, including taking a degree, working in a call centre before gradually becoming a full team theatre maker. Researching Tom, I found he was MUCH more than a theatre maker; an avid art activist, live tea party host, film maker, passionate about queering the space in Bristol – celebrating queer icons, an agent provocateur within the Live Art sector developing an artistic network full of opportunities and within another collective using archival materials and research as a means of “re-enacting” moments a new. Tom is one of those creatives who already has had such a positive impact and from my perception has helped pave the way for the next generation of boundary defying projects that my peers are able to work with such freedom. He seems to put so much of his playfulness, personality, experience and his personal journey of self discovery into his work – I admire his ability to do so and the authenticity when he’s on stage is captivating.
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I suggest if you want to find out more about Tom, you check out his website for his past projects – he’s made such interesting work body of work. He’s arguably got the most interesting back catalogue of projects that i’ve seen from a theatre maker – all very Culture Vulture. One of my favourites, which i highlighted to Tom during our chat was “Passion of the Pole” – Tom revealed he thought it was interesting I’d selected that one, as it was a relatively small project that he didn’t perform that much at the time. To give you a flavour of why fell in love with the sound of it – he mixes visual representations of Christ on the cross with live pole dancing – which he took up and mastered especially for the show. I like things that push boundaries, bold, daring, shocking and certainly, stuff that other people aren’t doing – no-one likes a beige buffet and I’m such that show was a visual feast that I would have LOVED!
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Tom’s love of research and hidden history is evident in previous projects,also was (and continues to be) an important part of A Haunted Existence and it’s development – he confesses that he has a “fascination for uncovering extraordinary stories” and that’s exactly what he does, with such precision, detail, seamless narration…..
The best theatre I’ve seen this year, has been about REAL people and their experience, but there is always (in my mind) a fear of doing these real life stories justice, especially when the people’s stories being told were the subject of such oppression, silencing and injustice. However, Tom gives such a beautiful and respectful platform in A Haunted Existence, to these men, including Geoffery and manages to do it in a way, that in parts, you feel like the men are on stage sharing that collective moment with the audience and having a dialogue. I type this whilst literally tearing up thinking back to moments of the show – it really is so moving to learn about the trauma these men experienced for the rest of their lives after their arrest. Tom also shared this pressure to do these “forgotten” men an element of justice in making the show and also shared, that family members had reached out to him, very positively responding to the show.
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Another interesting element, of Tom’s theatre making process for A Haunted Existence, which he both shared with me during our interview AND in the show itself, is that he engaged with a medium to connect with these men. He held a seance with Sarah, a medium and a group of like minded friends. The seance revealed themes, imagery, men, shadows which were fed into the show’s creation. Whilst, I have never experienced a seance myself – I am a believer in the afterlife and paranormal (had my own experience – but that’s for another time) so I really bought into (and fascinated by) using this as a process to connect with the subjects of the developing piece. I also considered it an interesting process of centering yourself into that moment with Geoffery on the train whilst symbolically thinking about some of these men, at that time living as ghost versions of themselves – elements of their true selves forced into hiding or to live an invisible, discreet lifestyle.
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During the interview, we discussed that A Haunted Existence holds a mirror up to society in the past, present and (potentially) the future – the mirror symbol I would later discover would be thematically featured in the show. Our conversation further highlighted how “curated” our learnt history actually is – we are taught and presented a white hetero normative version of the historic world, almost like LGBTQ+ and queer people didn’t exist. These sections of society only seem to be presented and representative in history as trouble makers, extreme activists or societal deviants – the deviancy portrayal is clear in the show. A Haunted Existence reminds us, that these people existed in 1953 (and for hundreds and hundreds of years before that/forever)…. but our society (we) punished them, silenced them, made them feel ashamed, hide, pretend and then we have erased them from history or failed to represent them.
In history, we are taught of the moment that homosexuality was legalised and at school my history teacher told our class, being gay was “frowned” upon – so I was presented with the view as a child, that being gay was a lifestyle that wasn’t embraced by society….A Haunted Existence reminds us, it was SO much more than that. We locked people up for it, we tortured them, we made many feel so ashamed of something so natural that they took their own life to escape….. Tom Marshman does a brilliant job here of presenting this shameful truth in a way, that doesn’t lecture, disengage but reminds us of an inescapable historic period of fact, that may make some feel uncomfortable but so important to acknowledge – especially, during a time in the present where liberties all over the world due to the political climate are potentially at stake for many again and how we need as many allies as possible.
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I asked Tom, to sum up in his words why he thought people should come and see the show at Alphabetti – his first response was “Because I’ve worked really hard on it!”, which I guess all theatre makers say – however, after experiencing the show, you really see exactly how hard Tom and has team have worked- It’s brilliant, it’s beautiful and it’s important theatre that really says something important. Tom’s second response was that the show was “moving and uplifting” – now from what I’ve written above, you’ll get a sense of the moving element – but it is very uplifting too. Firstly, it has a happy ending…. (I also cried at that as it was SO perfect) and secondly, there are elements of humour, Tom’s disarming charm, a soundtrack that made me smile on multiple occasions and comedic moments were crafted into the show, meaning I cried and laughed a few times (sometimes at the same time – thank god for the darkness of the audience).
Another uplifting element, was that whilst, the world and experience was a tragedy for the featured men from 1953, Tom then charts some of the positive changes that happened in the legal system; the judges and advocates who enabled change (allys – they might not have self-identified like that at the time) and how we begin to move to 2001 where being gay was officially 100% legalised. Of course, change was PAINFULLY slow, but I felt a sense of “thank fuck” for these people speaking out – at a time, when clearly opinions like that wouldn’t have been welcomed.
As with many creatives, Tom has lots of plates spinning so of course, one of my closing questions during our chat was about “what is next for Tom Marshman!?”. He revealed that he plans to tour A Haunted Existence in 2020 “a little more” which makes my heart swell, as I want as many people to see this show as possible….. he also share that a project/show he is starting to develop now is about Kenneth Williams. Knowing Tom’s work now – this sounds like a match made in heaven project – I love Kenneth’s slap stick persona, the Carry On Films were such a big part of the comedy scene at a particular time and I have always found it interesting that a gay man like Kenneth, his “camp characters” were accepted in the mainstream at a time, when his private life wasn’t as readily – something which is so weirdly ironic. I’m extremely excited to see how that project develops and plays out……
But for now, you’ve still got two nights to see A Haunted Existence; it’s on tonight and tomorrow (Saturday 30th Nov). Still some tickets available but they are flying as the world is out about how important and unmissable this show is.
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If you get tickets or already have them – make sure you get down to Alphabetti early, so you have chance to take in the pop up exhibition which charts LGBTQ+, cultural and political events. It’s a small but perfectly formed exhibition – I loved it. Also stick around post show to meet Tom in the bar area and to purchase a commemorative Pewter Tankards made by Wentworth Pewter, to mark 50 years since the partial legalisation of homosexuality, inspired by the stories told in A Haunted Existence.
A Haunted Existence by Tom Marshman is on tonight and tomorrow at Alphabetti Theatre, tickets are £6/£8 and doors are 7.30pm. It lasts 1hr 10mins – if you go to see it or have been – tell me what you thought?
Disclosure : I was gifted tickets to the opening night of the show – however, everything above is my own words and an authentic, honest review of my EXPERIENCE.

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.