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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elijah Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your next plans for Isolation?

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the plans for Golden Daffodils longer term?

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

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

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

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

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

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

What did you learn from being part of the team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other opportunities:

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

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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

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

(#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.

Masculinity, #ladsladslads & theatre making – an interview with Jake Jarratt…..

An area I’ve been intensely interested in from a self-reflective exploring view point is gendered normative behaviour….as a 33yr old woman without children, on a non-conventional career path who embraces being quite eccentric and introverted as a badge of honour, the older I’ve gotten, the more aware I’ve become of society trying to pigeon hole me and push onto me, gender conventions or make excuses for me as to why I don’t succumb to them.

The more I don’t succumb, the more society tries to reinforce them and with more energy. I sometimes wonder, at what point others will accept the way I am, in the way I have learned to do so. Or I wonder, when I will stop playing up to this “eccentric” characterisation of myself…. !?

I never thought I’d get married or have children, I never spent time agonising over boys (I didn’t get it), I always knew as I can see a lot of my Father in me, that I would be fiercely ambitious and introverted, I had no interest in being in fashion or “popular”, I just liked what I liked…… I’ve forever been positioned as a “tom boy” or “ladette” as I’m not girly…..

Actually the term being “girly” always offended me even as a child and I have memories of trying SO HARD to play with Barbies, have Polly Pockets and “girly” things….it was exhausting but it made people happy and I was curious enough to see what the fuss was about. I remember having the realisation of holding a polly pocket as a mini me and thinking “this is a bit shit” and deciding to go back to collecting woodlice, building dens and tending to my imaginary horse farm where I played both the farmer and the horses….what can I say, I’m versatile!?

But there is something in rejecting the above and still for some reason carrying around this weird feeling of disappointing the universe that I’m not, never was, or ever will be what society seemingly demands of me. I’m the lass who quotes South Park and Family Guy like a second language, that loves to be outside in her own head, that really loves to wear bold dresses but equally loves to dress like an 80s power suited man, I hate talking about my feelings, I’m not emotional enough, I HATE cooking, make up is functional, I’m always the more dominant one in a relationship who takes a traditionally more “masculine role”, I’m the big spoon, I don’t have kids and I don’t feel empty not having them, I find commitment and stability absolutely terrifying…..

I’ve been told that some of my personality traits and the above make me quite “masculine” – that I could be intimidating to men….off putting. It’s weird isn’t it, how we have such a fixed ideal of what it means to be masculine or feminine? I’ve been classed as a hyper-masculine trait exhibiting female…..

And my Dad wasn’t classed as an A Typical “manly man”- he had no interest in being one either. So my Dad not “masculine” enough and me, who is very much like my Dad, with my supposed “hyper masculine” traits…..

We live in a bizarre world. A world where men are supposed to be strong. And women who are strong aren’t girly enough and too masculine and men who struggle sometimes are weak and told to “man up”. And whilst things are changing slowly…..there is a lot of work to be done.

I’m delighted that theatre maker Jake Jarrett is using masculinity as a theme and starting point for his show “Blokes, Fellas, Geezers”…… especially as you can see from above I’m extremely interested in this topic and how we keep telling kids they are free to be who they want to be and yet, reinforcing gendered stereo-types over and over again. Even I had to apologise in a meeting recently, when I used the term about myself “growing some balls” ….it slipped out and it reminded me, that what it is to be masculine and/or feminine is so ingrained in our minds that even I use an outdated phrase like that when championing strength and courage and of course, I totally cringed and wanted the ground to swallow me immediately.

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(Jake Jarratt)

As you can tell, this subject topic gets me buzzed and I’m super excited to see Jake’s show on 26th September at Arts Centre Washington, Sunderland; we are invited to enter Jake’s world, where the men are men and the pints are cold and what it’s like to inherit working-class masculinity whilst discovering what kind of person he wants to become.

I didn’t know Jake before this blog post (I’ve seen some of his past acting and writing work and heard of him as an emerging talent) but it was the subject content of this show that made me buy a ticket and to reach out to find out more ahead of the show.…

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Hi Jake, for my readers….Who are you?

I’m an actor, theatre-maker and part time book-maker from Crook in County Durham.

I ask this question to all the people I interview; can you tell me about your journey into the arts/creative sector?

