Beth O’Doherty; fave human, actor, singer, dancer, writer, panto lover & challenger of asexual stereotypes.

The region is thriving and vibing culturally at the moment. I honestly, think this is the dawn of the independents, the makers, the doers, the passion project pushers, the creative thought leaders – the creative folk championing each other, their projects, their journey and I’m very much a part of that. Part of being the Culture Vulture means I’m a cultural cheerleader- willing everyone on, championing them, mentoring, trying to lead by example that the creative sector is truly ALIVE and has space for the brand new, the disruptors, experimenters and independents.

At the moment the performing arts sector in the North East is exactly that – there are so many independents, projects, individuals coming forward with new ideas and shows –  it makes me smile with pride and I’m so excited to see how 2018 pans out.

In 2017, I had the pleasure of falling back in love with performing arts – through my role at Sunderland Stages, was invited to work on 4 audience development projects, I saw 61 theatre shows, met 18 theatre companies, saw 3 festivals and BAM true love reunited.

I met a fantastic amount of exciting talented people and again, as the Culture Vulture – I love the possibilities and I have no idea what talent I might discover around any turn. Beth O’Doherty was around one of those corners and she’s thriving and vibing into 2018……

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Hi Beth, so tell me a bit about you and what you’re up to at the moment?

Why hello you! At the minute, I’m enjoying the seasonal festivities and a bit of rest and relaxation time so I’m re cooperated for 2018.

You seem to have your fingers in so many creative projects and pies – it’s great and I love that about, honing your talents and vibe whilst experiencing so many things. What was your highlight of 2017?

That’s a tough one! I’ve been a part of so many lovely shows but seeing Alphabetti Theatre get a new venue and reopen with a triumphant hurrah was an absolute joy and the programme has been full of delights

I first met you at part of GIFT Festival 2017, which for those who don’t know, is a fantastic festival of theatre in Gateshead. Tell me about why you got involved in GIFT and your favourite GIFT 2017 moment?

I was taught by Kate Craddock (Festival Director) and the lecturers are always keen to give you experience through their projects. I couldn’t resist getting involved as I just love festivals. They wet your appetite with lots of different teases.

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Bonnie and The Bonnettes

I got to build up my skills in Front of House and tech and generally see how you put such a mammoth event together. It was an amazing chance to see international work from different countries and to see international ways of working right on your door step. We are definitively better together and when we share and stay connected so I hope that this practice can continue.

Saying that, my favourite moment was when Bonnie and the Bonnettes along with their guests performed The Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch. What an absolute riot!

You remind me of ‘Little Voice’ – actress Jane Horrocks plays a shy, quiet young lady – who when she has a mic and on a stage, unleashes this mind blowing, unexpected big voice….. I love your voice; I love it so much, I invited you to sing at Newcastle Start Up Week’s Creative…… tell party me about your singing journey and how you developed your voice?

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I am absolutely blushing! You are FAR too kind. I have a lot of people to thank that have gone into my singing. I watched so many Disney movies growing up (and still do) that bursting out into song was natural and all I wanted to do so I joined local theatre groups as a way to have fun and make friends.

There, I started developing my technique. You learn from every musical director you work with. I love old Hollywood musicals and the vaudeville style variety shows and am inspired by Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald so listened to them on repeat and started to build up a jazz repertoire. I’d love to learn to scat.

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You recently, hosted a Jazz Showback at Prohibition Bar  in Gateshead – what was the inspiration behind that and most importantly, when’s the next one?

We have so many amazing performing arts groups across the North East and when you’re working on a show you sometimes end up in a bubble so I thought it would be nice to have an excuse to come together, meet new people and celebrate the level of talent we have here. Mitch, the owner of Prohibition bar was so open to ideas and so helpful in the planning. It’s a stunning venue and I’d recommend it to everybody, whatever the occasion. Big thanks to everyone that came to the first one and definitely watch this space for the next.

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I was buzzing when you popped up on my Facebook news feed in full Panto character make-up! What show were you in, how did you get the part and what is being in panto really like?

I went to an open audition in London after seeing an advert and crazily got it. I had the amazing chance to play Widow Twanky in Aladdin for Chaplins Pantos. We were touring schools and community centres around the Midlands and it was such a howl. I think everybody that does Panto falls head over heels for it. You can’t get better audiences. There’s all the nostalgia and tradition behind it, no matter what story you are telling.  You have total licence to play and turn little mistakes into the biggest laughs. For example, I lost my wig in perfect timing with the last beat of the music for the bows riling the kids back up just when it was meant to be over.

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Big props have to go to panto stage managers and crew on book for trying to follow the madness.  Yes, you end up telling the same joke a ridiculous amount of times but it’s just so easy as the audiences give you all the energy you’ll ever need to keep it fresh. I must send my love to the Chaplins team, my cast and Sam, my director for such an amazing time.

I was catching up with Phil Douglas – Creative Director last week (p.s. absolutely can’t wait for Curious Festival 2018) and he told me that you were successfully awarded a Curious bursary! Well done you – very proud; what was the application process like and what was your motivation to apply?

