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

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

I’m working with the folks over at The Customs House for Takeover 2020 to champion the festival – you can read my blog post all about the Takeover HERE and find out more about it; but just to remind my fellow Culture Vultures, The Takeover is an annual week-long arts festival at The Customs House that is produced by, with and for young people. The festival is led, planned, marketed, delivered and evaluated by the Takeover Team, a group of 12-18 year olds, who are recruited from diverse backgrounds and have varying leadership and arts experiences. I chatted to two of this year’s team Harrison and James HERE.

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit – Andrew Reed)

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Broken Biscuits (Photo credit unknown)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (Photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit Rich Kenworthy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with sound designer & artist Matthew Tuckey; unexplored possibilities & bringing stories to life through sound.

“You can’t be, what you can’t see”

This was my starting point for a creative discussion the other day – we were talking about creative industries and lack of diversity, lack of representation in some areas, empowered freelancers and I broadened the conversation on to creative skill set and roles. There are SO many roles and extremely talented folks that go relatively unnoticed and unseen. It’s not to do with their lack of importance or skill set – it’s because what they do happens behind closed doors or “backstage”. Ironically, some of these roles (especially the digital and tech ones) in the current climate – have never been more important. These are the folks that will drive and help shape the innovation and reinvention of creative projects because they have the skill and ability to do so! Therefore, we should be shouting about them and celebrating them!

As The Culture Vulture, my mission has always been to empower artists and showcase the creative and cultural sector in its entirety. So, in my blog over the next few months, I’m going to be featuring talented creative people who have interesting roles in creative projects but often, don’t get mentioned or celebrated in the way they should do! I want to remove the “mysterious” element of what they do and hopefully, make them feel seen with the hope that others may follow in their footsteps. I want to illuminate the creative industries in their entirety.

There are so many roles that could sit within the “unseen” and “mysterious” category – but the one I’m going to explore today is a sound designer! If you don’t know what one is – well don’t flap – I didn’t know until a couple of years ago! I’ve personally worked with them on films, animations, theatre productions and public art commissions exhibited as part of an event. They do weird and wonderful things to sound usually as part of a wider whole (e.g. a theatre production). Their skills lay in making people feel, think, experience things via sounds. In an immersive performance context, if we think about humans having 5 senses – the perfect blending of the performance including sight and sound, can trigger the audience to feel, smell, and even taste things. What you hear can be equally as important as what you see!

A sound designer that I’ve had the total pleasure of meeting and working with recently, as part of Mortal Fools – is Matthew Tuckey, he’s very talented but also really canny human (I’ve enjoyed surrounding myself with canny folks of late). So I thought, I’d jump at the chance to interview him to showcase what a sound design is, what they do and to celebrate Matthew’s work, to make it more “seen”. So here we go and over to Matthew!

Hiyer Matthew – right, let’s start at the beginning – please introduce yourself to my fellow Culture Vultures?

Matthew – I am a Sound Designer and Sound Artist. I work mainly in theatre but have more recently been taking private and public art commissions. I’m based in North East England but take my work further afield when I get the opportunity. I am currently craving a long escape to the Highlands (when it is safe to do so) and I really like cooking. So, if you want to talk at length about interesting sounds or how to make an excellent stir-fry – hit me up!

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Matthew Tuckey

As a forever hungry human, yes please! Can you tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

Matthew – It’s a convoluted one… I started off with a very committed drama teacher who encouraged me to pursue directing. I was involved in music, art and drama at school but unfortunately we were limited to only one option at GCSE level, so I ended up going for Drama and took this all the way to A Level. I tried studying a four year MA in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow but after the first two months decided this was a waste of time and somehow landed an internship in a recording studio back in Newcastle. I was still writing and directing theatre here and there, but the studio offered me an exciting new creative outlet. Without planning it, these two worlds merged quite naturally in sound design.

Fast forward to now and I’m exploring the exciting and diverse world of sound design for theatre, and more lately, sound art. This was quite a natural progression from my creative work in recording studios and theatre sound technician work, alongside participation in directing and writing workshops. The surprising thing I found was when I was doing the more technical work, some people were asking me questions like “have you given up on creating theatre then?” which really fuelled my desire to demonstrate how technical and creative meet harmoniously in the designer’s role.

The Culture Vulture – As a non-planner – I find the magic happens in the freedom and I’m delighted to hear you talk about the connection between technical and creative, as absolutely and actually, I think where they meet is exactly where the innovation is, that will  take us into the next sector creative phase for reinvent post (or during) pandemic!

So tell me, what do you do as a sound designer? What is a sound designer?

Matthew – I get asked this a lot, and often at the start of a project with a new collaborator funnily enough! Also, a lot of people keep asking me how I differentiate between my sound design and sound art practice, and to be fair most aren’t aware that a “sound artist” is a thing. So to clarify, briefly, I am a sound designer when I am serving a client or collaborators creative vision – they present a problem and I plan and execute a design solution. Sound Art is what I do when I am realising my own creative vision – but the line can be quite blurry.

So, a sound designer means a lot of things across film, music, theatre, UI, AR, etc. Even in the theatre industry, where I do most of my work, it can mean many things to many people depending on the show, the genre, the theatre, etc. Broadly speaking though, the sound designer for a theatre production is responsible for all audible aspects of a performance.

It’s a broad role that can involve any combination of the following: sound effects recording, sound effects design, Foley (live or pre-recorded), sound system design, live sound reinforcement, recording and playback of music, programming the show control software, and room acoustics. So if you get the right one, they can be very good value for money!

I describe this approach as a wholistic sound design and this is what I aim to achieve in my work. Depending on the show and the company, this can either be all on me or with a team of maybe one other sound designer or composer and the technicians in the sound department.

The Culture Vulture – I think it’s an important question for folks to keep asking as, the more they ask and get comfortable with what a sound designer can do – the more ambitious they will get with their use of sound during a performance or project. Lack of technical knowledge and understanding of specialist roles like yours, can be so self-limiting! Through increased awareness, the seemingly impossible transforms into possible.

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Matthew Tuckey – photo credit Von Fox

What types of folks require your services?

Matthew – Anyone wanting to tell a story with sound! Whether that’s theatre companies, film makers, podcasters, visual artists, museum curators, or marketing teams. For example, I’ve never worked with an organisation on creating a sonic brand (think Windows or Mac start up. Or Netflix “da-dum”!) but would love to hear from anyone interested in developing that side of their marketing strategy. My clientele is only limited by imagination – it’s fairly niche at the moment but more and more organisations are offering immersive audio experiences (see Land Rover marketing or Formula 1 teams or Bastille album launches).

The Culture Vulture – holy moly, the Bastille album launch was truly amazing (google it folks)! So innovative. And as someone, who had kind of forgotten about them and their music, it worked in getting me to notice them and reconnect.  

Matthew – There’s a range of technical proficiency out there already when it comes to things like recording a podcast or sound for video, not forgetting musicians with home studios. But my skills really lie in marrying specialist technical knowledge and creative expression. When I was working in recording studios, one of the most important lessons I learnt was how to create a workflow that allowed natural movement between ‘left brain’ activities (setting levels, patching signal chains, organising your space) and ‘right brain’ activities (creative ideation, abstraction thinking, meditative listening) – I think that’s one of the biggest offerings on a project.

I also offer consultancy and training for organisations looking to improve their sound infrastructure and skills. Whether that’s theatre and cinema workshops exploring sonic creativity or venues looking to improve their sound system. I’m yet to work with a restaurant that want to improve the sonic side of the dining experience (I’ve been lucky enough to go to some nice restaurants and notice how uncomfortable they are sonically!) – maybe one day!

The Culture Vulture – I really love what you’re talking about there. 1. The brand sound – as someone who works in marcomms, this would interest me greatly. We often talk about how colours and visuals feed into branding- but sound isn’t something explored in the mainstream and I think, it has such potential. 2. Enhancing audience experience through sound – I would love to visit a restaurant or bar that has invested into this area.

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Matthew Tuckey

Tell me about some recent project highlights?

