Beth O’Doherty; fave human, actor, singer, dancer, writer, panto lover & challenger of asexual stereotypes.

The region is thriving and vibing culturally at the moment. I honestly, think this is the dawn of the independents, the makers, the doers, the passion project pushers, the creative thought leaders – the creative folk championing each other, their projects, their journey and I’m very much a part of that. Part of being the Culture Vulture means I’m a cultural cheerleader- willing everyone on, championing them, mentoring, trying to lead by example that the creative sector is truly ALIVE and has space for the brand new, the disruptors, experimenters and independents.

At the moment the performing arts sector in the North East is exactly that – there are so many independents, projects, individuals coming forward with new ideas and shows –  it makes me smile with pride and I’m so excited to see how 2018 pans out.

In 2017, I had the pleasure of falling back in love with performing arts – through my role at Sunderland Stages, was invited to work on 4 audience development projects, I saw 61 theatre shows, met 18 theatre companies, saw 3 festivals and BAM true love reunited.

I met a fantastic amount of exciting talented people and again, as the Culture Vulture – I love the possibilities and I have no idea what talent I might discover around any turn. Beth O’Doherty was around one of those corners and she’s thriving and vibing into 2018……

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Hi Beth, so tell me a bit about you and what you’re up to at the moment?

Why hello you! At the minute, I’m enjoying the seasonal festivities and a bit of rest and relaxation time so I’m re cooperated for 2018.

You seem to have your fingers in so many creative projects and pies – it’s great and I love that about, honing your talents and vibe whilst experiencing so many things. What was your highlight of 2017?

That’s a tough one! I’ve been a part of so many lovely shows but seeing Alphabetti Theatre get a new venue and reopen with a triumphant hurrah was an absolute joy and the programme has been full of delights

I first met you at part of GIFT Festival 2017, which for those who don’t know, is a fantastic festival of theatre in Gateshead. Tell me about why you got involved in GIFT and your favourite GIFT 2017 moment?

I was taught by Kate Craddock (Festival Director) and the lecturers are always keen to give you experience through their projects. I couldn’t resist getting involved as I just love festivals. They wet your appetite with lots of different teases.

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Bonnie and The Bonnettes

I got to build up my skills in Front of House and tech and generally see how you put such a mammoth event together. It was an amazing chance to see international work from different countries and to see international ways of working right on your door step. We are definitively better together and when we share and stay connected so I hope that this practice can continue.

Saying that, my favourite moment was when Bonnie and the Bonnettes along with their guests performed The Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch. What an absolute riot!

You remind me of ‘Little Voice’ – actress Jane Horrocks plays a shy, quiet young lady – who when she has a mic and on a stage, unleashes this mind blowing, unexpected big voice….. I love your voice; I love it so much, I invited you to sing at Newcastle Start Up Week’s Creative…… tell party me about your singing journey and how you developed your voice?

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I am absolutely blushing! You are FAR too kind. I have a lot of people to thank that have gone into my singing. I watched so many Disney movies growing up (and still do) that bursting out into song was natural and all I wanted to do so I joined local theatre groups as a way to have fun and make friends.

There, I started developing my technique. You learn from every musical director you work with. I love old Hollywood musicals and the vaudeville style variety shows and am inspired by Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald so listened to them on repeat and started to build up a jazz repertoire. I’d love to learn to scat.

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You recently, hosted a Jazz Showback at Prohibition Bar  in Gateshead – what was the inspiration behind that and most importantly, when’s the next one?

We have so many amazing performing arts groups across the North East and when you’re working on a show you sometimes end up in a bubble so I thought it would be nice to have an excuse to come together, meet new people and celebrate the level of talent we have here. Mitch, the owner of Prohibition bar was so open to ideas and so helpful in the planning. It’s a stunning venue and I’d recommend it to everybody, whatever the occasion. Big thanks to everyone that came to the first one and definitely watch this space for the next.

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I was buzzing when you popped up on my Facebook news feed in full Panto character make-up! What show were you in, how did you get the part and what is being in panto really like?

I went to an open audition in London after seeing an advert and crazily got it. I had the amazing chance to play Widow Twanky in Aladdin for Chaplins Pantos. We were touring schools and community centres around the Midlands and it was such a howl. I think everybody that does Panto falls head over heels for it. You can’t get better audiences. There’s all the nostalgia and tradition behind it, no matter what story you are telling.  You have total licence to play and turn little mistakes into the biggest laughs. For example, I lost my wig in perfect timing with the last beat of the music for the bows riling the kids back up just when it was meant to be over.