I wanted to apply for Curious as I’ve loved previous years and the conversations that have been started through it. I was developing the idea for the piece and talking with other LGBT+ artists through workshops with Mother’s Ruin and Curious has given me the chance to take the piece to the next level. The application process was very accessible and the team we’re so lovely to talk to.

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Mother’s Ruin

Your developing show is really ground breaking and interesting – what’s the show about?

It’s about my asexuality and not wanting sex when society is giving you so many messages about it. . It’s not wanting to hear another love song on the radio. It’s the confusion when everyone else your age seems to be hooking up. It’s not getting innuendos but not being brave enough to urban dictionary it, all with a bit of song, dance and dress up

As someone that has always struggled with sexuality labels in a world that is so focused in labeling, I think work like this is so important as it shows the spectrum and how individualistic it can be and the journey to a certain point. Do you mind explaining what asexuality is?

Basically, I don’t feel any sexual attraction or arousal. As with any sexuality, everyone has a different connection with it and I’d never claim to speak for anyone else.  I’m attracted by personality and having mutual interests. I’m part of a great online network full of people that use asexual to define themselves. We support each other, share experiences and campaign for visibility

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I know it’s still in development – but what do you want audiences to take away from it?

To recognise that people have different feelings around sex and that enjoying it isn’t a given and to learn a bit about asexuality. I use the show to laugh at people’s negative misconceptions and reclaim jeers so I hope people might relate that to their own situations but most of all to laugh and have a good night out

When can I see it in scratch and do you know where it features in Curious yet? (sneaky way of also trying to find about the Curious programme).

I’m performing on the 6th July at Alphabetti Theatre alongside the other commissioned work which I am very excited to see. I’m not sure how much I can say but by the sound of current plans a wide range of venues are getting involved. It’s gonna absolutely cover the North East. The team are turning the heat up for sure. The range of art forms is gonna be amazing well. There’s gonna be so many different forms of expression.

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BALTIC LIVE is Curious (Photo: Michael Mcguire) 

So what else is for Beth in 2018 – any other projects on the horizon?

I’m assisting the lovely Take Part team at the Customs House with their family arts sessions during the school holidays and am gonna be performing at Mama Rhi and Lydia Brickland’s night for International Women’s Day in March brining out all the girl power songs.

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Mrs Fanny Bleach and other wonderful artists on the 8th March at The Bridge Hotel @ 7.30pm

This time next year, in a year’s time – what do you want to have achieved? One thing?

This is probably a massive ask but I’d love to be a part of a new, original Geordie musical for and about Geordies. Our Billy is still going strong, writer Tom Kelly knows every way to play with my heart (Dolly Mixtures was a highlight for my family last year), The Last Ship is coming back home and there’s some amazing triple threat companies creating vital work. As a region we have so many stories up our sleeve so I can only hope I can get amongst it.

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Not at all a massive ask – an absolute reality in the making and it’s a pleasure to watch you creatively bloom. And of course, remember to invite me to all the scratches and launches of everything or I’ll be getting in a huff.

Big love for Beth – a lass making big waves in writing, singing, directing and just getting amongst it.

Until next time Culture Vultures!

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Stupid at Arts Centre Washington : a review

So here I am – I’m in Arts Centre Washington Theatre. I’m watching Stupid by Sian Armstrong, directed by Anna Ryder as part of Sunderland Stages Autumn programme.  I’m sat towards the back – near my mum. Mama Horts – we’ve just driven to the venue – she’s lectured me about my career choices on the way.  Still can’t drive.  Still don’t own my own house. Still single. Still unruly hair.

I drank two gin and tonics in the bar. My mum cross because I’m not the best at self-restraint. She’s also annoyed because I was late to meet her. I’m always late.

So we are sat and I’m ready to watch Stupid. This is a play I’ve been excited to see all Autumn. I loved hearing about it when it was in development. I love the story now – I just connect with it. I love that the all-female team behind it – are ladies that I admire and in the spirit of supporting my local girl gang – that’s why I’m posting this.

So my unruly hair and my Mama are sat waiting for the show to start. And the lights go down and I just know I’m going to love it. And then we are on a Ferris wheel. And we are with ‘Stupid’ – but she’s not stupid at all – she’s merely figuring things out’ like many of us still are.

Dumped, single, back home, working out the who, where, what and why of her life whilst pretending to be a functioning adult felt a little (actually VERY) close to home. And I felt every high and low with the character. I literally laughed, I cried and also felt like getting on stage, to tell ‘Stupid’ that she’s absolutely fine, not to worry and she will figure it out.

This one woman show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen this season. It’s fresh, it’s real, it’s funny, it’s well written and it’s worth seeing. The live drawing excerpts work well as a reflective take to encourage the audience to consider what’s just happened whilst feeding into the undertone that this temporarily lost creative soul, just absolutely needs to be creative and draw.

The set is fantastically minimalistic, full of touches that further Stupid’s characterisation. Each scene from the Ferris wheel, to the pub, to the supermarket, to the classroom, to run, to the school cupboard is so rich with the storytelling that you become immersed in Stupid’s world – a world that at this moment is not quite what she expected, full of societal expectations and the moments when we all question who we are and what exactly we are supposed to be in life; questions that seem terrifying and daunting as nobody has that answer. And then, that absolutely terrifying realisation that we can all be anything we want to be…….

