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!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the spiel.

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

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

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Team Crystallised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

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

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

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

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

No argument is that black and white.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

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

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

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

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

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

DCM. Share your thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elijah Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your next plans for Isolation?

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the plans for Golden Daffodils longer term?

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

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

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

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

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

Takeover Young Playwright in Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Jake Jarratt)

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

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

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Hi Jake, for my readers….Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

(Bouncers)

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

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

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

Fast, funny, familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tell me about your work before this show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Wank Buddies)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Wank Buddies)

What is your highlight of 2019 so far?

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

What’s next for 2020?

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

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

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

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Well thanks Jake!

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

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

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

An interview with poet Mona Arshi: law, Masala Festival 19, & making sense of the world one poem at a time…

I had the absolute pleasure of being invited along to pretty much all of Gem Arts Masala Festival 2019. Their Bengal tiger certainly strutted across the #NorthEast with seven days of epic #MasalaFestival – This award winning, multi venue festival has been running for several years and has been growing each time. 2019 was certainly their biggest year not only in terms of an ah-mazing programme but also for huge audiences and sell out events. The festival had an incredible line up of the finest South Asian Arts and Culture; screenings, theatre, music, yoga on the beach, Bollywood dancing, crafts, spoken word, poetry and free family fun!

Attending a (nearly) full festival like #Masalafestival as The Culture Vulture is just brilliant;  I get to go and experience lots of things – some of them I might not have managed to swing by unless specifically invited. With the greatest will in the world, as The Culture Vulture, I can’t get to every single thing that I’d like to see and of course, I do miss out on loads. I have to sleep and eat after all. Being invited to everything for Masala Festival and kindly given free tickets meant that I experienced events and things that I really loved (Some I would have probably missed out on) and honestly, feel more enriched from doing so…..

One such event was GemArts Masala Festival: Luck & Hope – an evening of poetry with the endlessly talented poets; Mona Arshi & Imtiaz Dharker on Tuesday 16th July at Culture Lab in Newcastle University. I love poetry, I’m a huge reader of it – but I seek it out largely in books and online in places like Button Poetry. I don’t get to enough poetry events though….. its one of those things that I’m always like I *must* get to more and then never quite get round to it.

The style of poetry I like is usually very real, quite dark, sometimes has some humour but always very contemporary and makes me think. I like it because it shines a light on other ways of viewing and exploring things and topics; I love increasing my insights and perspectives of the world. Poetry really helps me tap into someone else’s experiences and in  a world, where as an introvert I’m sometimes trapped in my own head, I really jump at these moments.

Mona Arshi and Imtiaz Dharker are two of the best poets writing today whose poetry explores the nuances of luck, grief and hope within our often violent and unsettling contemporary world. When I chatted to folks and told them I was going to see them at Luck & Hope as part of Masala Festival…. Both names in the North east poetry community hold huge excitement and respect, so it’s not really a surprise that the event sold out.

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Mona & Imtiaz during Luck & Hope at Gem Arts Masala festival 19

Mona Arshi (the subject of this blog) worked as a Human rights lawyer at Liberty before she started writing poetry. In 2015 she won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. At the centre of her latest book, Dear Big Gods is an overarching commitment to hope.

I asked Vikas Kumar MBE, GemArts Director if I could interview Mona and I was thrilled when she agreed. I was extremely touched and inspired by Mona’s readings – especially the focus and sharing of her own personal grief of the loss of her brother, her use of writing as a way of exploring, expressing and working through her experiences and, of course, the career change from being a lawyer into the creative sector. I really honed on her discussion during the audience question time, as she reflected that she went into the legal profession as a “proper job” to fulfil a melting pot of societal, parental and personal expectations before eventually taking the jump…… I felt so connected to that moment that I could have jumped up and announced “I did that too!”

An interview with Mona Arshi by The Culture Vulture

So, HI Mona! I think I will start with an obvious question and one you covered during the Luck & Hope event, but one I want to share with my readers….When and why did you start writing poetry?

About ten years ago…I have always read poetry since I was very young, but I became a heavy user of the stuff when I got pregnant with my twins and I had a career break from law; I had more time to read. I started reading more widely, contemporary poets, women (we were offered NO female poets at school), so it was refreshing and wonderful to see work being written by women of colour people like Imtiaz Dharker, Moniza Alvi, Sujata Bhatt etc…

CV- How interesting – I went to an all girls’ school and we studied a few female poets  – I saw myself as a tortured soul as a teenager, so used to love to write about it. I was VERY into women writers as a teen and hyper aware of them…

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When did you decide to pursue poetry as a career path?

I think being a poet is not something I set out to do. Who does really? I think poetry finds you rather than the other way around; it’s such a strange thing to do, to make poems and I think most people if they thought long and hard about it would realize it was a really strange and precarious enterprise and wouldn’t do it.

It’s more of a devotion than a career to be honest; in order to pursue the task of making poems you have to make a lot of compromises and be quite bloody minded and determined but when you are knee deep in the making of a poem and it’s all going well there is nothing like it; the freshness, the surprise, the encounter with language and trying to nail down an image and the other ingredient that particle that arrives like magic in a poem.

CV – I think a lot of what you said above is equally transferable across a variety of creative industries and we are taught there is no “money” in the arts sector. For the determined and resourceful – I believe there are opportunities and magic to be had everywhere.

How did you first get published?

I was first published I think…after my poem ‘Hummingbird’ won a competition for the inaugural MAGMA competition. It was quite lovely and unexpected. The poem won first prize; no one had ever heard of me of course and I then had to read the poem at the Prize Event. It was the first time I had ever read a poem on stage, I remember reading it really badly; too fast with my knees shaking.

What inspires you to write?

That’s a difficult question for any writer. I don’t think I can say there’s something specific that ignites a poem…I think you can make poem about almost anything. I think it’s more to do the quality of attention you give to a thing or an experience as a poet. Most writers are curious people but poets can and do get up close and personal to the thing their examining, we turn the stones over and see what’s lurking there, we might probe and stay longer with an experience, that’s what it feels like for me in any case.

You’re read from “Dear Big Gods” at Luck & Hope- it was wonderful.  Can you tell me a bit about that collection of poems?

Dear Big Gods is my second collection and I think of it as a sister book to Small Hands. ‘Small Hands’ was written right in the middle of a traumatic event; a death of a brother and the heart centre of the book contains poems around that experience. But DBG is written with distance but the experience is still being examined and aftershocks felt.

In some ways DBG is a post-event book; it’s me looking at the grief-terrain and taking stock. I think the book looks at other themes too, the garden is a character in the books, there are small things like insects and flowers which arrive like fugitive guests in the soil of the book, I am having conversations with them too.

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Why do you think so many people love and connect with your poetry?

Gosh I hope they do! I think successful poems (or poems that I think are successful) are very good at accessing and ambushing your senses and your heart; I think a lyric poet is very good at this, so you feel very familiar in a poem as well as feeling as if you’ve heard the language fresh for the first time, so in a way, both familiar and foreign. Poems are and need to be active creatures and there is a role that the reader has in participating in the poem in the reading of it. Good poems should allow this space for the reader.

CV- Well I certainly felt connected with your work – you convey very human experiences and emotions.

How did you come to get involved in this year’s GemArts Masala Festival?

Well I think there was some talk of me doing Masala Festival, a few years ago and the dates didn’t work out. But I so wanted to do it as I’d heard what a rich festival it is and have also heard incredible things about Newcastle University so it was wonderful to be asked to be involved in 2019.

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How does the troubling contemporary world, in the present, affect your writing?

This is a difficult question but an important one. What is the role of Poetry (and art for that matter) when we risk losing so much in our liberal democracies? Should we insist on making art that is overtly political? Some artists do this very successfully of course and we need to remember that poets historically have always had a role to play in saying the unsayable in the most authoritarian regimes.

Ted Hughes said of the Eastern European poets that they were some of the most ‘Wide awake’ poets writing. I think that’s an important phrase, that poetry has to be alive and awake to the times we live in, the meat of the language to work and of course, it has to engage the wider world or what’s the point? There are many ways of doing this, subtle and overt but mostly through the language itself. We should also remember that poetry somehow always manages to survive and flourish in the most difficult of conditions.

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What would you say to someone who thinks an evening of poetry or poetry in general isn’t for them?

I think people who say this should try it before they make up their mind. The most interesting work currently being written is by poets. Poets are imagineers; it’s a very alive creaturely thing a poem and it has a different sort of vitality when you hear poetry live.

Why? Because it wakes up our ears!

So much of what we do in our daily lives is about privileging our senses, that if you sit and listen carefully and tune ourselves into language that hits our ear it’s a very different experience.

My first degree is in law, I studied at Newcastle University Law School and you were a Human Rights lawyer – what was the trigger from legal practice into poetry?

Studying law and being a lawyer equips you for many things but one of those things is not writing poetry! Having said that lawyers and poets are careful and attentive with text. I think it’s helped sharpen my editing skills. I have always read widely including poetry and I think fundamentally like for all writing that is the key to me being able to write. I guess I wanted to write, when I actually had time to write, so I took a career break when my twins were born and did a masters in poetry which opened up a huge new world.

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Advice to an aspiring poet or writer?  Or, advice to someone who is already writing but wants to grow further?

Read widely. Read the canon of course, but also read translation, read out of your comfort zone, and keep on reading some more.

CV – I really don’t read enough – I need to read more.

Can you share with us any other poets that you admire?

So many, that I can’t name. I am a really eclectic reader. I have just finished re-reading Shivanee Ramlochans collection ‘Everyone Knows I am a Haunting’. I  think she’s pulled off something interesting in that book. I am currently reading and loving Maggie Nelson’s strange and wonderful prose/Poetry. If I lose my foothold somehow in this strange ephemeral art there are some go-to poets that always bring me back and they are Keats, Mimi Khalvati, Paul Celan and Sylvia Plath.

CV – I am also the biggest Sylvia Plath fan and often go back to her writing when I need some grounding or in a fug.

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You can find out more about Mona and how to get your hands on her work to read by visiting HERE!

Thank you to GemArts for inviting me along to Masala Festival and enabling this brilliant opportunity of interviewing Mona Arshi!

(#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)

The Late Shows 2018 : The Culture Vulture essentials!

After recovering from the excitement of Eurovision, I’m now thinking about this coming weekend and The Late Shows. It’s another mega favourite weekend of mine and one of the ultimate culture vulturing weekends across Newcastle and Gateshead on 18th May 7pm-11pm and 19th May 6pm – 11pm.

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It’s a free late-night culture crawl taking over this weekend – an array of museums, galleries, studio collectives and landmark historical buildings open their doors to offer visitors one-off events, parties, sneaky peaks at new exhibitions or work, demonstrations, workshops, behind-the-scenes tours, performances and lots of lush artists and creatives to speak to.

There is something totally lush about being about to visit venues and spaces in the night time – whilst they treat you to a unique after dark experience. Every year, I get really excited and what’s not to love about a city wide creative and cultural celebration. Each year – people and venues do different things, so whilst you may go every year – you’ll have a brand new experience.

So I’m not one for telling you guys, my fellow Culture Vultures, where you should go to – as the venues and spaces involved this year are all equally as brilliant and part of what I love about Late Shows, is that YOU plan your own cultural adventure or as I often do, simply go with the flow on the night and just enjoy it!

I thought instead, I’d feature this blog post on the unmissable reasons why you MUST not miss Late Shows 2018…..

