Interview with Sunderland artist Kathryn Robertson – making waves, rebels & lock down.

I am so proud at how the artistic and creative community has been coming together and rallying at this unprecedented time of….well it’s nothing short of a Black Mirror episode of crazy that I keep thinking I might pinch myself and wake up from at some point. I am more determined than ever to use my platform and voice to help and support artists – I want to show you the talent that exists in the world, how bright and beautiful creative humans are and the amazing things many artists are doing even when the chips are down….

Kathryn Robertson –  is one of those artists doing lush amazing things. I wanted to interview her long before this COVID-19 thing kicked off – but having a little bit more down time has provided me with the ability to get through my “must interview” wish list and start reaching out to folks. And what a better place to start than Sunderland muralist, illustrator, graphic designer and all round gloriously talented Kathryn! #ganonlass

Kathryn Robertson

Head over to @kr.illustrates on Insta to get a flavour of Kathryn’s work – it’s so lush and if you’re familiar with Sunderland, you’ll see lots of lush sites and re-imaginings of things you might recognise. Kathryn has also collaborated remotely with @martintype (Insta) on a screen print to raise funds for North East food banks during their time of arguably greatest need. Head over to HERE to see it and purchase – it’s Pay What You Decide.

I had the pleasure of recently, remotely catching up with Kathryn and here is our interview…. It’s lush one!

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Kathryn Robertson

Hiyer, so tell my Culture Vultures who you are?

I’m Kathryn Robertson, 25, some kind of artist from Sunderland.

Standard Vulture question – what was your journey into the creative industries?

It was a bit of a winding road, apologies in advance for the long answer. I went from: Apprenticeship in Design & Print when I was 18 then unemployed then worked in bars/cafes then an apprentice chef (for a very short but painful while) then realising I was a bit awful at all of these jobs.

Ben Wall (HI BEN), gave me some work in designing event posters for Independent (Music Venue & Nightclub in Sunderland), I worked behind the bar at the time, but I basically ended up quitting the bar to design the posters and other things instead. I registered as self-employed, went to uni in 2016 to do Graphic Design at 21, carried on with illustration/graphics on the side, did a bit of hustling/selling my own printed products/couple of art fairs here and there.

I structured my final project at Uni around public artwork and illustration, and since then I’ve worked on commissions and public artworks with University of Sunderland, Sunderland Libraries, The Council, Pop Recs, Holmeside Coffee, Vaux and many others! I’ve been lucky to have been supported, and to have worked with some great orgs like Sunderland Culture and The Enterprise Place along the way.

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I love your illustration – when did you fall in love with drawing?

I liked it when I was little because my sister is an artist, and she would give me drawing lessons and take me to The Baltic, and out to see street art when she lived in Manchester. I used to draw/try to emulate things like the typography off food and drink labels quite a lot. I properly fell in love with it when I was around 17, when people started to ask me to draw things for actual purposes, like gig posters, and stuff for fanzines etc.

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Kathryn Robertson

You do SO.MUCH; tell me about your practice?

This is something I’m not very eloquent at. I usually look to others to describe my work back to me (lol). I’d describe my practice as: Graphic Design, illustration, and painted murals, sometimes/mostly heavily influenced by my surroundings in the North East.

How you finding “lock down” as an artist/creative? Any advice to creatives struggling right now working from home?

I’ve never been the *best* at working from home, but it is something I got used to when I was freelancing as a graphic designer, so I’m mentally prepared for it. I’m easing myself into it at the moment and feeling very lucky that I have the option to do so. I’m doing organisational things that I’ve been putting off for ages, stuff like backing up my work up 7 million times, organising folders and filing receipts. I find that “getting dressed” in the morning is a canny good start though.

 

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SAME – terrible working at home; a dynamic learning situation! You’ve got quite a recognisable style in terms of design work – how did that develop?

Thanks! I guess just a lot of practicing makes for the natural development of your own style really. Everyone has a unique style, so the more you work, the more you iron it out and make it your own. We’re all just an accumulation of our other influences as well though, innit.

You were awarded University of Sunderland 2019 Design Student Award, how did that come about? How did it feel to win?

I did a mixture of sort of hands-on things as part of my final Graphic Design Project at University. It included an illustrated surfboard which is on display in The Beam, an entry in Vaux’s beer label design competition, and a mural of Sunderland in The Priestman Building, along with some other things. The award was for Creativity & Individuality – probably just because of the weird mixture of not-very-graphic-designy things I decided to do (lol).

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Kathryn Robertson

Thoroughly deserved! You create fantastic murals – tell me about the mural connected to Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland and the process behind creating it?

