Guy O'Donnell

Hi I am Guy the project coordinator for Get The Chance. I am a trained secondary teacher of Art and Design and have taught at all Key Stages in England and Wales. I am also an experienced theatre designer and have designed for many of the theatre companies in Wales.

An interview with Playwright Andy Evans

Hi Andy great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a Welsh playwright currently living in Lincolnshire and studying an MA in Theatre at the University of Lincoln. I was born in Cardiff and raised in Penarth, where my love of drama and theatre was nurtured. I left Wales to train as a teacher in 1988 and went on to work as a teacher of Criminal Law for 25 years, before redundancy made a switch necessary and I became a primary teacher, with responsibility for Literacy in the school. After six years I decided that the time had come to move on and to pursue my passion, so I left teaching and began running Breakwater Theatre Company full-time. I also wanted to look to improve my knowledge and understanding of theatre and chose to study for an MA in Theatre, in order to validate the years of work I had done to date.

During my time as a teacher, I began writing plays for a youth theatre I ran as a volunteer in Grimsby. My first play was published by a small publisher in Essex in 1999 and in 2001 my play Moonlight Marionettes was published in the USA by playscripts.com. I joined Hull Truck Theatre Company where I was commissioned to write a full-length play entitled, Taking a Bullet. I also got involved in Stories of the Streetz, with the National Theatre of Wales, the Sherman Writers’ Group and Dirty Protest, for whom I have written twice. I also worked with Middle Child in Hull and Slung Low in Leeds among others. All of which led me to establish my own company, Breakwater, which specialises in new writing for the stage and has worked in conjunction with New Perspectives, in developing scripts and writers nationally.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

I went to St Cyres Comprehensive in Penarth; a school where I feel the arts were championed, and we had some really dedicated drama and music teachers. My inspiration was drama teacher Joy Nubert, she was a passionate advocate for drama education and ran extra-curricular workshops and productions. I performed in West Side Story and Oh! What a Lovely War, as well as workshopping scripts by Pinter and Orton.

St Cyres School, Penarth

We also had an amazing music teacher called Anne Harris, who led the school Music Department with passion and vigour. I guess my passion for performing arts was born there. Their love of the arts was infectious and inspiring. The arts help an individual to learn about themselves and to discover what makes people tick, to encourage support and inspire That is something I still see as important and influenced my choice of University for my MA. The University of Lincoln is championing a campaign to say #WhyArtsMatter a hashtag I fully endorse.

Why and where do you write?

I write at home and tend to write in the corner of my living room, though not exclusively. I enjoy being surrounded by my books and videos, with easy access to the internet to help me gain inspiration if I start to dry up. I also have two Dalmatians, who hate being left home alone and enjoy cwtching up as I write. I tend to write extremely quickly, which is a habit born out of necessity back when I was teaching. I would never write during term time and would get the majority of my writing done during school holidays. I tend to spend a lot of time preparing to write, mentally planning the plot and the structure and so on, before I ever open a Word document and beginning to write. The first draft of a play is often written in a very short window of opportunity and I re-write at leisure thereafter.

As to why I write, I write because I can’t help myself. I love writing and my brain loves contemplating things that would be interesting dramatically, which I could put on stage to entertain others. There is no “Go To Book of Ideas” it could be a picture, a documentary, an overheard conversation. The only rule is to ask “Would it make an interesting story?”

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?

I feel bad saying this, but I have received very little help or support from within Wales. As mentioned, I was a member of the Writers Group at the Sherman many moons ago, and that was useful for meeting and networking. My favourite support network within Wales is the small but mighty Dirty Protest, especially working with Catherine Paskell. The work done by DP is astonishing and they are, by far, the primary advocates for new Welsh playwriting. I love them and wish I could always write for them.

Catherine Paskell

And when John McGrath was in charge of the NTW, I felt that I had support and was welcomed with open arms to discuss my work and what I was doing. John even messaged me from Japan to ensure I was going to be able to discuss my work with someone from his team.

However, following the subsequent regime change, I felt edged out and during a meeting, was given the impression that it was unlikely I would be considered as I am not based in Wales. There are those of us who still qualify as “emerging artists” who are more mature and there are far less opportunities for us to market and stage our work. I would like to see schemes specifically aimed at mature writers. Their work can have just as much resonance as somebody a third of their age.

In addition, if a Welsh writer has chosen to work and reside outside Wales but then offers to work within Wales and Welsh theatres, it should not be held against them as there are such things as cars and trains. I get back to Penarth regularly and can always be available through a base in my family home. Its just another excuse for excluding someone. Let me decide if I am willing to drive back and forth, or stay in Wales for an extended period, don’t assume it won’t work in advance.

One reason I have chosen to remain in Lincolnshire for now, is that I get more work as a writer here. I am unsure that a move home would increase work opportunities and may lose some. During 2019, I was able to write and produce two newly commissioned plays and would not have the ability to see such work through to fruition at home, as there are far fewer opportunities offered and more writers chasing them. Ironically, one of my new plays. Indomitable, was about the life of Welsh author and disabled rights campaigner Elisabeth Sheppard Jones. I worried that the slightly parochial setting (Penarth in the 1950s – 70s) wouldn’t play well, but the play was a resounding success here in Cleethorpes.

Indomitable

I try to familiarise myself with the available work and career support in Wales, I am part of the NTW Community and I am on the mailing list for the Welsh branch of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, but I do still feel isolated from the theatre scene and hiraeth draws me home to watch others making work repeatedly. I would love to make more work in Wales, especially within Cardiff.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would love to offer a bursary to an emerging writer of mature years, giving them the freedom to write without worrying about how it would affect their income. Youth is often the only form of “new” considered by many in theatre. I staunchly believe that there are other writers out there who could benefit from career development but are discouraged by perceptions of ageism. Allow more mature people to explore and to be creative; fund them and then give them an outlet to share their work. It doesn’t have to be, and should not be, at the expense of opportunities for younger writers, but there are some amazingly creative people out there who think they have lost the chance to make a mark creatively. I would seek to encourage precisely that. 