  1. There are several FIRST TIME venues taking part or venues in their brand new digs opening their doors and I’m all about being one of the first to see and do something– so for you it’s an opportunity to check out somewhere you haven’t been before and their spaces whilst experiencing something lush and creative. So who are the first time Late Shows 2018 venues:
  • The Nest – Low Fell, Gateshead (Sat Only) – A lush family venues full of fun times and good food – you can print the Angel of the North and also eat the Angel.
  • The Kiln – Low Fell, Gateshead (Sat Only) – A vibrant and interactive paint your own pottery studio – you can paint your own Angel mug.
  • The Newbridge Project: Gateshead (Sat Only) – Visual arts studios and gallery in it’s first year; Explore the Deep Adaptation exhibition and leave your own responses to questions, take part in kimchi making and take home your own starter seed capsule.
  • Alphabetti Theatre – Newcastle (Sat Only) – A performing arts venue open since Sept 17; venture from room to room as you stumble across a variety of bands, poetry and pop-up theatre.
  • Star and Shadow Cinema – Newcastle (Fri Only) – An alternative social, cultural, arts and community hub run by a collective of volunteers open again in its new space – drop in to celebrate their re-opening.

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The Nest by Pop Up Studio Low Fell – Print the Angel. #Angel20

  1. There is a really special one off from Curious Arts on Baltic Square, Gateshead on Saturday on – the launch of Curious Arts’ 36point7 – a HIV/AIDs light art awareness project. 36point7 aims to support the visibility of this global issue and the legacy of those lost and silenced during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, Curious Arts is working with light artist Stuart Langley to reimagine the World AIDS day ribbon.

You will be able to chat to Curious Arts about the project and take in this lush large light installation which will be positioned inside Gateshead Millennium Bridge box.

In addition – Curious are offering free creative workshops so you have the opportunity to create your very own light art.

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Sneaky peeky of 36point7 from Curious Arts.

  1. Late Shows embodies a lot of what The Culture Vulture is all about…. It’s an opportunity to support, champion and visit Independent venues! I’m ALL about the independents and many of them across the weekend are hosting amazing events and parties – so get in the Late Shows vibe and enjoy! My top independent picks:
  • The Tyne Bar – Newcastle (Fri & Sat) – one of my favourite boozers anyway – but for the Late Shows they have a collaborative 90s throwback exhibition featuring work by second year Newcastle Fine Art students Charli Payne, Roberto de Abreu Preciosa, and Wesley Bray. I’m OBSESSED with the 90s – so I will be there on Friday for good time and 90s vibes.
  • Cobalt Studios – Newcastle (Fri) – A creative studio space and venue; I love what Kathryn and her team put on there and I’m itching to do a Culture Vulture event in the space. They got a mega Silent Disco party for you – three very diverse DJ’s & three parties in one with visual projections. My dancing shoes and twirling is at the ready.
  • The Staiths Café – Gateshead (Sat) – A lush independent café space… drop in for some communal singing with Beccy Owen’s Pop-Up Choirs who will later perform at the end of the workshop. Expect lush vibes.
  • Kommunity – Newcastle (Sat) – A bar/participatory social space that hosts dance, art house film screenings and much more…it’s run some of my favourite people in the world and it’s just a lush venue. And what a night they have planned for you from 9pm-middnight! Think STUDIO 54 and the last days of disco! The global growth of disco music and nightclub culture is going to be celebrated by your DJ for the evening Absolutely Fabulous Lady Annabella Marczewska! Dress to impress, exude energy and most importantly glamour!

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  1. Lots of Gateshead venues are celebrating The Angel of the North 20th Birthday this year within their Shows events! #Angel20
  • First up is the Nest in Low Fell Gateshead on Saturday – it’s a must for all you mini culture vultures (and grown-ups!). This year, they’ve brilliantly partnered up with another megababe local business – Pop Up Studio Low Fell. With Laura from pop up, you can bring an Angel of the North design on to fabric – make it as loud and proud as you want. She has also said for the grown-ups, you can totally go rogue and print whatever you want – including glittery swear words! With Lee and the Nest team, you’ll be able to make #Angel20 biscuits and literally eat the Angel. Mint!
  • Then there is the wonderful hidden gem on Low fell high street – The Kiln! On Saturday, you’ll have the opportunity to get proper creative and have a go at painting an Angel mug….they will provide expert guidance, lots of materials and of course, chat all about their wider offer!
  • Bensham Grove on Saturday in yep… Bensham Gateshead; is also doing lots of #Angel20 creative and crafty activities. You can create your very own Angel of the North sculpture for their garden and make your own angel in their make and take glass, pottery and textile workshops all whilst listening to live music.
  • The Shipley Art Gallery – On Saturday they are celebrating the Angel of the North’s 20th birthday and you’re invited! Join them to make your own Angel themed crafts, and get in the party spirit with live music, dance performances and a bar from Arch Sixteen’s Pam.

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The Kiln – Low Fell

  1. Be the first to see some of the AMAZING summer happenings and exhibitions – Late Shows 2018 acts as a bit of an exclusive preview – so enjoy!
  • The BALTIC (Sat) – This is a rare late-night opening view of their spring exhibitions. Visit Idea of North, a group show part of the city-wide Great Exhibition of the North. This exhibition celebrates northern imagination and identity through architecture, photography, music and design. It’s an exploration of northern imagination, unpicking and revealing different voices within the idea of a ‘northern’ identity.

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  • The Shipley Art Gallery (Sat) – Whilst they are hosting a fantastic #Angel20 party – Late Shows 2018 on Saturday also provides an opportunity to see the new Grayson Perry exhibition.

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Grayson Perry

  1. It’s not just about the venues and spaces – it’s about showcasing lots of amazing artists across the weekend; so if art is your bag – here are my recommendations!
  • The Biscuit Factory (Fri) – This is certainly my first stop on Friday and I can’t wait! They are launching the Open Contemporary Young Artist Award 2018; a mixed media exhibition featuring new artwork from over 20 emerging young artists. You will be the first to view the shortlist and cast your vote for our People’s Choice winner. Alongside the exhibition award-winning Streetwise Opera are performing live in the gallery AND you can enjoy The Factory Kitchen’s new urban roof top terrace with Ouseburn views, a pop-up bar and Mexican street food! (It looks amazing!).

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The Factory Kitchen rooftop garden

  • 36 Lime Street (Fri) – A top favourite artist space of mine! So many of my favourite people in there. Artists and makers from 36 Lime Street Studios open their doors after dark to give a glimpse of their working life and to have a natter. In the gallery Bethan Maddocks and Maria Sears present Paper Jungle, a growing, glowing paper-cut jungle that visitors can add to throughout Friday. Big fan of megababe Bethan – so excited to see what this looks like!
  • Jim Edwards (Fri) – Well he’s in my top 5 favourite artists of all time – and of course, I will do my usual trip to his studio and pay homage to Craig David Pub Cat. However, for Late Shows, I’ve heard he’s going to be working on and exhibiting some brand new pieces – I’ve already seen the Hadrian’s Wall one on social – so can’t wait to see it in person. But whispers tell me, there might be a Heaton focused one – and as Heaton is my second home, I’m excited!

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Jim Edwards

  • Commercial Union House (Sat) is just full of galleries, artist spaces, parties and workshops include Vane, B&D Studios, Breeze Creatives and others – so take your time and enjoy! But my recommendation for extra attention goes to of course, Ampersand Inventions! I love Ampersand and if I wasn’t working the full Gateshead Late Shows evening on Saturday – I’d be ALL over this…. They are presenting a ‘Homage to The Handyside Arcade: The New Breed’ – (Another great theme Jonpaul!) The Edwardian-built arcade on the city’s Percy Street was a spectacular glass-roofed construction housing a range of popular quirky shops and outlets, ‘Tyneside’s answer to Carnaby Street’. From the dust of legends, Ampersand Inventions are opening their front doors to showcase their amazing boutiques, shops and not forgetting their weird and wonky artists! Mixing heritage, culture, lifelong learning, innovation and enterprise! You have some Culture Vulture faves in there including Trendlistr, Melanie Kyles, Roberta Louise Green and others.

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Ampersand Inventions

Bliddy heck…what a Late Shows 2018 weekend! I’m excited to get Culture Vulturing and of course, if you see me – say hiyer! I will be live social media-ing, drinking gin (not when working obvs) and having a fantastic lush time.

 

 

All rise for Lady Kitt; subversive, perfectly ridiculous & immensely talented.

