Category Archives: Musical

Review Son of a Preacher Man, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

There’s something about the musical as a concept, as an art form, as a melodic thrill ride through convoluted plot and high emotion, that hits me where I live. I have an infamously high tolerance for even the most tentative and trite examples of the form. In the case of Son of Preacher Man, however, my tolerance – and my patience – started to wear thin as the story grew more and more bizarre with every poorly-placed number.

Its first offence of many is that it is a jukebox musical, which are notoriously more miss than hit. This is because the very nature of the jukebox musical – think Mamma Mia! – requires the songs to be wrenched, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of a cohesive narrative. Unfortunately, cohesion is not this production’s strong suit. Neither is narrative. So how, you may ask, does a show get a Dusty Springfield jukebox musical so wrong?

Directed and choreographed by Strictly’s Craig Revel-Horwood, the show starts back in the swinging ‘60s. Apparently the place to be back then was a thriving record shop in Soho, London, run by a guy known only as the Preacher Man. The Preacher Man, as his name suggests, was a semi-spiritual figure, someone who could solve any problem as easily as recommending the perfect EP. Flash forward to the modern day, and we see three troubled people with personal or familial connections to the Preacher Man’s shop who travel to that mythic place for a sense of closure, and solutions to their problems. They strike up an unlikely inter-generational friendship, and subsequently meet the son of the Preacher Man (see what they did there?) who regretfully informs them that his father has passed away; in his absence, the record shop has been – gasp – converted into a chain coffee shop. With the Preacher Man gone, the three strangers turn to his son to solve their divergent dilemmas.

The show’s major failing is a deeply fundamental one: despite being sung well across the board, the songs don’t add anything to the narrative, and vice versa.  The songs should be there to express the depth and nuance of our characters’ emotions, thoughts, and the story as a whole. But the narrative gives the songs no meaning; in fact, the music is often trivialised and hollowed out by their purposeless placement.  A jukebox musical already has to work hard to retrospectively craft a believable narrative around a discography that shoehorns in as many hits per minute as possible. But Son of a Preacher Man’s clumsy inclusion of Dusty’s timeless classics is particularly obvious in its desire to shove in as many Springfield’s songs as possible, narrative relevance be damned – and the show suffers for it.

Take for example Alice Barlow’s Kat, one of our main trio, who holds the dubious honour of possessing the least interesting, and perhaps most unsympathetic, storyline of the lot. Kat falls madly in love with the picture of a random guy on the internet she’s never met and who, incidentally, swiped left on her profile. It’s safe to say, then, he’s just not that into her – but Kat feels she is one Dusty Springfield serenade away from eternally winning his heart. She dreams of seducing the Tinder Guy (other dating apps are available), which we learn through her well-sung rendition of ‘I Only Want to Be with You’, never mind the lyrics of the song require the singer to have actually met the objection of their affections. The song’s inclusion in the show is rendered meaningless, because it does not resonate with Kat’s situation, giving the show a roughshod, random quality. One of the few exceptions to the otherwise purposeless song placement is a moving  rendition of ‘A House is not a Home’, through which the characters reminisce about the loss in their lives. It showcases the full force of the ensemble at its best; unfortunate, then, that most of the time, the nonsensical, strange and awkward plotting often diminished the power of the songs and the performances of them.

From the nonsensical to the uncomfortable: Michelle Gayle, the strongest singer of the ensemble, is saddled with the unfortunate task of portraying a widowed teacher who is passionately in love with one of her pupils. ‘He’s legal, I swear!’ Gayle’s Alison proclaims to the audience, as if that would make us feel less icky about a teacher/ student love affair (spoiler: it doesn’t). Though the relationship has progressed no further than a few longing glances from across a classroom (ew), it is so profoundly uncomfortable to watch unfold that I found myself cringing at every moment of this astoundingly misjudged storyline. It’s to Gayle’s credit that she manages to make the character realistic and sympathetic, but the problematic plot ultimately proves too much to overcome.

It all works out in the end, of course, because there’s a convenient – and age appropriate – love interest just waiting in the wings for lovesick Alison, a twist I guessed approximately ten minutes into the show. I mean, *someone* has to sing the titular song to the son of a Preacher Man, so by all rights it should be sung by Alison, his endgame love interest. It was RIGHT THERE. Only it’s not. The song is in fact led by Kat of all people, whose surprise inheritance restores the Preacher Man’s record shop back to its vintage glory. The fact that Kat sings a song about a sexual awakening to her sort of adopted father figure makes for yet another uncomfortable viewing experience, and I was even more glad when the rest of the ensemble joined in on the chorus.