Matthew – Just before lockdown I was nearing the end of an exciting new show with Mortal Fools called ‘Relentless’. This was the first time they had worked with a sound designer and we had/have a really ambitious vision for using sound in this production (Relentless was cancelled just before touring and is set to tour in 2021). I couldn’t help feel a touch of nostalgia with this project as it reminded me of similar devising processes I was part of as a teenager. We’re all determined that this show WILL have a life beyond lockdown!

Another recent highlight is ‘Wolf’ a winter story by Kitchen Zoo in association with Northern Stage which was performed in Stage 3 over Christmas 2019. Kitchen Zoo are a fantastic team making brilliant shows for little people and their grown-ups. It was my first time collaborating with the talented Katie Doherty who was the composer, we both found this collaborative effort very rewarding.

WOLF by Kitchen Zoo – photo credit Von Fox

What makes a “good” sound designer? What skills do they need?

Matthew – I think the main thing that is relevant for all types of sound designers, and sounds a bit obvious but I really do mean it, is you need to LOVE sound and really experience the world through a strong awareness of sound. Whether it’s noticing an interesting acoustic effect, experiencing new music (live and recorded), or being drawn into a film through the sound design and score. I’m pretty evangelical about people watching/listening to collaborations between Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (current personal favourites – Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy – both making awesome use of Shepard tones which is one to ‘Google’!) And also, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Darkest Hour are great examples of sonic repetition and punctuation. But I’ll stop short of some of the more obscure ones…

The Culture Vulture – As a real film fan, I love sound in film and really appreciate its usage; 1917 had a fantastic use of sound and Ryan Murphy productions use sound (and populist music) fantastically; American Horror Story, Pose, Versace!

Matthew – Another important skill is developing a language alongside your awareness of sound. Being able to describe sound in a way that communicates clearly with a range of clients/collaborators – whether that’s a producer, a director, a performer, or videographer or painter. Having a common language is really important and is the first challenge in every new collaboration.

There are other skills that are really more specific to individual practice. Such as live sound reinforcement, microphone techniques for live and recorded sound, field recording, effects design, music composition, QLab programming etc. The depth that you go into these more practical skills really depends on what type of work you are designing.

The Culture Vulture – It’s interesting that you brought up commonality of language. I think it’s a real barrier to lots of collaboration where technology and more technical roles could come together. It’s the same with technological solutions and innovation that could make creative businesses function better – we (I class myself in that) often don’t have the words to describe effectively what we want or to do the research to understand what we need and the ones with the technological solution aren’t able to communicate to people who don’t understand tech speak! It can be overwhelming and disempowering!

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Matthew Tuckey

What kit do you use? What kit would you recommend to folks wanting to invest in sound for their work?

Matthew – So I use a combination of field recording, studio equipment, and electronic instruments.

For field recording I have a multitrack recorder with a vast range of microphones, from ambisonics (useful for VR and surround work) to contact microphones (useful for acousmatic compositions). I also have a handy mini field recorder with built-in and external mic’s which I use to grab interesting sounds that I come across day-to-day (this pretty much goes everywhere with me, and it’s not uncommon to spend the first 30mins in a new Airbnb recording another extractor fan or boiler!).

I have yet more microphones for studio recording (such as voiceovers and acoustic instruments) as well as a few acoustic instruments and Foley props that make great source material for designing effects. I recently got hold of a mini Roland synthesiser based on the classic Juno 60 and 106 which is very fun and versatile – I like being able to get hands on with this, as a lot of my work happens in audio editing software, and if all else fails you can just entertain yourself trying to make things sound a bit more Stranger Things!

It’s important to say though that you can buy the best equipment in the world but use it terribly! So the best resource straight away is either investing time and money into learning the skills to optimise what equipment you can lay your hands on, or bringing in a collaborator like me who already has not just those skills and equipment resources, but thinks and creates in a heavily sound orientated way.

The Culture Vulture – When learning something new or feeling out of your depth, there is an impulse that can lead to buying ALL the kit possible as a solution or assuming the best kid will compensate for the lack of skills. I’ve been guilty of that for visual stuff and learnt the hard way!

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Matthew Tuckey

You worked on an Enchanted Parks’ piece – I didn’t know you back then,  but I worked on EP that year and remember your name, it was a wonderful piece– can you tell me about the piece?

Matthew – That was a lot of fun collaborating with Molly Barrett on her sculpture piece ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ in 2018. I got to play around with some new ways of manipulating the voiceover that was part of the wider Enchanted Parks story and working with some theme music from the wonderful Roma Yagnik.

I’m really hoping that Enchanted Parks makes a come-back after their hiatus. It’s a fantastic event and my involvement in 2018 left me with big ideas for a parkwide sound installation.

The Culture Vulture – Me too – both as someone who visited every year as a punter and lived along the top of Saltwell Park, it’s a proper visitor gem! AND as someone who worked on the event for a couple of years – it’s a big miss to my yearly calendar.

Can you tell me a career project highlight so far?

Matthew – That’s a tough one!

I really enjoyed working with Selma Dimitrijevic on ‘joey’. It was a preview tour and Selma’s first point in the brief was ‘very lo-fi’ – we were literally touring to venues that had the most basic of sound systems. The piece was performed as a monologue by two performers simultaneously, one in English the other in BSL (the very talented Scott Turnbull and Faye Alvi respectively), and so we decided to make the soundscape quite low-frequency heavy in order to maximise the effect for our D/deaf audience members. These very strict parameters helped me to focus my attention on the source material inspired by the script and manipulate these in a really creative way that supported and scored the performances on stage.

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Joey – Photo credit – Bish

I also have to mention working as Associate Sound Designer for Northern Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and working alongside sound designer Nick John Williams. That show was a lot of fun, not least because of the sheer scale of the production. Nick brought me onto that project to help with some particular tasks, which included recording various sound effects such as church bells – a first for me! I was also responsible for creating vocal effects chains for the different types of ghosts and narrators in the show. Both of these challenges were a lot of fun and we were very happy with the outcome.

The Culture Vulture – Great answer and it gives a real overview of how broad and diverse your work can be!

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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage – photo credit Pamel

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected your work/practice?

Matthew – As soon as the PM suggested people stay away from theatres (prior to ordering them to close) the theatre industry pretty much shut down over night. My diary for the foreseeable cleared overnight simultaneously. Which was a shock to the system to say the least!

I had already been developing my practice in the digital art scene and making commission applications and funding bids in this area. Now with social distancing in place, a lot more people are contributing to digital art galleries which is great but also means the competition for funding and commissioning has jumped up!

The Culture Vulture – I hear ya! But from knowing you and chatting briefly to you about what you’ve got in store, I’m extremely excited to see your ideas and work unfold!

What challenges have you faced and how have you responded to them?

Matthew – The most immediate issues for me were the worries of financial loss and losing momentum in my practice. As a freelancer, I struggle with this mentality that if I stop for too long and lose momentum then it’s game over – I’ll lose clients, I’ll miss opportunities and I’ll forget how to do what I do.

I dealt with the financial worries by taking a few days just to gather my thoughts and assess the situation – fortunately I wasn’t in any immediate trouble and since then I’ve been successful in securing an individual ACE emergency support grant. I’ve also got some online workshop facilitation work for the lovely Mortal Fools and some online tutoring for Newcastle College’s FdA Stage Management and Technical Theatre students, which is also a lot of fun.

In terms of my practice – I started off by setting myself small, short term goals. I created a mini series of daily-ish ‘Mystery Sounds’ giving people 24 hours to guess the sound from a short recording clip. This helped me feel productive while I adjusted to the new circumstances. I’m still finding it difficult not being able to go very far with my recording equipment and to see people, but the cacophony of birds in our garden are more than obliging recording subjects for the time being. Listen here!

The Culture Vulture   – I loved your mystery sounds and I think it is a testament to your creativity with sound. In a busy digital space where everyone was suddenly pushing out content – I genuinely found yours fun and interesting! It also drove me insane trying to guess!