The whole point of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women, feminism, Northern lasses and champion women who rock your world. So for this year’s, International Women’s Day, I wanted to profile an artist and creative that I personally have loved from a far since I first became aware of her – her work, passion, innovative and interesting projects and commitment to creativity and  equality.

Well hello Lady Kitt…..total megababe. Kitt’s projects, work, events and her exciting ambitions are not only inspirational to the regional, National and Internation sector – but to me, she is someone  brave, bold, empowered and doing creative things that are truly exciting and making her mark in a thriving and vibing independent arts and cultural sector. She’s my kinda gal and I’m thrilled she accepted my invitation to be feature in this blog post.

BOOM – Happy International Women’s Day Lady Kitt – reet so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about you and your extremely diverse practice?

Hi, I’m Kitt- I’m a…. “Maker”. I guess that best sums it up. Art, jokes, food, quite a lots of mess, and, with my lovely husband Andy, a couple of super little humans. It’s all making really isn’t it?!

It’s funny – the diverse practice thing, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. I reckon the tools I use are quite diverse- there’s research, paper cutting, mass bubble blowing, fruit carving, performance, lectures, projects, … but really, the core of my work has always pretty much been the same- it’s all about delving into, developing, celebrating the social aspects of creativity.

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Everyone has a different journey into the Arts; what was your journey into the arts?

I’m not massively into the idea that people are “born” to certain things; but looking at my early life it’s easy to link it to my practice now. I was brought up in a creative family. I grew up with my wonderful younger brother Louise who was severely disabled and terminally ill. He was an amazing artist and seeing the pleasure and power he experienced through being creative has had a huge influence on how I see art and why I think it’s important. I was taught at home until I was 14 – so had a good amount of time to focus on being creative and lots of time to spend with one of the most important people in my life- my sister, Bridie. Our relationship and creative adventures together are big, big part of almost everything I do.

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I’ve always made physical stuff- embroidery, nests, paper cuts- but for a long time I didn’t think I was an artist. I started off wanting to be a dancer. I trained in the Indian dance/drama discipline Bharata Natyam for six years and was taught contemporary dance by the completely awesome Trish Winters. It was through Trish that I started to experience some really playful ways of using and presenting performance. During my art foundation degree, I started making work that combined performance, working with community groups and making stuff all at once. But it wasn’t until I was at university that I really discovered live art and artists with a ‘social practice’ and then I was like- yes- that’s me- I have a gang!

Lady Kitt is an amazing artist name  – I love it!

Name wise-when I was coming up to my 21st birthday- my parents were talking about what to give me as a birthday present. I’ve always been a Republican (in the anti-monarchy sense), really disliking the idea of being subjugated, inherited titles and all that gubbins, so they offered to change my first name by Deed Poll to “Lady”, as a daft, subversive, two fingers up the whole system. I loved it – it’s such a cheeky gift- so we did all the paper work and everything- sent it off, but it was rejected – on the grounds that I was trying to “assume a title”- which is sort of pleasingly ironic. I thought “fuck it- I’ll just call myself Lady Kitt and I’ll keep doing it until everyone else does too” and that’s what I’ve done.

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You have a very strong visual identity within your work and expression of yourself as an artist – how did you develop this?

It’s really interesting that you say I have a strong visual identity; looking at it objectively I can see what you mean, but that’s definitely not how I experience it myself. For me, I have a strong methodological process, and some very definite ideas about making art in inclusive, ethical ways.

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I’ve developed my process by pretty much by throwing myself in at the deep end and seeing what happens. I don’t ever really think “this is too ridiculous” (although it nearly always is). I think “how can I do this so it genuinely, clearly says something I’m interested in” or “how can I get lots of people involved and change something we all want to change” or “how can this be the most fun possible?”.

Like with the first Nasty Women exhibition last year- I just thought “this is really important, I want people in the North East to have an opportunity to be part of this. I want an opportunity to be part of this”. I didn’t think “Bugger we can’t do this- we’ve got no money, no infrastructure, no gallery, no clue”- which was all true! So yup, that’s how I develop the process…

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But visually, with the sort of “end product” – I don’t consider myself to have a very coherent style or visual language- I just make the next thing that I feel compelled to make, without ever thinking does it look like something I’ve done before- will it “fit in” with my existing body of work? Maybe it’s because the physical objects I make aren’t really the “end product” to me- to me they are a tool for getting to the goal- which could be raising awareness, building a community, changing a policy, having a good time.