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Big props have to go to panto stage managers and crew on book for trying to follow the madness.  Yes, you end up telling the same joke a ridiculous amount of times but it’s just so easy as the audiences give you all the energy you’ll ever need to keep it fresh. I must send my love to the Chaplins team, my cast and Sam, my director for such an amazing time.

I was catching up with Phil Douglas – Creative Director last week (p.s. absolutely can’t wait for Curious Festival 2018) and he told me that you were successfully awarded a Curious bursary! Well done you – very proud; what was the application process like and what was your motivation to apply?

I wanted to apply for Curious as I’ve loved previous years and the conversations that have been started through it. I was developing the idea for the piece and talking with other LGBT+ artists through workshops with Mother’s Ruin and Curious has given me the chance to take the piece to the next level. The application process was very accessible and the team we’re so lovely to talk to.

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Mother’s Ruin

Your developing show is really ground breaking and interesting – what’s the show about?

It’s about my asexuality and not wanting sex when society is giving you so many messages about it. . It’s not wanting to hear another love song on the radio. It’s the confusion when everyone else your age seems to be hooking up. It’s not getting innuendos but not being brave enough to urban dictionary it, all with a bit of song, dance and dress up

As someone that has always struggled with sexuality labels in a world that is so focused in labeling, I think work like this is so important as it shows the spectrum and how individualistic it can be and the journey to a certain point. Do you mind explaining what asexuality is?

Basically, I don’t feel any sexual attraction or arousal. As with any sexuality, everyone has a different connection with it and I’d never claim to speak for anyone else.  I’m attracted by personality and having mutual interests. I’m part of a great online network full of people that use asexual to define themselves. We support each other, share experiences and campaign for visibility

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I know it’s still in development – but what do you want audiences to take away from it?

To recognise that people have different feelings around sex and that enjoying it isn’t a given and to learn a bit about asexuality. I use the show to laugh at people’s negative misconceptions and reclaim jeers so I hope people might relate that to their own situations but most of all to laugh and have a good night out

When can I see it in scratch and do you know where it features in Curious yet? (sneaky way of also trying to find about the Curious programme).

I’m performing on the 6th July at Alphabetti Theatre alongside the other commissioned work which I am very excited to see. I’m not sure how much I can say but by the sound of current plans a wide range of venues are getting involved. It’s gonna absolutely cover the North East. The team are turning the heat up for sure. The range of art forms is gonna be amazing well. There’s gonna be so many different forms of expression.

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BALTIC LIVE is Curious (Photo: Michael Mcguire) 

So what else is for Beth in 2018 – any other projects on the horizon?

I’m assisting the lovely Take Part team at the Customs House with their family arts sessions during the school holidays and am gonna be performing at Mama Rhi and Lydia Brickland’s night for International Women’s Day in March brining out all the girl power songs.

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Mrs Fanny Bleach and other wonderful artists on the 8th March at The Bridge Hotel @ 7.30pm

This time next year, in a year’s time – what do you want to have achieved? One thing?

This is probably a massive ask but I’d love to be a part of a new, original Geordie musical for and about Geordies. Our Billy is still going strong, writer Tom Kelly knows every way to play with my heart (Dolly Mixtures was a highlight for my family last year), The Last Ship is coming back home and there’s some amazing triple threat companies creating vital work. As a region we have so many stories up our sleeve so I can only hope I can get amongst it.

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Not at all a massive ask – an absolute reality in the making and it’s a pleasure to watch you creatively bloom. And of course, remember to invite me to all the scratches and launches of everything or I’ll be getting in a huff.

Big love for Beth – a lass making big waves in writing, singing, directing and just getting amongst it.

Until next time Culture Vultures!

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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.

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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!

 

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

Creative Start-up Shepherd Illustration…

The heart and soul of Culture Vulture is my passion for culture and arts in the North East……I’m on a cultural adventure to seek out and discover as many things and creative people as possible. I’ve built a business based around seeking the unfound and going out and about in the region…..literally my dream.

My starting point with artists and creatives is them as individuals; teasing out their story and perspective. I don’t just want to see an arts piece or performance; I want to experience it, understand it, question it and learn from in. I am fantastically lucky that in my day job and as The Culture Vulture, I get to meet an array of creatives and artists. I really get to know them and they become a part of the Culture Vulture network and family. I look out for them and champion everything they do……..what is so brilliant about meeting so many people and hearing their stories, is the different journey people have often taken to become an artist, a creative, a creative business, practitioner, a performer, designer….however, an individual sees themselves. And this is why I do blog interviews….to learn more , explore but also for you lovely lot………

So pleased to meet you Lauren Shepherd, lush creative business and recent start up – you will be able to meet her at the after-party at Newcastle Start-up Week……….

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Hi L, Tell me about Shepherd Illustration?

Shepherd illustration was born out of my accidental habit of drawing. Each art course, I have ever taken, be it fine art, spatial design or animation, I have always found myself focusing on drawing. Many art forms need so much equipment, where as to draw you just need a scrap of paper and a pen.

I like being quiet (this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me as I talk…. Too much) but when I am on my own, I just love to be quiet; drawing offers me that sanctuary. I ended up with a bunch of drawings and wanted to do something with them; at first I found it really hard to focus on creating a product and still now, I realise I have gaps in my product range and I don’t focus on creating a card for every occasion. I like to give the customer chance to think for themselves and to become a part of the creative process. I’m still learning and I enjoy meeting people on this journey of turning my passion into a business.

Tell me about your journey setting up a creative business?

At first it was very exciting and still is; but it’s hard receiving knockbacks especially when I still work full time and come home after a long week to receive emails saying “no”.

It’s long hours and hard; sometimes you can’t see friends or fit in going to the gym. It’s really hard when you feel like no one sees your work and you spend more on products than you make. But then all of a sudden someone says “yes” and I get to do something extraordinary. For example I love to ski and approached Chalet Rosiere as I had heard they offer places to artists; they emailed back and were actually interested in commissioning me to do some work for them! I was totally overwhelmed but I grabbed the chance and spent the next 2 weeks creating 8 new pieces of work for the chalet which I honestly think are my best to date. 1 month later I was skiing in the Alps hosted by the wonderful owners of Chalet Rosiere.

Also if you’re creative you just can’t help it, you have to make!

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I really love your branding – what was the inspiration behind that?

My branding comes directly from my illustration. I wanted to create a brand rather than just a collection of drawings; I try and keep everything as stylized as I can. When I first started drawing everything was very macabre. But at that point, I was a young singleton drinking too much gin; I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the happier and more secure I have become in my life, the more romantic and positive my illustrations have become.

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Do you have an inspiration behind your style of work?

I am hugely inspired by botanical illustrations and Thomas Bewicks’ engraving. I feel my drawings are a modern interpretation of his engravings and share the same love of the countryside. This could be why I unintentionally draw solely in black ink. But I also feel again that it is the simplicity of only needing one sheet of paper and a pen to be able to start work. I often look at painters and feel a pang of jealousy when they are sat amidst huge boxes of paints and turps, paintbrushes, easels and canvases but then I remember that’s not where I currently am artistically.

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What about your love of dogs?

I love dogs! I am a dog person. My miniature dachshund isn’t my baby; but O truly think she’s a part of me. I got her when she was 10 weeks old and I was only 19. She has travelled the length of the country with me and looked after me much more than I have her. This year we have been together for 10 years and I can’t thank her enough for getting me through some very hard times. I’m very lucky to have a great team at YourFilm and my boss’s even let me sneak her into work so she can snooze beneath my desk.

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What was your journey into animation? You work for Your Film?

I came to study animation at Northumbria University and completed my degree in Motion graphics & animation BA. I was not necessarily the best person on my course and often felt I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the field, especially in Newcastle; a city I fell in love with and didn’t want to leave.  Through hard work I found some really great projects to work on even before graduating; this gave me enough experience and confidence to apply for my job at Yourfilm.

A few people applied from my course and I honestly didn’t know how the interview had gone, but only a few hours later Matthew rang me to ask me when I could start. I couldn’t believe it and screamed down the phone…. In hindsight I wish I had played this cooler. Fast forward nearly 4 years and I am still with the company. It is a fantastic place to work and being part of a small team means I have full control over the projects I work on and am constantly learning.

What’s next for you? Next project?

I currently only sell through a few independent retailers but would love to move into more shops and get my products noticed by a larger audience. Fingers crossed I will have some exciting news on the horizon soon. I have also been asked to be part of a new exhibition in York and am working hard on a new product range for the Thought Foundation.

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Creative, artist, animator, all round absolutely lush megababe gin lover Lauren Shepherd………..you can see more of her at Newcastle Start-Up Week………

Invest into and start learning from NE culture & arts, oh and start paying them too!

No one actually makes a living as an artist, right? The cultural sector pays pennies? Go get a “proper” job? Actually the reverse is true, the creative sector and industries in the region are BOOMING…… people want bespoke, creative, individual…..there is the biggest movement to shop and support local and to reject the everyday for something more unknown, exciting, opportunistic and emergingly edgy.

