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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit – Andrew Reed)

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Broken Biscuits (Photo credit unknown)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (Photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan (Photo credit Rich Kenworthy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Finnigan in Drip (photo credit Sam Taylor)

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

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

That’s all for now Culture Vultures!

 

 

Interview with 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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about your journey into theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you want audiences to take away?

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

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

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Sum the show up in 3 words?

Lindsay – Bike, dyke, frigid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about the creative team behind it Women Warriors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We sold out.

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

Again, completely sold out!

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

Are you a real life Workie Tickets?

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

What does being a feminist in 2019 mean to you?

Lindsay – NECESSARY.

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

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

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

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

What’s next for Workie Ticket after this?

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

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

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

So fellow Culture Vultures, two bits of advice:

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

Over and Out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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Pariah Khan: The Interview

For the record, please tell me who you are?

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

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

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

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

Is this your first show or have you written before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny, honest, surprising.

What’s next for you?

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

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

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