It was the usual thing of doing school plays and then attending a drama group that triggered a variation of stuff; from Christmas shows to issue-based work that was used to educate audiences at other schools and conferences.  I loved ‘Bouncers’ by John Godber and ‘Bones’ by Peter Straughan at school and that style of work. Writing that focuses on people and places that are familiar to us is what excited me when I was younger. Paul Charlton went to the same drama group that I went to, and seeing him do really well and seeing his sketch show ‘The Ginge, The Geordie and The Geek’ on the tele was inspiring and showed that it was possible as well.

After doing drama for my GCSE’s and at A level, I finally went on to do 4 years at Northumbria to study drama. Where I spent 2 years hating the subject and really enjoying the last 2. It was during the last 2 that I found a buzz for performing again, and a buzz for making and writing my own work which was very new to me. And after graduating (which is nearly 2 years ago) I decided to make a career as a freelancer in this mad industry.

Katie Jarvis making her own presse drink at Bottlegreen. Wednesday 21st of January 2015

(Bouncers)

So on to this show ‘Blokes, Fellas, Geezers’ – what’s it all about?

The show is about inherited masculinity in the North-East; that is boiled down and filtered through a father/son relationship. It focuses on how boys through to men are told or taught to behave in a specific way that fits a mould of what men in the north-east should be. This is the second time I’m doing the show and what’s been a big focus this time is looking at what makes a father want to project toxic behaviours on to their sons.

I know this is a tough question, but if you could sum the show up in three-words?

Fast, funny, familiar

Who would you like to come and see the show or who do you think it will appeal to?

Anyone from the North-East (I know that’s a massive range haha!). It’s a piece of work that looks at the region as it is now. We see a lot of work from the time when the mining and shipping industry was thriving, and I think it’s nice to make a piece of work that looks at the place in the present.

I think my show will appeal to men of all ages. The performance gives an insight to how men react to their environments and deal with their mental health. You see one character having to live up to a reputation laid out by his dad. And you see another character struggling to deal with his life and how that affects his relationship with his son.

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Why should people come see Blokes, Fellas, Geezers” on 26th September at Arts Centre Washington?

It gives them a chance to see and explore what’s happening at either side of masculinity. Why young people are growing up and feeling they have to behave in this way and seeing why fully-grown men are behaving this way. It’s a performance that allows us to look at toxic masculinity as a whole rather than just blaming an individual or a group of individuals.

What do you want the audience to take away from seeing your show?

To understand what’s making men tick. A big part of putting the show together has been looking at why people do the things they do and just to leave with that in their heads or the back of their heads. We’re quick to judge and write people off, but just to open up, reflect and think why?

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How do you feel about the pressure to behave in a “masculine” way?

It’s concerning. Because men, no matter what age, feel like this is an appropriate way of dealing with how they feel, because they’ve been told that any other way is a sign of weakness. And you’re left with men dealing with their issues in damaging ways; which sometimes goes on to affect their relationships with family and friends as well as themselves. I think there’s more out there now to try and break that “Grow some balls” stereotype with men’s mental health groups and its presence in the media; but still think there’s stacks more to be done.

What’s your advice to young men still trying to figure stuff out?

Look after yourselves and your pals; always check in on each other. It’s a proper man thing to struggle on with dealing with your mental health and one of your mates will be as well, and I’ve seen that from either side.  But being more open will make it easier as you grow up. And I suppose its finding who you are and not feeling you have to live up to an outdated stereotype. And not being afraid to admit you’ve gotten it wrong. I can’t count many times I’ve done something and I realised that I’ve been a dickhead. It’s about realising we’ve made mistakes, and stopping ourselves and pals from making them again.

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Tell me about your work before this show?

This is my first one – my first solo show. So this is me bairn I suppose.

I co-wrote and performed in a piece with Cameron Sharp who is one third of Bonnie and the Bonnets called ‘Wank Buddies’. It looks at 2 lads, one gay, one straight, at a Uni house party and how they are very similar as people and how their sexualities have dictated a journey against each other.

I co-wrote and performed in a little project called ‘Two Heads, One Shirt’ with Andrea Scrimshaw that looked at genders in sport and how men and women’s sports are regulated differently.