My favourite element of the show was watching it with my mum a.k.a. the infamous Mama Horts. Stupid’s Mum is full of questions and statements about how she should life her life – “why can’t you just get a proper job?”. I sat smiling the whole way through the show because Stupid’s mum is my mum and I’m sure she represents many other well-meaning mums out there. Any straying from conformity, deciding to make my own way in the world and not ticking the societal boxes is just crazy and questioned at every turn. Seeing this dynamic brought to life made me smile.

However, Mama Horts very much did not see herself in the mum character and actually, she perceived the Mum as talking a lot of sense really…… and actually, the whole show reminded her, that she’d always thought I’d be good a teacher and that it would be a stable job but if I ever was going to be a teacher, I’d need to sort my hair out and learn how to dress like a grown up…… uh huh.

Stupid ends on possibilities….. a feeling like many things are possible and I love that. A million and one things are possible irrespective of age and circumstance – I walked away from the show feeling empowered to continue pursuing my own creativity. I feel like I went on a wild emotional ride with Stupid, we hit rock bottom and the story took us both to the end point to champion that life is not about what and who you “should” be and is entirely about figuring out and embracing what you “could” be.

Well done Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder – it’s a brilliant, well written show that mirrors the hilarity and painful realness of figuring life shit out. I thoroughly recommend and it’s coming to Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle on 28th November….. it’s a must see and tickets are available.

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Stupid by Sian Armstong: “there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.”

So hi, I’m the Culture Vulture – if you know me professionally, then you know me as on it, organised, ambitious and together. You might even wonder how I manage to do so much in so little time, how do I keep so many projects on the go, do I sleep!?

Well I’m going to let you into a little secret….. I do sleep. A lot. I prioritise work over my life. My personal life is a bit of a mess. I adult well professionally…. In my social life, my friends know me as scatty, all over the place, disorganised, hot mess etc etc.

I often read those Buzzfeed “if you’re late and/or messy then you’re clever” – makes me feel better but I know that’s I’m just struggling to be a proper adult. I’m super messy, my bedroom often looks like the room of someone having a breakdown and there are main adult mile stones that I thought I would have achieved – but I haven’t got round to it yet or life, well I just play it proudly by own rules, in my own time.

So I’m 31…. I’m trying to figure out my life and the difference between what I should and could. And at 31, professionally and socially – I’ve realised whilst I don’t have it figured out, I’m ok with being a whirlwind. And that’s what I am – a beautiful whirlwind.

So I was super excited when I found out about an upcoming show called Stupid as part of Sunderland Stages on Thursday 2nd November at Arts Centre Washington – it’s all about figuring things out, it’s about realising that no one knows how to adult, not really and life is one hell of an interesting journey.

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I’ve been working as The Culture Vulture with writer Sian Armstrong and Director Anna Ryder recently whilst the show is in development. It’s been such an interesting process to be a part of – the show has absolutely transformed in terms of storyline and concept. A theatre show is so much more than just the end thing the audience gets to see and it’s been a privilege to gain some insight into how a show goes from conception, to scratch, to stage. And the fact, it pretty much seems to be modelled thematically on my life and the character ‘Stupid’ is my honorary soul sister – is just, well brilliant.

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So I’m really looking forward to seeing Stupid this Thursday at Arts Centre Washington and in the interest of championing my local creative #girlgang –  I thought I’d catch up with Sian Armstrong and Anna Ryder ahead of the show’s debut, find out what it’s all about and why other Culture Vultures NEED to go and see this show!

What is Stupid about?

Sian: Stupid is about one woman’s journey to figure out who she is, where she’s going, questioning whether she really is what she feels she is; stupid. It’s about honesty, and sharing stories that often go left unsaid. It’s about owning up to not having a plan, even when we feel like we should have one. It’s about challenging what we deem intelligent to be in our society. It’s about no longer pretending to have the answer.

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Anna: Stupid is about feeling inadequate; that feeling you are one step behind the world and that those ahead of you are imbued with some kind of super-powered resilience and smarts. It explores how ‘stupid’ is such an isolating and individual-defining feeling, when in fact (as with most negative thoughts we harbour about ourselves) it’s existence is only possible when framed alongside other people and its longevity as a feeling is perpetuated by systems and attitudes that are, by design, riddled with classism and sexism. It is a product of our hyper-competitive and one-size-fits all education system.

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

Sian: Audiences should expect honesty, laughter, and a story that hopefully brings people together in the room, talking about the times we’d maybe rather forget – and seeing the power in those stories and the flaws and vulnerabilities we may associate with them.

Anna: Audiences can expect a funny, relatable and inspiring story. It looks at what seems like small experiences and re-frames them as a collective society experience. ‘Not just me then’ can sound twee, but it is amazing how cathartic the feeling can be!

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One line to sum up the show?

Sian and Anna: Brave, magic, relatable theatre that allows you to shake off the desire to always get it right.

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

Sian: I’ve been developing Stupid for about three years now – in 2014 I was asked if I was to make a piece of theatre what would it be about and my immediate answer was ‘feeling stupid’.