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Matthew Tuckey

You’ve been successful in receiving ACE emergency support funding – so firstly, BLIDDY WELL DONE PAL! Can you tell me what was the application process like? How did it feel to find out you were successful?

Matthew– It was a fairly simple process and I had some great advice from people who have a good track record with securing ACE funding. I’ve also been through a few bids over the past year, that were all unsuccessful in this ever increasingly competitive sphere of funding, so it was a real relief to find out I was successful. I was having a bad day when I got the email so just dismissed it without reading it in a moment of negativity and pessimism – thankfully I went back and read the email properly!

It was also very encouraging – I’ve basically spent lockdown juggling what little work is done remotely, applying to commissions for digital art, and trying to maintain some sort of routine! Now this help from ACE can give me some structure and purpose for a brief period of time.

YAS!  Proud of you pal! What will the funding enable you to do? What can we hook into?

Matthew – It’s buying me time really. The Arts Council asked how I would use this time to plan and stabilise for the future. And my answer was two things: take some sections of my original sound library and create collections to be bought online, and also to host webinars and discussions for collaborators who want to find out more about the sound design process and how they can collaborate with a sound designer in their work.

The webinars and discussions are largely going to be promoted through my existing networks with the help of regional theatre companies, but if anyone would like to get in touch to hear more about these events then they can find my contact details on my website.

Count me in for the webinars and discussions! So, I know it’s hard to plan during the uncertainty right now – but what’s next for Matthew on the horizon? What projects/happenings/things should my fellow Culture Vultures look out for?

Matthew – I am currently working on a mini album of sound art made during lockdown. It’s largely inspired by sounds I’ve noticed more since social distancing measures and sounds I am missing too. This will be available on my Soundcloud page (and other platforms that I will announce via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

As soon as I can safely do so, I will be recording more pieces or ‘episodes’ for my Sound Portrait ‘Podcast’. This is a long-term project that I am running through a Patreon page that is all about hearing someone unfold their thoughts in a type of one-sided conversation. For me, it’s the sound artists portrait photograph of an individual. I’m steadily growing a following and patronage for this project, and I’ve recently created a new lower tier (just £1 per month) on my Patreon in order to try and encourage new followers to support the life of the project. It’s a slow burner, but my hope is that we can create a series of portraits that collectively amount to a sonic time-capsule of people, a kind of living oral history if you like.

Other than that, things are fairly uncertain during lock down unfortunately, particular with regards to theatre work – who knows when this will pick up again.

The Culture Vulture – a sound portrait of an individual…..I really love that. Just reading that has got me excited and I would love to be involved in some way!

Matthew – The other project I have continually running in the background is called The Rime and is my personal response to the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and combines influences of field recording, acousmatic composition, and sound poetry. I am constantly applying to commissioning opportunities to take this work further and hope I’ll be able to share more about this in the coming months!

The Culture Vulture – Thank you Matthew; you can find out more about Matthew on his website or via his socials; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@MGTuckey, @thesoundportrait)

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Matthew Tuckey

One of the things I love about working in the cultural sector, is the rich tapestry of people, vocations and skill sets that exist within it; it truly is unrivalled. I am unsure if people outside of the sector, truly understand its richness or skill diversity. I often sit back during a project team meeting and look around thinking…..”bliddy heck – what a talented bunch of people we have here!?” Matthew is one of those people!

And I am truly excited to see the opportunities as I predict tech and digital will creatively collide due to the pandemic, connect and from that, exciting collaborations will unfold.

Until next time Culture Vulture.

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

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

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

For my fellow Culture Vultures, who are you?

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

What was the inspo behind the show?

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

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

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

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

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

Sum it up in 3 words?

Lush. Proper lush.

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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Si Beckwith – Image credit: Ben Smith

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

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

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

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

Anything else to close on?

Just stay lush!

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

 

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

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

(#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.

This Is Not A Wedding; wedding parties, anarchy and dance….

For this Culture Vulture Interview….i’ve got a goody! I wanted to interview them a few months ago but alas it did not work out. I’ve been watching Gracefool Collective from a far (queen of sounding creepy over here) for some time and their current touring show, is just SO Culture Vulture.

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Full of anarchy, songs you will love, an existential crisis and wedding bells….’This Is Not A Wedding’ is a must see show and it’s coming to Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October – you need to get your tickets ASAP! As someone who is full of anarchy myself, proud feminist and unmarried and over 30, this is all right up my street and so timely…….especially as Mama Horts talks like this on repeat…. ….

”So…when will you get married?”

“Girls with tattoos don’t look very nice in wedding dresses”

“It must not be very serious, if you’re not engaged yet?”

“I always wanted to wear a hat”

“Do you think you will ever get married”

“You know most people your age are married, with a house and kids….”

Uh huh. That’s a lot of pressure. For the record, I’d make a terrible “wife” in the traditional sense – that power relationship has never sat well with me since a child; I remember being so confused as to why women gave up their name and saying to my Mum, “but I really like my name”. I guess marriage is about compromise – but I’ve always seen it as losing my identity, something “grown-ups” did and like a bigger version of Christmas….and I hate Christmas.

However, I treated my 30th birthday like a wedding. It was MEGA – invitations, venue, cake, DJ, cheese cake tower, decorations, speeches, drinks on arrival and I devised a quiz all about myself for attendees……it was my 30th birthday and I can host a quiz about myself, if I want to…..

I digress…. So yeah, weddings aren’t for me. My pals aren’t really the type to get married either….. all in long term things but quite happy as they are. A part from my best Kate, who had the wedding to end weddings…..the only wedding I’ve ever really properly enjoyed going to. It was mint…. Such good time, good vibes and so much cheese. None of the boring stuff……it was genuinely lush and Kate’s take on a traditional wedding.

So I’m loving the sound of Gracefool Collectives’ new show and of course, I’m totally there seeing it at Arts Centre Washington on 3rd October (AND YOU CAN TOO – BY GETTING YOUR TICKETS HERE ) but I thought I’d catch up with Rachel from the company and find out more about these brilliantly talented folk who seem like my creative soul mates.

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Well hello, Rachel, from another Rachel! Do you think they’ve realised us Rachels’ are slowly taking over the world? Tell my readers a bit about you?

I’m Rachel from Gracefool Collective. We four Gracefools, make post-intellectual-pseudo-spiritual-feminist-comedy-dance.

Tell me about your journey into the arts?

I started via the classic route of a baby ballerina in the local pantomime in Bridport, Dorset. I did high octane roles such as ‘sunbeam’ and ‘jewel’ and ‘storm,’ before deciding I liked things a bit more abstract and took G.C.S.E. and A level contemporary dance. After a stint in the youth dance company in Dorset, I thought I’d give dance school auditions a try and somehow ended up at the amazing Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

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Ohhh I was a baby ballerina…..but I lack the necessary grace, precision and I’m not very girly….more stompy! So, how did Gracefool Collective start and what united you?

We were all in each other’s choreographies at NSCD and were united by a general creeping feeling that we found some contemporary dance a little beige. We figured out we preferred disco balls, satire and copious amounts of glitter and it snowballed from there.

In our third year, we made a work together which was an interactive auction with a rapper as the auctioneer and a barbershop quartet of phone bidders. You could bid on lots such as ‘true love,’ ‘mojo’ and my personal favourite, ‘ghost in a jar.’

Now, we make work which is feminist, forthright and fiercely funny. We make wildly entertaining interdisciplinary contemporary performances about the absurdities of modern existence. We aim to provoke, delight, and defy convention through a series of sketches, scenes and images that offer a mixture of play and provocation. This still comes with a side of glitter.

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Honestly, you are all my soul mates… I wish to be covered in glitter at all times and hear the call of the disco ball daily. So, tell me about the show at Arts Centre Washington in Sunderland? When is it?

‘This Is Not A Wedding’ captures the pressure of coming of age in a celebration event like no other. Four bridal-clad women desperately and determinedly offer new versions of long standing traditions reminiscent of rite of passage ceremonies. Over one hour, they embark on acts of anarchy, including a perfunctory sexy version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and an apocalyptic karaoke sermon featuring Edith Piaf. They roll down the aisle in a ball of brides, perform a robotic bridal march to Taking Head’s Road to Nowhere and make existential speeches questioning the meaning of life. The performers consistently negotiate with the audience – ‘guests’, asking for suggestions and appealing for feedback. Through fast-paced comedic scenes, we communicate our confusion about the expectations of adulthood, all whilst keeping our ‘guests’ satisfied. The pressure and tension of whether we have been successful is constantly questioned. You know that existential crisis about all your achievements that you have when you approach 30? We’ve tried to put that on stage!

This non-wedding event invites audiences to question the rigidity of life’s milestones, celebrating non-conformity, personal choice and the challenge of coming of age.

It’s at Arts Centre Washington on the 3rd October, 7.30pm, £9 / £7.50 (conc) / £5 (Students).

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Yep…. My life is on long existential crisis/ social experiment….. Why did you make a show about weddings? What was the inspo?

In all honesty we started by just wanting to a make a show which had a semi recognisable structure. We thought this might be easier to pin our ideas around! But as all good Gracefool pieces end up, slowly our personal crises entered the work. We were all questioning what we were doing with our lives and what the next steps were. That morphed it into a show which now doesn’t look like a wedding at all, but just uses the idea of the wedding or celebration event to frame our thoughts about the pressure of time and the deadlines society expects us to achieve.

When seeing the title, lots of people have asked if we don’t like weddings, but it’s not as clear cut as that. As feminists we naturally question the traditions that are expected of us as women, but we appreciate the power of bringing two families and communities together and the moments that celebrate being alive. Plus, we LOVE a good party.

Our questions are more about how this seems to still be considered the pinnacle of a woman’s success. There seems to be a point where everyone starts to question when you are going to get married or have children. Deviating from this norm can feel like a real rebellion or even be perceived as frightening or unacceptable. What if you have other priorities or beliefs?

Adding to that, there is a huge amount in the show about time – am I supposed to have done all the things I wanted to by now???

Really, we’re just giving you a window into the inner chaos of our minds.

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I do love chaos….So what can audience members expect and why should they come?

This Is Not A Wedding is for anyone interested in laughing, crying, singing, dancing, coming of age, coming together or coming apart at the seams. Come along for riotous fun, or as one of our audience members said,  “a bonkers hour of clowning & baffoonery … but like all excellent fooling [with] an undercurrent of deep questioning about life & it’s meaning”.

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Any audience feedback so far? Any quotes you can share?

Here are some of the best:

“@gracefoolC ‘s #Thisisnotawedding was brilliant – dark clowning with a serious undertone about life and existence …a Samuel Beckett in a wedding dress!”

“AMAZING! Anarchic, thoughtful, clever, unpredictable, contemplative- surprisingly moving at one moment of bleaker vulnerability. And just hilarious.”

“Totally joyous, cheeky, self-aware, laugh out loud fun and all wrapped up in poignancy. Winner.”

“Such a clever exploration of recognisable rituals, really rich with imagery, feisty and stylish. Impressive stuff.”

“Loved this last night! You’re a mighty, talented and gutsy collective of women with awesome comic timing #Thankyou”

“Thanks for having me, Gracefools! I laughed hard and long – congrats on another great show.”

“You guys completely cracked it…some of the best work I’ve seen in 30yrs in dance and theatre”

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Anarchic, raucous, unpredictable

Do you have an idea of your “perfect” wedding? (Mine has always been in trainers and non conventional – big party….artist commissions for the decorations)

A massive party with great (preferably unlimited) food and an excellent sound system. I’m getting married next year and there are alpacas at the venue. Perfect right?

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Yesss! If I was getting married Sebastian (my cat) would be my best man…..Why does society fixate on the brides dress? Why does society fixate on the traditions?

I don’t know really, it seems odd when you really look at it. The dress is such a big tradition – we know what a bride is ‘supposed’ to look like. We like things that make us feel part of the ‘group’ and if we all do the same then we’re part of that right?

Or, maybe there is so much uncertainty in life now maybe we like to hold on to things that feel certain? I guess that we like things that make us feel safe and like we understand the,. Perhaps because there is so much choice now, it’s safer to go with the route we know, which is why it can be seen as scary if someone takes a path you haven’t considered. Anything can be scary at first if you haven’t experienced it, or know someone who has. Plus, I suppose as a society we aren’t used to women having lots of choice – so we’re still getting used to women having agency to make varied and different decisions.

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The dresses in the show are amazing, outrageous and difficult to move in. They are real dresses that have been worn for weddings or were bought to be worn at a wedding. A normal bridal outfit is very performative. It really is a costume in a performance when you think about it! What’s interesting is that you can look at hundreds of bridal dresses and they don’t look very different from one another. On this specific day society expects a woman to be at her peak in a very particular way. When seeing this, you question whether the scope of what womanhood is supposed to be is still incredibly narrow. What are we emulating and why? If we are now becoming more open to different ideas about womanhood, why isn’t there much movement in this particular aspect?

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What wedding traditions would you get rid of?

Anything that seems like you are doing it because you feel you have to. Oh and the obey bit. Absolutely not cool.

Why is there so much pressure to get married? I’m 33, unmarried (never been interested in getting married), society makes me feel that it is something i should be doing and lush friends often ask “so when are you getting married”…Spoiler alert: probably NEVER….

It still feels like the pinnacle of women’s achievement is marriage. I think sometimes as a society we can still find it difficult to see a woman as having value on her own, not just existing as an extension of her husband/partner. But I also feel that when those questions come they often aren’t ill-meaning – they’re habit. We’re just taught that that is what we are aiming for as women.

At the end of many fairy-tales and movies you find true love and… well, that’s usually the end! We’re able to question so many more of the things that are expected of us now, to have children, to not have children e.t.c. but it is still against the social narrative to choose a different path. I always think that it’s not all that long since we got the vote and we’re still arguing about whether women should have rights, choices, agency…the list goes on. It takes a long time for attitudes to change. Hopefully the question one day will just be, ‘what do you want to do?’

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Previous shows/projects you want to tell me about?

Our last show This Really is Too Much won the Stockholm Fringe Festival GRAND PRIX, the Swedish Festival’s top award and was part of the prestigious Underbelly Untapped award for innovative new writing at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe.

It combined dancing with dark comedy to delve into a world of farcical stereotypes and preposterous power struggles, wrestling with gender, identity and social convention. This Really Is Too Much was an outlandish and wildly entertaining medley of absurd political speeches, talent contests and box ticking.

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Highlight for 2019 for Gracefool Collective?

Being one of the top 9 moments on the BBC’s Dance Passion Day!

What does it mean to be a feminist in 2019?

Intersectionality and Listening.

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What’s next for Gracefool collective?

Due to our collaborate ethos and non-hierarchical structure, ideas don’t develop fully until we’re first in the studio for a new work, so… we’ve no idea! It will probably become a work that deals with what we are concerned about now.

At the moment we are thinking about how Brexit impacts upon this as internationals working professionally. We’re dealing with loss, grief, trying to find a sense of belonging and whether or not to have children. This work touches on ideas of impending doom and the apocalypse. We’d love to explore this existential crisis further!

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Wow…..I want to join Gracefool Collective….love what their about and the energy is palpable. I love creative folks with real purpose …

So are you going to join me and come and see ‘This Is Not A Wedding ‘ at Arts Centre Washington, Sunderland on 3rd October? You can still get your tickets HERE!

(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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(#AD) An Indian Abroad: An Interview with theatre maker, writer and…professional wrestling manager(!?) – Pariah Khan

My creative journey started when I began writing – that was always my safe space; making up stories in my own head, wild and fantastical and writing them down. I was a big fan of make believe – I could spend an entire day on my own, in my own head having an absolute ball, adventures and I’d write all about it.

When I got older – I really hated being an introvert. Being so much in my own head – sometimes I preferred it there (sometimes I still do)…but I recognised that I needed to engage, to communicate, to socialise, to interact with the world to make sense with it, to experiment and theatre and drama became my safe space to do that. It was always hard, terrifying but I grew to fall in love with the being a part of theatre making and drama.