In the spring I performed in a belter show called ‘Isolation’ written by Elijah Young, which looked at a group of students in a struggling school, and how their home lives and other issues affect their relationships with one another.

jj  (Two Heads, One Shirt)

What do you think the difference between solo performing and performing with others?

I much prefer working with others. The first time I did this show for 90% of time I was by myself for writing and performing. It’s so much more enjoyable to share your time writing and rehearsing with people. ‘Wank Buddies’ with Cameron was class craic, we spent a lot of time in the making phase of the show and it was mint to share that with someone.

With ‘Isolation’ there was a cast of 8 which was great because you get to see what people are doing differently in rehearsal room so it’s a good learning experience, as well having 7 other people to put up with my shit banter ha.

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(Wank Buddies)

This is the second outing of this show, what are you doing with it this time?

Yeah, I’ve made a lot of changes to the script which are going to be good to play with. I’ve also gotten funding to build a team up, so it’s nice to see what we can do to make the performance more than just me on stage with cardboard boxes. Scott Young from Odd Man Out is directing, he’s also been helping me with the writing, so it’s good to bring another head into the show as well to see what we can do with it.

As a freelancer like me, you’ll have a million different hats on…what else are you up to alongside Blokes, Fellas, Geezers?

I’ve been getting ready to work with November Club, who’ve got a project at the Lit and Phil, which is really exciting. Following on from Wank Buddies, Cameron and I, along with Jack Lloyd, Dan Watson and Elijah Young have looked at making a piece as a group that focuses on male mental health set in a super market. Its working title is “The Meat Aisle” which is subject to change though and its very early doors.

Also ‘Wank Buddies’ goes back out on a tour next year which is exciting; I cannot wait for that.

Other than that, it’s been reading plays and going to auditions. Just trying to keep busy.

Wank Buddies written and perfomed by Jake Jarratt and Cameron Sharp in Elevator Festival 19 at Live Theatre 7

(Wank Buddies)

What is your highlight of 2019 so far?

Oooo ermm. Doing Elevator at Live Theatre was great; I’d love to do that over again. I enjoyed taking Blokes, Fellas, Geezers down to Hull and Farsley. It was nice to get outside of the North-East and take my work outside the region.

What’s next for 2020?

2020 see’s WB come back out and hopefully go to a venue in London. I’ve never performed in London so it be nice to tick that off the list. I will probably end up spending about £100 bar on a sandwich.

After WB I want to spend some time focusing on writing. I enjoy writing, but BFG and WB have been done under a pressure to get them out in time for a show. I want to spend some time getting better and learning more about the writing process. I don’t have a writing back ground, so I think it be nice to take some time to just focus on that.

Saying that, I also want to focus on my performing; looking at working with more theatre companies as an actor. And I want to look at working outside the region more in theatre or film. I find I learn more watching and hearing from other performers and it be belter to get in these spaces more often.

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Well thanks Jake!

So Blokes, Fellas, Geezers is coming to Arts Centre Washington on 26th September and is the first show on this tour run….you can get your tickets here! Exciting new theatre from an exciting lush new theatre maker…..

It’s also on a three shows for £15 special, if you fancy making a habit of Arts Centre Washington Theatre shenanigans on a Thursday night!

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There are other dates for shows too if you can’t make it including 5th October at Gala Theatre .

Stupid at Arts Centre Washington : a review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Stupid about?

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

http://www.picturesbybish.com/ | https://www.facebook.com/picturesbybish/

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

What can audiences on Thursday expect?

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

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

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One line to sum up the show?

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

Can you tell me about Stupid’s development process?

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

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

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

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

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

What was your inspiration for the show?

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

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

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

What’s your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what’s next?

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

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Well thanks Sian and Anna!

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

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

Ticket for Stupid are available from here!

 

GemArts Masala Festival 2017; a South Asian cultural infusion of a festival……

Working in Culture within the North East is possibly the best sector in the entire world to work in; it’s just mint! The ideas, the events, the projects, the people and beyond. As a none people loving people person, I really finding my little space in the world, with such brilliant people.

The Cultural sector in our region is just so diverse – I’ve never experienced anything like it. The cross fertilisation of ideas, partnerships and collaborations and the ever emerging willingness to work together culminates to ensure an exciting bubbling richness of lush things and people.

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GemArts and Sunderland Stages present Gods & Mortals at Sunderland Minster

The sector is also very close knit – you can attend any event really and see a smattering of friendly creative faces smiling, championing you and your projects and attending the things you do. It’s a like a secret club of lushness…… the people you work alongside or attend their things and champion, very easily move from project partner or such and such from that organisation….and become friends. Real friends and people who you celebrate every cultural moment with.

Sinead from Gem Arts is one of those people (and in fact really the whole Gem Arts team….but Sinead really likes cats and is quite ridiculous like me, so she’s my favourite). I’ve known of Gem Arts for some time and championed them for as long as I have worked in the cultural sector….. their Mini Mela was my induction into working with a large scale cultural children’s event.

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GemArts is a dynamic arts development organisation presenting South Asian arts. They produce and programme new and exciting culturally diverse arts, by creating and developing high quality concerts, events, festivals, workshops and commissions with regional, national and international artists. Every event I’ve attended has been a cultural hot pot and celebration of South Asian diversity and learning about respective cultures.

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Last year they launched Masala Festival and I had the pleasure of championing it as part of Gateshead Arts Team and of course, as Sinead’s mate Horts. So as we are literally about to jump into the second Malasa Festival (deep breaths Sinead and team – it’s going to be mint!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with her and find out what this year has in store for the region alongside digitally championing to my fellow Culture Vultures what a cracking week this is going to be…..

Well hello Sinead, so first up; what is Masala Festival?

Masala Festival is the North East’s very own, award winning, South Asian Arts Festival, bringing a mix and blend of the finest art and artists to the region for 7 days in July starting on 17th July.

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How many years has it been running and what kicked it all off?

GemArts launched Masala Festival in July 2016, offering a truly eclectic programme, spanning traditional and contemporary arts. After 16+ years presenting diverse arts in the North East, we decided it was time to put our expertise to good use, and create a brand new Summer Festival, showcasing artists from the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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This year the Masala Festival programme explores partition, migration, globalisation, identity, heritage, tradition and modernity, and marks the 70th anniversary of Independence for both India and Pakistan, something we were already starting to think about in 2016.

You won a Culture award for last year- tell me what that was like?

Recognition is the icing on the cake, alongside the incredible support we continue to receive from participants, audiences, trustees, volunteers, sponsors, partners and local communities, to whom we are hugely grateful and celebrates the creative talents of artists from the region, across the UK, South Asia and beyond.

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It was a joy to collaborate, connect and celebrate with thousands of people from across the region at our first Masala Festival, and we can’t wait to do it all again.

Receiving an award for something your team is truly passionate about is a dream come true, and has given everyone an even stronger drive to continue championing creativity and diversity at every level, supporting young and emerging artists, and offering people from all backgrounds and ages, community groups and schools, engaging opportunities to take part in our culturally rich and diverse arts offer.

So… now 2017; what’s coming up for Masala?

This year’s Festival (17th-23rd July) will ramp things up, building on our award success we’ve been even more ambitious, and added exciting collaborations and takeovers to last years list.

GemArts has commissioned work from celebrated companies and artists  and the programme is packed; award winning poetry readings (Daljit Nagra: Heritage and Identity), specially curated short film programmes (Changes), celebrations of Sikh soldier’s music tradition and contributions to the First World War (Sacred Sounds), leading choirs from India (Gandharva Choir), two nights of powerful theatre (No Dogs, No Indians), Masala Festival takeovers and collaborations (Q Festival, Trinity Square and Dabbawal), Mini Mela family fun days, Indian storytelling shows (Henna),  talented musicians fusing jazz, electronic and Indian classical music (Sarathy Korwar), folk music and dance (Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band),  film screenings (The Jungle Book, Ghandi), exhibitions (AURORA by Jayamini de Silva), food events (Biryani Club), fantastic workshops (Bollywood dance, Meditation and Yoga), talks and demos (including GBBO contestant Chetna Makan) and lots more……

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What should I not miss out on?

We think you should attend everything, but there probably aren’t enough hours in one person’s day. Three events we know the Culture Vulture will really enjoy would be;

SACRED SOUNDS – A national project called Sacred Sounds, which tells some of the largely forgotten stories of British India’s role in the First World War. Using archive footage, letters, photos, music and poetry, SACRED SOUNDS is a multi-art form performance which explores Sikh musical heritage and traditions, which soldiers took with them to the battlefield.

HENNA INDIAN STORYTELLING SHOW – As part of our Q Festival takeover we’ve invited international storytellers Peter and Gorg Chand to tell a very special story. On the eve of a wedding a young bride-to-be is having henna applied to her hands. As the patterns emerge, the stories begin to unfold… love, loss, betrayal and Bollywood! Plus GemArts Henna artists will be on hand to create beautiful designs for any of our audience who want them.

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NO DOGS NO INDIANS – A powerful new play from Siddhartha Bose. Three intertwining stories, spanning decades, explore the effects and legacy of the British in India in a powerful new play to mark the 70th anniversary of independence.

I’m always up for trying something new and out my comfort zone- do you have any recommendations?

CHANGES: stories on the edge will certainly make audiences ask some serious questions, and think long and hard about the world they live in and the resilience of people. Following last year’s successful ALIVE film programme, we’ve teamed up with creative producer Bobby Tiwana again, who has curated a stunning line up of short films for CHANGES; a programme of lives on the edge – personal and political conflicts test human resolve.

My little mini Culture Vulture Beck (one of my best pals little boys) – he’s really into trains, stamping his feet, stairs and exploring- anything for him and his lush fam?

There is plenty for mini Culture Vultures and their adults to get involved in during Masala Festival. We’re starting our Q Festival takeover with Bollywood dance classes for ages 2+ from 9am, and then from 11am we’ve Stories from the Punjab and Beyond for ages 5+ , a fun, interactive, and lively session of Indian tales.

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Part of our Movies at Masala programme with the Jam Jar Cinema, shows The Jungle Book at 11am on Saturday morning.

Sunday sees the return of our popular Masala Festival Mini Mela, which last year welcomed more than 500 people throughout the day. Like all GemArts Mini Melas the day includes a range of drop in arts workshops, from Rangoli, Kite making and Silk painting to Bollywood Dance and Dhol drumming, plus we’ve invited an amazing group of musicians to really bring the space to life, as the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band will perform throughout the day.

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Heard about the curry night at Arch 16 which obvs I’m all over that…..I like my curry to be an experience…..

BIRIYANI CLUB AT ARCH 16 – We love working with our friends and neighbours, and when we read about Arch 16’s curry clubs with Ashiyana Café we knew we had to chat Masala Festival with them. A tasty curry for less than £10, and GemArts DJs spinning the best bhangra hits, what’s not to like?!

CHETNA MAKAN CHAI, CHAAT AND CHUTNEY – As big fans of food shows, food cooking and food in general, we were over the moon when former Great British Bake Off contestant Chetna Makan was available to deliver a cooking demonstration during Masala Festival. Chetna will share stories from her travels around India for new cookbook, Chai Chaat and Chutney, and attendees will get to taste a selection of delicious street food recipes created before their very eyes!

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Well that’s all a little bit amazing isn’t it – so make sure you check out GemArts Masala Festival next week…..you’ll see instantly why  it won a Culture Award and how fantastic it is – every night a brand new experience of diverse lushness – so much to see, do and of course Culture Vultures, EAT!

So bye for now Culture Vultures and Sinead, well I’ll see you on the other side of Masala Festival…..

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The Culture Vulture xx

Mixtape 90s: The Six Twenty

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Melanie, right tell me about The Six Twenty?

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

Now tell me about Mixtape?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What was the show’s inspiration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your favourite 90s song of all time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big love from The Culture Vulture. xx

Mobile; a class theatre show about class.

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

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

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

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

You can watch the Mobile trailer here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIFT 2017: The low down- what it is, why you need to go and get tickets immediately…..

I’m a big fan of theatre and performance – as someone who spent their childhood and teens doing drama related activity and in plays – I fell in love with it and it’s fair to say I have a leaning towards the dramatics in my everyday life; I’m certainly an animated personality and my face is the most expressive you’ve seen.

I absolutely love going to the theatre whether smaller productions or things at Northern Stage or Theatre Royal – it’s always a dream. Theatre is all about total immersion, escapism and storytelling. I love disconnecting from my life and my reality and being absorbed into watching someone else’s. Getting lost in a visual story…….

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And it’s not just about the acting and make believe – it’s one of those art forms into which everyone can engage and get involved. Whether it’s the writing, the costume designing, the lighting, the sound, the set design – a feast of visual, performance and digital arts.

Those who read this blog and follow The Culture Vulture, will know by now that I LOVE the undiscovered and the unfound – stepping outside of my comfort zone, seeing different things and new things. Something which embraces my love for performance and need for the new and unfound, is matched perfectly within GIFT Festival which is returning again (yahoo) for 2017 across Friday 28th – Sunday 30th April….. how exciting!?

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GIFT is an annual festival of theatre celebrating the new, unfound and experimental performance and theatre right here in Gateshead……last year, I attended and got to experience a performance as part of a wild hen party; disco, dancing, shots and crisps. And also, a version of Stand By Me with a soundtrack by the Eurythmics.

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This year the programme is jam packed with lots to see performance wise (for adults and children alike), workshops and discussion across Baltic , Caedmon Hall at Gateshead Libraries, St Mary’s Heritage Centre, The Central Bar and Prohibition Bar. And I’m even more excited that FINALLY this year, after a couple of years of no funding, GIFT was awarded their Arts Council funding, on top of running a successful crowd funding campaign….

I caught up with GIFT’s Programme Director and Queen of all things GIFT; Kate Craddock to find out about this year’s programme and what to expect. Kate is someone who I’ve known for many years now and who champions the up and comers in performance and empowers her students, at Northumbria University to reach their full potential……so by my standard, not just a mega talent and asset to the region but also an all-round cultural megababe.

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Hi Kate – last time we caught up was in Prohibition Bar over a G&T – this time, I want to hear all about GIFT 2017….so for those who haven’t been to GIFT before – what’s the low down?

GIFT is back for 3 days at the end of April – Friday 28th – Sunday 30th Aptil. GIFT is an international theatre festival based in Gateshead that aims to present new performances and the kind of that nowhere else in the region is able to put on. We are able to take a chance and do something new.

You are unlikely to see a traditional ‘play’ at GIFT; instead the work is more contemporary, visual, physical, conceptual, devised… .GIFT festival allows for a more experimental programme with less risk for the venue programming the same artists/work alone.

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GIFT offers a platform to showcase opportunity for NE based artists and theatre makers to show their own work in a lively festival context. It also brings International work to Gateshead and the region that we otherwise wouldn’t see. And of course, it brings performances and artists from across the UK who have never performed been here before to introduce North East audiences to new artists and ways of working.

Essentially GIFT is 3 days of artists and audiences coming together, forming a festival community whilst seeing lots of shows together; talking about the work they are seeing, networking and partying. A big feature of GIFT that makes it distinctive from some other festivals is that it is really personal, small scale and grass roots. It really tries to open up possibilities and opportunity for everyone participating.

What inspired you to start GIFT?

There were a number of factors that all came together at once.

I was one of the artists who was in the original SHED Artist studios on Gateshead High St, and I was living in Bensham-spending a lot of time in Gateshead at a time when there was lots of focus on regeneration and redevelopment…

I really wanted to do something that was about connecting the culturally regenerated quayside with Gateshead town centre and beyond – and knew that a festival had the potential to do this – acting as a catalyst. I realised that there wasn’t a theatre venue in Gateshead as such, but instead there were loads of really unique spaces and lots of very wiling supportive people who were happy to let me do things -like put performances in empty shops, or in church halls, or in the interchange.

I was also making some quite experimental performance work myself, but was finding that there was quite a limited number of platforms to show this  kind of work – and I realised I wasn’t alone in that.  – However, there was a community of artists really wanting to make something happen. I was also in a really lucky position where I was travelling and working at other European International festivals; these were hugely inspirational for me -and made me realise that we needed GIFT.

Why Gateshead? What venues have you selected this year?

When I founded GIFT in 2011, I was living and working in Gateshead and I got frustrated with the fact that for lots of people (in Newcastle) Gateshead meant a trip over the bridge to the Sage or Baltic and that was as far as they would venture. I wanted to do something that opened up other areas (some neglected, some beautiful) and connect performance to these areas.

Gateshead Council and Culture Team (formally the Arts team) have always been so supportive of the arts (Angel, Sage, Baltic, all the arts team work etc) and they were so supportive when I first approached them about it. For the first 3 years GIFT took place mainly in Gateshead old town hall, the Central, St Mary’s as well as other venues dotted around. In 2014 we relocated our main hub to Caedmon Hall, which is where we will be again this year for lots of our events. We will also be presenting performances at Baltic  this year for the first time – as well as Prohibition Bar, Central, St Mary’s , Caedmon Hall and our closing part will be at The Old Police House.