Joe from Holmeside got in touch as they wanted something to jazz up the doorway of their take-out shop when it first opened. We struck up a deal of a doorway mural in exchange for me selling my merch in the shop. That was sort of the first ‘mural’ I did really, (other than a terrible one I did in Independent in 2014).

It’s a mash up of Sunderland buildings in HC doorway, and it was kind of made up as I went along, and drawn in paint pens, it was snowing at the time, so I went delirious with the cold. When people ask if the made-up-buildings are certain places I’m like “yep, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be, definitely didn’t make it up”.

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Kathryn Robertson

HAHA! How does it feel having your murals pop-up all over Sunderland bringing it to life? Do you ever lurk and watch folks looking at it to get a sense of what they think?

It’s great 🙂 I like having my work so visible, but I’m very shy, so when I see people looking at stuff it’s nice to just wander past in the knowledge that they don’t know that I made it (if that makes any sense) (creepy). I like hiding (figuratively) behind the artwork I guess, that’s probably why I’m an artist in the first place, to let the drawings do the talking for me. I’m bad at talking.

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Kathryn Robertson

I’m QUEEN lurker/introvert/socially awkward and shy – I hear you! As a social media professional I LOVE your personality on Insta and that you’ve got the breadth of your practice (including yourself!) on there; loved the @teatowelontour Insta channel – how did it feel finding out about that? (Reminds me of the Innocent smoothie stapler going across the world!)

Yeah it’s great to see Helen (@lifeouels) travel with the Sunderland Tea Towel, just a really canny idea to take a bit of home with her around the world, love seeing the updates 🙂

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Kathryn Robertson

In addition to tea towels – you sell some of your work and your available for commissions (loved the design for Lamp Light Festival graphics!) – where can people buy stuff from you and get in touch?

Thanks!! My online shop is partially down for the time-being while I figure the whole ‘freelancing whilst social distancing’ thing out, but I’ve got something out now with another artist pal (Andy Martin) at the moment, a print – you can get it HERE.  Other than that it’s: @kr.illustrates (insta), @krillustrates (FB) and krillustrates@gmail.com for work enquires!

I feel like you’re really making waves and your mark on the Sunderland creative scene – what do you think of the creative scene in Sunderland? Any Sunderland peer creatives you admire that I should check out?

I love the creative scene in Sunderland. Here are some names/instagrams of Visual artist pals based in Sunderland (I think) : @heatherchambersart, @chris_cummings_art, @saragibbesonillustration, @mar9ntype, @mariegardinerphoto, @sue.loughlin, @maverickartjo, @cwnutsandseeds, @charliepasquali , @faostyles.

There’s so many more but my brain is not working. Need coffee.

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Kathryn Robertson

Speaking of making waves….tell me about the “City by the Sea” exhibition and your piece in it?

There was an open call for artists based in Sunderland to design a surfboard to part of this exhibition in The Beam (that building on the Vaux site). I proposed a very Sunderland themed design of past and present buildings. I was picked as one of the artists to be commissioned.

They delivered this 6ft surfboard to me and I drew on it in paint pens, they lacquered it, and now it’s upstairs in The Beam, alongside some other local artists versions, and they got some schools to do a few as well. Canny!

Can you tell me about Rebel Women Sunderland – what the project is and how you got involved?

Laura Brewis (Sunderland Culture) is the mastermind behind The Rebel Women of Sunderland project, and I believe it was inspired by a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as her daughter. It’s a project to shine a light on notable women from Sunderland, and to tell their stories in an engaging way. We created illustrations and stories for each of the selected women. I was commissioned to do the illustrating, alongside writer Jessica Andrews who wrote their wonderful stories.

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Kathryn Robertson

How were the notable women selected?

Sunderland Culture put a post out for people to nominate women or give suggestions of notable women, or women that have shone in their field, or gone somewhat unsung, I believe they got a huge list of suggestions, and had to condense it down (which will have been very difficult!)

Why are projects like Rebel Women important in 2020?

It’s important to tell the stories of all of these women, and I think it’s particularly nice to be able to show and tell them in this way, there’s been a lot of RW themed events where people can get involved, the exhibition has been around a couple of different venues in the city – and I’m sure the stories will have inspired some young people to think “I can be that too”. As Laura quoted at one of the past Rebel Women events, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”!

I love that – Brewis is such a lush human! And rebel lass in her own right! Tell me about the new recent additions to Rebel Women Sunderland for this year’s International Women Day?

The newest editions are Nadine Shah, Florence Collard + The Shipyard Girls, Ellen Bell, and Aly Dixon.

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Kathryn Robertson

What’s next for Rebel Women Sunderland as a project? Where can we see the pieces in the future?