Michael Howe’s Paul has the best storyline of the three leads by far, and it was wonderful to see an LGBTQ+ love story take centre stage in a mainstream musical such as this. During his youth, Paul fell in love with young man he met at the Preacher Man’s record shop. The relationship lasted a summer before they went their separate ways, and now Paul wants to rekindle the romance they started all those decades ago. In a hauntingly beautiful scene, Paul sings ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’ as his younger self and his past love dance together. And because I’ve got to get me doubles research in wherever I can, it was a lovely touch to have the older Paul mirror some of the movements of his younger self during the dance as he relives the memory.

Nigel Richards’ put-upon Preacher Man proxy is the most consistently entertaining of the bunch; as Simon, he channels Lee Evans as a harried, hapless everyman who bears the burden of being a ‘60s saint’s scion. Simon’s kooky coffee-shop staff are an odd mix of coffee baristas and metaphysical Muses, if you can believe it. for these ladies, Coyote Ugly isn’t just a movie: it’s a state of mind.

The rest of the ensemble perform with admirable stamina and style, though at times they exaggerate to near-parodic levels. Revel-Horwood’s choreography is enjoyable but rarely inventive – except for the aforementioned spectacular dance between Paul and his past love – and some sequences felt entirely inconsequential or arbitrary. The way in which Kat, aided by the Coyote Ugly baristas, stages her seduction of the Tinder Guy is awkward to the point of embarrassing – and, had the genders been reversed, probably would have resulted in a lawsuit.

The set, designed by Morgan Large, effectively evokes a pop-up book, the walls opening up to a surprisingly adaptable set that smoothly switches between the decades as needed. The live music was wonderful, and the intermittent appearance of musicians (who also doubled as cast members in the show) onstage with the other actors was a really lovely, inventive touch.

Son of a Preacher Man is a strange, shaky and not entirely successful show. Occasionally, it soars; but mostly, its ramshackle, roughshod approach to narrativizing Dusty’s discography reveals how deeply its flaws run. The enthusiastic ensemble alone makes it an enjoyable night out at the theatre, and sang with passion and aplomb, but the production’s problems proved to be insurmountable. Dusty’s damn-near indestructible songs are really put through the ringer in this wildly miscalculated and uncomfortably odd example of a jukebox musical that I wouldn’t care to put another quarter in.

Review: Titanic The Musical by Patrick Downes

At first sight, and if you didn’t know any better, the idea of Titanic The Musical might sound a little off-key. The most tragic maritime event in history being told through the medium of song? Well, that’s what I thought but then I did a little digging (thank you Mr Google) to find this musical is not what you first think. It’s nothing to do with any Celine Dion song (thankfully, my heart can go on), nor Jack and Rose, but at its heart it tells the story of a ship and the three classes of people that boarded, each with their own hopes, dreams and reasons for wanting to go to America.

There are four couples the story highlights, one from each class – first, second, third, plus another couple who were first and are now second, together with the hierarchy that was the captain and crew. Sometimes in review it’s easy to avoid the ending, for obvious reasons on this occasion you should know already. If not, google it.

This musical though is something special, having won five Tony awards in 1997 including best musical, it’s the kind of musical that’s seemingly rare these days in terms of how it’s written and performed. It feels like a classical musical opera, and I think for some people, this might be a little bit of a stumbling block. But if you stick with it, it has the power to move you in ways you don’t really expect.

The sound that filled the auditorium is immense, not just the voices, but everything. The orchestration, and the general feel of the piece. Act one is all about introducing each character and their place on Titanic, this takes us to the end of act one and the iceberg. The first half of act two is then a frantic nonstop piece as the ship slowly succumbs to the Atlantic.

There aren’t any star names in this musical, not that I realised anyway, but that just means the entire cast are the star of this musical. They tell the story with heart, compassion and an amazing all-round performance.

Whatever version you know of Titanic, be it the James Cameron film, or the ITV miniseries, it all comes down to a story of humanity, and how people can be flawed, and how some love stories don’t have happy endings.

Officialpoptart Score: 8/10

You can see Titanic The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre till May 5th 2018 and it continues around the UK afterwards

Review: Patrick Downes

FAT FRIENDS THE MUSICAL

(4 / 5)

Fat Friends The Musical brings fun, laughter, hopes, dreams and a range of talented voices to the stage of the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

Originally written for the small screen, Fat Friends effortlessly transfers to a stage musical with a timeless story of love and romance, centered around the all consuming trials and tribulations of diet goals, body image and the search for true love.