I love your ethos of experimentation, challenging creative roles and processes – where does your creative playfulness come from?

Thank you! I like to see people reacting to things in curious, inquisitive, ways and I like to create situations that let people do that. So some of it comes from that- basically it just makes me happy!

It‘s fun for me to invite people to apply to be my muse (like it’s a formal job), or to encourage people to use my head as an art gallery or to make a performance where the content is authored by viewers sending me text messages telling me what to do. So that’s part of it- And some of it is more philosophical. People are creative- making things in a (generally!) thoughtful way is one of the things that makes us Human.

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Often people don’t get (or give themselves) opportunities to enjoy that- I want to create situations that encourage people to make physical stuff, make decisions and think about / celebrate the importance of being creative. I also hate all the hierarchical “hi/ low brow art” crap. I think it’s detrimental to individuals and to society. People thinking that they are not creative or not creative in the “right way” stops them from developing vital skills.

Making stuff gives people agency- it’s a chance to physically encounter change. Making in groups is like apes grooming- it’s social glue. When people start being creative together they almost instantly create a little community that has its own culture and rules- just like that, out of nothing, it’s like magic. Once people do that and know that they can do that then, they often start to explore other wider things that they can create and change. A community full of people who feel empowered in that way can be supportive, kind, resilient. Elitist ideas of what is art and who is an artist just stop all that dead. Sorry, I could go on about this for EVER.

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It’s great to be able to showcase you, on International Women’s Day….. what does being a female artist in 2018 mean? What does it mean to you?

Wow- well, I’m extraordinarily lucky. For me being a female artist in 2018 (in the UK), means freedom. I’m free to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. A few people might think I’m idiotic, a lot of people will question me (and so they should) – but no one can stop me. Being a female artist in other places in 2018 doesn’t mean freedom, it can mean absolutely the opposite. And being a female, or a being queer, or being an activist can still mean torture and death. For me, knowing this and campaigning to change it, is a very important part of being a female artist and of being a Nasty Woman.

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How do you plan to mark it this week and #pressforprogress?

Again I’m so lucky. This year I have work in 4 exhibitions all over the UK all opening on Thurs 8th. I’ll be in London performing at the Creative Debuts and Nasty Women “Empowerment” exhibition along with a group of bloody amazing Nasty Women from all over the world.

We are also launching the Nasty Women International Art Prize this week. The aim of the prize is to: Recognise and reward Nastiness in art and activism. Prizes include an Artist residency, money and opportunities to show work in UK, USA & Holland.

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Last year hundreds of artists from all over the world gave their time and work to Nasty Women events- the generosity was overwhelming. It’s estimated that the movement has raised half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood and other women’s & LGBTQ+ charities so far. This year Nasty Women organisers wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate those artists and an art prize seemed like a good choice! The judging panel consists of 12 Artists, curators, gallerists & activists from around the world including:

Carolina Wheat & Liz Nielsen from Elijah Wheat Showroom, New York (USA), artist and co-founder of NW Amsterdam Airco Caravan (NL), Curator & NW North East Co-founder Michaela Wetherell and me!, to name just a few. There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but we’d love it if lots of North East based artist entered! Anyone who is interested can check out here.

Do you have a female artist that you’re inspired by?

So many, but not just women, not just artists… all sorts of everyone. Me and my sister just went to see Bryony Kimmings “a pacifist’s guide to the war on cancer”; it was so funny and thoughtful and generous and utterly devastating, but in a really cathartic way.

I’ve just read Scottee’s play “Bravado”- it’s had a big impact on me, I’m making a lot of work about toxic masculinity at the moment and he’s perspective as a “sheep in wolves clothing in the world of men” is very shocking and inspiring.

Betsy Greer- the mother of Craftivism!

Nasty Women North East co-founders Michaela W and Aly Smith.