I guess this show really began at my kitchen table, back in 2003, with my Dad by my shoulder trying for the umpteenth time, to teach me maths. The equations looked as jumbled as my head felt. I had always felt bottom of the pile when it came to academia and as I have grown, this feeling of ‘not quite sure’ has grown with me – which left me questioning am I seen as stupid? I feel it quite a lot. I think a lot of us do. But what does it really mean?

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The show has taken so many twists and turns since 2014. In the early stages of development, my idea was more focused on Dyslexia – after my best friend got diagnosed with Severe Learning Difficulty in her third year of university; I was fascinated by how late she was diagnosed with this. It was devastating to see how much this affected my best friend’s self-confidence, she felt lost, and couldn’t quite come to terms with it – leading her to quit her degree.

The show has also been influenced by my experience working as a Teaching Assistant and Supply Teacher for a short period of time, this gave me an insight into the pressures teachers and students are under to meet their own individual aims but more depressingly the struggles they sometimes face to tick the right boxes and fit the system they are all part of; especially those who are older, who have recently left or are about to leave higher education, and facing decisions on what’s next.

Throughout the development of Stupid I have done various audience engagement projects, running workshops with potential audiences, from youth and theatre groups, students in schools and online surveys – throughout this experience I have met people who have helped the shows development in various ways, in terms of content but also understanding our audiences and the stories that relate to them.

What was your inspiration for the show?

Sian: My inspiration was the feeling of stupidity itself, and how it exists in us all. We all feel it but what does it really mean?

All the people I have met throughout my development have inspired me in some way – if its answers they gave online or stories they told me about an embarrassing moment; they have all inspired the story I want to tell through Stupid.

I’m also constantly inspired by things I watch on telly or online, I’m obsessed with TED talks and people such as vulnerability expert; Brene Brown and Ken Robinson. I’m also inspired by sitcoms, and films, most recent examples are Fleabag, Girls and The Incredible Jessica James. I’ve found when you’re creating something you get inspired by all your experiences and the conversations you have.

What’s your writing process?

Sian: Pffft. I don’t think I have a process really.

I’m currently working with Caroline Horton who has been amazing to work with. That’s one thing I would recommend for anyone who’s starting to write – find a writer/theatre-maker/performer you admire and ask them to be your mentor. I don’t think I could have done this without the support and advice Caroline has given me so far. I told Caroline recently that I’ve been slightly pressured by trying to find a process that works for me and she said in one of our recent sessions together “The things you read about how to do it right, sometimes you just have to say screw them!…” I found this extremely reassuring and empowering! I’m constantly trying to do things ‘right’ and it’s so nice to have someone tell you – sometimes there is no right way – there’s only your way and you have to trust it.

I do know one thing about my process though – I need to talk to people about it – I do not do well on my own writing at a desk, I’m definitely an extrovert!..Writing can be so lonely – I’ve found talking to people about my writing has helped shut those negative ‘this is shit’ voices out of my head and has opened up exciting conversations that inspired me to go away and write stuff … But I’m definitely still finding my way through it, my process seems to change all the time, especially within a devising process. I like to imagine devising as this big, scary, creative beast and writing as it’s treat!

You got funding for the show’s development – can you tell me a bit about that?

Sian: I have received Arts Council England funding for my development process for Stupid and have been supported by local theatre venues and companies across the region such as Sunderland Stages, Arts Centre Washington, Mortal Fools, Northern Stage and Sunday for Sammy.

All I have to say about funding is there are people that can help you, you just have to ask for it. The ACE application isn’t an easy process, I asked a lot of my friends who had applied before to read my applications, and asked for any top tips they had.

But the best thing to do is meet ACE and get their advice and support. I was terrified when I first had a meeting with Arts Council England, because ‘NEED TO PROVE MYSELF’ was all I could think of – but I found talking to someone at such an early stage isn’t about proving yourself, it’s just about being sensible – and helps you understand the best way to approach your application. I didn’t feel judged in any way, if anything I felt more empowered to actually go for it! … Also when looking for funding try and find ways that YOU might help the people who have money – it works both ways.

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Anna: It sometimes feels hard to vocalise that ‘yes, I am a professional artist’ without feeling silly or wanting to qualify the statement with a self-deprecating remark. Fear of being proved otherwise or fear of the gauche way that this declaration can sound, is fuelled by a lack of tangible ways in which to distinguish the difference in output from a creative ‘hobby’ to that of professional work. Despite all my best intentions and my politics, funding definitely helped towards feeling that my work was legitimate. It was like receiving a felt stamped elephant on your worksheet with the words ‘GOOD JOB’ heralded above. However not long after this initial validation, I began to realise what a ridiculous concept this vindication was built on. The show and intention remained exactly as it had been before a big green arts council tick. The only difference was that it could be realised in a shorter space of time with fewer concerns about paying my rent. While this freedom is not to be played down- the work I wanted to make and my creative ability to do so remained as was before the theatre gods took pity on me and granted me a small sum of money.

Funding is vital, scarce and a life source for those of us trying to get by on zero-hour contracts and the rewards of self-employed artistic projects. However, it is of great importance that we learn to see our creative work as valid, whether we are recipients of a grant or not. We must continue to fight for the legitimacy of what we do and that small voice of doubt in the back of my head was the first barrier I needed to demolish

One thing you want audiences to take away on Thursday after watching Stupid at Arts Centre Washington?

Sian: To be empowered by their own uncertainties, vulnerabilities and potential discoveries.

But what’s next?

Sian: We plan on touring Stupid Nationally in Autumn 2018. So watch this space!

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Well thanks Sian and Anna!

So come join me on Thursday to see Stupid and see the finale moment of this development process. I will be front row – cheering Sian and Anna on – like a proud parent. Excited to feel empowered! Oh and it’s my birthday this week – I’ll be 32 – and will be accepting gin and tonics as gifts (just in case you were wondering) so I’m excited to celebrate my unconventional and chaotic life whilst watching Stupid.

If Stupid was real, we’d defs be mates and she’d be in my girl gang.

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!

 

MiddleChild love by an only child

Well Culture Vultures, it’s that time of year when I sit with all my cultural programs, The Crack Mags and decide what, who and where I’m going to go this season – usually over a Gin and tonic. The process reminds me of when I used to sit with a highlighter when I was little and circle all the TV I was going to watch and things Mark Owen from Take That was appearing in….

So here I am highlighter in hand and now over Take That and I’m eagerly looking for exciting and different things to do. Autumn/Winter is my FAVE cultural season – and because it’s getting colder and darker, I love venue specific good times. I want to be in one place, be a part of something cool for a few hours before heading home. None of this bar hopping or outdoorsy things for me…….unless it’s Enchanted Parks or I’ve got my Gin jacket on – then all good and happy to face the elements.

So things that I’m looking forward to so far that I’m going to – Pink Sari Revolution at Northern Stage – based on a fantastic book about empowered and revolutionary women in Indian, Our Time at Great North Museum – party and culture crawl in a museum after hours, Get Lucky at Wylam Brewery –   a fully synthesized electronic soul orchestra performing Daft Punk live and I Hate Alone at The Peacock in Sunderland on 26th October at  7.30pm (tickets avail www.SunderlandStages.co.uk) – a full blown theatre gig, think Thelma and Louise turned up to 11.

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I Hate Alone is what I’m most excited about and it’s from MiddleChild – a theatre company that have absolutely thrived in Hull’s City of Culture this year….and it’s exciting to see a the theatre company thrive so much and is a testament to what the award of City of Culture can do not just to the region, but to the cultural organizations within.

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So who are MiddleChild!?…well they feel like hot property at the moment and are certainly doing amazing things…and the most important thing, culture vultures – they provide a bliddy good night out!

So Culture Vultures, I caught up with Paul Smith from MiddleChild and director of I Hate Alone to find out more and get in the know and the now….

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Hi Paul, Tell me about your show I Hate Alone?

I Hate Alone follows two women – Danielle and Chloe – who believe the world has wronged them. They decide to create a list of the people who have contributed to their dissatisfaction and get their own back one-by-one. It’s a story of injustice, revenge and above all, friendship. Danielle and Chloe are modern day anti-heroes.

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We re-watched Thelma and Louise just for the show – love the vibe of taking revenge against the world – who was your favourite Thelma or Louise?

An impossible question! You can’t have Thelma without Louise or Louise without Thelma. It’s like having Ant or Dec on their own – it’s just not the same. The great thing about that film is the relationship between the pair, the fact that they can simultaneously be good and bad for each other. It’s exactly that feeling that our writer Ellen Brammar has managed to capture with I Hate Alone. It’s impossible to say if the friendship is a good or a bad thing because there are elements of both, and it’s impossible to say who you prefer – be it Thelma/Louise or Danielle/Chloe, because they are yin and yang. One can’t exist in the same way without their partner in crime.

What is a theatre gig?

We like to use the term ‘a gig with a story’. It’s essentially a night out with big ideas in it. The feeling of coming to one of our shows is no different to going to see a stand-up comedian or your favourite band live but with one key difference – there’s a complex, compelling story at the heart of it.

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What can audiences expect?

A dark and funny tale of two women who sing, shout and kick ass.

What music can people expect?

Danielle and Chloe have chosen to tell their story as part of a gig where they showcase music from their band Disabled Barbie. Throughout the night they play their own brand of gothic-electronica influenced by a broad range of artists such as Let’s Eat Grandma, Kate Bush and Daughter. Expect dirty beats, hard-hitting drums and even a recorder solo!

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You guys really wanted your show in the Peacock – why was that? (they do amazing Sunday Lunch roast potatoes – just saying!)

We believe that theatre needs to break out of existing purely in traditional theatre spaces and want to set fire to expectations of what a night watching theatre can be. Taking I Hate Alone to social spaces like The Peacock allows us to do just that. Oh, and the amazing roast potatoes of course.

You guys have released a new EP and video – tell me a bit more about that?

We’re keen to find ways that the music in our shows can be enjoyed beyond the live experience. We think theatre can learn a lot from the idea of fandom in art forms like music and comedy and want to enable people to continue their engagement with gig theatre on their own terms. Being on Spotify, Band camp and places like that are key to ensuring our work reaches beyond the usual theatre crowd.

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Where did Middlechild start? Who/What is MiddleChild?

Middle Child started in Hull 6 years ago, almost to the day! We all met at Hull University and, after going off to various drama schools / jobs, decided that we wanted to make our own work in a city we loved. Since then Hull was awarded the honour of becoming the UK City of Culture, allowing us to grow in both ambition and capacity. The name actually comes from Fight Club, as the characters talk about being the ‘middle children of history’. That term really resonated with us at a time when the Coalition government was just coming into power. We had no great war, no obvious battle, but knew things weren’t right, needed changing and to do so we had to be loud and outspoken. That feeling remains today and runs right through the work we make.

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Favourite Fringe moment/experience?

This entire year up in Edinburgh was incredible. We were at our favourite venue – Paines Plough’s amazing Roundabout – and were selling out shows and receiving great reviews. The Fringe can either feel like the best or the worst place to be and this year we were extremely fortunate. The one moment that stands out is when one of our actors, Marc Graham, was surprised after the show with a Stage Award for Acting Excellence. It was the first time I’d seen him speechless, which was very enjoyable.

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Explain your involvement in City of Culture in Hull?

We were one of 2017’s major theatre commissions with our show All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Luke Barnes. We also benefited hugely from organisational and creative development from the team who have supported what we do from the day they arrived. We’ve been massively fortunate and our impending NPO status is massively due to the permission for thinking big given to us by the Culture Company. The transformative power of culture has been so apparent all year, and Hull is absolutely buzzing. It’s been an amazing time for the city and our job now is to work with the other local organisations to ensure it is the start of something special, rather than the end of it.

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Advice to other cultural organisations in Sunderland and how they could benefit if Sunderland secures the bid?

Keep doing what you’re doing, believe in yourselves, work hard and – when the time comes – the right people will notice that and do what they can to help you achieve as much as you can. Don’t expect the City of Culture label to wave a magic wand – it’s commitment to what you’re making and doing that will make the real difference, City of Culture would simply reinforce and build upon that.

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Holy moly – I’m bliddy excited to meet MiddleChild and BEYOND excited to see them at The Peacock on 26th October at 7.30pm….  see you there!

Mixtape 90s: The Six Twenty

We all know I love theatre, I love a good old night out, buzz light years over a pub quiz and currently experiencing an intense nostalgic love affair with the 90s….. so Sunderland Stages bringing Mixtape by The Six Twenty to The Peacock in Sunderland is right up my street. Sunderland Stages is all about bringing theatre to unexpected places in Sunderland…..and of course, theatre in an actual pub is pretty unexpected and lush.

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Mixtape is an immersive performance pub quiz….. The Six Twenty have taken it to festivals, Live Theatre and other venues, all with sold out performances. I’ve heard rave reviews so I’m super excited to attend on 30th June…. (tickets are available now – bring a group, bring yourself and in typical 90s Nirvana style – ‘come as you areeee!’)

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It’s also a perfect opportunity to check out the newly opened Peacock venue – a beautiful independent pub within Sunderland’s thriving cultural quarter….. I’ve heard they do a corking Sunday lunch too.

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And, The Six Twenty are a Newcastle based theatre company that is growing and has big plans for the future so this is an opportunity to check them out and their work…..

I caught up with The Six Twenty’s Artistic Director, Creative Producer and all round absolute megababe, Melanie Rashbrooke, to find out more and all about 90s Mixtape….

Hi Melanie, right tell me about The Six Twenty?

The Six Twenty are dedicated to creating playful, entertaining and immersive theatre that’s ambitious and fun. We make new work and also produce re-imaginings of classic and contemporary plays. We tour throughout the UK to theatres, outdoor spaces and unexpected places. We hope to make theatre that inspires, moves and creates conversation and brings people together.

Now tell me about Mixtape?

Mixtape is our infamous comedy music quiz show. It’s a unique concept that was invented at The Six Twenty and is performed and created by a brilliant band of theatre-makers, comedians and musicians who we call Mixtapers. Basically The Mixtapers perform comedy sketches that are created entirely out of song lyrics; the song lyrics can be reordered and repeated but no additional words can be used. Plus the sketch can’t be longer than the running time of the track that inspired it.

The Culture Vulture: I literally feel sick with excitement at the thought of this already….. I know 90s songs inside out…….

The audience plays along in teams and tries to guess the songs, bands and artists that inspire the sketches. The team with the most correct answers at the end of the night wins one of our highly coveted Golden Mixtapes. Each of our shows is themed and the next one is The 90s so expect a mix of pop classics, Summer anthems, dance tracks and Brit Pop!  It’s a really fun relaxed show that’s great for music and pub quiz lovers as well as theatre fans.

The Culture Vulture: New life ambition is to own one of these golden Mixtapes…….

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What’s it been like getting rave reviews and sell out shows!?

It’s been great to see the show grow and build a real following. I’m particularly excited by the feedback we get from audiences – especially people who might not attend the theatre that much and who really enjoy the show.

The Culture Vulture: As someone who works on events and organize my own, feeding off the audience buzz and interaction is what feeds the want to do another event. It’s lush when people enjoy and champion what you’ve put on and of course, had a lush time!

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What was the show’s inspiration?

It was something I dreamed up whilst I was working on a writing project with Write on Tap (a group of writers based in Newcastle). The theme for the project was ‘Who I am with You, Who I Am Without You’. I decided to challenge myself by writing a short script using just the lyrics of the U2’s song…yes that one! And thus Mixtape was born.

Also, I love my music and who doesn’t love a good old pub quiz!

You’re bringing Mixtape to Sunderland 30th June, the Peacock….tell me about the show?

We’re bringing our new 90s show; the show recently premiered at Live Theatre (where we create all of our new shows) to a sell-out crowd. Expect a night crammed full of 90s tunes, comedy, crop-tops, dance routines, mayhem and fun!

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What can attendees expect on 30th June? Why should people come and get their tickets?

Comedy, quiz, fancy-dress, music, fun! A night crammed full of super fly hits. From boy bands to dance anthems, grunge and summer hits; this show’s gonna be off the chain. So dig out your 90s crop tops and Docs, brush off your Discman, and bring a team along and see if you can win the Golden Mixtape.

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90s fancy dress is also highly encouraged with the best dressed 90s team winning a special prize too!

The Culture Vulture: Well I’m going to be prancing around the place dressed as blossom with a side pony tail.

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As someone who is OBSESSED with the 90s….I dig the theme. Why did you go for the 90s music?

We’ve created a variety of Mixtape shows based on different music themes including North East bands, Alternative music, Rock ’n’ Roll 50s, Boy Bands vs. Girl Bands, 80s…the list goes on. So it was about time we tackled the most bangin’ decade. There are some seriously good tunes featured in the show.

The Culture Vulture: Right – I need to see every single show……love the sound of all of these!

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Your favourite 90s song of all time?

Ooooh tricky…there’s so many to choose from. I’m going to go with a curve ball option – I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred. Come and see the show and find out why……

The Culture Vulture: Now that’s a controversial and interesting choice – I need to know more. I’ve rediscovered E-17 recently – ‘House of Love’ plays on repeat currently…..

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Tell me a bit about some other The Six Twenty projects (fans!) and other things coming up?

In 2016 we won the Bridging the Gap award to create a new show called FANS which is part music gig and part theatre show and written by the brilliant Nina Berry and made with an awesome team of theatre-makers, musicians and creatives. It explores what it means to be a music fan. We’ll be redeveloping the show later this year and then re-touring the show in 2018.

We’re also working on a couple of new shows. One is with Mixtaper Lewis Jobson called Redcoat and explores what it means to be happy and what happens when you have an ‘off day’ and you tell Barney the Dinosaur to f***k off (in front of a load of kids)…at Butlins…in Bognor Regis.

The Culture Vulture: What a great concept for a show…..

The other show we’re working on is with Charlie Raine who performed in FANS. It’s called The Playground. For this we’re interviewing children aged between 4-7 years old about their lives and their views of the world. The final show will be performed by adults for adults as adults – using the words of the children we interview and collaborate with.

The Culture Vulture: This is brilliant – kids say hilarious and pure things.

And of course we’ve got loads more Mixtapes coming up!

To find out more about the projects we’ve got coming up and how you can get involved visit our website at www.thesixtwenty.com

Well thanks Melanie, this all sounds lush and brilliant………. I’m so passionate about theatre in and around the North East – love it! Get your tickets for 90s Mixtape everyone…….you’ll be greeted on the door by The Culture Vulture, manically happy, like some 90s super fan.

Big love from The Culture Vulture. xx

Mobile; a class theatre show about class.

I don’t come from an artsy back ground; I come from one in which new experiences and trying different things was encouraged. My first and only experience of the theatre, as a child was either through primary school trips or my yearly panto trip. It wasn’t until I was older, as a shy introverted child, that I decided getting involved in drama was a good idea and one, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I acted in plays, wrote stories and took countless different drama exams – theatre and performance were important as they not only let me challenge myself but they also let me be myself. I found the confidence to have a voice as opposed to a teen that had a million and one thoughts and things going on in my head, but just never had the courage to say them. This will sound hilarious now as someone who often never stops talking or putting forward her opinion…..

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Now as an adult, I engage and enjoy theatre from the other side – as an audience member. I love theatre and performance for many reasons; firstly – it’s pure escapism and storytelling at its very best. You can lose yourself in another world, whilst having a really lush experience or evening out. Secondly, it’s a shared experience and moment – an absolute one off that you share with the audience around you, the people you’ve come to see the show with and of course, the cast and crew. And finally, and yet mostly importantly, it offers a different perspective of a theme, a story, a thing and triggers reflection and a growing sense of a new understanding.

I love things that make me think – things that challenge my perception of life and theatre can and does, open you up to a whole new world. In some instances, it might be a show of make believe and in others, many of my favourite shows, the story resonates and sits very close to home, exploring societal themes and stories.

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Couple that with my love of something unique; what I like to call a “sneaky hidden cultural adventures” – an arts experience in an unexpected place; well I was thrilled to go and see Mobile, a performance piece by an all-girl collective called The Paper Birds (gan on lasses!). Mobile was brought to Sunderland Winter Gardens on 28th and 29th May by the lush Sunderland Stages. Sunderland Stages take theatre and performance to unexpected places across Sunderland and let’s be honest, there is nothing more unexpected that a theatre show next to Mowbray Park in a caravan……

You can watch the Mobile trailer here!

The dynamic company The Paper Birds comprises Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell, Kylie Walsh and Bonnie Mitchell. After their first show, A Smile Fell in the Grass, featured in the National Student Drama Festival, the company formed in 2003. 14 years on The Paper Birds strive to create and share devised work that is culturally, socially and politically important in day to day life and often tells and prioritisies the stories and voices of women.

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Mobile is the second of a trilogy series about class; the first in the series was a show called ‘Broke’. Many of you may have seen the piece already when it appeared in 2016 at Live Theatre and received smash hit rave reviews. The Guardian has even reviewed it: “Mobile neatly turns the caravan into a magic box where every cupboard and drawer springs a surprise”.

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But for those who haven’t seen it; Mobile is a piece entirely set in a caravan, the audience is invited inside the caravan after playing name games with each other outside. The set-up is one that reminded me of a festival / camping feel so automatically I felt at ease and was enjoying chatting to other audience members.

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Once inside the caravan, the story is told with one narrator and explores the themes of class, home, society and identity through a whole host of appliances, which are used in a really innovative digital means to give voices to other “characters” sharing their story and experience of class boundaries, barriers and labels.

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The show was interactive, thought provoking and exceptionally emotional in parts. For 40mins, so many class-related questions were posed, stories shared and it was a beautiful production. It was interesting to explore how much of our sense of self, is defined by birth right, labels given to us and societies construction of who and what we are, what we could be and who we should be.

I caught up with Jemma McDonnell, the artistic director of Paper Birds to find out more about Mobile and to dig a little deeper about the show…..

Tell me about Paper Birds and the inspiration behind the name and the collective?

The idea was based on taking a piece of paper and creating something new from it and to be honest I think at the time I had meant origami but was not sure of the spelling so wrote ‘paper bird’.  Because we are a devising theatre company and we try to make work that is very current this felt like it would symbolically work for the company and our aims.

Now tell me about Mobile; a play that is set inside a caravan – what’s it all about?

We were utilising the research of a sociologist at the London School of Economics (Dr Sam Friedman) about social mobility and it inspired us. Enshrined within this is the notion of class and social structure in Britain both past and present. We wanted to tap into how we all feel resonance with different classes, and the universality of the issues they include; family, home, ambition.

What was the inspiration behind setting the piece in a caravan?

The caravan symbolised for us, holidays and nostalgic memories of family; we wanted to use the intimacy of such a small space to be able to explore things theatrically that could never work on a stage. It was the proximity of the audience to the performer and the immersive aspect that enticed us.

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We were also really attracted to the idea that the caravan itself has experienced social mobility; 100 years ago the caravan was an affluent symbol, and since then it has both risen and declined in popularity. In particular it now represents a ‘working class’ holiday – and the complexity of this shift seemed to fit perfectly with the subject we were exploring.

It must have been a real challenge creating and playing in such a small location as a caravan, with just eight people sat so close to you?

The challenges certainly include how you can use the space; there’s not a lot of room, especially when the caravan is at capacity! We had to be really inventive with the way we transformed the space with technology and AV design. It also limits the capacity for cast members/actors; we found creative ways of including as many voices and stories as possible despite only using one actor.

But the best thing is that we don’t need to rig and focus all the lights at each new venue we tour to- as they are all in position already!

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Considering the volatile nature of modern politics, are there any timely messages that Mobile has to offer?

The main political strand that evolves throughout the piece relates to the notion of fairness; in how our culture lays out the promise of a fair and just society for all where we are free to prosper and rise. But as is experienced by our character Cindy, those who do not start with financial advantage are very rarely rewarded with the same level of upward mobility as it would seem.

You’re currently touring the show up and down the country, what has the audience response been like so far?

The show is always received with positive reactions – being so close to the audience and sharing the enclosed space means that audience experience is always clearly obvious; most people experience a reflective and emotional engagement with the issues and themes and often this is characterised by shedding a few tears! But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are plenty of laughs along the way!

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What can the audience expect getting into the caravan and what will they take away?

We hope that people come away with a new found appreciation for all that their family and upbringing involved, that they leave the caravan thinking about class and how social structure relates to them. We hope that they identify with if not one, but several of the characters they meet along the way, and above all else – that they are wowed by the technical wizardry installed into the humble interior of a family caravan!

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Well thank you Jemma – what a pleasure and good luck with the rest of the tour. Can’t wait to see what The Paper Birds do next!

Still curious about Mobile? Well you can watch audience feedback here and The Paper Birds are currently touring the show across the Summer, so make sure on your Summer adventures to plan in time to see this amazing show.

Big love to Sunderland Stages for bringing this lush and thought provoking show to the North East….they are shortly announcing their Autumn programme so keep an eye out – but Mobile certainly gives you a flavour of the different type of theatre shows to expect.

Even bigger love to fellow Culture Vultures – see you soon!