Created by the talented Kay Mellor, the characters of Kelly, Kevin, Betty, Fergus, Lauren, Val, Paul and Alan are brought to life once more and this time with song.

All Mellor’s characters are larger than life in every way and the hilarious story-line is both engaging and true to life. Far too often people put their lives on hold whilst they try to achieve their goals in dealing with weight and body image. Mellor shows us that this is a fruitless exercise and that life is for the living and quite often what you seek is indeed right under your nose, you just have to open your eyes and look.

Nick Lloyd Webber’s original music score partnered with Mellor’s lyrics give the characters voices to match the entertaining story-line. The powerful vocal performances add to the larger than life characters feel so familiar.

Jodie Prenger gives a credible performance as Kelly and her energy on stage is breathtaking. Kelly’s intervention in her mother’s television interview is the funniest thing I think I have ever seen. All the things we would like to say and do but society and convention prevent us. “Let it go!” However, be aware there are always consequences as Kelly discovers.

Sam Bailey plays Kelly’s mother, Betty, a seasoned dieter and a long standing member of the slimming club. She is married to Fergus and is very much the mother figure of the group taking Alan in hand over his diet whilst his wife is away.

There is also a hillarious fantasy scene which brought the house down. Feel assured that this really is a musical where you felt that the cast are enjoying the experience as much as the audience.

Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell are delightful as they portray Slimming Club leader, Lauren and Vicar, Paul. It is hard to watch as they struggle to overcome their lack of confidence, self-esteem and awkwardness. Their duets are wonderful and their chemistry believable, nevertheless you can feel the audience willing them to take the next step forward without looking back despite their social and cultural differences.

The Set and Costume Design is by the awarding winning designer, Bretta Gerecke and is outstanding. Centered around a row of buildings the exterior and interior of the dress shop is realistic and charming. Nick Richings lighting design is a triumph both with the neon foreground on the buildings but also bringing them to life. The clever use of the lighting in the background on the sky-line added atmosphere for both day and night.

The whole cast, including the talented ensemble of wonderful voices, gave a high impact, fast moving and hillarious night.

During the closing number ‘Love who you are’ it didn’t take much encouragement from the cast to raise the audience to their feet to join them in celebrating this triumph of a musical.

This is a musical to see in the company of friends, large or small, young or old, married or single. You will enjoy a entertaining time packed with fun and laughter, a guaranteed night to remember.

Review: Shrek The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Imagine for a moment you’re back in 2001 and the only kind of computer animated films were Disney’s. They’re good but once you get past the age of 12, there seemed to be a gap in the market. That gap was filled by Dreamworks and Shrek which gave enough simple plot and humour plus additional jokes that adults would get, you have the starting of what I witnessed tonight in Wales Millennium Centre – Shrek The Musical.

Returning to Wales Millennium Centre on the latest UK tour bringing Donkey, Lord Farquaad, Princess Fiona, Pinocchio and a cavalcade of fairytale characters together with the main man himself Shrek – played by Michael Carolan. If you’re not sure of the story of Shrek – well, spoiler alert – they live happily ever after, but getting there is a rollercoaster buddy movie type comedic spectacular.

If the original Shrek had references to other cartoons, well, Shrek the musical has references to other musicals – you might just spot a Wicked reference, a Lion King bit, and Cabaret all receive some mention in passing.

The music and staging is amazing, and before those reading that previous line mock in saying “it’s no Les Misérables is it”, well, it’s not meant to be. It’s the perfect musical for children from eight to eighty. A great introduction into the world of the musical, and a fab night out for all the family.

Special mention to Samuel Holmes (Lord Farquaad) who as the baddie of the piece pretty much stole each scene he was in – wonder how the knees will cope for the rest of the run though. Laura Main as Fiona had the right balance of comedy timing and exceptional vocals, as did Michael Carolan who played Shrek at the performance I saw. Joseph Dockree as Pinocchio was another performer who seemed to steal each scene he was in – yes, he is a real boy!

For a few hours you’ll transferred to a land far far away, wonder if you know the muffin man, and in the morning, you’ll be making waffles.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/shrek2018/

Review: Frozen The Musical NYC 28th Feb 2018 by Patrick Downes

Another musical my girlfriend and I saw whilst in New York recently. Bear in mind, we saw the preview so by the time it opened a couple of weeks back, much may have changed.

Some trivia for you, