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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elijah Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your next plans for Isolation?

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

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Isolation – Takeover Festival 2019 at Customs House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the plans for Golden Daffodils longer term?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to James & Harrison

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Takeover Assistant James

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Takeover Assistant Harrison

Tell me a bit about yourself?

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

Why did you join The Takeover Team last year?

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

What was your favourite part of Takeover 2019?

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

What did you learn from being part of the team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other opportunities:

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

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Poetry Call out for Young Poets

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Young Film Maker Call Out

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

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

#AD – TakeOff Festival 2019 – a LUSH family theatre festival across Durham 21st Oct- 26th Oct. #readytotakeoff

I’m ready to TakeOff….. always.

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TakeOff Festival is England’s leading festival of theatre for children and young people and it returns 21-26 October 2019 across County Durham.  It’s a beautiful, jam packed week of lush theatre shows for minis and families across multiple venues.

It’s become a passage of life….my early 20s were all about music festivals and that type of shenanigans….my early 30s (clinging to the early bit as nearly 34) is all about taking my friend’s minis to theatre festivals. And to be honest, I’m really not sure who enjoys it more…. For them, they have a magical experience full of high quality family theatre and storytelling escapism…and I…..well I have the same experience really and hang out with lush mini humans – I can’t wait.

If you haven’t heard of, or been to TakeOff before…well it’s LUSH and a North East family fest gem! The beauty is that you can book for loads of theatre shows (sorting out your half term in an instant – like the pro parent/grandparent/carer that you are!) as they is something different every day or you can dip in and out picking something you fancy.

TakeOff Festival is produced by Theatre Hullabaloo and supported by Durham County Council. I really love Theatre Hullabaloo; they were an organisation that I was aware of from day dot Culture Vulture, as pioneering theatre makers that make, tour & promote theatre for young audiences that inspire the imagination and challenge the mind.

They believe that theatre should and could be part of everyone’s childhood – an ethos that I am super passionate about AND they prioritise young people  in their work linking with specialist creative and education teams at every stage of the theatre making process. All their theatre making has passion and purpose – a theatre organisation, that champions audiences as the priority is certainly an organisation that is VERY Culture Vulture.

So I totally suggest you make theatre and TakeOff Festival part of your Autumn 2019 half term experience across 21-26 October!?…..There are LOADS of performances for various ages to choose from and there is the TakeOff Festival family day on 26 October in Durham city centre; a fun-filled family day of world-class children’s theatre, storytelling, installations, arts and crafts and much more!

Whilst the whole programme looks MEGA, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you my Culture Vulture festival picks to hopefully inspire you to go and see some lush theatre at TakeOff Festival. There are also some specialist SEND shows including Playful Tiger.

Hide & Seek (By Theatre de la Guimbarde, France)

Pelton Community Centre

22 Oct, 1.30pm

Two siblings have been put to bed for the night, but these children have more exciting plans in mind!

Become part of their simple game as they reinvent new ways to play hide-and-seek. In a rediscovery of the pleasure of hiding oneself in order to discover oneself, Hide-and-Seek invites audiences to experience the acrobatic adventures that ensue past these children’s bedtime.

Suitable for ages 2-5 years.

Tickets available HERE.

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Sky (By Teater Minsk, Denmark)

Gala Theatre, Durham

23 Oct 11am & 12,30pm, 24 Oct 11am & 12.30pm, 25 Oct 9.30am & 1pm, 26 Oct 10am, 1pm & 2.30pm.

Jump onto a soft cloud and feel the wind whirling and whispering as two dancers make the space around you twist and turn.

Lie down and look at the sky through your toes!

Can you see the world from upside down?

Can you hear the stars?

Everything is in motion in this beautiful dance theatre for minis and their families.

Suitable for ages 2-4yrs.

Tickets available HERE.

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Sky

There Is A Noise (By Hestnes / Popovic, Copenhagen)

The Hullabaloo, Co Durham

23 October, 6pm

From the diary of a 16-year-old grandmother in 1945 to the narrative of escaping war as a child, this piece investigates memory. The audience is invited to sit around a table while stories unfold around them in the midst of frying waffle ooze. We look at the blurry line between facts, memories and emotions of experiencing war as a child and question how to retell. The piece dives in to the confusion and unease of carrying such a story with you and the difficulty of sharing it.

What can we share with others and how can we relate to something that we do not understand?

Suitable for ages 13yrs+

Tickets available HERE.

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There Is A Noise

Jabberbabble (By Theatergroep Kwatta, The Netherlands)

The Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College Durham

25 Oct 9.30am, 11.30am & 1.30pm and 26 Oct 10am & 12noon

A show about four birds and one nest. Nobody understands their jibber jabber lingo. What if we don’t speak the same language but still manage to understand each other?

A delightful show that is entirely sung, as it should be with birds – by the end of the show, no one will be strangers. #fourbirdsonenest

Suitable for ages 4-7yrs.

Tickets available HERE.

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Jabberbabble

Tiger Tale (By Barrowland Ballet, England)

Gala Theatre, Durham

26 October, 11.30am & 4pm

Something wild is prowling. She can hear it through her bedroom walls, but her mum and dad seem stuck in the dull routines of their everyday lives. Until one day the wild breaks in and everything changes.

A troubled family’s world turns upside down when a tiger invades. It’s chaotic, it’s dangerous but brilliantly funny as the tiger reignites the family’s love for one another. With captivating dancers, enjoy the thrill of sitting right up close to the action and the chance to explore the set at the end.

Suitable for ages 7yrs+

Tickets available HERE.

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Tiger Tale

So those are my suggestions – but there are loads of other shows – you can download the full programme from HERE!

If you go to watch the above shows or any others – let me know what you thought!

Also, this year this is The TakeOff Festival family day on 26 October in Durham city centre with a fun-filled family day of world-class children’s theatre, storytelling, installations, arts and crafts and much more! There’s a great mix of free and paid for events so something for all the family to enjoy!

You can check out what there is to at Family Day HERE.

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Until next time Culture Vultures….get plotting your half term shenanigans with your minis!

Enchanted Parks 2016; “Love me or hate me, both are in my favour!”

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I can finally get down to writing a post about my visit to Enchanted Parks. For those of you, that don’t know what Enchanted Parks is, it can be summarised as NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Gateshead Council’s popular after-dark arts adventure in Saltwell Park, Gateshead. This year it made a welcome return from Tuesday 6 – Sunday 11 December.

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The theme and concept behind this year’s installations were inspired by the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, taking visitors and participants on an intriguing journey through Saltwell Park, where a hidden manuscript found inside the Towers unleashed a strange kind of magic, as ‘A Midwinter Night’s Tale’ slowly came to life.

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I visited several times across the week, with very young children, primary school groups, older adult community groups alongside a whole host of groups of friends, so I really experienced Enchanted Parks through the eyes of lots of different demographics of people. This is the first year, I’ve had the opportunity to do this and it really added to my own personal experience, seeing which pieces captivated particular people and the infectious excitement of viewing again and again, with individuals that hadn’t seen it before.

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St Joseph’s Primary viewing The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind – Alise Stopina

Like many social media’aholics, I take an interest in what other people are saying about their cultural experiences, as part of the process of reflecting on my own. I was really shocked but also very interested to read the extent of negativity towards this year’s Enchanted Parks.

The whole reason Enchanted Parks has steadily grown from strength to strength, year after year, is that it’s something different, it invests into student artists alongside National and International artist commissions, it innovates, it takes risks and it creates an experience. It is not a commercial entity or a cash cow lights event; it is an art walk….the art is shockingly, I know…at the heart of that. Each piece has its own story to tell, has been specially commissioned and brought together within a curated experience.

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Enchanted Parks brings people who love art and culture like myself, alongside other people who may not engage as regularly with art, side by side to both enjoy and appreciate a magical experience. Whilst we each may take very different things away from it, for example I look at the glass piece thinking in complete awe knowing the processes behind it, whereas my mum, who is not particularly into art at all, simply thinks she’s had a lush night and thought the glass piece was ‘beautiful’.

One of the brilliant things about art and culture is the fact it provokes a reaction, an opinion. With an event that evolves, changes, transforms year after year, it is expected that certain years are considered “better” or more to a particular taste than others. It is also, perfectly acceptable for people to walk away and think – “that wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be” or “I didn’t really get it”. These opinions are completely valid and interesting in their own right – that’s what the artists want!

I remember having a chat with well-known Sculptor Colin Rose, and he was flicking through gallery book feedback during his exhibition at Gateshead Central Library. As always lots of positive comments, some colourful and several that just said “how is this art?”, “this is rubbish” etc. I obviously, apologised for those types of comment and was a bit embarrassed. However, Colin said it was these comments, he most enjoyed because if he was creating something that everyone thought was “good”, “nice” then what was the point!? It’s like a beige buffet – it’s ok, I’m not excited about it, I wouldn’t complain but I wouldn’t rave about it……..who on earth wants something they’ve created to be a “beige buffet”.

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You want to evoke something in someone and if the reaction you evoke, is that someone wants to express “it’s bad” or “disappointing” then that is great because firstly, it’s a reaction and secondly at the other end of the spectrum, many people will think it’s brilliant…..this year’s Enchanted Parks certainly did that and I think it’s a sign of a job well done. Different people from all walks of life, had entirely individualistic experiences.

This year’s Shakespeare theme was abstract and conceptual which allowed for visitors’ ideas and imaginations to run wild. I really enjoyed the storytelling through Shakespeare’s themes from the stories we all know (some better than others). I thought the thematic approach actually made it far more accessible to all ages and demographics, as you didn’t have to engage or follow a specific story or have a certain level of knowledge about Shakespeare. It wasn’t even linear story telling – again this suited me as I was really able to enjoy and appreciate the pieces for what they were, how they made me feel, making sense of them instead of trying to fit them into a pre-conceived narrative.

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Engagement is a two way process; this means you must be willing to be open minded, fluid in your expectations and interact with the exhibits and pieces. Enchanted Parks is not simply walking through the door with the perception of “right…..entertain me!”….. you have to be willing to create some of the magic yourself, spend some time appreciating the exhibits, buy into it, share your experience around with your party. It’s an immersive experience in which you let go and encourage others to do the same.

The first piece as you walked in, the projection on Saltwell Towers was called A Forgotten Treasure and was by Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle. It’s hard to capture a piece like this on a photo…..but I’ve tried….

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

A Forgotten Treasure set the scene for your enchanted Midwinter journey through Saltwell Park, starting with the discovery of Shakespeare’s diary, uncovering the existence of a long-lost work. This piece was a very traditional Enchanted Parks piece that we’ve all come to know and love. Lots of colour, 3D projection work and amazingly visuals.

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

This is unsurprising given that Roma is a Newcastle based composer of music for film, animation, television and theatre. She has a diverse client list including BBC, Sky, EMI, Universal, Unicef, Open Clasp and Tate Britain and has had music performed, recorded and broadcast internationally. Roma is part of 2016’s BAFTA crew. Roma worked with children from St Joseph’s primary school recording their voices and reactions which were layered onto the projection.

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A Forgotten Treasure –  Roma Yagnik and Chris Lavelle.

The second piece was called Ignis Fatuus – Faery Magic and was by ArtAV. This piece represented fairies (think Midsummer Night’s Dream) giggling and whispering in the trees, whilst running amok and mischievously darting from tree to tree, their brightly coloured fairy dust clear for all to see.

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Ignis Fatuus – Faery Magic – ArtAV

ArtAV are digital artists, producing complex multidisciplinary works involving interactive video, lighting and sound. They specialise in the fields of 3D projection mapping and pixel mapped video. This piece was a real crowd favourite, as whilst it was subtle in its appearance, it had the effect of enabling visitors to walk into a fairy world almost accidentally and suddenly being surrounded by the sights and sounds. It was extremely effective.

The third piece was Forever and a Day by Impossible Arts. Impossible Arts are known for creating intriguing digital arts works that capture the imagination with interactive and participatory elements. Their interactive piece at Enchanted enabled individuals to have their faces projected on to big screens whilst mouthing the words of famous Shakespearean lines.

Forever and a Day – Impossible Arts (St Joseph’s Primary School faces)

For most families and groups, this was a highlight – seeing their faces projected led to loads of giggles! The St Joseph’s group that I went with, although nervous at first to have a go, were soon at the front and absolutely howling with laughter at each other contorting their faces for specific vowel sounds and later seeing the finished projection. I thought this piece worked so well, full of interaction and it was lush to hear all the giggling.

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Follow your heart to Saltwell Towers and we did……..with the forth piece The Eternal Debate of the  Unconscious Mind by Alise Stopina. These pieces were subtle and complimented with beating heart sounds. To me, this explored the theme of love in Shakespeare both from a romanticised feeling sense, but also in the brutal, heart break and the realism of the hearts depicted something to me, which spoke of violence and humanism. Love sometimes feels like having your heart ripped out of your chest and exposed for all to see.

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The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind –  Alise Stopina

Alise Stopina is a 2nd year student at the University of Sunderland, the Glass and Ceramics department and I think the quality of this piece, and other student pieces really evidenced loud and proud about creative and art’s students this year standing shoulder to shoulder in concept and visual quality with the National and International Artists. Her pieces were fantastic and the piece was one of my favourites!

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The Eternal Debate of the Unconscious Mind – Alise Stopina

The next piece viewed on the trail was the Enchanted Talking Posts by Shared Space and Light. On all occasions of visiting, I was able to stop off just before this point in the trail and purchase an obscenely big hot chocolate, covered in cream and mallows which made standing and taking in the pieces a little bit more brilliant.

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Amazing hot chocolate

The lamp posts with their discourse, banter and insults were very typical of Shakespearean comedy – frenemies one minute and sworn enemies the next. They evoked lots of giggles from the crowd and I loved their expressive faces – as someone with a very expressive face, I really embrace the inability to hide any sort of emotional feeling because my face contorts and speaks volumes.

The next piece was often I noticed slightly overlooked by passers-by……it wasn’t really hidden, but for whatever reason, people walked passed it. Not sure why – as it really stuck out to me! The piece was called The Song of Time and was by Natsumi Jones, another Sunderland University student.

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The Song of Time – Natsumi Jones

The colourful nightingales danced, twinkled and appeared in like a curtain format. It spoke to me about the fragility of people and love; slightly obscured by the trees made me think of something intangible that is so beautiful, that we can’t really quite understand or touch.

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The Song of Time – Natsumi Jones

Following on to Enchanted Echoes by Stuff and Things; this was an immersive sound scape at the top of the Dene draws audiences in, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue, magic and uncertainty. For some of the adults that I visited with, this was their favourite piece but it was also one of the ones that was quite negatively talked about on social media.

Enchanted Echoes – Stuff and Things

I found it beautiful, entirely innovative and something completely different from previous years. It was the true definition of an immersive, multi-sensory experience. As someone working on a Digital Arts project currently, I’m extremely interested in sound influencing experiences, perceptions and visuals. You can see the exact same images and visuals, but different sounds added can make things feel and seem very different. The soundscape was new to Enchanted Parks and I hope it is something that is weaved into future performances.