Tell me about the programme this year?

This year we have teamed up with 2 other UK festivals to present a programme of work from across Europe. On Friday night we will present the UK premiere of Possibilities that disappear before a landscape’ by El Conde de Torrefiel from Barcelona. This is being presented in collaboration with Transform Festival in Leeds where they are performing the partner piece Guerrilla a week before GIFT. Possibilities is stunning piece that works like a visual essay -so you are both reading and listening to spoken text while seeing multiple images played out on stage in front of you.

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The company are one of the most exciting to emerge from Spain in recent years and are in huge demand. I first saw this company in 2012 and have been trying to get them to GIFT since then – so I am totally thrilled they will be here! I also think they will really appeal to people who love visual art but might not be so sure normally about going to the theatre. We have also teamed up with BE Festival Birmingham to host Best of BE Festival – 3 amazing shows from across Europe. I have seen the work and can’t recommend it enough. Best of BE (or BE @ GIFT) is always a great fun night, and the work always rich and varied.

Also we have Julia Taduevin from Glasgow with ‘Blow Off’ described as one of the most memorable shows of the year by the Scotsman – and it is, completely unforgettable and completely stunning. All female punk band – music, spoken word, feminism – very loud! Would definitely appeal to people interested in live music but don’t think theatre is for them!

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One of the shows coming from Leeds is ‘Something Terrible Might Happen on Saturday’ by Uncanny Theatre at The Central – it will be hilarious and it looks at how obsessed we are with things going wrong. Enjoy the show while having a pint!

Other fab things are we have teamed up with Chalk to host Noise Lab -lots of young children working with a sound artist to turn their tantrums and crying into art, at Baltic.

Who are you most excited about seeing? I know it’s difficult to choose……

Literally all of it; one of the best things for me too is seeing the artists actually meeting each other, talking to each other and their audiences about their work – that is always so brilliant and rewarding; when this happens and works well, I know I am doing a good job.

Is there anything for families?

Yes –Noise Lab by Chalk on Friday morning – this is the strand of GIFT called Little GIFT and is for early years and their parents. On Sunday there is also a rolling programme of live performance and dance work at Baltic that is all free to attend.

Zoe Murtagh will also be at St Mary’s on Friday all day peeling potatoes and inviting audience members to help her discover her Irish heritage -there will be some dancing and laughs involved. Altgif7hough these events are not strictly for families as such, they will definitely appeal to a curious adventurous audience member of any age!

What should someone who has never been to GIFT before expect?

Expect to be surprised by each performance you encounter – and to take risks with what you go see. Expect to be welcomed by the GIFT crowd, to get involved and to throw yourself into opportunities – to chat and to meet new people.

You’ve had challenges this year with funding (again!) and you’ve set up a crowdfunding page – can you tell me a bit more about this and why people NEED to donate? 

Yes, we have really struggled to secure enough funding to make the festival happen this year – but Arts Council Funding has come through at the last minute after a lot of hard work resubmitting applications We also have a crowdfunding page on the go at the moment to help raise money towards supporting a lot of the infrastructure around the festival enabling the festival to happen – like paying technicians at the venues, to support the artists and also to be able to offer artists some support with their shows – towards their production budgets and costs involved in performing at GIFT like travel -and feeding them while they are here!

What would advice would you give to an aspiring performer, or script writer, set designer etc?

See as many performances and different types of performances as you can – and take every opportunity that is offered to you to network and meet people. But of course, the best advice I can give you at the moment is to get yourself along to GIFT between 28 – 30 April!

Thank you Kate…..

And that’s what I love about the Cultural sector at the moment- it’s all about feeling empowered and being the change you want to see; she wanted an experimental theatre and performance festival in the region and made it happen!

Well you can expect to see The Culture Vulture at every single event and performance for GIFT – I’m obviously most excited for ‘Blow Off’, Pug Party anddddd GIFTed: Late Night Lip Sync CabaretBonnie and the Bonnettes and GIFTed guests

Check out the full GIFT 2017 programme in all its glory.

If you see me, feel free to say hello