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

As I mentioned earlier, I am constantly thinking about what the next idea will be or where the idea will come from. I don’t try to force creativity; I pay attention to the word around me. Moonlight Marionettes was inspired by a photo I saw on the internet. I wrote Indomitable about Elisabeth Sheppard Jones after reading about her on a Facebook page for local memories. The other play I wrote this year, was entitled With Love From Ruhleben.

I was commissioned to write it as part of a project funded by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund and Lincs Inspire Libraries. Ruhleben was a civilian internment camp in Spandau, just outside Berlin at the outset of WW1. Any foreign nationals in Germany at the outbreak of hostilities were rounded up and the males were interred. For 5000 men that was their war. Many men from Grimsby were imprisoned as they had been in German waters at the time. So, I interviewed relatives of men who served and created a fictionalised story that forms part of an educational resource sent out to all secondary schools in the area. A filmed performance of the play on DVD and a copy of the script, accompanies a teacher’s pack for each school.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

No two writing days are ever the same for me. I will often have spent months thinking about, researching for or plotting a play before I commit to writing and I outline the story before I start writing. I talk about that as a gestation period. Then, eventually, I will sit down to write. I pour myself a cup of coffee and open up my laptop, then I begin to write “Act One, Scene One”.

Generally, I write in a traditionally, linear fashion. I start as early as I can, after feeding and walking my dogs. I don’t set myself a word or a page count, I write everything that comes and finish when it feels right to do so. When writing the Ruhleben play, I sat and wrote for a full twelve-hour day and hammered out a complete full draft. I’m not proud of that as it went through a lot of rewrites, but I was at least able to see exactly where I wanted the story to go.

I don’t use a dramaturg, which is ironic as I am hoping my MA will allow me to offer my services to others in precisely that role. Instead, as I often direct my own work, the rehearsals help to re-shape a script. I do sometimes send a script to a trusted colleague, or fellow writer to give it a once over. If it has any detailed, technical requirements, I do try to check with an expert, that I haven’t made any glaring errors.

However, it often depends on which company I am writing for. I have found that different companies employ different methodologies and so I may work with a literary manager or a director on tweaking the final script. I really enjoyed working with the (then) Literary Manager at Hull Truck Theatre, Nick Lane to develop scripts and to shape them for performance. This in turn, also led to me joining the Literary Department as a reader at the time as well.

Hull Truck Theatre

You have recently started a new project Review Culture reviewing events across Lincolnshire. Does your theatrical knowledge impact upon your role as a critic?

Review Culture was set up as a direct response to the death of local news reporting and reviewing in the area I live. During my MA, we have been encouraged to write ABOUT theatre as well as FOR theatre. Dr Sue Healy led some sessions about the work of a reviewer or critic, and I found myself drawn to the work. I love going to see work in performance, be it amateur or professional. I decided that if I offered an online portal that reviewed work free of charge and yet which helped to publicise what is happening across Lincolnshire, it could only be a good thing. As a keen photographer, I also shoot production photos which are featured on the site too. I think that my background does impact upon the review process and upon the final product. We don’t use a star-rating system, the reviews merely reflect the good that we see presented in a show. I know its possible to rip some shows to shreds but that is not our mission. We review a lot of amateur productions and I recognise how much time and effort will have gone into staging work. Our reviews respond to their love and enthusiasm of the form. If a review is somewhat thin, we may not have enjoyed a show quite so much. But if we issue praise, it is because we believe it is well-deserved. After all, if audiences attend a show on our recommendation and it is a dud, they won’t trust us, or keep using our site to check out the reviews. We will become redundant very rapidly.

 Andy, I know you are currently engaged on a course of study and are specifically focusing on Welsh Playwrights I wonder if it’s possible to tell me some more about this please.

This is my pet subject, when I was offered a place on the course, many assumed that I would choose to write a play as my final project because it is an option available to me. Even I thought I would most likely choose that option. But fate stepped in and showed me how much I love research. The Library facilities at Lincoln are awesome. They run a scheme which allows students to request book purchases that will assist their studies and I have made great use of the scheme. I have persuaded them to order plays by a number of Welsh writers including Matthew Bulgo, Alun Saunders, Dic Edwards and Neil Anthony Docking. All of which feed into my intended topic for a dissertation.

Tutors within the school are supportive and have encouraged me to pursue my interest as a full study for my final project on the course. I intend to research and write about the way in which Welsh playwrights present nationality and nation in their plays. I have already spent time reading some of the earliest published plays written in English, considering the likes of Jo Francis, Caradoc Evans and latterly, Emlyn Williams, to contrast with the contemporary writers. As yet, I haven’t formulated a question for my thesis, and I am merely reading as much as I can. I hope to refine my field of study and hone the work down to relevant texts over the next two months. Once I have a specific research question sorted, I shall be making contact with as many writers as I can manage, and I hope that they will all have an opinion to share.