Venus di Milo- a Newcastle based performer who describes herself as “just a drag queen with no arms”.

Leeanne and Gareth at Thought Foundation in Gateshead– running a stunning, creative business whilst bring up two small children….

The world is full of bloomin’ fantastic, inspiring and very Nasty (in the nicest possible way) people.

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Tell me about Nasty Women?

Nasty Women is a global art and activism movement started by New York based artist Roxanne Jackson in Nov 2016 just after the election of Donald Trump. It is pro equality and anti-Trump. There have been Nasty Women events all over the world, raising money for and awareness of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights charities and organisations.

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What is a “Nasty Woman”?

The Nasty Women North East’s definition is:

Anyone!!! It is not necessary to identify a women or an artist

  1. Believing in equality and wanting to protect human rights (in particular women’s rights)
  2. Believing that art (in the broadest sense of the word- poetry, dance, drag, music, knitting etc) can be used to help increase equality and protect human rights
  3. Being happy to welcome and support others who also want to do these things…..

If this sounds like you, then as far as we are concerned you are Nasty- Hurrah!!!

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Will there be another Nasty Women conference in 2018?

I’m not sure- we won’t be organising one because we’re busy with the art prize and creating a feminist art magazine for children under 10! Also, if there was another I don’t think the same group should organise it -as a big part of the movement is about understand other people’s perspectives and doing things in a way that suits your own setting, so if there is another one I hope it’s somewhere completely different. I hope another group do organise one because I’d LOVE to go to it!

That sounds like a something, the Culture Vulture would be interested in…..how can I, and other potential Nasty Women, get involved?

People can get involved in a huge variety of ways- it’s a totally grass roots, DIY movement, you don’t need permission or any kind of initiation! So you can have an exhibition in your garage and invite your mam and 5 friends and raise money for a local women’s charity.

You can send your art work to one of the many NW shows going on around the world- these are listed in the USA website , you can submit work to the Nasty Women International Art Prize & you can volunteer to help a local Nasty women group

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You can also call out inequality and gendered idiocy when you see and experience it, you can tell children you know that they are thoughtful and strong and funny and creative and fierce and fabulous regardless of their gender. You can listen, really listen to the next person who says something sexiest because being Nasty is about being open minded, it’s about understanding perspectives that are not your own and looking for long term solutions.

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But ok – we are kindreds…..but let’s get back to you – Lady Kitt; what projects do you have planned?

I’m focussing on my projects “Worth”, “King Kitt” and the “Making Manifesto”.

Throughout 2018, to coincide with the centenary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I am making a series of works called the “worth” portraits- inspired, in part, by Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to have Jane Austin’s image on the Bank of Engalnd 10 pound note. When that campaign was going on I was horrified by the abuse (including death threats) Criado-Perez received for wanting to celebrate the achievements of women in the same way the achievements of many men have been celebrated for years. The works are portraits of amazing women made by cutting love heart shapes from real £50 notes, each one depicts a woman who I feel needs celebrating. I am always on the lookout for new subjects, so if you know a wonderful women who needs celebrating please get in touch!

I’m also hoping to sleep quite a lot after next week as that’s something that’s been a bit neglected of late….

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What does being a feminist/megababe mean to you?

For me being a feminist is not just about women’s rights- it is about equal rights for everyone. The “King Kitt” series of works are about toxic masculinity- which I feel creates a series of circumstances that can make men comically manly, dangerously macho and devastatingly vulnerable. According to the Office for National Statistics- of the 5,965 suicides registered in the UK in 2016, a total of 4,508 were male and 1,457 were female. More equality will, hopefully, create a society where shocking statistics like that can become historical records, not lived realities.

The Making Manifesto is a research project based at Byker Community Centre about the benefits of community making. It involves a lot of the stuff I’ve ranted about earlier- hi art elitism and Making physical things and giving people agency!

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Wow – ok so for me as The Culture Vulture- I feel so inspired – this entire interview has given me a kick to be more Nasty, to be more experimental and to seriously consider doing something North East Nasty Women Conference related.

Big love and happy International Women’s Day Culture Vultures.

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!

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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