Now I was never the star of the show…..I was not really a natural performer but I forced myself to do it so I could prove a point and learn how to command a space and an audience. But I loved being part of a production and I still love being a part of the theatre. I work with lots of performers and theatre companies now at The Culture Vulture and it’s an absolute delight. I also attend the theatre as much as I possibly can…..theatre to me, is the same to others as reading a book. It’s not a one off, or a once a year activity….I love going regularly, discovering new writers, new performers and it’s the type of activity that I just really love; it feels good for my soul and it feeds my curiosity. As an introvert, I really love escapism…. And theatre, seeing a show is exactly like that, escaping into someone else’s’ constructed creative reality.

Now very few writers are theatre makers or performers. Very few performers and theatre makers are writers. Totally different skill set – but a gifted few out there are all three. This talented elite are all singing and all dancing and usually make great theatre. But there is an even MORE, crème de la crème within this elite and that’s those who can write, make theatre, perform AND make you laugh…. I’m about to introduce you to one such person and the subject of this blog post – Pariah Khan!

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Pariah Khan is a writer, performer, filmmaker and professional wrestling manager (naturally). He was named one of Bristol’s most influential young people for his work in theatre and comedy. He was selected by BBC Three and The Latimer Group as one of the UK’s top 50 creative young people and he was selected by Channel 4’s Random Acts to write and direct his first short film ‘Slice’.

Basically, he’s super talented and he the man behind An Indian Abroad, coming to Northern Stage on 20th July as part of GemArts Masala Festival. Tickets are from £10.

This wonderful show tells the story of Krishnan, stifled by life in middle-class India and desperate to see more of the world, he visits the exotic island of Great Britain to learn about life and who he is. What does Krishnan’s journey teach him about the world? What might he learn about himself? And what happens when he falls in love with one of the natives?

Reviews:

“A shrewd and bitingly funny send-up of the ‘spiritual journey” ★★★★ Pub Theatres Magazine

“With precision, smart observational writing, and a small selection of props, Khan has created something really wonderful – a warm, funny, and thought-provoking piece of theatre” ★★★★ Stage Talk Magazine

“That Pariah Khan is a smart man. It’s a jaunty hour, full of well-timed gags yet beneath the joviality, there lies an acerbic touch” ★★★★ Bristol Post

“A generous and hilarious writer and performer with a keen eye for detail and impeccable comic timing. Hari has a big future ahead of him” Nikesh Shukla, Editor of The Good Immigrant

Basically, it’s going to be hilarious and it’s a must see as part of GemArts award winning Masala Festival at Northern Stage. And naturally, I was curious about this talented theatre maker and part time wrestling manager……so I embraced my inner Martin Bashir and decided to get in touch, to interview him…..

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Pariah Khan: The Interview

For the record, please tell me who you are?

Pariah Khan, the Prince of Persuasion, the South Asian Sensation, the Bodacious Bro with a Bebop Flow and Writer & Performer of one man show An Indian Abroad. I work in theatre, stand-up, film and I’m a professional wrestling manager.

I love hearing about people’s journey into the creative sector and performance, it’s always so colourful and different…..so, tell me about your journey into writing and performing?

I never grew up around theatre or was that interested in it, apart from studying Blood Brothers at school. I decided to take Theatre Studies at A Level because I thought it would help my performance skills in order to get into wrestling, and just like that I fell in love with theatre and performing.

I carried on through sixth form and university, but when I graduated I wanted to give wrestling a go. Since then, I’ve developed a unique style, performing in front of different audiences; theatre, wrestling and stand-up. This has influenced the show (An Indian Abroad) because my director (Eduardo Gama from Manga Theatre) and I wanted to create a blend of two art forms, combining the subtlety and precision of theatre with the openness and honesty of stand-up comedy. I would say working with Ed has been a vital part of my growth as a performer.

Is this your first show or have you written before?

This is my debut production, and it’s been unbelievably exciting. I’d written smaller scripts beforehand, 10-30 minute pieces showcased at scratch nights, a short film through the Random Acts scheme; but I’d also had experience writing two original full-length musicals during my time at university. All of those experiences were vital for giving me the confidence to pursue a career in the arts.

That’s really interesting – I know so many performers, theatre makers and animators who started their “professional” creative journey through Random Acts! How did go from writing musicals to comedy writing…. Have you always been funny?

There’s an energy and excitement that comedy brings to scriptwriting and live performance and it’s something I’ve always been drawn to. I don’t particularly enjoy writing straight drama or other genres, whereas I absolutely relish comedy, dark comedy and satire. Most of the work I write now has a satirical or subversive nature to it. I’m not sure if I’ve always had a strong sense of humour but I do come from a very funny family, one that celebrates good company and storytelling. I’m not sure if it’s related but I started finding my comedic voice around 13 when my parents separated.

How did you end up being a part of this year’s amazing Gem Arts Masala Festival and part of the programme?

I took part in a Black Box Showcase event at York Theatre Royal where I was invited to perform an extract from the show An Indian Abroad. Vikas saw that I was programmed but wasn’t able to make it, however he approached me to see if I’d be interested in bringing the show to Gem Arts Masala Festival, and here I am!

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Sounds like it was fate….Have you been to “the toon” before? If not, what are you looking forward to most?

I haven’t been there before so I’m quite excited to explore the city. My usual habit is to eat at a local tea room, take a walk through any nice parks and try to catch a show at the venue (or perhaps any of the other wonderful programmes as part of the Festival). However, The Lion King is being released that weekend, so I might try to catch it sometime.

Well as The Culture Vulture, if you need any recommendations for places to see, do, eat…I’m your gal! Right, now onto An Indian Abroad; tell me about the show…

An Indian Abroad is a one man comedy show following Krishnan, a young man from India who decides to take a gap year to Britain to ‘find himself’. It’s an exploration of race, culture and identity in contemporary Britain which is refreshingly honest, heavily autobiographical and entirely false.

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Sounds brilliant and right up my street…but why should people come to see it?

I’m very proud of my show; I feel it intertwines comedy, narrative and more serious elements in a unique and interesting way. If you have an appetite for more diverse stories, are looking for a night full of laughs or are a fan of great theatre, come see An Indian Abroad on July 20th at Northern Stage, as part of GemArts Masala Festival. .

What would you like audiences to take away from seeing the show?

There are several themes and issues explored in the show and from speaking to audience members afterwards, different people strongly resonate with completely different sections. All I can do is present my show, the rest is up to them.

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What was the inspiration behind writing the show….you’ve said it’s autobiographical but also entirely false!?

I moved from India to England, then England to India, then back again. I’ve had the opportunity to see India from a British point-of-view and Britain from an Indian point-of-view. Each has allowed me to truly appreciate and love each culture, but I’m not blind to the negatives in each. So listening to ‘gap yah’ students talk about these transformational experiences they underwent travelling to an ashram in India, really got on my nerves. I felt Karl Pilkington’s bitter, miserable approach to travel was far more authentic, so I decided to flip the gap year concept on its head, in order to expose the ludicrousness of such an exoticized or fetishized narrative.

(For anyone who hasn’t seen the “Gap Yah” sketch… you can watch it here.)

Have you ever had a “gap yah” type of adventure?

No gap years, however I’ve felt like the past 12 months touring this production has ironically been a sort of gap year in terms of learning and growing from it. I moved around a lot when I was younger – born in Libya, moved to India and then to England (and back and forth again) – so the long term travel bug never bit me.

What do you think people think, when they visit/come to live in Great Britain? Is there a particular quirk that you think stands out?

I think my parents’ generation saw Britain as a land of hope and dreams, with the potential for a “better life” and greater opportunity. Years on, I think they found out that wasn’t quite true and life in India would have been fine. But for a more detailed look at what people think when they visit the UK, then they will have to come see An Indian Abroad on 20th of July.

Tell me a bit about being chosen as one of the UK’s top 50 creative young people in the UK?

It was pretty cool, I was chosen as one of 50 people to help BBC Three’s early stages of moving to an online only platform. I learned a lot through that about writing treatments and pitching projects, and the overwhelming likelihood of rejection in the industry.

As an aside; tell me about the professional wrestling management?

I’ve loved wrestling ever since I was young, the battle between good and evil, the ability for characters to change for the better or betray the trust of everyone around them, it harkens back to Greek theatre, or physical theatre. It has been described by WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan as the purest artistic expression of martial arts and combat, which is a fascinating device to frame conflict and resolution.

Back to An Indian Abroad, can you try to sum it up in three words?

Funny, honest, surprising.

What’s next for you?

I’ve really enjoyed touring this show and being invited to different cities to perform. Part of me is ready to start writing the next show; then again, Phoebe Waller-Bridge didn’t stop with a theatrical version.

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And there you have it Culture Vultures – I’m very excited to see An Indian Abroad and escape into Pariah’s world! Expect brilliant writing, lots of laughs, an increased awareness of how ridiculous “gap yahs” are and a brilliant addition to this years’ GemArts Masala Festival. Tickets are flying – so make sure to nab yours which you can do from here!

(Full disclosure – I have received free tickets to see the show at Northern Stage and have an on going short term partnership relationship to champion GemArts Masala Festival 2019)

(#AD) GemArts Masala Festival 2019: strutting into Summer like a Bengal Tiger….

We are so blessed in the North East for wonderful events and festivals all year round – there are often total gems in the event/festival calendar that due to you all being busy bees that you might not know about or discovered yet. I see my role as Culture Vulture to tell you about them and champion them!

Well let me tell you about a PROPER Culture Vulture festival gem – GemArts’ Masala Festival….

This award winning, multi venue festival has been running for several years and has been growing each time. It’s back for 2019 across 15th – 21st July 2019 with a mix and blend of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture. They’ve got an incredible line up of film screenings, theatre, music, yoga on the beach, Bollywood dancing, crafts, spoken word, poetry and free family fun!

I sat down with Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director recently for a catch up (I’ve been a GemArts supporter for many years now and he’s been a Culture Vulture champion since the beginning!) and to interview him about this year’s festival. But before I get into our interview, I thought I’d walk you through this year’s Masala Festival programme…because it’s a corker!

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GemArts in The Crack Magazine

Masala Festival launches on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, with an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia. And if you’re like me, and have to be the first at everything, then you’ll be joining me at this feast of music. I’ve seen RNS quite a few times and they are quite something, so I’m excited for this collaboration.

This is followed by, on the 16th July at the Lit & Phil, two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. These two ladies are at the top of their music game and so accomplished…. I will be fan girling from the audience. And after the show, why not continue the Jazz theme and swing Prohibition Bar…that’s why I will be headed!

For spoken word and poetry, look no further than Luck and Hope: an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar at Culture Lab on 16th July. I know those in the poetry scene are extremely excited about that one! They also have a a stellar line up of regional spoken word talent in Strictly Spoken with at Arch16 on18th July which is now sold out. Spoken Word largely thanks to Button Pottery and the likes of McNish has jumped in popularity and the fast, Strictly Spoken has sold out highlights that – but good news is, that I’ve nabbed tickets just in time, so I will let you know what it’s like!

Masala Festival has a fantastic line up of films and this is music to my ears as since turning 30, I’ve really got back into my independent films and visiting the cinema at least once a week. At Masala Festival they’ve got the heartwarming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions on 15th July; half-brothers Omar and Pete are on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel. At Tyneside Cinema on 17th July, they’ve got The Sweet Requiem with stunning cinematography and subdued tension highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis. This film, feels extremely timely and I’m sure will provoke a lot of reflections.  At BALTIC on 19th July, GemArts are screening Woman.; a specially curated evening of  contemporary South Asian film shorts about freedom, desire, resistance and the indomitable spiriot of women.

Writer, performer and professional wrestling manager (natural combo!), Pariah Khan brings his ‘shrewd and bitingly funny’ An Indian Abroad to Northern Stage on 20th July; we follow the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain. This is a hilarious journey of self-discovery especially when he falls in love with one of the “natives”.

If you want to get yourself moving, why not try out Bollywood dance on 20th July,  yoga on the beach  on 21st July or if you are in need of a little TLC before your summer holidays try out an introduction to Meditation on 15th July.

Masala Festival is back at Dabbawal Street Food Kitchen. Over seven days, you can sample a specially crafted and delicious menu created by Dabbawal’s talented chefs. I’m a HUGE fan of Dabbawal’s food – as soon as I found out they did gluten free onion bhajis and lush spicy curries, I’ve been visiting lots ever since. I’m planning on going a few times to work my way through the menu…..

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GemArts Masala  Festival ends on a total high on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular FREE fun packed Mini Mela finale, with South Asian arts, craft, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! This year enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with ….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls, neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! Not to mention Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

And if that hasn’t convinced you to come along to Masala Festival starting on Monday, well…. Let’s hand over to Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director to find out more!

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So I know how important GemArts is to our region but for those who haven’t heard of GemArts, tell us what GemArts is?

GemArts is an arts organisation and charity based in the North East of England.  We are a nationally recognised leader in the South Asian and diversity arts sector, and we create, produce and programmes high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists across all art forms. GemArts is committed to excellence in our participatory arts practice, particularly supporting artists working in the diversity sector, and we specialise in delivering arts projects with schools and community groups across all age ranges, to provide creative and enjoyable learning experiences, and to promote a greater understanding of people and their respective cultures.

Why and When did GemArts start?

GemArts started in 1992, working in Gateshead primarily and then across the North East.  We now work Nationally and Internationally through our commissioning and touring programme.  We passionately believe the arts enrich the lives of individuals and communities through celebrating our shared cultural diversity – Raising aspirations, building stronger communities and breaking down barriers.

We know that inequalities exist, and many communities and artists face social, economic and cultural barriers, so are excluded from taking part; this is disproportionately more so if you are from a Black, Asian, minority ethnic, asylum seeker or refugee background.  GemArts mission and focus is to increase equality of opportunity for everyone to engage with culturally diverse arts – as artists, producers, participants and audiences.

I’ve told everyone about what Masala Festival is in the present (top of this blog) – but can you tell us what was the inspiration behind starting it?

The festival is a mass of GemArts yearlong programme condensed into one colourful and creativity fuelled week in July.  We wanted to really show the breadth of incredible artists and art forms from the Indian subcontinent and diaspora, and celebrate the fantastic contribution that South Asian communities and culture has made to the region, UK and the world.  Masala itself is a mix of spices that goes in a curry or tea; we’ve taken that concept and replaced the spices with amazing arts and culture!

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Oh I like that Vikas! Masala festival is award winning (in fact I can remember “whooping” for you in the audience) which is just fantastic as I know you are such a small but perfectly formed team who work so hard, so to get that recognition is lush; can you tell us about the award? 

GemArts Masala Festival won the coveted Arts Council Award at The Journal Culture Awards in 2017, which was brilliant for everyone involved!  And we were runner up for Best Event Tyneside in 2018, which again is great recognition…..hopefully more in the future!

How would you describe Masala Festival to someone who hasn’t been before?

Since its launch in 2016, the weeklong festival has become a yearly celebration of South Asian arts and culture, bringing thousands of people to experience the best music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much more.

The programme presents a diverse mix of contemporary and traditional South Asian artists, art forms and identities, produced and curated by GemArts, working with artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent.

This year the festival is across even more venues than ever before and the programme feels jam packed – is the intention to keep growing it year after year?

We’ve always had aspirations and ambitions to grow and develop the festival, and it has year on year.  We are very lucky in Newcastle and Gateshead to have so many amazing flagship venues who we work in partnership to present work.  Accessibility and ownership is something which is fundamentally important to GemArts, and we are absolutely committed to working with independent and community venues to programme arts and cultural experiences by, with and for communities, so we always want to build on our current work.  It would be great to expand the festival further South of the region……..watch this space!