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Enchanted Echoes – Stuff and Things

This year Enchanted Parks welcomed back Steve Newby with a new piece Rough Magic under a new professional name Studio Vertigo . These flashes of lightning worked fantastically well alongside the Soundscape, drawing the audience further into the Dene and into a storm. The pieces together made me predominantly think of King Lear and the madness during the storm but also thematically about the conflict and emotional wars in McBeth and Richard III.

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The third piece in this mix was Storm by Output Arts; a collaboration between artists Andy D’Cruz, Jonathan Hogg and Hilary Sleiman who create artworks that are powerful, emotional and memorable working primarily, but not exclusively, with sound and light. This installation was like walking into the eye of the storm, under the storm clouds and then out the other side, with the storm and conflict left behind and dispersing. Again, I was drawn to think of the moment in King Lear where Lear is wandering the heath and the character Edgar who plays a mad man, is his company  – the storm whilst not the beginning or the end of the story, feels like some kind of conclusion so the story can move on and the characters can grown.

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Storm by Output Arts

The next installations were a collection of pieces and sculptures under the collective name These Words Take Wing by Richard Dawson. Lots of papercutting and sculpture was used to bring these magical manuscripts to life.

These Words Take Wing – Richard Dawson

Richard is an artist based in the North of England and works in various mediums especially three dimensional and sculptural pieces often with kinetic elements and created from recycled materials. His pieces were so diverse and different, that I assumed they were actually made by entirely different artists. Each piece was so delicate, beautiful and thematically different. To me, the pieces each spoke of story-telling by very different means; the books, the words, the stories, the characters all were brought to life, very cleverly.

These Words Take Wing – Richard Dawson

Feedback from one of the little boys from St Joseph’s primary was that “the art is good – I like it. But he’s very naughty for cutting up books – what if someone wanted to read that book, they can’t now!”. Hehe – still makes me laugh and is in fact a very good point.

Larger than life, the beautiful red and white roses lined the Cherry Tree Walk; a memory of the bloody battles of the War of the Roses. This installation was called A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello; a designer, educator and public artist, specialising in the construction of large scale and temporary installations for public spaces and events. These oversized flowers were a perfect photo opportunity and looked visually amazing. I read more into the piece, thinking about warring families and how from those troubled factions and difficult times, something beautiful can bloom.

A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello

Love, Rivalry and Magic! by Daniel Rollitt, a University of Sunderland student, was what Mary Berry might call the “showstopper” piece. It depicted a scene from one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, where love, rivalry and magic meet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The layering of the glass, the colour and the fact that visually as you moved around the piece, it slightly changed and offered a real depth. I loved it.

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A Rose By Any Other Name by Cristina Ottonello

Again, my appreciation for this one, comes more from working with glass artists and knowing how bliddy hard it is to work with glass. I’ve got several coaster attempts on my desk at work which highlights this. I worked really hard on them, but they look like a five year old did them. The time, the skill, the patience behind this piece, is just mesmerising.

A piece I had the privilege of seeing stage by stage before the final installation was The Book of Shadows by Bethan Maddocks . Bethan worked with community arts groups, paper cutters and Oakfield school on elements of this piece.

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The Book of Shadows – Bethan Maddocks

Within the bandstand, sat a giant magical book, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be read. Its large pages were delicate paper-cuts of scenes frozen in time. Participants were encouraged to pick up a torch and shine onto the piece, which projected stories through shadows. There was a lot going on within this piece – hanging witch trials, animals in nature, floral scenes. Fantastic, entirely unique, beautiful and interactive.

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The Book of Shadows – Bethan Maddocks

The final piece, was also the last student piece; ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ by Jonny Michie, University of Sunderland. Take your leave exit stage right as directed by Shakespeare himself, pursued by a bear – a giant, glass bear. I wasn’t 100% sure of this pieces’ connection to the Shakespeare theme – but it was still one of my favourites and a warm way to end the show.