My tutors have warned me that I may be taking on a study that could be better suited to PhD and will need to be cautious to narrow my work, but we shall see what comes. Either way, my dissertation will need to be written and submitted by September 2020.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

I find the arts scene and the theatre scene, in Wales fascinating. It’s a brilliant community to be a part of and it is remarkably generous, giving and supportive in my experience. I love the diversity of the work created and the themes explored by writers such as Gary Owen and Katherine Chandler. The work of Tim Price continues to inspire me, and I only hope that I can gain a tiny sliver of the success that each has had. I continue to proselytise for Welsh playwriting in the realm of English theatre. I desperately want to ensure that exiles are not forgotten among the ranks of Welsh writers. That is why I love the work being led by Rebecca Hammond of Chippy Lane, championing those of us who are no longer based in the Land of Our Fathers. Cool Cymru has made an impact on the world and it would be great to think that it will continue, and the work of Welsh playwrights, resident and ex-patriot, will continue to thrive.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I know I bore anyone who knows me when asked a question like this, but the single, most influential piece of theatre I have seen in recent years, from my perspective, was Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen, starring the powerhouse that is Sophie Melville.

Sophie is one of the greatest “undiscovered” gems of British theatre and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. What she, Rachel O’Riordan and Gary Owen achieved in that production, has really helped to lift the level of respect for Welsh plays in the eyes of those who are not from, or based in Wales. The whole team responsible for bringing that production into the world deserves praise from designers and tech to the final performance. The work of the Sherman is the last REALLY great thing I experienced, and I hope to experience even more from Cardiff’s premier producing theatre.

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Galwad am Adolgwyr / Call-out for Reviewers

Helo ffans ifanc o’r theatr! Mae Criw Brwd a Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru yn chwilio am adolygwyr theatr 14 – 21 oed i adolygu eu drama ddiweddaraf, Pryd Mae’r Haf? yn Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tudful, neu The Other Room, Caerdydd, fis Chwefror. Dyma ddrama dyner am gyfeillgarwch, gobeithion ac ofnau pobl ifanc a byddem wrth ein bodd yn clywed eich sylwadau chi. Cysylltwch â Ceri Williams am ragor o wybodaeth: ceri.williams@theatr.com / 07903842617

Calling young theatre lovers! Criw Brwd and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru are looking for theatre reviewers aged 14 – 21 to review their latest play, Pryd Mae’r Haf? in Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil, or The Other Room, Cardiff, this February. We’d love to know what you think about this touching play about friendship and the hopes and fears of young people. Sibrwd, our language access app, means that you can enjoy the play whatever your level of Welsh. Get in touch with Ceri Williams for more information: ceri.williams@theatr.com / 07903842617

14 Months On A Response To Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

In November 2018 we published an article in response to the new Arts Council Wales Corporate Plan “For the benefit of all..” with a range of contributions from Creatives in Wales. We revisit this area in the updated article below with responses from one of the creatives featured in the article as well as an additional contribution.

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”

In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below

We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.

ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)

We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity

There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants

We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England

We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts

We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce

We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce

We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds

We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance

You can read the full article from last year here

Adeola Dewis

Artist, researcher, academic and TV presenter

I struggle to fully engage this as a response. My recent experience has revealed that there is certainly a surge to include diversity in all its forms on boards and in creative spaces and projects. However, this new ‘interest’ feels more like organisations ‘needing’ to diversify rather than ‘wanting’ to diversify, in order to secure their future and funding. I am hopeful though.

Elise Davison

Artistic Director, Taking Flight Theatre Company

What a year of change 2019 has been.  For Taking Flight it has seen the company move away from the annual Shakespeare production to more indoor, venue-based work.  

peeling by Kaite O’Reilly, opened on International Women’s Day in March at The Riverfront, Newport and then toured Wales and England and was a huge success earning 4 and 5* reviews.

The Guardian stating “Accessible theatre? Do it properly – do it like this”.  Following this Taking Flight was invited to Grenzenlos Kulture festival in Mainz, Germany as an example of best practice in accessibility.  It was a huge tour and highlighted once more the inaccessibility of much of Wales; accessible accommodation is very hard to find, and some venues struggled to meet our access riders.  However, this did lead to some very inventive solutions involving temporary dressing rooms created with flats, curtains and even a marquee! Obviously not the ideal but with our hugely creative stage management team always looking for solutions rather than the problems and the support of venues we made it work. High applause to Angela Gould at RCT Theatres for her work in this department. 

Angela Gould, Theatre Programme and Audience Development Manager, RCT Theatres.

One of our lovely actors toured with her dog who was a lovely addition to the team. Max is a therapy dog; many places we visited were only familiar with guide dogs, which made us realise how much there is to learn about the different types of assistance dogs.  

Everything we learnt during this extensive tour will feed into the work we have been developing towards a scheme like the Ramps on the Moon initiative.  A scheme like this can never be replicated, but the interest and passion from venues in Wales to be involved is overwhelming.  Creu Cymru, hynt and Taking Flight have been in ongoing discussions about ways to make this happen.  We read with interest that it was also a priority for ACW and have begun conversations with them around a similar scheme. As we have been researching and pushing for this to happen since ‘Ramps’ began in 2016, we are passionate that this becomes a reality.  Taking Flight has just received funding for their next production, Road, at Parc and Dare, RCT Theatres and we hope this partnership will be the first step.   Taking Flight will give support to participating venues to be confident to manage and produce inclusive work, to provide excellent access and a warm welcome to all- both audiences and creatives. 

While peeling was out on the road in the Autumn, we also remounted the hugely successful and totally gorgeous You’ve got Dragons.  After a run at WMC we hit the road again for a UK tour including a week run at Lyric Hammersmith which was almost sold out and incredibly well received. The desire for inclusive and accessible work for young people is growing.  Watch this space for more news on You’ve Got Dragons next adventure.

Taking Flight has often dreamt of setting up a Deaf- led Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people and with funding from BBC Children in Need we have finally done it. Led by the tremendous Stephanie Back in BSL and English, the youth theatre began last week and the results are already fabulous. The Wales Millennium Centre are our amazing venue partner and host the weekly sessions for D/deaf children aged 4-18. We have been overwhelmed with interest in this project, demonstrating that this has been needed in Wales for a long time.     

