(#AD) What to do with 24hrs in Co.Durham….the choice is endless!

My partnership with #Durham2025 has been going down a storm – seems like you Culture Vultures are all cheering Co. Durham as a finalist in the running for UK City of Culture, just as much as I am. I’m so excited about what this could mean for the county, but regardless of win or lose, it has shone a light on the lush spaces, places, faces and happenings across Co. Durham. I have officially fallen back in love with Durham – it has so much to offer and if you haven’t visited for a while, well the Summer months are a perfect time to do just that.

The Culture Vulture at Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

So, if you’re planning a day out or a staycation in Durham – I thought I’d pull together a little blog post to give you some inspiration and Culture Vulture suggestions of how I’d spend 24hrs in Durham.

The Culture Vulture at Gala Theatre enjoying the BFG exhibition // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham has real energy about it at the moment and during my visits across the county, the best thing was the people (lush) and strong sense of community but it was also interesting to see whilst the infamous attractions, architecture, history and uniqueness remains, there have been some redevelopments, new buildings have popped up, creative communities thriving, art murals and areas of the County have had a bit of a glow up, whilst maintaining the character and integrity. Certainly feels like a new chapter for Co.Durham.

Durham City Centre // photo credit: Marion Botella

So where should you go on your visit to Co.Durham, I hear you ask, well I’d first suggest you check out my listicle posts – that might give you some inspiration as a starter for ten whilst you’re planning  your trip.

For Top Indies Durham City Centre click HERE

For Top Picks of Attractions to Visit click HERE

For My Review of Bowes Museum click HERE

For Top Picks of Places to East click HERE

For Top Picks of Summer 2022 events click HERE

For My Review of Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens click HERE

There are LOADS in those listicles – you could spend a week in Co.Durham exploring and enjoying using those.

The Culture Vulture in Durham City // photo credit: Marion Botella

My other suggestions and some of my go-to things to do when I visit Durham are:

#1 Take in a Riverside walk

I go to Durham to walk along the River Wear often in all the seasons – it’s beautiful, it’s pretty flat, I feel so relaxed and it’s like an oasis escape mentally during the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. I used to visit when I was younger and go walking with my Dad, lots of very happy memories.

The Culture Vulture walking along the riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#2 Hire a boat

Whilst you’re walking along the river, you may take inspiration from the rowers training and decide that you want to hire a boat yourself. I’ve certainly done that. This is a really fun way to spend some time with pals and partners – it’s only great as long as you share the rowing, as it gets tiring! I laughed so much last time I did this; my pal and I were gloriously TERRIBLE.

Durham Riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#3 Visit Durham Cathedral

I virtually think it’s a physical impossibility to visit the city centre and not go to Durham Cathedral. It just has to be done – I must have visited close to 100+ times and it never gets old. It’s beautiful and I thoroughly recommend booking a slot to climb the 325 steps up the central tower, I did that a few years back and loved it!

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

#4 Visit Durham Castle

Love a castle! The thing I love most about Durham Castle, is that students who live in the castle (yes you read that right), actually have to give public castle tours to tourists, as part of the agreement of living there. The tours are actually really good, tour guides hugely knowledgeable and it still makes me giggle thinking that those students have the biggest flex for life – “I lived in a castle once”.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

And if you’re thinking of staying overnight, there are two magnificent suites available to book and you can take breakfast in a medieval hall ahead of getting back to exploring the city.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

#5 Potter Around

Sounds like a cop out – but actually, it’s my favourite thing to do in Durham. Take in the streets, their character, enjoy the cobbles, seek out indie cafes and shops, look out onto the river from the bridges. There are 12 castles and historic houses in and around Durham, alongside many churches – so it’s just lovely and it’s such a special place.

The Culture Vulture Pottering in Durham // photo credit: Marion Botella

#6 Indoor Market

I really hate that we’ve knowledge down and got rid of so many markets across UK cities – it’s not only a fun way to shop and usually a treasure trove, but it’s also one of the most affordable way for small businesses to get their start. If you want to support small business or shop local, indoor markets are a great way to do it. And Durham Market Hall has such an eclectic mix of stalls and stands, I was in love with it.

The Culture Vulture in Durham Market Hall // photo credit: Marion Botella

#7 Palace Green Library

This is a brilliant gallery space, you folks know I’m a big art gallery lover, but I also love museums and this space seems a perfect combination of both. Every time I visit Palace Green Library, I learn so much (my most recent visit about the Romans!) and their exhibitions are always really well put together.

The Culture Vulture at Palace Green Library // photo credit: Marion Botella

#8 Head to Barnard Castle

It’s a lush market town in the Durham Dales –the type of town that makes you love living in the UK, like out of a film! It has a great selection of B&Bs, you’ve got Bowes Museum walking distance away from the market square, lots of indie shops and cafes and whilst you’re there, why not get a famous eye test!? Apparently people drive far and wide to Barnard Castle for them! Oh, and make sure you visit Ruby & D, it’s a lovely shop selling unique vintage items, interiors, art and more and Raby Castle isn’t too far away by car….

Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

#9 Head to Bishop Auckland

Bishop is having a total revival – across my partnership with #Durham2025, I’ve met so many artist folks from Bishop, heard about creative projects in Bishop, folks recommending Bishop as an exciting bubbling hub of happenings. So of course, I’m all over it. The Auckland Project brings together several venues and attractions; history, grand house, galleries, gardens, museums, visitor’s centre and a tower, meaning that Bishop Auckland is a full-on day out.

Mining Art Gallery (part of Auckland Project) in Bishop Auckland

#10 Head to Seaham

I always forget that Co.Durham has a gorgeous world renowned coastline. Stretching 14km, the coastline is home to incredible views and the cliff-top harbour town of Seaham. This coastal town is has picturesque views, a lovely habour to walk along, seaside indies galore and tasty ice cream! People travel from all over to visit this beach and hunt for sea glass – there’s an abundance available with each tide thanks to Seaham being home to the UK’s largest bottle works between 1850-1921. And that’s not all, Seaham also has its very own food festival which this year is happening on 6th & 7th August; perfect excuse to visit for some lush scran by the sea!