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Last year’s GemArts festival launch as part of Gateshead Council’sGreat Exhibition of The North programme

Why are independent festivals like this important in the North East? 

Independent festivals are massively important because they shine a light on artists and art forms which might not get a look in otherwise.  They are culturally relevant and enable communities to celebrate their identities; people see their traditional and contemporary lives and stories reflected in venues and spaces.  Independent festivals, like Masala Festival, absolutely demonstrate that in the North East creativity and diversity is thriving and championed, and that we can connect on so many levels across so many experiences  whether that’s food, music, dance, etc .  We need more of this now than ever.

We absolutely do Vik!Tell me a bit about this year’s festival programme?

The design of this year’s Masala Festival brochure is just brilliant, if I do say so myself….you need to see it to believe it!

GemArts is (literally and visually) strutting into summer like a Bengal tiger as we bring the region another magnificent Masala Festival!  Over 7 days, from 15th to 17th July we are thrilled to present another  incredible line up of classical, traditional and contemporary artists from the UK and Indian sub-continent exploring themes of home, belonging, freedom, resistance, luck and hope.  We have music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, performances, workshops, pop, ups, talks, family fun days, food events and much much more.

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I’m excited! You always start the festival with a big of a bang with a launch event, what’s in store this year for the launch? 

Launching Masala Festival on 15th July, at Sage Gateshead, we have an incredible collaboration and special evening of music composed and performed by the internationally renowned Sarod maestro Ustad Wajahat Khan with a String Quintet from our region’s fantastic chamber orchestra Royal Northern Sinfonia.  It’s going to be epic!

I’m really looking forward to attending Woman at BALTIC – feels like a very pertinent time to be showing film shorts about women in the current climate; have you seen any of the shorts? Is there one that you are most looking forward to seeing?

Curated by Bobby Tiwana, this year’s shorts programme on 19th July at BALTIC is inspired by the political act of being a woman; exploring themes of freedom, desire and resistance. You can read about Bobby’s film choices in his blog post here and why as a man he has curated a programme about women.  I have seen all the films, and ‘The Field’ is a beautifully crafted short set in rural Punjab in India.  I’m from Punjabi heritage, and go see family in Punjab whenever I visit, so it particularly resonated with me, especially the scenery.  I’m looking forward to seeing War-ia again as it was written and directed by Bobby. We also have a post-screen discussion with filmmakers Sandhya Suri and Riffy Ahmed which will give a great insight into their creative process.

Don’t forget your complimentary glass of wine or juice on arrival!

I’ve fallen in love with poetry – both written and spoken word performance – I literally hit 30 and it just happened. You’ve got quite a few poetry related events as part of the event programme, can you tell me a bit about them?

We are working in collaboration with curator Dr John Challis and NCLA to present Luck and Hope on Tuesday 16th July at Culture Lab, an evening of poetry with two of the best poets writing today, Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharkar, whose poetry explores the nuances of luck, grief and hope within our often violent and unsettling contemporary world.

Then on Thursday 18th July we have a stellar line up of North East talent in Strictly Spoken (it’s sold out!) at Arch16.  We have Tahmina Begum, Prerana Kumar and Wajid Hussain presenting spoken word and poetry on identity, South Asian heritage and inspiration.

It’s really exciting that you’ve taken some of the festival out to Whitley Bay – WB is having a real evolution as an independent cultural hub of the region – what made you take some of Masala out there? 

GemArts has been working with Jam Jar cinema for a while now, and they are always up for working with us and programming films with a South Asian flavour during Masala Festival.  It enables us to expand our cultural offer and engage new audiences up in Whitley Bay.  We’ve got heart-warming, ‘feel good’ comedy of the year Eaten by Lions, which follows half-brothers Omar and Pete on a journey of discovery via Blackpool, featuring Jonny Vegas, Jack Carroll and rising star Antonio Aakeel.

For those who attend Masala Festival every year/have attended before, what would be your recommendation as a “must experience”?

I’d recommend two things:

If you’re looking for a night out and a good laugh – Definitely recommend An Indian Abroad, as writer, performer and professional wrestling manager, Pariah Khan brings his shrewd and bitingly funny show to Northern Stage on Saturday 20th July.  It’s getting great reviews as it tours the UK, and we are delighted to be presenting at Masala Festival this year.  It follows the story of Krishnan, who is stifled by life in middle class India and decides to visit the exotic island of Great Britain.

I’d also recommend The Sweet Requiem at Tyneside Cinema on 17th July with stunning cinematography and subdued tension it highlights the ongoing and often forgotten Tibetan refugee crisis

For those who haven’t been to Masala Festival before, what would you recommend them checking out to introduce them to the Masala vibe?

The true Masala vibe will be at the Lit & Phil on the 16th July; we have two of the most prominent women on the contemporary jazz scene, pianist Zoe Rahman performs alongside saxophonist Laura Macdonald. This will be a powerhouse of a performance, and guaranteed to sell out so get your tickets quick!

What about for those, who prefer to have a go at something….what do you suggest?

We’ve got a whole host of workshops that people can take part in Bollywood dance, yoga on the beach, or an introduction to Meditation.

Also check out the Chai & Chat exhibition at Gateshead Central Library, beautiful textile artwork inspired by traditional chai recipes.  You can also take part in paper tea cup making.

Full details to book on workshops see www.gemarts.org

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GemArts Bollywood Dance workshops as part of Late Shows 2019

Through-out the festival, you’ve got a bespoke special menu at Dabbawal, which is my favourite place to get a curry, so i’m excited for the Masala menu! Can you tell me a bit about the (commissioned!?) art work, you have on the walls at one of Dabbawal’s restaurants?

Dabbawal are the original authentic street food restaurant in the region, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them – their food is simply outstanding!  Each year their talented chefs craft a special menu which is available during the festival, and we can’t wait to sample it!

Our artist Kate Hunter Parker will be creating art work inspired by this year’s Masala Festival brochure design, as well as elements from the programme and the menu, so expect to see vibrant, luscious and colourful work at both High Bridge and Jesmond restaurants.

So the finale…. any yearly Masala Festival goer knows that you round off the festival in style with a mini Mela at Live Theatre courtyard for families and adults alike. Can you tell me about this year’s Mela programme, what can attendees expect?

GemArts Masala  Festival ends on Sunday 21st July at Live Theatre’ Garden with a spectacular fun packed Mini Mela finale, with FREE South Asian arts, craft, storytelling, music and dance workshops for all of the family to enjoy! If you love caravans, bingo and Elvis, then look no further as this year’s finale brings you…….. Elvis’ Bingo Balls –  enter a seafront arcade in a caravan with neon, sounds of the slots and an Indian Elvis as your bingo caller! We’ve also got Circus Raj, a circus troupe from India performing throughout the day, with stilt walkers, dhol drummers, extreme juggling, sword swallowing and acrobatics, plus dancing marionettes, Dabbawal serving up delicious Indian street food, and much, much more…..

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How on earth, did you stumble across the Indian Elvis bingo caller? He sounds brilliant and fellow Culture Vultures who love things a bit out there and different will be all over this! ?

This is going to be so special!  We really wanted to introduce something new and exciting to this year’s mini mela which will connect with young and older audiences alike, and Elvis’ Bingo Balls absolutely will.  The theatre piece has been produced by Black Country Touring and it’s great that we can bring it up here for the finale.

It’s perfect, as it’s the start of the summer holidays and you’ve got a bingo caller clad in his Elvis outfit, telling stories of moving to this town ‘so every day can be a holiday’……what’s not to love!?

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And finally, if you could sum up Masala Festival 2019 in three words, what would they be?

  1. Epic

2.Vibrant.

  1. Fun

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Mini Mela 2018 as part of Masala Festival 2018

Well thanks Vikas and I just can’t wait! I’m taking over GemArts social media during the launch on Monday AND during Mini Mela, AND I will be attending lots of Masala events so you can follow my journey on my Facebook & Insta.

Visit www.gemarts.org to find out more and book tickets.