Exit, pursued by a bear – Jonny Michie

A roving piece was Nyx by Gijs van Bon. If you don’t know which piece this was – it was the robot writing glow in the dark quotes. Letter after letter the glowing text poured slowly out of the machine and made its way slowly around the park.

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Nyx – Gijs van Bon

Audiences were both transfixed on the quotes themselves, but also the robot and how it was operating. I could have happily watched it all day. Again, another really innovative, exciting and unexpected piece!

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Nyx – Gijs van Bon

So Enchanted Parks 2016 – you were a beauty and a really different experience. Please continue innovating, doing something different and creating a magical, unique and often unexpected experience for all. We are so lucky to have an event like this in the North and I’m buzzing for next year already!

If you loved it, like me –see you next year. If you didn’t like it this year….well keep an open mind because next year, it will be completely different again, a different experience, story and installations. Remember Art is supposed to make you think, question, reflect and feel – so if you came away doing any of those things, well Enchanted Parks smashed it out the park (literally).

Nobody wants a beige buffet.

All my love – The Culture Vulture.

 

Cultural kid’s activities in Central Gateshead this Summer

The summer holidays are nearly here…..and I know what you’re thinking if you’re a parent!? What am I going to do with my mini mes over the Summer Holiday period……

Well there is LOTS going on in Central Gateshead, a real diverse mix of activities both indoors and outside for a range of ages. We want to keep your kids entertained, discovering new things and having lots of fun. That is what the English Summertime should all be about…..

Summer holiday activities kick off with a bang with a Theatre Set Design Workshop with Tanya Axford

Wailes Room, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 16 July, 10am – 12.30pm

Work with visual artist Tanya Axford, who masterminded the set for ‘In A NutShell’ to create your very own imaginative theatrical world and become a part of it! This is a unique experience for theatre loving creatives to work with a professional!

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In A NutShell set – Tanya Axford

For ages 7+ (all children must be accompanied by an adult).

£ 3 per child

Click to book

We then move onto the launch of Summer Holiday Culture Camp

Camp

Have you got a budding artist at home who wants some inspiration in the summer holidays? Culture Camp gives young people aged 8-14 an opportunity to work with a different professional artist each day to try lots of interesting arts activities and materials.

Monday 25 JulyKate Eccles will help you to create your own unique hoodies and bags using recycled fabrics.

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Bring along something you don’t mind cutting up and transforming by adding horns, flowers, skulls or animals.

£20

Click to book

Tuesday 26 July – Artist Paul Merrick will have you mastering your drawing and painting skills using lots of different materials.

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Move from 2d to 3d over the day and turn some of your ideas into your own sculptural mobile to take home for your bedroom.

£20

Click to book

Wednesday 27 July – Try your hand at printmaking with experts from Northern Print Studio, with monoprinting in the morning and using letterpress in the afternoon to make cards, posters or bunting for your bedroom.

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£20

Click to book

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Minecraft Special is a free drop in session…

Gateshead Central Library – Wednesday 3 August, 11am

As part of the Summer Reading Challenge; bring books to life in Minecraft. Help us recreate a Minecraft Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.

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Free, just drop in!

More info

Welcome to the Circus: Workshop for all the family

Ever fancied learning some circus tricks to show off to your friends…..well we’ve got a corker of a session for you….

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St Mary’s Heritage Centre – Friday 5 August, 1pm-3pm

Become a trainee circus performer for the afternoon and try out some of the skills it takes to join the circus, including Plate spinning, Poi, Gymnastic Ribbon, Juggling, Hula Hoop, Tight Rope Walking and Beginners Stilts in this action packed session. Both children and adults will equally enjoy showing off their favourite skills at the graduation to the Big Top showcase where everyone will receive a certificate welcoming them to the circus.

This exciting and energetic workshop is suitable for anyone over 7 years, all equipment will be available.

£10 per participant

Click to book

Over The Moon Glass Workshop

Wailes Room, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 6 August, 10am-12.30pm

Join glass artist Effie Burns to make ‘space’ inspired glass pieces that are out of this world, in this family friendly workshop.

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This workshop is perfect for parent and child to work together on a lovely glass project…..

Suitable for ages 7+

£10 – Please book places for both children and adults taking part.

Click to book

Mad About Monkeys

Have you got a cheeky monkey at home? Well this free workshop is perfect just for them….

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 11 August, 2pm

A monkey sculpture craft afternoon for all the family.

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Free, reserve your place!

To reserve a place click

Whimsical Windchimes

Have you checked out the community garden at Gateshead Central Library; it’s always a hive of activity…..

Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 13 August, 10.30am

Join us to make your very own windchimes to hang in the garden this summer. Test them out first in our community garden!

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£2/£3 per child

Click to book

Creatures Up Close @ Central

Oooooh back by popular demand our beasties, creepy crawlies and unusual small animals…..book quick as this always sells out!

Gateshead Central Library – Monday 15 August, 2pm and 2.45pm

Your chance to get hands on and up close with some very unusual insects, reptiles and amphibians.

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£2/£3 per child

Click to book

I Dreamed A Jar

Have you seen the BFG? What would you put in your Dream Jar…… let’s find out!

Gateshead Central Library, Monday 22 August, 2pm

Staff at Central will be making their own Dream Jars so why not help them out or make one of your very own!

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Free

To reserve a place

Family Nature Doodling Workshop

The English summertime should be about getting outside and exploring…..

Meet at Thornley Woodlands Centre, off the A694 – Wednesday 24 August, 1pm – 4pm

Discover new ways of exploring our natural landscape through making temporary land art.

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Treehug – Jane Gower

Join Artist Jane Gower for a leisurely walk and explore the process of making – find beautiful objects in nature; seek out enchanting spaces; collect colours; and create sculptures and 3-D collages. They may only last a day, but you can capture your art piece in a photograph before it disappears.

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Ladders – Jane Gower

Please wear suitable clothing and shoes for the weather and bring a camera or phone to take photos of what you make.

£3/£5 – suitable for families

Click to book

Mrs Twit’s Trick Menu

Another Summer reading challenge activity……

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 25 August, 2pm

Mrs Twit invites you to come along and sample her special menu. Do you fancy tomato-blood soup, octopus eyeballs or spider lollipops?

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Test your tastebuds and see which is the most delicious and make your own revolting recipe!

£1 per child

To reserve a place

Manga Workshop with Paul Belcher

Back by popular demand after last summer’s session…..

St Mary’s Heritage Centre – Thursday 25 August, 1pm-3pm

Local Community Artist Paul Belcher is returning to St Mary’s for his popular manga art session.

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It’s a great opportunity to learn some manga art techniques in this workshop suitable for children and adults. With Paul’s guidance you will create manga style portraits on A4 canvas using acrylics.

£5 per participant

Click to book

Summer Holiday Culture Camp – Make a Play in a Day

Do you have the next aspiring Jennifer Lawrence or Leo Dicaprio in your family?

Gateshead Central Library – Thursday 1 September, 9.30am – 4.30pm

Drama Teacher, David Raynor will help you create a play in a day; you get to experiment with a variety of acting and movement techniques, script writing and set design!

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£20

Click to book

Sculpture Making Workshop with Neil Canavan

Join Sculpture 30’s September artist of the month to get creating and making….

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library – Saturday 3 September, 10am-12.30pm

Create mini sculptures that will help artist Neil Canavan create a largescale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.

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Ship of Fools – Neil Canavan

The finished sculpture will feature at the 31st Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park on 25 September!

Suitable for all ages and all materials provided.

Free, just drop in.

Click for more info

So get booking and reserving your places quick! This is just a flavour of Central Gateshead activities….there are more activities listed at www.gateshead.gov.uk/whatson at other branch library locations across Gateshead that you may want to check out!