There has also been a surge in interest from companies and individuals wanting to consider access while writing funding applications.  There is a general excitement around making work accessible. There are some brilliant intentions and I’ve had exciting conversations with companies about different types of access and have been able to recommend consultants and access professionals.  

The ground has been fertile for change for some time and there is much more inclusive and accessible work being created here than when we first started 12 years ago.   Theatres are also much more interested in programming diverse work and many have invested in Deaf Awareness training with Taking Flight (Led by Steph Back). 

Steph Back

 There is a real desire to diversify audiences and welcome them to theatre spaces.  Taking Flight’s next symposium on 28th Feb at Park and Dare RCT theatres on Relaxed Performances brings the brilliant Jess Thom, Touretteshero to Wales to discuss ways to provide the warmest possible welcome to those who may find the traditional etiquette of theatre a problem.   

Jess Thom, Touretteshero

There has been a surge of work featuring D/deaf and disabled performers, productions like Jonny Cotsen’s Louder is Not Always Clearer, Leeway Productions Last Five Years and Illumine’s 2023 really engaged new audiences and the venues have really built on this success.    There have been more productions that embed access in a creative way, a gorgeous example in Gods and Kings by Fourinfour productions with integrated BSL from Sami Thorpe.  I had lots of fun working with Julie Doyle and Likely Story integrating BSL interpreter Julie Doyle into Red. Companies are choosing to interpret, audio describe or caption all the shows in a run rather than just one which is really encouraging and promoting more equality of access to shows.

So, the will to make accessible work is absolutely there, the best of intentions are definitely there and, now the funding for access is factored into budgets, the funds are usually there. However, why is it still access that falls through the cracks, gets pushed aside or forgotten as a production approaches opening night?  I hear stories of interpreters and audio describers who can’t get into a rehearsal space to prep or are placed somewhere on stage that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor practical.  It can still sometimes feel like access is something that needs to be ticked off a list in order to fulfil a funding application.  

I am absolutely sure that this is not the intention; but we are all so overstretched, one person is often doing multiple jobs (especially in small companies) and when no one is directly responsible for access or it simply forms ‘part’ of someone’s role. So those best intentions and exciting plans are really hard to fully achieve.  Taking Flight are exploring this lack of provision for access co – ordination with Bath Spa University so watch this space for the results of our research… The next generation of theatre makers are coming, and they really care about making work that can be accessed by all – that makes me happy.

New Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people takes flight

In an exciting first for Wales, Taking Flight Theatre Company have announced that thanks to support from BBC Children in Need, the Ashley Family Foundation and Wales Millennium Centre, they have opened the first youth theatre in Wales specifically catering for D/deaf and hard of hearing young people.

The project has been developed in response to feedback from young people who had seen Taking Flight’s professional theatre work. With its emphasis on being inclusive both in regards to casting and audience experience, people frequently asked the company if there was any way that they could start a youth theatre to nurture young D/deaf and hard of hearing talent. In 2015 Taking Flight ran two Deaf-led summer schools and the feedback was that 100% of participants wanted to be able to attend a youth theatre regularly.

In January 2018, the company ran taster sessions at WMC which drew children from Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Machynlleth. Again, 100% of children and families wanted ongoing provision. As a result of this enthusiasm, Elise Davison and Beth House, who started Taking Flight in 2008, decided to apply to BBC Children In Need to see if they could attract funding to create something really special.

Creative Producer, Beth explains:

“The youth theatre is such an important and exciting development. We are regularly contacted by families desperate for this project to start. We have been talking to young people for so long about a youth theatre, it is brilliant to finally be able to put the plans into action.

We have so much feedback gathered during previous projects that will used in planning sessions. We also have a Youth Advisory group; young Deaf and disabled people aged 14+ who input into all of our outreach with young people.

The course content will be designed by the leader alongside input from participants – focussing on areas they want to develop through creative consultation with group; empowering them to take control & steer the project as it develops.

We meet once a week at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay at various times (dependant on age group) and all sessions are led by both Deaf and hearing staff, in BSL and English. Each week we’ll be playing games, making new friends, gaining confidence, learning new skills, being silly and having lots of laughs! The brilliant thing is that the sessions are free as the youth theatre is funded by BBC Children in Need and the Ashley Family Foundation.

We have high expectations, working towards sharing events- with the young people working both as performers and in backstage/ technical roles. Deaf creative industry professionals will be brought in to run specific sessions such as Visual Vernacular for performance, physical comedy, puppetry. Each summer and Easter there will be a weeks’ “residency” (non- residential) for the older groups where participants will receive intensive training with sharings at the end of the week. We will also run field trips for older participants to theatre events run by leading lights in Deaf theatre such as Deafinitely Theatre & The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble that will inspire and motivate our young participants. It’s exciting stuff”.

Taking Flight make bold, unusual theatre productions that place D/deaf and disabled performers centre stage. Their work tours Wales and beyond and they often find themselves in geographically isolated or rural places, performing in woodlands, castle grounds, community centres or shopping arcades as well as traditional theatre venues & schools. 

The youth theatre launch comes at a very busy time for the company, who have completed two successful tours of England with their critically acclaimed productions ‘peeling’ and ‘You’ve Got Dragons’ as well as expanding their work in the area of Access Consultancy.

Artistic Director and company co-founder Elise Davison explains:

“Having developed our own practice over 10 years, we’ve become the “go to” organisation in Wales for advice, information or inspiration on integrating access & working with inclusive casts. We’ve worked alongside & supported companies like Likely Story, The Atrium, Bath Spa University, Cascade Dance Theatre, University of Wales Trinity St David’s and Mess up the Mess.