Seaham beach and coast

#11 Old Cinema Launderette

It’s an iconic must visit culture vultures; by day it is a retro-chic, professional, family-run launderette, offering washing, ironing and dry-cleaning services to customers in and around the Durham area with a canny café! And by night, it’s one of the most unique and intimate music venues with a programme of live music and a bar. It’s just a beaut and has to be visited to be believed – so go visit The Old Cinema Launderette.

Old Cinema Laundrette gig

#12 Durham by Night

I’m often visiting Durham at night for events or to eat, and Durham at night is so magical. Everything you see in the day, just hits different at night – especially in the warmer nights, when you can enjoy a stroll through the city and stop at riverside bars with outdoor seating. If I’m staying over in Durham, I tend to stay at The Town House as a treat, it’s a beautiful boutique hotel, outdoor hot tub, yummy breakfast and I love the décor – very Instagrammable. And if you like Durham at night and lights, well keep an eye out for one of my favourite North-East events, Durham Lumiere – a light festival across Durham city centre with light art installations and projection. It happens every couple of years, so next one will be 2023 or 2024.

Durham Cathedral at night // photo credit: Marion Botella

Well then, that’s it – that’s your lot from me and all my suggestions! If you’re planning a visit to Co.Durham – This Is Durham is their tourism website and has lots of information on there so you can dig even deeper beyond my recommendations.

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Durham is now one of just four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025; title announced late May.

Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk

#Durham2025 #lovedurham

Interview with sand, ice, pumpkin sculptors and large scale artists Sand in your Eye

I’m busily supporting Enjoy Redcar & Cleveland // Redcar & Cleveland Council’s Christmas events programme – this is the second year in a row, I’ve supported this festival programme! Really loving working with them and most importantly, they are investing money into culture, which I LOVE.

The next headline event is this Saturday (11th December) in Redcar town centre – Redcar Ice trail; a winter walkabout wonderland a day of frosty fun, festive pop-up performances await, amazing ice sculptures by Sand In Your Eye along Redcar High Street and Esplanade and live ice carving.

I absolutely adore Sand In Your Eye – I first became aware of them when I worked on Pages of the Sea in 2018 and they created large scale sand illustrations of North East World War One veterans on Roker Beach and Redcar Beach. Pages of the Sea was a unique event to mark 100 years since Armistice and the end of the first world war. Across the UK and Ireland communities gathered on 32 beaches to say a collective thank you and goodbye to the millions who left their shores, many never to return. I was in awe at their creations and then went on to discover they created large scale land art, sand sculptures, ice sculptures and many things in between.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages by the Sea – Photographer: Kevin Scott

Reconnecting on this Redcar Christmas event, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know Sand In Your Eye better and do a little Culture Vulture interview…..and I have MANY questions, like how does someone become a ice sculptor!?

So let’s go and do it…..

Hi there Sand In Your Eye….can you introduce yourself?

We are an arts company based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. We make ice sculptures, but we also make sand sculptures, land art, sand drawings and in October you can find us carving pumpkins.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Sand in Your Eye – what is it and how did it start?

Sand In Your Eye started nearly 20 years ago, when our Director and lead artist Jamie Wardley was on holiday in Norway; he met a sand sculptor and was asked if he wanted to have a go! The answer was yes, and this began a career as a freelance sculptor working with sand and ice. Eventually Jamie started his own company and developed more ways of making art with lots of artists joining Sand In Your Eye, including Jamie’s wife Claire. We now work across the UK on events throughout the year. 

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What are you bringing to Redcar on 11th December? What can families expect to see by dropping in 10am-6pm on the day?

We are bringing a Christmas themed ice trail; people can explore Redcar town centre to look for them along Redcar High Street and Esplanade. Families can also write a letter to Santa and post it in our ice post box, watch live ice carving of Santa’s sleigh being made on Redcar High Street and also lots of walk about theatre and pop-up performance.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Tell us about your ice sculptures and sculpting ice?

Depending on how big the sculptures are, they can take between a day to nearly a week to make and we make them in a freezer in our studio. The big sculptures can last for a few days, but the smaller ones usually melt after a day. Ice is really fun to work with, but you have to use very sharp tools including chain saws so you have to be extremely careful!

Credit: Sand in your Eye

How does someone become an ice sculptor? What tends to be the career path?

There are lots of different ways of getting into ice sculpting; the Sand In Your Eye team include people who started off as artists, woodworkers, gardeners, designers and all sorts. The thing that unites them all is that when they were asked if they wanted to have a go – they said yes.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Your sand sculptures and sand drawings are amazing – can you tell me about a recent favourite?

We do a lot of work that is to do with the environment. In the last couple of years, we have made a sand drawing portrait of a girl from Ethiopia for WaterAid, a land art portrait of the activist Greta Thunberg, a climate emergency themed pumpkin trail, a sand sculpture of a turtle, and a personal project appealing to world leaders ahead of the COP26 climate conference to halt climate change which saw children and families helping to make a giant sand drawing and ice sculptures of children on a beach.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Can you tell me about your Pages of the Sea involvement and project?

We were contacted by 14-18NOW, the Imperial War Museum and the director Danny Boyle to coordinate and design Pages of the Sea, which commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War and saw over 30 faces of servicemen and women who did not return to our shores appear on beaches around the UK (including one on the beach at Redcar) on the 11th of November 2018. It was a very moving, exciting and an important project to be a part of. We were thrilled that it won several awards, including the Sky Arts South Bank Visual Award.

Credit: Sand in your Eye & Pages of the Sea – Photographer – Mark Richards

Thoroughly deserved! Your pumpkin carvings are amazing – how long do they take to do?

Pumpkin carving can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days to make; we do a wide range of styles including 3D spooky and silly faces and more complex pumpkin etching. We do them for pumpkin festivals and trails as well as for companies for their Halloween social media. They can last for up to five days after they are carved.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

They are very Instagrammable….as is all your work! Your work and installations bring people together in public spaces, folx and families who may not engage with art in galleries– how does that feel? Is that an important element of Sand In Your Eye?

Yes, very much so. We love doing our workshops and showing people of all ages how to sand sculpt or carve pumpkins but our largescale artworks such as sand drawings and land art can also engage with communities and bring people together.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Do you have artists/sculptors that specialise with specific materials? Or do members of your teamwork with all of them?

Everybody has a go at making all the art – it’s a real team effort.

Tell us about the workshops you offer – they look really fun and such a unique offer?

We do workshops in most of our art forms; sand sculpture, pumpkin carving, ice sculpture and sand drawing. Most often children and families take part, but our workshops can be for all ages. We started off doing sand sculpture workshops on the beach, but we now have sand tables – this means we can bring the beach with us, wherever we go, and people can learn how to sand sculpt wherever we go. We’ve done sand sculpture workshops in towns and cities, shopping centres and even inside castles.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s been your Sand In Your Eye 2021 highlight so far?

The COP26 sand drawing and ice sculpture project was a very personal one for us and it was great to involve so many children and families.

Credit: Sand in your Eye

What’s in store for 2022 – anything you can tell us about? 

It’s all top secret so far but there will be lots more sand art, land art, sculptures and pumpkins. People can follow us on social media to find out what we get up to. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. (All handles are @sandinyoureye).

Credit: Sand in your Eye

Well thank you Sand In Your Eye……..the images in the blog post kind of speak for themselves really – their work is just show stoppingly amazing! You can check out Sand In Your Eye – Ice Sculpture Trail this coming Saturday in Redcar Town Centre; perfect for families in Tees Valley! For full event Redcar Ice Trail listing visit HERE

Mulled wine, mistletoe and memory-making – speaking of memory making, there is a lot to look forward to across the towns of Redcar and Cleveland this year! For the full calendar of events visit HERE

Credit: Sand in your Eye

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

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

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

After Warsama by Dominic from Luton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

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

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

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

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

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

Liam Slevin

Tell us about your journey into creative industries/arts?

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

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

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

We Walked Out of the Wilderness by John Ayscough

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

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

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

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

Keep Your Distance by Peter Hanmer

Can you tell me your #5 MAW programme highlights?

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

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

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

Beating Heart Middlesbrough by Stuart Langley
Image credit – Ashley Foster

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

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

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

How did you go about programming /curating the weekend?

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

This Trust Idea by Andrew Wilson

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

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

DYAD

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

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

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

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

Bobby Benjamin

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

Birch Cooper

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

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

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

How would you describe Teesside art scene right now?

Something that is coalescing into something beautiful

Boro Through Time by Sofia Barton
Image credit – Dawn McNamara

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

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

What’s next for you after MAW?

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

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

@middlesbroughartweekender

Build Bridges by Teresa Poulton

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

Interview with Matt Jamie – we chat theatre, current production Pod, podcasts, music videos & Bedlington Terriers.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with director, actor, videographer, photographer and creative Matt Jamie….well for a good few years now on various projects! As is with the weirdness of the world – we’ve never actually met in person. I met him digitally as a videographer, but like many freelancers, has a never ending bag of skills and tricks like Felix The Cat.

I was delighted to be invited to support Matt’s current production – Pod; Matt is the Director. Pod is a brilliant theatre production that tells a brilliant contemporary story. This play has been in the making for some time – the initial run was cancelled due to the pandemic and I’m thrilled it is getting the space it deserves to connect with audiences. And I’m so excited to see it – it is the first production of the Alphabetti Theatre new season and it is my first time back in a theatre, actually watching a play for pleasure!

Pod is about a family gathered together, sharing more than just a cramped camping pod and a bottle of gin.  Secrets are revealed and they find answers to questions nobody was expecting to be asked.  Audiences will feel uplifted, moved, amused and ready to visit the bar! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

It has been a privilege to champion Pod and get to know some of the Pod creative team – some old friends and some new creative peers! It has also been brilliant to get to know Matt better professionally too and as my jam is all about championing and celebrating creatives – I thought it was the perfect time for a little Culture Vulture blog post.

So without delay – an interview with Matt Jamie!

Matt Jamie

Hi Matt, let’s start with an introduction!

I’m Matt Jamie – I trained as an actor (actually I trained in Biomedical sciences first and ditched a PhD to go to drama school…sensible move?) – but now I work mainly as a theatre director, photographer and film maker, and producer of audio work.

Very sensible decision! Tell us more about your journey into creative industries?

When I was studying sciences, I joined the theatre group at university (Bradford University Theatre Group at Theatre In The Mill which is now an excellent fringe venue) and got the taste for it there. I’d always enjoyed theatre but never imagined working in it.  I then got a job and PhD placement doing research into diabetes but alongside that was pursuing places at drama school – figured if I didn’t get a place I’d carry on and now I’d be Doctor Jamie.  Instead, I’m now working in the arts in the North East!  I spent 13 years in London working mostly as an actor (some terrible commercials and music videos exist online) and an actor’s headshot photographer, with occasional dips into directing, before moving to the North East and taking on more production / direction work.

You’re a theatre maker, director, actor, film maker and a podcast/audio drama maker – that’s quite a rare mix….can you tell me a little bit about that? Are you like me and just refuse to be pinned down into one thing?

Working in the arts its useful to diversify.  I’ve been lucky enough to find other jobs which are connected to the arts but also possible to earn money from! (For a while in London I did work in a call centre selling theatre tickets…).  At one point I was an actor / photographer / film maker / composer / graphic designer / director.  I figured it was time to streamline a bit into the things I was more skilled in or enjoyed more.  I usually go with some kind of hyphenated description, depending who’s asking.

Tell me about your theatre company Coracle? How and why did it start as a company?

Coracle began in London; I came on board as a film maker for their first piece of development work at Battersea Arts Centre – a sort of abstract physical dance piece created by my friend Lucinda Lloyd.  Then Sarita Plowman joined Lucinda on a course at the City Lit and they wrote a short piece of text which eventually we developed into Coracle’s first full production “Bird Of Pray”.  It was a mix of theatre, movement and film and really one of the darkest things I’ve ever worked on as far as content went – some people walked out of the show, as it was so much…! But it was well received and went on to the “Branching Out” Festival in London.  We then all took some time out pursuing solo careers until I formed Coracle North East with writer and actor Arabella Arnott in 2017 – with more of a focus on new writing (though I might come back to more abstract / physical / multimedia work in the future).  You can see some clips of Coracle’s early work on our website.

Matt Jamie

Coracle highlight project so far?

We started in the North East with a double bill of plays, called “Trajectory” including Arabella’s first full length play “Life After” and a short by Steve Byron called “Bricks and Mortar”.  This was our first collaboration with Alphabetti Theatre as Coracle (though I’d been involved in various things before).  It was also the last play to perform in Alphabetti’s old venue on New Bridge Street before it was demolished!  We then had the pleasure of bringing the first play to Alphabetti’s new venue on St James Boulevard with “Overdue” by Arabella – which won Best At Fringe (North East Theatre Guide) and was nominated Best North East Play (British Theatre Guide) as well as five star reviews.

Tell us about your personal career highlight so far?

I was very proud of the work on “Overdue”, but probably appearing in the music video for the 2004 remix of “The Key The Secret” – which reached I think number 187 in the charts, probably no thanks to the video – was my finest hour / 3 minutes as an actor.

That music video is just BRILLIANT. Music videos used to be so good…..Anyhoo – how did your relationship with Alphabetti start?

I think I first directed a reading of a play at The Central which Ben Dickenson was organising.  He then introduced me to Alphabetti Theatre, and I can’t actually remember what the first thing I worked on there was.  They used to run an event called “Soup” which was a mix of short form pieces and I directed several short plays for them there, and some reaction plays which I really enjoyed.  Artistic Director Ali Pritchard also cast me in “Continuum” – which was a terrifying experience (I was playing a man who had a head injury and basically talked non-stop for 60 minutes in rambling nonsense, and we only had 6 days rehearsal.  The scene changes were only marked by the lights shifting between the bed and the two chairs but the lighting desk was faulty so it would regularly skip cues and we’d have to guess what scene we were in.  One night I skipped an entire scene with some fairly crucial plot information in it.  Spent the rest of the play wondering if any of it would make sense…

Pod at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

There is something so magical about lo-fi theatre though – I bliddy love ‘Betti! What is the context of your relationship now?

Coracle is an associate company of Alphabetti and has been involved in some of their new writing programmes.  I also do freelance work for them producing trailers, audio description work and producing audio plays.

Why are theatres like Alphabetti important in the region? To audiences and to our sector?

Alphabetti is the only “Fringe” venue in Newcastle and has a unique place in the arts scene making art/theatre as accessible as possible – keeping tickets almost entirely ‘Pay What You Feel’.  Also the nature of the space and the way it’s staffed means people who love theatre and people who might never go to the theatre will all feel at home there.  And the unique talent and personality of the Artistic Director, Ali Pritchard are a big draw.

You’ve mentioned your audio play work….tell us about Playstream? Why should folx check them out?

Playstream is Coracle’s podcast which is home to our audio drama work.  A lot of our work is accompanied by ‘reaction pieces’ – responding to the themes of the production we are working on – and these have often taken the form of audio work or been recorded for audio after they’ve had a live production.  Our new production “Pod” is accompanied by some audio drama pieces, including plays written by Alison Carr (well known in the region for her writing) and Claire-Marie Perry.  Also worth a listen is Wendy Erringtons “Saluting Magpies” which is a longer – form drama which was originally due to be produced at Alphabetti but became an audio drama because of the pandemic.  Degna Stone’s “Probably” – is “a sharply written monologue on age, race and fear” (The Stage) and is another strong piece we recorded after she performed it alongside our 2019 production of “Down to Zero” by Lizi Patch.

Podcasts and audio plays had a huge upswell across the pandemic – what podcasts // audio plays were you listening to?

I’d been listening to “RadioLab” for a long while and it’s always excellent – a mixture of current affairs, science and tech but not in any way dry and as dull as I just made it sound!  I really enjoyed the drama serial “Homecoming”, and for pure stupidness, Bob Mortimers “Althletico Mince” should be listened to whenever normality takes over.

Now I’ve brought up the pandemic topic – I may as well ask, how has freelance life been for you across the pandemic?

Like everyone else most work took a nose-dive when the pandemic hit.  Arabella and I had just done the dress rehearsal for a play directed by Alex Elliott and then theatres were closed the next day – and we were about to start rehearsing for “Pod” (originally due in May 2020).  I managed to keep some work as a voice artist (audiobooks and other bits and pieces going) since audio recording was one of the few things still possible remotely.  I’m happy to be getting back into actual buildings with actual people.

Happy you’re still with us as a creative freelancer! Right, so tell me about Pod? What is it? What is it about?

“Pod” is a play about a family coming together for a weekend away in a camping Pod.  The mother, Iris, and two grown up daughters Rose and Daisy are there to celebrate the birthday of husband / dad Geoff, who is sadly no longer with them.  Along for the trip is Dan, married to Rose and he’d rather be training for his marathon than being in the middle of the sometimes tense family dynamics.  It’s about dealing with grief, about family secrets, about identity and forgiveness… but it’s also very funny! Daisy thinks she knows something about the family she hasn’t been told… she’s also got something to tell them.  But it turns out there are more secrets under the surface which come out over a few gins and some cake.

I love the character Daisy – from the snippets. She feels very familiar. You created and cast pod before the pandemic? What is the process like bringing something back after all this time?

It was difficult to have to put the production away, not knowing when or if it would ever see the light of day.  Happily we’ve now got a three week run coming up.  We’ve had some time with it to get back into the swing and polish it – it’s been great!

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy at Alphabetti Theatre

And as we speak – it is open for a run at Alphabetti Theatre until 18th September!?

Amazingly we’re actually now programmed for longer than the original run would have been if the pandemic hadn’t hit – so we’ve got the luxury of three weeks.  There should also be online screenings available too at some point.

You directed the piece – for folx not familiar with theatre, what is the role of the director? What did you do as director on Pod?