It will expand in the future hopefully, there’s still plenty of lasses to feature! Laura wants to make a book, which I’m so down for. I’m not sure where the pieces/stories will be available to see next, maybe we should make it into some kind of virtual exhibition though (!!?)

I am so here for that – so tell me about a few illustrators or muralists you admire and suggest I check out?

Sheffield-based artist Jo Peel @jo_peel (obsessed with her), James Gulliver Hancock, @gemmacorrell @vicleelondon @mul_draws, @pandafunkteam, @sophie_roach, @mr_aryz @ashwillerton

What’s next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline?

As with everyone, I’m a little uncertain for the next however many months, as public work is off, art fairs either postponed or cancelled, but I’m hoping to have plenty of new illustrations by the end of this, and if I’m dreaming about the future, then I’d love to have my first exhibition of my own work somewhere one day – if it was something people wanted to see.

I’d love to carry on with public artworks too. Also I have this (maybe slightly ambitious) dream of doing a stop-motion animated mural, inspired greatly by Jo Peel, check this out HERE

Love what you do and thanks for the great questions!

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Kathryn Robertson

That love is right back at you and I am so excited for what you do next! You are a glorious human!  Check Kathryn’s work out…

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! I’ve got a great list of blog posts coming!

An interview with Jock Mooney – a ray of light on Insta, immortalising contemporary icons & The Golden Girls.

During the midst of this weird pants Black Mirror episode, I’ve been taking solace in two things…..

  1. Artists on Instagram – I’ve taken a leaf out of graphic designer Emily Coxhead’s ethos and want my social media no longer full of toxic, negative stuff and to let go of the things I’ve got no control over (I am feeling a sense of acceptance for my HUGE income loss) and wanting a newsfeed full of happy things. Instead, I want to look on the bright side, look at lush artist’s work, my feed to be full of lush creative talent and BOLD colour.
  2. Nostalgia – I’m filling my “me” time with books, films, series, icons and things from decades ago. I want things like Paris & Nicole, Britney Spears, Beetlejuice, Something About Mary, Chicken Soup for the Soul…… I’m such a 90s/00s kid so filling my mind and heart with things I know and love!

An artist that brings both these things together is Jock Mooney. His Insta feed is just mega and brings such light into my life – it’s full of colour, puns, characters and celebrities we know and it makes me smile. We all need a little more of that right now! I’ve wanted to interview Jock for a few years now – but I stumbled across his Brexit cat piece at Vane recently and it prompted me to get in touch.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

Jock is such a talented artist and covers a broad range of mediums. Jock Mooney was born in Edinburgh but is currently represented by Vane, a lush indie gallery in Newcastle. His graphics, prints and sculpture have been exhibited internationally solo and in group exhibitions. He designs for his apparel company VONK – it’s basically Jock’s work printed onto T-shirts and garments. I’m so here for it and need all of it.

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He ALSO (yep us creative types are rarely locked into on thing) 50% of highly acclaimed animation duo, Alasdair & Jock. The two have directed projects for The Beatles, Coldplay and David Gilmour amongst many others. They’ve also had work projected onto Buckingham Palace. Ah-mazing!

Well enough from me – over to Jock!

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Jock Mooney

Hi Jock, right – the existential crisis question….. Who are you?

I am Jock Mooney, and I would say I am an artist / animation director / illustrator / designer. Not very catchy, but I do various projects across various disciplines. I prefer to not pigeonhole myself, that’s boring!

No-one likes a beige buffet – so the less boring the better! Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about your journey into the creative industries?

I did sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art between 2000 – 2004.  After Edinburgh, I was based in Newcastle for a while, which is a city I still love very much. I’m represented, for fine art, by Vane, who have a gallery on Pilgrim Street.

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Who Are You & What Do You Want – image credit: Colin Davison

In 2008 I moved down to London and continued to be an artist, but that was literally when the financial crash happened; just when I was starting to sell work!  It was also, thankfully, around the time that an old flatmate of mine (one of my first flatmates actually from Edinburgh), got in touch about collaborating. That was Alasdair Brotherston and it was for a music video, for a band called the Tom Fun Orchestra. The video ended up doing really well and won ‘Best Video’ at the Canadian version of The Brits.  So we basically continued to work together, and we still do, in tandem with whatever other things either of us has going on.

I also have a t-shirt company with some old school pals of mine from the Scottish Borders. The company is called VONK and we started out in 2019, getting a feature on Lorraine Kelly just months after being in business!

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Ohh – a shout out from Lorraine – that’s MEGA! Tell us about some recent projects you’ve been working on?

With Alasdair, I’ve been very lucky to recently do three projects for The Beatles. Two music videos and a lyric video. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was the most recent one, which was produced by Maria Manton who is a bit of a legend in the animation industry!  The video was released in September 2019 and it has had over 21 million views on YouTube which is pretty good!

You can watch the video here.

Tell us about the Inspiration for your work?

For my artwork, my inspiration falls somewhere in between historical references, kitsch, adolescent humour and pop. I like to combine highbrow and lowbrow references. My most recent solo show was more of a reflection of our current state being called ‘From Spiceworld to Brexit’.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

When it comes to VONK and the t-shirt design side of things, that’s a bit more direct in terms of subject matter. They are designed to be popular, ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s subverted references, preferably with punning titles.  So, things like ‘Mermaid, She Wrote’, ‘My Little Ciccone’, ‘Cat Lady Gaga’, etc.  A large amount of people who appreciate my work are young, so I am aware of that, not everyone can afford an original artwork or print, but they might be able to afford a t-shirt.

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How can I buy your work? What can I buy?

I like this question!  For artworks, from drawings and sculptures to screen prints then Vane is the place! They have an online shop and they also offer Own Art when it comes to making a purchase if that helps.

For t-shirts, vest, tote bags VONK is the place. We can be found at http://www.hellovonk.com. For the moment we are also offering free shipping worldwide!

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How do decide which contemporary subjects, you’re going to immortalise in a piece?  

I have to feel some sort of personal connection or interest. I can’t really do something ‘popular’ just for the sake of it. There has to be something there.

Think carefully – this question will define our future potential friendship Britney or Christina?

I’m more on the Britney spectrum. Blackout is one of the best pop albums ever.

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Right answer – it’s always #britneybitch time. Can you reveal your next design subject?

Well… there’s stuff I can’t legally talk about that may happen; I hope. In this current climate I think just managing to get through the next few months will be such a focus. We all need to look out for each other and hope we all get out on the other side.

VONK are about to release an AMAZING Golden Girls (with a twist) design!

I LOVE your Golden Girls new graphic – who is your favourite golden girl and why?

That is pretty difficult. I think The Golden Girls, a bit like the Spice Girls, are so popular because of their different, defined characters, and how well they complement each other.  I’d love to say ROSE though, but Betty White is fucking impressive.

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You’ve got such a great Insta following and you bring to life icons that people know and love – have you had any celebrities reach out in support……

For animation work, Alasdair and I recently won an award at the British Animation Awards. There were a few big names there who were very complimentary, which is certainly validating.

For artwork, I’ve had a few compliments here and there!  For t-shirts, Keith Lemon has said some very nice things, I know that Bianca Del Rio owns a couple of shirts!  The designs have been on TV a few times, sometimes on a celebrity, so that is obviously really great to see. I know MNEK has a Virgin Mariah shirt, he is utterly amazing!  Jodie Harsh also recently commissioned me to do a couple of portraits for her, which was really fun; she’s a LEGEND.

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Who Are You & What Do You Want – image credit: Colin Davison

LOVE Bianca Del Rio! Any other artists you recommend that fellow Culture Vultures should check out?

I always really, really, really, enjoy Jessica Harrison’s work. She’s amazingly talented and went to Edinburgh College of Art too.  From an animation perspective, there’s a studio called Moth who always make very lovely work, as does a studio called Wednesday Studio who do really beautiful stuff.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

What’s next for you?

I think I am making a REALLY HOT chickpea curry for dinner.

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From Spiceworld to Brexit – image credit: Colin Davison

Good answer – fax me some. Check out Jock’s work and follow him on Insta – I can guarantee you’ll love it. Check out VONK too – I thought I had enough tote bags in my life – but turns out, that I was wrong…..

Until next time Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with Newcastle Artist Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

If you’d asked me the question last week – “where’s your head at!?” – well I’d have said – a bit worried, but excited for lots of things to come and happenings. Now you’re asking me a week on – well… not as much in a pit of doom as I was a day or so ago but I’m circling it. The world as we once knew – individually and collectively – will never be the same again. It’s all A LOT to take in!

In the wake of what’s happening, social media has exploded into a well-meaning (sometimes!) explosion of noise, information, guidance – it’s suffocating. It’s bringing out the best and worst in people – a lot of projection IMO. Some of the elements of social media that we all know is bad for us and creates anxiety, disillusionment, chaos and everything in between, is unfolding in this period of uncertainty in which 24 hour news is being consumed like Crack. I feel like I’m trapped in a Black Mirror episode.

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Artist credit – Pointer – image from Insta

MIND FULL MESS by Newcastle artist Pointer, explores both those things – it provokes you to reflect on the question of “where’s your head at?” in the wider context of the social media world. Of course, this exhibition and it’s work was created before Covid-19 was a thing but viewing it and reflecting on it, in this new light has been interesting and for me, added a whole new layer to the work and actually, provided comfort.