Alongside our recent performance of Kaite O’Reilly’s critically acclaimed play ‘peeling’ at TheaterFestival Grenzenlos Kulture in Mainz; I was asked to take part in an industry ‘speed dating’ event where people from throughout the theatre industry in Germany could ask me questions and learn about Taking Flight’s journey, gaining advice on how our practices can be incorporated and adapted to fit their organisations. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as scary as it sounds! I am really proud to be able to tell the world about what we have been doing in our little part of Wales”.

You’ve Got Dragons actress Stephanie Back, who is Deaf, is the group leader for Taking Flight Youth Theatre, she is supported by an assistant, Anna, who is hearing. Stephanie welcomed the new initiative:

“A Deaf Youth Theatre in Wales can only provide a wealth of opportunities and benefits for all involved. It was through theatre that I found my own Deaf identity, I found how I wanted to communicate to the world and I found the strength to fight for who I was as a Deaf woman to be accepted in society today. It brings young D/deaf people together, reduces isolation and teaches invaluable theatre skills which are otherwise not readily accessible to the D/deaf youth of today”.

Davison continues:

“We so rarely see a true representation of society on stage – Taking Flight have worked tirelessly to challenge this under representation. For over 10 yrs we have been placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage.  We have been frustrated by the lack of positive role models on our stages, especially in Wales and have worked hard to change this.Taking Flight Youth Theatre will be developing and investing in the talent of the future. We can’t wait to get started!”

Taking Flight Youth Theatre sessions are held at Wales Millennium Centre on Saturdays during term time. To book a place with Taking Flight Youth Theatre, or for further information, email beth@takingflighttheatre.co.uk

The Get the Chance 2019 Cultural Highlights

Sian Thomas

1) http://getthechance.wales/2019/10/30/review-heartsong-by-tj-klune-by-sian-thomas/. I was so excited for this book to come out and it really delivered. It’s on one of my favourite series with an exceptional way of world building and atmosphere, and the way the characters act towards each other and their surroundings is incredible. It’s funny, loving, and full of action, and I love it.

2) http://getthechance.wales/2019/05/02/review-every-word-you-cannot-say-by-iain-thomas-by-sian-thomas/. Another amazing book from Iain Thomas. Also it’s very new and different! Bright, too. Since the I Wrote This For You collection all have white/grey colour schemes, this one being bright blue was a lovely change. I adore it – it’s got some really powerful words in it, too.

3) http://getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.

Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!

Barbara Michaels

With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three.  For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.

First on my list has to be Les Misérables.  Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis, once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.  A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master of the House. 

Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which was, start to finish, a joy to watch.  So much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case only a few short years ago.  I refer to transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.

On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can actually work.

And now to the best “Cultural experience.”  I am going to go off piste here, for to my mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison, producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q and A.  The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going family. 

Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.

Barbara Elin

2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…

#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)

In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.

#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)

The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.

#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative, fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!

Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!

Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes


As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.

The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.

The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.

In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.

In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.

(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)

Rhys Payne

Bodyguard at The WMC

The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.

Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company

A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.

Stammer Mouth

A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.


Gareth Williams


Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd 

A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed. 

35 Awr 

Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.


Anorac

A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.

Samuel Longville

Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.

Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.

Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.

Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.

Richard Evans

Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd

A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.

Yes Prime Minister,Theatr Clwyd

Access in the Arts. Are Things Getting Better or Worse? Avant Cymru.

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

After the publication of the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all” we interviewed a range of arts professionals in November 2018 to discuss the intentions of Arts Council Wales and suggest ways that their ambitions may be best realised.

A year one from this article we spent time broadly discussing the aims of the Corporate Plan and what change (if any) has occurred in the sector. The questions we asked elicited a personal response from everyone involved. We are publishing our second response below from Rachel and Jamie from Avant Cymru. Avant Cymru describe themselves as “A forward thinking theatre company from the South Wales Valleys. Creating relevant, distinctive theatre, dance, Hip Hop and artistic activity with and for our community and championing this work at home and afar.”

Hi Can you tell us about yourself please?

Hi Avant Cymru are made up of many different individuals. We have key members for the company who come a different range of backgrounds

BAME

LGBT

LOW INCOME/HIGH INCOME

There are two elements we can relate to with each other, all have mental health issues or have family members who have had long term mental health conditions. The other is that we all have Dyslexia and for some, other learning disabilities including ADHD and Dyspraxia. 

 What was your personal pathway into the arts?

 We have all had different pathways, one thing which we all have in common is that our parents were not in a position to be able to pay for classes and training which others could afford as we were growing up. For Rachel Pedley our Artistic Director this resulted in her assisting classes to cover the cost of her classes and taking on multiple jobs to pay for the clothing, equipment and assessments.  

Do you think your class; gender or ethnic background has impacted on your education or career?

All of us have found prejudice for our backgrounds from certain individuals. This has helped us find strength in each other. We appreciate that none of us sound, look or have experienced the same as the other and this means we can enrich each other by sharing our differences. 

 What have you found to be your personal barriers to accessing the arts and being able to develop a sustainable career? Is a sustainable career even possible?

Money – Money, Money and most worryingly segregation.  

Do you feel comfortable within your personal arts environment or is the different class, gender, ethnic background or privilege of colleagues something that impacts on you?

There are many environments we find ourselves in where there are middle to upper class people. As a majority working class company we do find it difficult to be able to explain that the places we perform, teach and train are very different to those accessed by the people we see outside of the Valleys and outside of the areas we perform across the world with our Hip Hop work. We have been to the purpose built buildings, with equipment and resources. We are grateful for the spaces and people who support us, without them the Valleys would be falling behind, they have kept opportunities available helping companies like ours to excel and grow. However the Valleys need purpose built spaces and talent to be championed. 

Are things are getting better or worse?