Look out for GemArts Masala Festival beautiful brochure around Newcastle and Gateshead or download your full brochure here GemArts Masala Festival 2019 Brochure

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Circus Raj Puppets which are set to be at Mini Mela

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

P.s. I’ve had the exclusive opportunity to interview several Masala festival artists and performers – so look over for those interviews coming out in the next week or so!

(Full disclosure: I am not being paid to write this post but I have received complimentary tickets to the full GemArts Masala Festival 2019 programme and I am working with them on the festival’s audience development).

Calling all rebels this International Women’s Day!?

After Eurovision (which is like my own personal Christmas), there is only one annual celebration that gets me super excited….. and that’s International Women’s Day. An opportunity to toast some of my favourite #lasses, recognise achievement and those who have supported the journey towards equality.

And this year, I’m throwing a proper party with Thought Foundation & Durham Distillery called Rebel Disco – I’ve wanted to throw a party for years and with The Culture Vulture thriving and vibing with so many lush megababes in my network, it seemed like the perfect time. Rebel Disco is an opportunity to get glittered up (we’ve got an eco- glitter bar!), dance to an amazing female DJ who is going to DJ some diva cracker tunes with projection, creative shenanigans for you to have a go at, food on offer, “tit-tails” and more. It’s this coming Friday and tickets are £12… why not join me, bring your rebel tribe and disco tits and get ready a corker of a party in the name of International Women’s Day….

Tickets are £12 and available from HERE.

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IWD is celebrated on 8th March annually and is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. After the Socialist Party of America organised a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909 in New York, the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference suggested a Women’s Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

Today, International Women’s Day is an International day of recognition; in some countries it’s celebrated as a day that championing people who identify as female and womanhood, in others it’s a day of protest and sadly, still in many places it’s ignored.

International Women’s Day is sometimes perceived as quite contentious or a day of “feminism”….. but I think it’s a beautiful celebratory day and at the heart of it, is about recognising the history of women and suffrage alongside championing the achievements of female identifying wonderful humans and an opportunity to have a discussion about the issues that exist in the present.

This year’s theme is right up my street too…. Totally recognising that IWD is not Men verses Women (I don’t believe in two genders for the record); it’s about celebrating wonderful people and striving for equality. This year’s campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter – focusing on forging a more gender-balanced world and trying to secure equality. I’m totally against any form of bias including preferential treatment (quotas on a business board – please! I either am the right candidate or I’m not – I don’t want my place to tick a box.).

So really excited for this year’s IWD and Rebel Disco; this party is going to be mega and it’s all about celebrating women and dancing the night away whilst enjoying “tit” tails made with Durham Gin (one of my FAVE gins by the way). I bet you’re wondering what a “tit tail’ is.. good question….basically we’ve taken the “cock” out of cocktail and swapped it for “tit” and then devised a LUSH Durham Distillery gin cocktail! Simple as that!

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However, I’m not the only one doing something MINT for this year’s International Women’s Day – actually this year feels like a bit of a festival of IWD happenings. So I thought this was a good opportunity to do some Culture Vulture IWD suggestions and recommendations for events I think you should be aware of and checking out!

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Film Screening: Kusama: Infinity (12A)

Gosforth Civic Theatre, Tuesday 5 March, 7.30pm

Insightful documentary about #kween of polka dots Yayoi Kusama, and her journey against the odds to become an internationally renowned brilliant artist. Yayoi is an absolute ray of light in the arts world.

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Hear My Voice: A Working Woman’s Fight For The Vote

Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Thursday 7 March, 6.30pm

Mark, IWD with Meridith Towne; she will lead you on a march through history to discover the determined women who sparked “The Cause” through to the Edwardian militants who refused to take “no” for an answer. This is a brilliant lively and informative talk about women who were inspired to go forth with “Deeds not Words”. I’ve seen Meridith many times before – and she’s excellent!

Tickets are £5 and available from HERE!

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Stupid

Northern Stage, Thursday 7 March, 8pm

A “not-just-me-then” tale of one woman figuring life out. We meet Stupid on her first day as a supply teacher and follow her quest to piece herself together, one school (and life) lesson at a time. New writing by an extraordinary megababe – a hilariously honest story about adulthood and whether it will ever really make sense?

I’ve seen the show and it was fantastic – written by Sian Armstrong and directed by Anna Ryder; two of my favourite humans.

Tickets are £10 and available from HERE!

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Period Positivity Event

Newcastle City Library/Grey’s Monument, Friday 8 March, 10am

This event is all about raising awareness surrounding period poverty and promoting period positivity. Starting at Newcastle City Library, you will have the opportunity to make red pompoms before taking them to Grey’s Monument to make it red. There will also be a flash-mob choir performing.

You will also be able to drop by and donate to Red Box and Streetwise.

Tickets are free – but you can register your interest HERE!

International Women’s Day Story Time

Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books, Friday 8 March, 10.30am, 1pm & 3.30pm

Awesome stories about inspirational super-women shared all day in celebration of International Women’s Day. Dress up as your favourite independent woman and tag us in on Instagram #IWD2019.

Storytime is free with general Seven Stories admission.

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International Women’s Day at City Space with Sister Shack

City Space, Sunderland University, Friday 8 March, 11am-7pm

Sister Shack will be showcasing stalls, activity and workshops with a creative, entrepreneurial and artistic background. This event will have a focus on the wellbeing of women by the way of specialist stalls, speakers, workshops and performers.

Entry is free and no need for tickets – but visit the website to find out more about the schedule of activity.

Sister Shack is also running an event the next day at Tyne Bank Brewery, so if you can’t make the Sunderland event – check out the Newcastle one!

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Reclaim The Frame presents The Kindergarten Teacher

Tyneside Cinema, Sunday 10 March, 3pm

This screening is part of the fantastic Birds’ Eye View’s Reclaim The Frame project; a mission to bring ever greater audiences to films by women, to build a more balanced film future.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lisa Spinelli, a kindergarten teacher and poet fed up with her career, her oblivious husband and teenage kids who largely ignore her. When she discovers that a five-year-old in her class may be a poetic prodigy, Lisa becomes fascinated and tries to protect him from neglectful parents.

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There will be a post screening panel discussion hosted by Mia Bays who runs Birds’ Eye View, the charitable pathfinder for films by women and network for those who make, show, release and watch them. She is an Oscar-winning producer of documentaries and fiction.

Tickets are £7.25-£10.75 and available HERE.

Tyneside Cinema are running a whole season of International Women’s Day inspired films.

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Newcastle Fuck Up Night (in collaboration with Women of Tyneside)

Ampersand Inventions CIC, 39 Pilgrim Street, Tuesday 12 March, 7pm

An evening of all-female line up of artists, writers, business people and entrepreneurs who are set to tell their stories – this evening is all about celebrating the mistakes, the “whoops”, the blind faith moments, the moment it all went tits up – yep the fuck ups…. These moments are learning opportunities and often the making of us – this event celebrates and shares them.

Tickets are free but pre-bookable – available HERE.

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Other lush events coming up to note:

Women of Tyneside Festival

Across Newcastle & Gateshead, March – June

I was lucky to catch up with one of the project co-ordinators Gemma Ashby to find out about the festival and it sounds fantastic. A wide programme of collaborative events and TWAM led events celebrating women in Tyneside and exploring the representation of women in Museum collections.

Festival information and programme of events can be found HERE.

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Women are Mint Festival

Cobalt Studios, 10-12 May

Women Are Mint Festival is a three day event showcasing the best of local female talent including Culture Vulture megababes Becca James, The Cornshed Sisters, Ladies of Midnight Blue and Lady Annabella. Women are absolutely MINT, but we already knew that.

Festival information and tickets can be found HERE.

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And if you can’t wait to see Lady Annabella…well guess what? She’s DJing Rebel Disco, so come and sample a tit-tail with me on Friday and get your Rebel Disco tickets!

I have a feeling I’m going to be raising a lot of glasses full of gin across the week at all these IWD events, toasting lots of megababes….

That’s all for now Culture Vultures! xx