I champion the entrepreneurial agenda, it’s in my blood (literally) and I love it but I really struggle with two issues…………. Firstly that creatives are often not viewed as legitimate business people and yet to see so many creatives launching themselves as a business and behaving more and more like a start-up is fantastic to see. Some of these businesses, it’s been that blend between day job and passion project testing, until opportunity……..without realising and a business is launched and they are trading; they’ve been through years and years of testing without realising. For artists, they have often been drawing or making for YEARS, putting their stuff on Instagram or selling at craft fairs, developing their product and skill set, until they launch…..often accidentally. Someone commissions something, asks to buy or like me, offers you a lump sum of money for a freelance project that gives you traction and a real starting point to launch and oh hello, I think there might be some kind of business here……….

Secondly, this intrinsic opportunity ethos for creatives to work for free; don’t pay them – just let them perform, suggest future opportunities that might lead onto paid work, as if engaging with them is a favour. From a business perspective; outlay of materials, time and then freebies offering, is crippling and removes the legitimacy. Should they be grateful for the opportunity…..as if you offering them a space or time is enough!?As a business think about the implications on the cash flow…….moreover, many creative start-ups are already under-pricing themselves, not factoring in their time, don’t value their service or practice in a similar way to a “product” or factor in materials so before you even think about “may be possibly” paying them what they are owed……they are already doing it for you for a brilliant deal.

This is so short sighted as I find the creative and cultural sector in the North East, as exciting as the Digital Sector at the moment, something to invest into and be a part of……however, there are key differences. There isn’t the investment available, there isn’t the capital and people don’t necessarily take creatives as seriously, as a business they can really understand. So what you have instead is individuals, independents and artists launching on a shoe string; they are resilient, constantly willing to learn, eager for feedback, out there networking, seeking opportunities, developing business models that are lean, mean and sustainable – they are the blueprint learning wise for a start-up business and entrepreneurs……instead of operating with big sales forecasts and massively unrealistic ambitions, they instead operate seeking collaboration, they show patience, evidence a longer term strategy to grow, can afford to keep going without sales or bookings, experiment and take mitigated risks……it’s not all or nothing, or go hard or go home; instead it’s about building something they love, care about and growing at their own pace incrementally on their own terms, making their own rules.

And you may say, well these creative businesses are not going to be the next “big” thing, they aren’t going to feature in Forbes and world isn’t going to change………I’d argue the other way….instead there is no entrepreneurial ego, they are real; a massive big business that had mega investment that people view as “proper” may never get off the ground and no one might ever hear of it, whereas a creative business located in the North East hundreds and often thousands know their name, the people behind it, buy from them, champion and support them….there is less “talking” about doing business and more of the making, creating and trying to get out there from day one……..  they have priced their product, sold it, met their customers, marketed it, submitted accounts and got their hands entrepreneurially dirty……… however, we could help them grow….just by paying them fairly for what they do and the service they offer.

To reflect that into my business; is the Culture Vulture going to make me millions?….probably not. Do I want it to? NO – there I’ve said it. I don’t want a massive business, I don’t want investment – I want my own entrepreneurial and creative sphere……….and I want to do what I love. That is my driver in entrepreneurship and I want to enable others to do the same.

So please don’t apologise or shy away from having a creative business, be massively proud – it isn’t any less “proper”…..Creative businesses usually have real values and passion at the heart………people, talented and excited brilliant people behind it. You have more real life business experience than most, so own that!

Creative businesses and people are the next big thing; there is a movement on going in the North East; I’m so excited to be a part of it………..will Creative businesses, artists and creatives change the world? YES they will…….because they re-imagine it, they challenge it, redesign it, express it, embracing all those aspirational entrepreneurial attributes – ability to handle uncertainty, resilience (anyone who has sold all day at a craft fair and sold nothing), ability to absorb learning and feedback and to build something that is not income dependent……. Their projects and activity happens irrespective of funding because they make it happen………….for most creatives, lack of funding is not a barrier to launch a business…….they assume there is no funding and they launch anyway, because their passion makes it almost like a compulsion………..

Moreover, their creative products bring smiles to people’s faces and they mean something to both the person who purchased it and (if appropriate) the intended recipient. That’s an emotional buyer connection that many businesses can only dream about.

More traditional entrepreneurs and start-ups have a lot to learn from creatives and artists………..so creative businesses and artists, respect them, learn from them, seek them and of course, pay them……

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