Worse – Segregation is happening through policy led decisions. 

ACW have the target of “We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.” Do you think this is acheivable?

True diversity happens when you have all involved who want to be. All financial backgrounds, race, religion, abilities, ages accessing and participating. 

Do you think ACW will be able them to deliver on their targets and why?

Unless the funding is focused on actual practice coming from the people and the varied communities looking to open their doors, it will never be achieved, you can’t buy diversity by forcing people into areas, jobs, etc without them having their heart and soul in that area. There are already many diverse projects happening across Wales – not funded by anyone in many cases. The funders need to look beyond those they think they know and see the amazing work being developed from the ground up. There you will find achievement that will be sustainable, diverse and rich as it comes from those who may not have the ability to write a funding form, or deal with the networking meetings, but those who love the area, the people and the art of where they live and what they are inspired by.

How do you think ACW would be able to best realise their intentions?

 Come to hear from audiences and participants, see what is being achieved and who is achieving it. 

From your personal lived experience what needs to change?

That funders fund what the community want and need, instead of pushing statistics.

If you are interested in the work of Avant Cymru, further information on their next event can be found below.

Open Art Surgery with Breakin’ Convention
Ty Pawb Art Gallery, Wrexham, LL13 8BBFri 14th February 2020

Open Art Surgery Wales invites you to delve into the mind and souls of some of the UK’s finest hip hop artists as they dare to try something new, dangerous and exciting!Artists present brand new short works devised and developed in just one week with mentorship from hip hop theatre aficionados Jonzi D, Ivan Blackstock and Anthony Lennon.This unique event, which takes place at the end of a week of intense research and development, presents six new works to the audience who are then invited to critique, feedback and ask questions to the artists involved.

Open Art Surgery is not about presenting finished work. The focus is to develop theatre skills within hip hop artists and to experiment with new ideas that could be developed further in the future. Breaking down of the fourth wall to allow the audience to engage with the artists, Open Art Surgery is an unmissable event in the Breakin’ Convention calendar.Hosted by Breakin’ Conventions Jonzi D

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/avantcymru/open-art-surgery/e-bmqjvl

Review Roots, National Dance Company Wales, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Hall

I’ve never seen contemporary dance live onstage. I’ve seen glimpses of it on TV – just enough to be fascinated, baffled, then fascinated again. My relationship with classical music is much the same. A simple melody can weave its way through an orchestra with astounding grace – but when a composer tries to tell a story, to my ears, the music lacks the vocabulary to express it. The artistic intent fades in and out, like a conversation half overheard across a crowded room.

My first experience of live contemporary dance was full of grace, but also not without half-heard sentiments. The first of four short pieces was Nikita Gole’s Écrit – it was my favourite. The story (a passionate affair between artist Frida Kahlo and her partner Diego) seemed disjointed, but the dancing was bursting with energy and full of feeling. With Frida in spotlight and Diego in silhouette behind a curtain, there was a striking visual contrast onstage. Another striking contrast: Frida begins with flowing hands suggesting a young flower in bloom, then, as she sheds petals from a rose covered headband, suddenly I felt wrenched forward in time. This was brilliantly mirrored by Diego, who opens as a painter slashing and swiping on a canvas, then shrinks into a rocking chair as a man whose days have all been spent. The story lingered on from there – Diego taking on a strangely demonic presence that I couldn’t understand – but the vivid imagery and gorgeously evocative choreography held me from start to finish. I’d see more of this.

Ed Myhill’s Why Are People Clapping!? tapped into a more primal, almost tribal energy with his piece, which hit its peak with a mesmerising succession of solo dances. The momentum ebbed with the persistent intrusion of sports related choreography, which, for me, was an unwanted distraction.

Anthony Matsena’s Codi was the piece I was looking forward to the most – bringing contemporary dance down into the dark of the Welsh mines promised to be a thrilling clash of different worlds. I was mightily impressed with the innovative use of lighting, which made a bare stage seem full and ever changing. The choreography, however, did not feel hard or harsh enough to emulate the desperate, dangerous lives of those brave mining men.

Last on the bill was Fearghus Ó Concchúir’s Rygbí: Annwyl/Dear, which likewise advertised an appealing fusion (this time, dance and rugby), but seemed to flit and fly around its subject matter without ever really going for the gut. With so many complex orchestrated movements to draw inspiration from, it felt like a missed opportunity that the geometry of the game was only intermittently recognisable.

What impressed me in every piece was the enthusiasm and athleticism of a remarkably talented dancing ensemble – the choreography did not always connect with me, but the pure intent of every performer was a sight worth seeing. And yes…it makes me want to lean in and hear more of what they’re saying, too. Next time!     

Gareth Hall

Theatre Company exports Welsh Hero

Welsh company Theatr na nÓg continue to innovate and increase awareness of Welsh Theatre! The company have just announced that they will present their original play “You Should Ask Wallace” in Indonesia.

The play tells the inspiring story of Alfred Russel Wallace, who was born in Usk and who left Wales in 1854 to document the diverse fauna, flora of the area in Indonesia now known as the Wallacea Region.

Ioan Hefin as Alfred Russel Wallace, credit Simon Gough.

The British Council has invited the award-winning Theatr na nÓg to take part in the Festival of Inspiration, Education and the Arts to celebrate the diversity of the Wallacea region. The Festival will be held in Makassar from the 22nd -28th of November 2019.

We asked the companies Artistic Director, Geinor Styles about the relevance of the work of Wallace today.

With the Welsh Government recently declaring a Climate Emergency the themes of this production seem especially relevant. What do your think Wallace might make of our Climate Emergency and organisations such as Extinct Rebellion if he was alive today?

I think he would definitely be part of Extinction Rebellion.