Theatre is a very collaborative process between the actors and director (and designer and writer).  My role as the director is to give some kind of shape to the piece – in some ways literally: finding ways to make the play work on the stage, where people should be, how the scene works best and makes most sense.  Alphabetti is actually quite a challenging space to direct for with the audience on both sides so it’s important often to keep the action moving on stage so everyone can see.  As well as those more physical elements the director also is the outside eye on the piece in terms of pace, tone, where the highs and lows of a scene might work best… the ‘journey through the play’ and so on.  A lot of the ideas will come from the actors and the text, and I’m really there to fine tune things – I suppose a little like a conductor if you’ve ever watched an orchestra: just lifting bits here, changing the pace there and so on.  In many ways with a piece like this ideally the audience shouldn’t really notice the directing.  If the play flows well, and the story is told and people have a good time that’s my job done!

David Raynor as Dan and Pod writer Arabella Arnott as Rose in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

Interestingly a lot of the themes of the play – really resonate with the pandemic so lots of folx will be able to relate – being stuck together with family, unexpected conversations, tested relationships, heightened emotions?

Yes, we wondered coming back to it if we’d need to add anything in or take anything out to make it work “post-pandemic” but everything seemed to fit surprisingly well.  Even the whole set up of a camping trip made sense in the scheme of things. We’ll be interested to hear how people relate to it.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

We hope people will find the play funny and moving – it’s about coming together through difficult times and finding common ground with wildly differing views… something people might be familiar with! 

Why should folx go and see it?

It’s a great night out, a fun and relevant play with a great cast of North East actors, at an excellent venue and it’s Pay What You Feel so what’s to lose!?

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy and Judi Earl as Iris in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

After all this time and working on it – how do you feel sharing it with audiences?

Very excited to share this with audiences after all this time.  The set looks amazing (we’ve built an actual camping pod!) and the performances will be top notch.

And what’s next for you? Next project?

What’s next is a complete unknown.  There are a few projects we’d started to look at back in 2020 which I’ll dust off and see if we want to produce them in 2022.  Meanwhile I’ll be carrying on the many-hyphenated jobs I do for other people’s plays and productions!

Where can audiences keep up to date with you? And your work?

More about coracle on www.coracleproductions.com.  Our podcast is on all podcast platforms and our website – search PlayStream wherever you normally listen.  And if you’re looking for a director, photographer, film maker or audio creator, head to www.mattjamie.co.uk

Anything else you want to tell me about?

Bedlington Terriers are excellent dogs. I recommend them.

Strong dog choice – good to know. As someone who has worked with Matt – absolutely thoroughly recommend him for everything he listed above.

I am really excited to see Pod and will be sharing what I thought on my Facebook page – so keep an eye out! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

Interview with North East upcoming musician Lizzie Esau; live streaming, song writing as therapy & indie pop.

I’m buzzing to currently be working with much -loved corner stone of the regional music industry, Polestar Studios on their run of live streamed Polestar Live Sessions; celebrating and showcasing North East musicians and bands and their pandemic resilience.

Polestar Studios has been supporting the North East music scene to make great music since the early 90s. Nestled on the edge of the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle, this rehearsal and recording studio in Byker, was established in 1990 by Pauline Murray; singer of iconic punk band Penetration. Thousands of bands and musicians have used the facility in its long history.

I’m supporting Polestar Studios on their run of Polestar Live sessions, high production quality live streamed gig featuring the hottest grassroots’ North East music. I have the benefit of getting to know and interview all the brilliant musical talent, who are making waves regionally, Nationally and many Internationally in their niche too.

Tonight’s live stream gig is the turn of North East singer-song writer Lizzie Esau and her band, who are set to serve an alt-pop set with beautifully honest lyrics. Lizzie’s music has demanded the attention of not just regional music lovers, but also record labels, producers, DJs, festivals and BBC Introducing. Her latest single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ got me through the most Monday of Mondays this week and came to Lizzie in a matter of minutes. With its’ Lo-Fi Bedroom pop vibe and major chords, the song juxtaposes the highs of the music with the lows of the lyrics.

Polestar Live Session – Lizzie Esau

Lizzie’s live stream will be centre “stage” at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday 15 July) on Polestar Studios Facebook page and I can’t wait. It’s free to tune in but you do have the option to donate – all donations go directly to the artist, who is of course being appropriately paid, but a donation to a musician after the year they’ve had, really means the world and supports them get back out there.

So, in my quest to champion Northern talent and brilliance, I thought I’d nab Lizzie for a little Culture Vulture interview and find out more about her career so far, ambition and her music writing inspo! Let’s get to it, here is Lizzie Esau!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Hi Lizzie, right let’s get to it – can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures? Who are you?

I’m Lizzie Esau, a singer songwriter from the North East.

Can you tell us about your journey so far into the music industry?

I’ve always written little tunes and melodies ever since I can remember, probably from the age of around five or six. It’s something I have always had as a part of my life which for many years fell into the background but across the last three years something changed, and I decided to prioritise what I love and take music seriously.

Through connecting with my manager a few years ago I have now been able to make some great contacts in the industry and had the chance to work with other artists as well as releasing my own music in the last year, which has been so fulfilling.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it before?

My music is a fusion of everything I love and that interests me. If I had to describe the sound, I’d say it’s a hip-hop alternative/ indie pop with honest lyrics and real instrumentation.

Where do you seek inspiration? What’s your music writing process like?

I’m mostly inspired by everyday life and the stresses and joy that it can bring. My writing is very reflective and as cheesy as it sounds, I often use it as a way of therapy which I’m sure is something other creatives can relate to.

The writing process normally consists of a random idea floating around in my head for a while which comes together as a song after sitting at my piano and on logic for a while working out new melodies and parts to the track. After my demo is created the song will then be sent off to the producer I’m working with right now, Steve Grainger, who elevates the track, and then after a bit of backwards and forwards discussion, the track is ready to go out!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Who is in your band? How did you pull them together/meet them?

The drummer Alex and I got in touch via social media quite a few years ago and he became part of a band that unfortunately faded out. After connecting with my manager and doing some solo gigs to throw myself into performing, I then reached out again just before the pandemic to create a new band around the music. As soon as we were able to, we started rehearsals again around the new tracks and Alex brought along the bass player Joe who fitted into the band so well being a great friend of his. We have had a few people stand in as guitarist during the time we have been playing together, who have all been such great musicians, and hopefully one day a permanent position will be filled. I feel so lucky to be able to have such professional and dedicated musicians as part of this project and we just can’t wait to get out and play live now!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

I love your new single, ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ ; tell us a bit about it? (It’s available to listen to now on all streaming platforms)

The new single is an indie pop track about escaping from the stresses of life through the act of performing mindless activities. The idea for the track came about when I was driving (hahaha!) and all came together very quickly; form the writing process to the production.

The music is lively and upbeat which I think is a nice contrast to the honest and more downbeat lyrics describing how I was feeling at the time. The choruses are a little more positive and talk about getting help for these life stresses, putting more of an optimistic spin on things.

I love the video – where did the concept come from?

The video concept came from the director, Sel Mclean, who took into consideration so well who I was as an artist and the style of things that would work best for the track. I loved his idea to have skateboarders there and to have it by the beach at sunrise, I think the whole thing came together so well and everything for the releases seemed to really work together. The whole team were so amazing and made my first ever professional video shoot experience so enjoyable and memorable.

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

The song really speaks to me about the noise of modern life and using driving as a means to escape, self-care and freedom; this is such an important thing in the current context of the pandemic. How have you found the pandemic as a creative?

Just before the pandemic is when I really started to be proactive and get myself out playing solo shows and writing more, so when the pandemic hit it was very disheartening, as I’m sure it was for all creatives especially ones just starting off. But through this time I have connected with my wonderful band and started collaborating with many artists as well as writing more than I ever have before, so in many ways it allowed me the time to put everything into music which I really loved.

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this pandemic has been so hard on everyone and that no one is alone in feeling like they have had low points, but I’m glad to see us coming out of it all now! (fingers crossed Haha!).

How did tonight’s live stream gig with Polestar Studios come about?

This gig came about due to the bass player, Joe, being in contact with them and therefore when an opportunity came about to play there, we were all really keen to get involved and get the songs out there for more people to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What can people expect from your Polestar Live Session tonight at 7.30pm via Polestar Facebook page and why should people tune in?

You can expect to hear lots of new unreleased music, perhaps even a sneak peek at upcoming singles as well as a cover, which I never tend to do but I couldn’t resist with this one! I will be with a full band on the night so expect big sounding tracks and lots of energy! We can’t wait for it!

Why are organisations like Polestar Studios important to the North East music scene?

I think they’re so important! They give up and coming artists a platform to share their music to a wider audience, especially since they stream the gigs via social media which enables anyone to be able to discover new music. It’s great to have such supportive organisations that enjoy promoting artists and love to watch them succeed; without this so many people would go undiscovered!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

How do you feel about live streaming gigs? Why are they important?

I think it’s so important to adapt and carry on regardless in any way that we can, so to see so many live stream events and socially distanced performances is so reassuring that music can still be shared no matter what. I think especially in the times we have had, music is so vital to keep everyone’s spirits high and keep optimistic.

How does it feel to be getting featured by BBC Introducing? (It has been ace to hear you on the radio waves!)

It feels so amazing! The support I’ve had from BBC introducing ever since putting out my first demo onto Soundcloud in 2018 has been so wonderful and everything I’ve uploaded has been shown so much love by them! I really loved doing a session for BBC introducing in the North East around my debut official release ‘Young Mind Run Blind’, this was something I have always wanted to do and to do it around my first proper release was really amazing! From then on, every single was so amazingly promoted by them with my third and most recent release being played on radio 1 introducing as Gemma Bradley’s tip of the week meaning all the local radios around the country played it also which was so crazy to hear!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

What do you think of the North East music scene?

I think the North East music scene is such a supportive space and everyone loves to see one another do well and get to where they want to be. There is so much amazing talent around right now and so many people getting National radio plays which is so amazing to see! Just looking forward to getting out and seeing all of these band and artists I have discovered in lockdown live now!

Who on the scene do you admire/should I check out?

I’m really loving so many artists form the North East right now I think everyone is really thriving! Off the top of my head I’m loving Nadedja, Jodie Nicholson, Martha Hill, Georgia May, Luke Royalty, Future Humans and so many more!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Good selection of people there! Can you share any advice for aspiring folx wanting to get into the music industry?

I think my biggest piece of advice is to connect with as many people as you can and to be good at networking, or like I did find a wonderful manager who is great at it, hahaha! I think as soon as I started reaching out to people to collaborate and venues to play at is when things started happening, so just remember to always be proactive and keep writing as much as you can!

Highlight of 2021 so far?

My 2021 highlight so far has to be hearing my new single ‘What If I Just Kept Driving’ on radio 1! It was so surreal as I always have I on in my car so to hear my own music getting played on my favourite radio station was just the best feeling and has already led to some exciting conversations and interest from new listeners!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Do you have a moment in mind/visual moment, when you think – “I’ve made it!”?

I’ve always dreamed of headlining Glastonbury or playing on the main stage, I’d definitely know I’ve made it then! But to be honest just playing anywhere at Glastonbury would be such a great feeling for me, and I think the day I see a load of people I don’t know in a crowd singing my lyrics back to me will be so surreal and I’ll know I’ve made an impact on them for sure!

So, what’s next for you?

I have so many new tracks, ideas and possible collaborations happening which makes me so excited for what’s coming in my career! I think the next thing you’ll hear from me will be a bit of a surprise so keep an eye out! I’m also playing live lots and I really hope to continue that and grow the amount of people listening to my music as we move out of the pandemic!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Anything else you want to tell my readers about?

Yes! Lots of gigs happening soon! I am particularly excited for the Cluny on the 23rd of July which is an event with Urban Kingdom and Generation W where I’ll be playing alongside three other amazing female artists. I’ve also got lots of gigs lined up in September including my debut headline show on the 18th at Head of Steam in Newcastle with the band which we are so excited for! As well as this, I’ll be playing a few exciting support slots so make sure to check out my socials to find out about it all!

Lizzie Esau – Photo credit: Victoria Wai Photography

Well thank you Lizzie and if you can, make sure you check out her live stream tonight at 7.30pm from Polestar Studios Facebook page!

You can also connect with Lizzie via:

Instagram: @lizzieesau

Facebook: @lizzieesau.music

Tik Tok: @lizzieesau

SoundCloud

YouTube

Spotify

Interview with artist Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone – let the lass eat cake!

There is nothing more exciting than finding out that two of my favourite artists are collaborating and doing something lush……Slutmouth and Wild Lamb Illustration have been collaborating in the most perfect way over the last few months.

Slutmouth – Bettie Hope; Love her beyond words and her work – I’m a total Instagram fan girl over this lass. Her mixed media work explores sex, sexuality, gender inequality, identity, queerness, feminism, rejection of societal taboos in a really playful, empowering, interesting way. I’ve interviewed Bettie before and you can read that HERE!

Slutmouth – Bettie Hope’s work at Let Us Eat Cake at Pineapple Art Gallery

Wild Lamb – Paige Livingstone; I discovered her work as always, via the good old ‘gram! Her work is a fierce visual treat, bold, colourful, collage, illustration, exploring portraiture in such an iconic way and her style evolves – her work like Bettie’s, has a touch of expect the unexpected. In Paige’s artworld, any and all folx identifying as women can be and are icons! At least, that’s what I feel looking at her work. Oh and she loves cats. So….. winner for this crazy cat lady.

Paige Livingstone

So Slutmouth and Wild Lamb have been collaborating together on a project called Let Us Eat Cake and is all about celebrating and exploring all aspects of what it means to be a “woman” and of course, all the wonderful female identifying creatives in our lovely North East.

The project was supported by Teesside’s lush creative gallery space Pineapple Black and took the form of an online exhibition, which was just fantastic. I sat down to take it in thinking about 30mins would do it, and 3hours later, I was still sat looking at each piece and looking up the artist. The digital exhibition featured work from local, National and International female identifying artists and visually explored contemporary issues important to and effecting women today. The digital exhibition was Pineapple Blacks most popular online exhibition with over 1000 virtual visitors – that’s an amazing figure! You can view the digital exhibition HERE.

They’ve now launched the physical Let Us Eat Cake exhibition at Pineapple Black and it’s available to view from now (started on 25th June) until 23rd July (last day). And I couldn’t recommend it more! This new physical exhibition, featuring some different work to the online exhibition, includes local, national and international female-identifying artists of a working-class background, is underpinned with the passion and purpose to create an empowering platform and to inspire a new, forward-thinking generation of artists.

Let Us Eat Cake exhibition poster

The exhibition and wider project title is, of course, a play on the phrase commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette; Let Them Eat Cake, which signified how disconnected she was with the realities of the everyday people in her power. What I took from this exhibition connected with that symbolic moment; that many, when they think of feminism or women, are so unaware and disconnected from the gender inequality that exists across the full intersection and the contemporary issues that impact women.

I had the pleasure of reading some research recently, in which male business leaders, expressed views that gender inequality was not an issue and that women were treated “the same” as them. Such sweeping statements, very much, reminded me of that Marie Antionette “Let Them Eat Cake” moment…..

What Let Us Eat Cake does so brilliantly in this exhibition, is invite you to step inside the world of women, celebrate it, connect with it, engage with intersectional issues and see the world through the individual artist’s lense. It’s also an empowered cry/demand to be seen and this exhibition, provides a platform for that and for each artist to be celebrated.

As you can tell, I bliddy love the exhibition and LOVE Bettie and Paige for pulling it altogether (go see it!). I thought it was a lush opportunity to interview Paige and find out all about the exhibition, her work and to finally get to the bottom of why women are pants are bigging themselves up?! Read on…. you won’t be disappointed.

So here we go, an interview with artist, lush creative and one half of Let Us Eat Cake – Paige Livingstone // Wild Lamb Illustration.

Paige Livingstone

Hi Paige, please introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

I’m Paige Livingstone; I work under the name ‘Wild Lamb’ and I’m a collage artist /illustrator and co-curator of ‘Let Us Eat Cake’. I graduated from Northern School of Art in 2019. You can check out my work on my Instagram page.

How would you describe your practice and what you do?

I am a multi-media visual artist; my work and style tend to change slightly depending on whatever project I am currently working on. I don’t ever want to be limited by styles but I’m currently enjoying painting and starting to move a little bit away from collages. They aren’t something I will ever completely stop but I have just fell in love with getting messy and back to basics which I haven’t done in years. Lockdown has definitely been, a good time for me to pick up the paints again.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Were you creative as a mini?

I’ve always been creative; as a kid I would draw every day and scrapbooked a lot. I think is where my love of collage has come from.

Tell us about your journey into the creative industries?

I still feel like I am still just starting that journey! I’m showing my work in exhibitions and curating my own. I’m also working on commissions from both individuals and businesses and my “bread and butter” is selling prints. To be honest it has been such a weird couple of years, I’ve decided to set myself more personal projects and try and carve my own way, it can be a bit disheartening applying for the few and far between creative jobs here in the North East; so at the moment I’m focusing on my own personal development and working for myself.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Yasss – love the focusing on your professionally! So, tell me about your work? What inspires you?

My collage work tends to be inspired by a lot of the old renaissance style paintings; religious iconography, mythology and astrology. I like to use a lot of symbolism in my collages and in a way there’s a lot more depth to them than my illustration work. When it comes to my illustration work, I’m all about just getting the pictures out of my head and on to the paper. And really, there’s no deeper meaning other than “yeah that looks cute” or that was what I was thinking about at the time.

How would you describe your art style?  

I think my collage work is thoughtful; it can sometimes be more tongue in cheek and fun but with a lot of feminist undertones. My illustrations I would describe as some kind of kawaii and creepy cute cartoon chaos.

Paige Livingstone’s work

More chaos the better; your work tends to come in collections – different themes and styles. Tell us a bit more about that….

Yes, I really love doing usually about 12 pieces to a collection. I don’t know why, but when I look at one piece of work it never feels finished until its surrounded by others. I’m also a bit of a hoarding maximalist so the more the merrier but I think 12 or 6 depending on the work and then I feel the collection is complete; I get a buzz out of seeing the whole collection together.

Paige Livingstone’s work

I really love your collage work – do you plan them or do just happen organically in the moment?

I do sit and think about them, whilst I’m doing them, but I don’t plan per se. If I’m doing am analogue one, I might cut out lots of interesting parts and arrange them after. If there’s a theme, as there is with my icons or horoscope collection, I’ll think about it and I’m going to spend time searching for images based on that theme.

Paige Livingstone’s work

I love the contemporary characters, the cats, the retro vibes…….and even the clowns! Can you tell me about those…why do they feature quite prominently in your work?

I absolutely love clowns, dolls and puppets! I’m starting to realise how many people are actually terrified by them (haha!), so I might have a job selling my clowns. I’ve always loved the aesthetic of the circus; anything gaudy and tacky. The retro vibes are probably just my own nostalgia seeping into the work, I think nostalgia is a very powerful tool in reaching your audience.

And cats…….. well everyone loves cats or at least they should!

Paige Livingstone’s work

So let’s more onto your work with Bettie! How did you partnership and collab with Slutmouth come to be? How did you meet?

I think we met at Disgraceland in Middlesbrough for Picasso baby (an interactive arty party) and I’ve always loved her work. Also, just for being ballsy enough to have the name Slutmouth, I was a fan from the start! We just got chatting and we were wanting to do something last year, but because of COVID Beth didn’t get in touch till Jan and we were just like “yeah let’s go for it!”.

Paige Livingstone’s work

From your perspective what is Let Us Eat Cake? How did it come about?

Let Us Eat Cake started out as an exhibition but as it has gone on it has become more of a community; or dare I say it…. a movement?? Well, at least locally for us and the artists who have contributed.

We wanted to focus on women in art and get rid of the Fine Art elitist white man bullshit and showcase female artists with a focus on working class women. Let Us Eat Cake is a spin on the famous Marie Antoinette quote because yeah, let us fucking eat cake we deserve it!

Paige Livingstone’s work

What does working class mean to you? What does being a working class artist mean?

Working class to me means salt of the earth and hard working people; I think as working class people we sometimes tend to undersell or pigeon hole ourselves. We don’t always do the job, we want to because it’s not seen as realistic, which is why giving this platform to emerging artists who don’t necessarily have the links in the industry is so important to me; helping them get out there and sell their works.

Why is it important to amplify female identifying artists right now?

Again, I think women are notoriously bad at bigging themselves up, but we have no problem when it’s another woman’s work! So, it’s nice to create a community where everyone encourages and supports one another. Giving people the confidence, they need in their work to truly succeed as an artist is one of the main goals of Let Us Eat Cake and it’s a great feeling to be able to do that.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Tell me about the initial digital exhibition? What was the response like?

We actually became Pineapple Black’s most viewed exhibition, think we smashed the previous one within an hour and a half of going live, so yeah that was another great feeling ! We couldn’t have done it without all the amazing contributing artists’ work; the quality of work submitted was unbelievable.

And we can see the actual exhibition in real life when and where? What can folx expect?

From 25th June – 23rd July at Pineapple Black Middlesbrough. You can expect a lot of big paintings and a good range of styles.  Oh and of course; CAKE.

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

Are you originally from Teesside? What’s the Teesside art scene like?

I am originally from Teesside, yes! As for the arts scene, I would say it is still getting to where it needs to be. We have a great talent pool here but limited by funding. I’ve been to some good exhibitions, but I honestly think Let Us Eat Cake is one of the best exhibitions Teesside has ever seen. And that is me being polite by saying ‘one of’, because actually I think it is THE best, hahaha! (What was that about women being bad at bigging themselves up?)

Paige Livingstone’s work

For someone new to or visiting Teesside, which galleries and bars would you suggest they visit?

Pineapple Black, The Auxiliary and MIMA. We also have an amazing Christopher Dresser collection in the Dorman’s Museum that everyone seems to forget about; it is the largest in the world! I’d recommend anyone interested in ceramics to visit there!

Cafe Etch is an amazing art cafe in the captain Cook Square in the Old engravers. I love taking my sketchpad and doing some work there whilst enjoying the cakes and coffee. And they serve booze now too so even better.

Disgraceland on Baker Street along with the other bars around there is always a good shout too and my fave place to drink at the mo, is Alchemy cocktail bar.

Paige Livingstone’s work

Tell me about three Instagram artists – you’re following, that we should follow too….

@mrbabies does amazing surreal collages

@vonnart does beautiful fantasy illustrations

@dariahlazatova does amazing folks surrealist illustrations and portraits

Followed and in love. Do you take commissions? Do you sell prints?

I do both – you can connect with me on my Instagram and contact me that way! Insta: @Wildlambillustrations

Paige Livingstone’s work

What other projects or things have you got going on?

I’ve currently been working on the branding for Pop Bear Essentials for Pop hairdressers in Middlesbrough; it’s really fun and cute! Go and check them out for vegan friendly affordable hair care range @popbearessentials

And we’re hopefully going to be doing more with Cake and I’m going to be focusing on my painting for a bit longer! So stay tuned!

Let Us Eat Cake Exhibition

Thank you Paige – such a beaut interview and excited to see your next collection and for more empowering, unapologetic cakey shenanigans!

You can follow Paige on her Insta and please do, if you can check out Let Us Eat Cake at Pineapple Black in Middlesbrough – it’s an amazing exhibition, my favourite so far this year!

(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

2 April Stat North East

What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

What did you learn from being part of the team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other opportunities:

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

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The festival of light - Southampton

Festival of Light – Southampton

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

Dippy

Dippy

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

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

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

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Lumiere London

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brighton festival

Royal Pavilion in Brighton

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

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

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

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HideOut Festival

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

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

How did you get involved in Heart of the House?

We were invited to tender for the project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newcastle University Freshers Week 2014

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

A sense of joy and wonder!

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

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

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

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

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

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Flux – Newcastle Central Station (Photo: Rich Kenworthy)

Highlight of 2019 for NOVAK?

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

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National Theatre – London

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

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

Enchanted Forest

Constellation – Enchanted Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you want audiences to take away?

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

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

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We sold out.

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

Again, completely sold out!

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

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

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

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

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

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

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

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

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

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

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

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

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

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

Over and Out.