Little did I know when the invitation to the opening of it at B&D Studios (the exhibition was set to run until end of March but is currently closed); that it would actually have such a profound effect, long after viewing. As someone who struggles with the concept of mindfulness (my brain just isn’t wired that way) and also navigating the relentlessness nature of 24/7 social media life (even more relentless in the context of now) – I thought the concept behind the exhibition sounded amazing.

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The MIND FULL MESS exhibition was filled with bold and thought provoking, mixed media skull pieces revolving around the theme of social media, the digital age and its effect on our potentially brilliant minds and mental health. Each skull summed up exactly how my brain feels at some point every single week or how it has felt times a million this week. Each skull was a provocation to reflect and check in with myself whilst considering that folks could be feeling any number of those thoughts or emotions…..

Before I get into the interview with Pointer – which was planned before Covid-19 ramped up to this level – I have a few take aways for my readers….

  1. Ask yourself the question “where’s your head at” at least once a day – check in with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself space. Give your mind chance to process and breathe.
  2. Take some time away from social media and put your phone down for a few hours a day – I’ve had freelance friends and art friends turning off their phones and muting notifications for their sanity – being overloaded by information and advice through various “groups” as other desperately try and figure things out, might not be helpful to you right now.
  3. Pointer is a fantastic artist and this was a selling exhibition – like many the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission – (hey we are all going to be spending time in doors for a while, so may as well colour up those walls) – contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer

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*Get ready for the question that triggers existential crisis….Who are you?*

I am a Newcastle based Artist by the name of Pointer.

*Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?*

After studying Graphics I drifted into a career as a commercial artist; making artwork for other people, companies and even other artists. For a long time I was quite comfortable being the guy that worked behind the scenes – without an outlet for my own personal work.

*Where did the name Pointer come from?*

That just happens to be my surname.  After a childhood of kids pointing fingers at me, I grew tired of it but I kind of like it again now.

*Tell me about your exhibition MIND FULL MESS?*

The exhibition is a collection of 16 artworks I have been working on since September. The tagline for the show is ‘In a 24/7 always ON culture, where’s your head at?” It’s a snapshot of peoples’ state of mind, a look at modern anxieties caused by living in the social media age.

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*How did the relationship with B&D studio come about?*

Someone kindly put my name forward for a show and I thought why not.

They have a free hosting space and take a generously small cut of sales.  I met James the manager on a tour of the gallery and later when a studio became available I felt it would be a good opportunity to progress my work.

*The show is called MIND FULL MESS – as someone whose mind is always a bit of a mess and has tried mindfulness and just doesn’t get it – I relate! Have you tried mindfulness?*

I think playing my music loud, stepping outside to take a walk once in a while and not taking my phone to bed are measures that are enough for me most of the time – I have never felt the need to do yoga on a beach at sunset listening to Enya.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS

*What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?*

Just to make people think or connect somehow with the work or look at things from a different perspective. That’s the most you can expect from art I guess.

*Tell me about inspiration for the pieces and exhibition?*

The initial impetus of the idea was wanting to show visually what’s going on in your brain whilst you are doing something mindless. I was thinking of some kind of internal conflict where one part of your brain is busy staring at the flashy lights whilst the other side of your brain is screaming for you to think.

*I feel like I live that conflicted reality …. So as a commercial artist – where is your head at with social media?*

I feel one format of social media is enough for me (Pointer is on Instagram – @bypointer). I chose the more visual platform of Instagram but there are long periods where I ignore it. I would happily pay a subscription for Instagram to ditch the ads and the restrictive algorithms. I realise I spend too much time reporting each ad I see as spam.

That’s a big negative for me, advertising really disengages me with what potentially is a great tool for artists. It’s a love / hate relationship!

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

*I think most people feel like that with social media….can you tell me a bit about the process of making each piece?*

Each piece features numerous laser cut wooden elements, these are all hand painted with sealer, primer and acrylic.  I have also used cut Perspex and steel which is then screen printed on. The pieces are then assembled and put together to make the final artworks.

*What’s next for you?*

I had planned on showing work at the recently postponed Nowt Special event and also the Late Shows in May (both postponed due to Covid-19). So, I guess I will get back to the sketchbook, it would be nice to book in another big exhibition project but will see what happens.

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 Pointer – MIND FULL MESS – taken from Insta

Thank you Pointer! Total talented gem!

Just to reiterate on my close of this blog interview – the current state of play will have hit his wallet hard. If you like the skull pieces and would like to purchase or interested in a commission –– contact him via his website: http://www.bypointer.com or via his insta: @bypointer – artists need our support right now.

(#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.

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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.

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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

An interview with artist Slutmouth – an Instagram discovery with meaning, heart and soul.

Instagram Is a great place to discover new artists and it’s one of my first places to start when looking for new creative lushness. It’s given a place for creatives – their feed is their digital gallery and portfolio to the world, alongside an insight to themselves and their practice. I think Instagram increases democracy in artistic opportunities and audiences – there is more potential for folks to see their work, enjoy it in their own time and there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for folks as there is in an art gallery.

I spend HOURS on Instagram looking at artists and creatives’ feeds on social – an introvert haven. Discovering new artists on Insta is almost as much of an addiction as my diet coke habit. Bettie/Slut mouth (love.that.name) is an Instagram super star creative, I’ve followed for some time – not only love their work, but also their ethos, integrity, passion for being real and bold in their work and they are one of my favourite (probably arguably my favourite – but I struggle with making final choices about favourites so ….) feminist and gender equality promoting artists. Their work crosses different mediums and like me – it’s kind of hard to describe what they do!

I’ve had Bettie on my list for a Culture Vulture blog for over a year – so I’m buzzed it’s actually happening and I got to interview this brilliant creative human. We need more Betties in the world. Part of my Culture Vulture adventure so far – it’s taught me as much about what and who I want to be personally, as it has professionally. Artists like Bettie create art that means something, says something to world and is an extension of who they are in a meaningful unapologetic way. Artists like Bettie, remind me, to be bold, be honest and to use my platform (and privilege) to say something to the world. Over to you Bettie….

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Hiyer, who are you?

I’m Bettie aka Slutmouth a surface designer and proud cat mom based in the North East more specifically, Hartlepool.

Tell me about your journey into the creative sector?

I was always very creative as a child, my mum nurtured this being a community artist herself. At age 14, I started to attend the National Saturday Art Club at which, was then, CCAD at Green Lane. We had the opportunity to exhibit our work in the Somerset House four times which is extremely cool at that age!

Whilst attending the Saturday club, I had the chance to use specialist art facilities which inspired me study Design crafts at the college and pursue a career in the Arts. During my time at the college, I really developed my love for freehand embroidery and created a bizarre and whimsical installation piece created as a homage to George Méliès and the Smashing Pumpkins.

The following year I started the Textile and Surface design course at the Northern School of Art where I really dived into Screen printing in the first year. It was in second year when watching John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ and The Cockettes documentary that I really began to home in on the ‘Slutmouth’ aesthetic and vibe. For the project of ‘Off Beat’ I was hugely inspired by Leigh Bowery and the Club Kids of New York and I feel that’s where I really started to explore my own identity, and what it meant to me within my work. This is when the penny really dropped and I felt I had a solid direction.

How would you describe your arts’ practice?

I would describe it as an extremely personal process with it originally being me exploring my identity, the taboos and negativity I was holding against my body and sexuality and breaking through those barriers by using my art to do so. I’ve always been a very colourful person even when in my emo phase and so this reflects within the colour palettes of my work. It is amalgamated stylised chaos, thought process.

Taking influence from music, art, fashion, film and feeling. I feel that I use my work as my platform to voice how I feel, think or would like to say. It’s very important to break down the barriers and stand for what you believe in if you have the ability to do so.

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How did you come up with the name Slutmouth?

For years I went by my name Bettie Hope; that name on my artwork never really sat right with me – I loved the idea of having an alter ego where I can really express myself and not feel so attached to it, if I needed to walk away and start again I could.

It took days and days to figure out what I wanted to be called. Slutmouth was the first idea that popped into my head, I was really into listening to Girlpool at the time, but I kept talking myself out of it. In the end I felt so strongly about the name I said Fuck it and drew my logo up right then. The reason the name Slutmouth

resonated with me so much is because of the struggle I faced as a young woman in a world of people who are just rude, inappropriate and feel they can slut shame womxn, so in reality it was me taking ownership of that and hopefully turning it into something positive. It’s still a funny process when trading at events and people see my brand name; some people are often shocked shuffle away very quickly, others adore the name and I can only think that it’s because they also resonate with it.

Well I adore it – Your art really has playfulness, passion & purpose behind it – it’s art that means & says something to me – but the tongue & cheekness also makes me smile…..where do you get your inspiration from for your work?

My first real inspiration for the ‘Off Beat’ project was my late friend Gary Pearson. I met him when I was in second year of University and he was in first year, he bounced into our room wearing this wonderful leather gimp mask; I was so excited and we instantly became friends. We chatted about so much; sex, relationships, music and it made me realise I wanted to be as open and make my work more personal to myself.

I started this process back in secondary school when I made a giant ragdoll that was supposed to be me. I think it’s very important to constantly looks inwards and challenge yourself to as authentic as possible.  Gary was such a fabulous leather daddy creature who introduced me to Tom of Finland. I’m honoured to have known him during that period of time; he really helped me begin to understand myself.

Equality

In your pieces, you explore feminism, identity, sexuality, queerness, empowerment, sex, bodies, being human…. Can you tell me about that?

I think the themes I explore are things that I have difficulty within the sense that I struggle to understand them within myself, and they then become things I can deal with. I also use my work as a platform for others and try to voice my thoughts through my work. Like I mentioned earlier I feel it’s very important to challenge the ‘norm’ and stand up for what you believe in, also to speak up for those who can’t find their own voice, you might become the thing that inspires them to do so.

I’m working on several feminist projects at the moment – and supporting several too. What do you think it means to be a feminist in 2020? What does it mean to you?

I think feminism is different for everyone; for me it’s about equality for all womxn and providing a safe space for us all to live and grow in whilst supporting each other to do the same. I love to explore feminist themes within my work to outline the struggles womxn still deal with today. The world can be a tough and nasty place and in recent years it seems as though we are taking huge steps backward in the western world, there are a lot of topics that can be covered within feminism, it can be quite overwhelming sometimes when thinking of social issues not just for womxn but for all sentient beings as I would like to help wherever I can, but sometimes you have to leave that fight for others; you can only do your best and so much but even then, that can make a huge difference.

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Tell me about your involvement with Sassify Zine Issue #7? What is Sassify for those who don’t know?

Sassify Zine is a platform to local and international LGBTQ+ artists and they aim to be advocates for meaningful change and education about the queer community. It is a not-for-profit Queer culture print magazine giving you all the best queer art and sassiness. In the Queer Heroes #7  issue the work I have featured is a digital illustration  named ‘Femme and Fierce’ and the ‘Luxury Period’ piece that was also exhibited at The Art of Being Queer exhibition, at the exhibition it was framed in ornate golden frame, but for the magazine its styled and photographed to look like a sanitary towel that is almost functional. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have featured then you can pre order the zine on http://www.sassifyzine.com

I was a lurker on your Insta for some time before I stumbled on to your work at The Art of Being Queer exhibition last year, which was absolutely the highlight of Middlesbrough Art Weekender – how did you get featured and what was the experience like of being featured?

Pineapple black was and still is an absolute Hub of creativity; my friend Gav Paughan who is a fantastic textiler, creates gorgeous gold work masks and wearables, was working in the studio space that he won and he was working on a new project something along those lines, another very busy artist.. anyway he got talking to Josh the guy that runs The Art of Being Queer blog and got himself in the exhibition and name dropped me – Josh contacted me and I submitted imagery of my work to be exhibited.

It was an amazing experience, I had lots of fun and it was unreal to be surrounded by the sheer amount of amazing artists I couldn’t quite believe the level of quality I was witnessing. The opening night was fantastic and the exhibition really stepped up the mark for the Middlesbrough Art scene, I’m very much looking forward to keeping an eye on where The Art of being Queer travels to next. In the mean time you can head over to the blog and keep up to date with more established and emerging queer artists.

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Of course, I fell in love with your “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” embellished sanitary pad exhibited….Can you tell me about the piece and the process of making it?

Wow thank you – this piece was created to highlight just one of many issues within period poverty. I started to create the piece just as embroidered typography, then during the process I had a brain wave whilst embroidering into the bleached calico to create a sanitary pad shape. I wasn’t sure if I was taking it too far at this point it was around 1am and I may have been delirious, but it was obviously the best kind of delirious.

I went on the search for a sanitary pad to get the shape accurate and began to incorporate the shape into my design, I then started to think how I could stuff it and make it 3D, from that point the typography read “Period Products Are A Necessity Not A Luxury” .

Another brain wave later; I decided to make it look like it had been used, which I would have preferred to have known at the start, but It was very organic the way this piece established itself in my brain. Once the watercolour had dried, I then began to embellish with a pearl trim and golden chain to make it seem unwearable and luxury. I had so much fun creating this piece I felt like I went back to my roots when doing so.

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You make some products like tea towels & pom poms – I’m surprised I’ve got this long into the questions before asking about the pom poms….LOVE pom poms (also a tea towel….very underrated in my experience) – tell me about your products?

My products are all handmade or hand finished; for example the T-shirts, I buy are organic cotton but I would then screen print the designs or hand embroider onto them. Any designs digitally printed are my own, but I source the digitally printing in the UK and then make up the product myself on the sewing machine. It’s just putting my artwork on different surfaces, I would eventually like to create garments alongside accessories, and play around with wallpaper again. I like to keep myself very busy if I’m not exhibiting my work, I’m trading sellable stock at fairs and on my website. I have just always loved to make sellable things since being around 16 years old and studying design crafts, at this age I also started to organise my own craft events.

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Tell me about fuzzy bosom? What is it? When the next “thing”?

Fuzzy Bosom is a side company I have set up with my lovely friend Adele Catchpole. We studied at Uni together and became very close; whilst at Uni I was the President of the SU and Adele was my VP – we started to put on events for other students there such as zine fairs and designer maker fairs.

We both have our own freelance businesses but we saw that Hartlepool was lacking in this field; we also wanted to offer bespoke artist workshops for the community along with a platform for local artists. It is also a lot of work to organise an event on your own, so we decided to join forces and share the load and thus the Fuzzy team was formed. We have lots of amazing ideas, and more events to plan, but we are both moving homes at the moment; so we have put it on the back burner for a few weeks before we get back to it. We have recently ran a weaving workshop and screen-printing workshop during the Stand Together event in Hartlepool.

What’s the art scene like over in Hartlepool? I want to make a day trip of going there – where should I be visiting? What should I be seeing?

The art scene is pretty strong; the place is heaving with creativity at the Bis Centre on Whitby street, in the Northern School of Art, Hartlepool Art club and The Art Gallery. The main art scenes are music events that have community arts projects involved I find, which is why we set Fuzzy Bosom up.

I am also admin to the NE: Creatives group on Facebook which was formed to give local artists access to specialist opportunities. You should certainly check out my students, they are superbly talented, I am the National Saturday Art Club tutor, based in the Centre of Excellence in Creative Arts, the students are aged 14-16, the group bridges the gap between school and college and really gives the students the opportunity to develop specialist art skills that can develop into a career.

We have recently been creating a GIANT pom pom which I am super excited about and I’m sure you will be too, so I will send you photos when our hard work is complete. We have also been working on self-portraits and hand embroideries. You need to check out our Instagram to see the raw talent these emerging artists have its @northernartsatclub.

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This week is International Women’s Week…. Any womxn artists that I should be checking out/aware of/inspire you?

I am surrounded by so many amazing femxle artists that are local so I will name drop a few! Just Harry Designs, Cat Call, Adele Catchpole, Jade Lenehan, Kirsty Jade Designs, Betty and the Lovecats, Mandas Cat, Make it Reign Studio, Hun North East, Molly Arnold, Lucy Alice Winter, Hairy Yetti, Laura Moon, Wild Lamb and Megabethpaints–  Just to name some off the top of my head, some serious talent!!

Well that was a total feast for me to discover….What awaits you in 2020? Any projects you can give me flavour of?

The first project that awaits me is finishing unpacking in my new studio. Then at some point this I will be creating some new pieces that will be exhibited at the ‘Wild Slut’ Wild Lamb and Slutmouth Collaboration exhibition date TBC.

I will also be trading my wares the following day at Base Camp which is host to GRL 2020 an event packed with live music, street food and a feminist market. Sunday the 15th of March I am going to be chatting with Chantal from Sister Shack on Pride Radio. I’m not really sure what the rest of the year entails, but I know it’s going to be an exciting one, I can feel it. Check out my Instagram @slutmouthdesign and website http://www.slutmouth.co.uk to stay up to date in the world of Slutmouth.

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Well thank you….if I wasn’t in love with Bettie before – I sure am after this interview. And what a perfect week to share this interview, than on International Women’s Day WEEK!

And that’s all for now Culture Vultures.

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

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

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

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

The Tonalities

The Tonalities

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

Young Musicians in Sunderland at Pop Recs.

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

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

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Faye Fantarrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faye Fantarrow next gig ^^

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

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

How do you find the music scene in the NE?

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any regional performers that you admire?

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

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Faye Fantarrow

Who is your fave band?

Kings of Leon!

MINE TOO…. Fave type of music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you going to use the fund for?

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

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

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

Where can I see you perform?

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

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

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

Faye Fantarrow

Faye Fantarrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

What did you learn from being part of the team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other opportunities:

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

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

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

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

For my Culture Vulture followers, Who are you?

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

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

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Shelley O’Brien

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

Why did you set Mad Alice Theatre up?

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Richard Ayres

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

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


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

Sum the show up in three words?

Fun, emotional, heart-warming!

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

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

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

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She Wins All The Races

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

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

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

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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Rose & Robin – photography: Jamie Sproates

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

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

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

For tickets, booking info and prices visit the website

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

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

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

Get Lush - Event Cover

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

For my fellow Culture Vultures, who are you?

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main 1 by Ben Smith at Photography North.

Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

What was the inspo behind the show?

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

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

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

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

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

Sum it up in 3 words?

Lush. Proper lush.

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

Anything else to close on?

Just stay lush!

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.