He was extremely aware of the impact man had on the environment, he certainly didn’t forsee the crisis we are in now. During the Industrial Revolution he was working in Neath as a surveyor for the railways , and although he had a love for nature and in particular beetles  he was conscious of the fact  that  “I was cutting up the land and beneath me a whole new universe teeming with life”.

Also whilst in Indonesia he explains that when he first discovered the King Bird of Paradise he describes it’s fate  as “should man ever reach these distant lands, we can be sure that he will disturb the balance of nature so that he will cause the disappearance, and finally extinction, of this creature.”

Paul Smith, Director of The British Council in Indonesia explained how delighted they are about the collaboration, “Here in Indonesia we are thrilled that the Welsh Wallace is returning to the Archipelago. In our Wallace Week in Sulawesi we are not just exploring biodiversity but also the cultural and ethnic diversities that Wallace encountered. Theatr na nÓg’s production will contribute greatly to the understanding and inspiration of young audiences along The Wallacea Line and we are thrilled that the company will transfer the production to local performers to ensure its own ‘sustainability’ here.

Each year Theatr na nÓg create original productions for over 5,000 young people which integrate live theatre performance with innovative creative learning resources. The organisation will be sharing their successful model of presenting theatre and education in workshops and symposiums in Makassar. The company is grateful to Wales Arts International and British Council Cymru for supporting this exciting opportunity.

Theatr na nÓg’s Artistic Director Geinor Styles said :- “It is an incredible opportunity for us to tell the Welsh story of Wallace to an area that celebrates and recognises this often forgotten scientist who co-discovered the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, and to be here in the place where Wallace wrote the theory is inspirational.”

Styles together with actor Ioan Hefin, who originated the role of Alfred Russel Wallace, will not only perform the original play but will subsequently work with Indonesian actors and director to enable them to formulate their own version of the drama which they can continue to present to local audiences. “Our first performance of ‘You Should ask Wallace’ was in 2008. At the time I thought we were revisiting an important but forgotten historical figure. I now realise that ARW is very much a voice for today and tomorrow. He was, and still is, a visionary influence”

This terrific opportunity tops a great year for this small Neath based company where they started the year with another British Council invitation to present their hit musical “Eye of the Storm” in Hong Kong and which has just completed a UK tour captivating audiences and receiving rave reviews.

Review tic toc, Parama 2 by Helen Joy

Reminiscence is a tricky thing. It can border on the nostalgic if you’re not careful.


Those factory workers faced a lot of tough times and made a lot of tough decisions. But they laughed a lot too. They made life long friends. They forced some change. They probably sang a fair bit along the way as well.


I like a sing song, I’m very fond of a musical and I like a good story. I like characters I recognise and a history I know just enough about to give that story ballast.


Clearly, I am not alone. A whole audience agrees with me for sure. What a glorious romp! Parama 2 gives us an all singing, all dancing romp of a performance with every body on that stage playing to her natural strengths effortlessly and with joy.


Such witty pithy solos and duets with heart, a heart ripping trio trips us towards the end of an excellent saga.


I love it. I am watching everyone around me, sitting around candle lit, cloth covered club tables laughing, listening and sad for times past and people too. Touched by the factory workers, wondering how much has really changed and what this future holds. No woman is an island.


I am sitting with Olwen’s daughter, ‘that’s my mum, the one in the silly skirt’ and when she sings her ballad, we are both a little moved, a little teary.

It would be impossible to single any one actor out for particular accolade – each song matched their style, each scene matched their character, each laugh and each sigh was earned.


Please join this troupe, this band of friends, at their reunion and prepare to tap your toes and reminisce and glimpse behind the aprons of our past.

Seen: Friday, 1st November at Chapter Arts

Access in the Arts. Are things are getting better or worse?

Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”

After the publication of the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all” we interviewed a range of arts professionals in November 2018 to discuss the intentions of Arts Council Wales and suggest ways that their ambitions may be best realised.

A year one from this article we spent time broadly discussing the aims of the Corporate Plan and what change (if any) has occurred in the sector. The questions we asked elicited a personal response from everyone involved. We are publishing our first response below from X who has requested that we publish their response anonymously.

Hi X Can you tell us about yourself please?

Sure, I’m a performer, facilitator, theatre maker and all round professional idiot based in South Wales.

What was your personal pathway into the arts?

 Quite roundabout really! I’m from quite a privileged background and going in to the arts was considered “a waste” and the best way to end up unemployed and homeless, in my parents view. I received a lot of threats from them over the years about what would happen if I pursued it and was heavily pressured to attend a “good” University, which I dutifully did – St Andrews in Scotland. However through a combination of undiagnosed (at the time) mental health issues, lack of support network and the 2008 financial crisis I ended up unemployed and homeless anyway. So it sort of seemed silly to let worries about that stop me pursuing a career I wanted. Once I was back in a more stable living situation I took out a career development loan and went back to uni in 2013. And to give my parents their due they did assist in the paying back of said loan once I graduated.

Do you think your class; gender or ethnic background has impacted on your education or career?

 Massively. Firstly it was a barrier, which is weird when I think about it now. The arts is almost solely the playground of the middle/upper class so for there to have been a social stigma around pursuing it from the very middle/upper class background I had seems odd. For the record I went to private school in Edinburgh, almost entirely white etc etc. However I absolutely wouldn’t be in the position of where I am now where it not for my colour and class – I’m very aware of the fact that overcoming the hurdles presented by my period of homelessness (complete with arrest and criminal record as the whole thing coincided with one of many mental health breakdowns I’ve had, this being the first and the one that led to me getting a formal diagnosis) is down to my privileged background. My colour kept the charges and sentence from being too serious and my parents wealth allowed for a decent lawyer and eventually for me to easily re-enter formal education without accumulating a large debt. Basically although I have faced pretty large barriers I’d be an idiot if I didn’t also acknowledge they’d be a hell of a lot worse were it not for the fact I come from a nice comfortable rich white family. It’s just a shame none of that makes you a particularly nice person.

What have you found to be your personal barriers to accessing the arts and being able to develop a sustainable career? Is a sustainable career even possible?

My age, weirdly enough. Lots of schemes and things for newer artists are aimed at those under 25 (or at a push under 30). I’m 34 and was 28/29 when I graduated so by the time I’d found my footing professionally and started to accumulate experience to qualify I was too old for a lot of things! I mean the obvious one is my mental health, which crops up in all sorts of ways. As you’re freelance you have to stay on top of opportunities and time consuming forms, and I struggle with focus a lot so a form that might take a neurotypical person a day could easily take me a week. Then there’s the lack of any sort of confidence in myself that requires friends to read over forms for me and to reassure to its OK to send and I don’t sound strange, or weird, or crazy, or stupid. I guarantee that my responses to this will have been read over by several people before I send them to you even though I’m just writing about my own experience! It’s not exclusive to the arts but the lack of support as a freelancer is kinda hard. One barrier I come up against loads is information not being easy to find or clear: application deadlines (one application I did recently didn’t have the deadline anywhere online, google brought up ones from last year as the site hadn’t been updated, even employees got it wrong when I phone and asked), even questions and criteria (why ACW ever thought an application to look at an application form was a good idea I don’t know). Basically what I’m getting at is with any sort of mental health illness or disability every day tasks are already pretty overwhelming and tiring. Make your application as pain free as possible and information applicants need easy to find and clear. Be so upfront and clear, more than you might think you need to be. So many companies don’t even use contracts when working with freelancers, not even bothering to set out expectations of the role you’re doing and what you can expect from them in terms of support.

Man it really feels like I’m just listing every day annoyances and I suppose they are. But I guess that’s the point, these things are an irritant but or someone with my type of access issues they can be insurmountable. Even a phone call can take a whole day of build up, support and coaching. So do your best to make sure as few of these sorts of things are in the way. While I’m here, and this is from my days training to help long term unemployed people back in to work, I may as well mention that the more specific your person specification role the better, people can literally just work their way down and say how they fit each section, which helps with structuring cover letters and so on. The most accessible and person friendly job advert is one that asks for a CV and cover letter with clear person specification, in my opinion. Your person spec is your companies order, my CV is the whole shop and my cover letter is the sales assistant showing you how I stock exactly what you’re looking for. So the clearer your needs the better!

Do you feel comfortable within your personal arts environment or is the different class, gender, ethnic background or privilege of colleagues something that impacts on you?

Honestly I constantly feel like an outsider and like I don’t belong. I’m also very aware that’s a common symptom of BPD regardless of working environment but it’s one of the many buggers of mental illness that being aware of a thing as having come from it doesn’t stop you intensely feeling the thing.

Are things are getting better or worse?

In the arts or in general? In the arts I think it varies from company to company. Some companies are very understanding and adaptive and will offer things like Skype interviews for people with difficulty travelling etc. But then Welsh arts as a whole also knows really well how to seem austere and close ranks when it wants to.

On a personal level and in general I’d say getting worse. It’s been ten years since I received a formal diagnosis for an illness that kills 1 in 10 people that have it. There was little support offered to begin with and what little was there has been withdrawn and whittled away as time goes on. They’re currently referring mental health patients to the drug and alcohol services in the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, as they have free counsellors and don’t turn people away. I received a secondary diagnosis of PTSD at the start of the year but because it’s not from military service I don’t currently qualify for support under the NHS. I personally can’t think of many life threatening illnesses that are just left to get worse over time and people left without treatment but in the case of severe mental health disorders we do. It’s hard to remain cheerful or hopeful about that. And considering the great big Brexit Elephant in the room it’s hard to see it getting better any time soon.

In the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all” there are a series of Commitments which they aim to realise by 2023. Commitment 2 states; “We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.”

Do you think the key areas above will be delivered and why?

It certainly seems like a positive change. They seem open to listening and have made real, genuine efforts to change, which is often the hardest step. It won’t be right first time but an arts council that is open to listening and agile enough to be reactive and make changes as needed, even if it means things next year look different to this year. Part of being reactive also means having new, radical staff and life coming in to their building regularly. The world changes so fast and so often I don’t think any position should be for longer than a few years, let alone more than a decade. They expect us as artists to respond to and integrate the world in to our work, I think we can expect the same from them.

How do you think ACW would be able to best realise their intentions?

A kinder, more welcoming application process and corporate headquarters. They want to meet with artists before they apply so make them feel welcome in the space and by the people they meet. Technically we’re all artists and capable of great things and as residents of Wales we all technically qualify for ACW funding. It’s their job to make hard decisions on a case by case basis, not create an application and corporate structure that makes people question their value as artists in the first place. Everyone’s a bloody artist, making art is a beautiful, soulful and human experience. ACW should be facilitating that ethos.  Let’s face it whatever your access barriers (gender, sexual identity, race, disability) you’ve probably had a bad time of it with traditional corporate structures and attitudes. So why any group that wants to be more welcoming, especially in the arts, would want to mimic this set up is beyond me.

From your personal lived experience what needs to change?

A friendlier face, if people are made to feel like they don’t belong from the moment they make contact, even if its done with the best of intentions of ensuring only “serious” applicants access public money, they usually just won’t engage. Which means plenty of people who should get support and funding don’t. A clearer application process that also allows people to feel like it’s ok to get it wrong and ask questions also helps, previously it felt like there was a lot of assumed knowledge and had you not access to that knowledge then you weren’t a serious artist and remained an outsider.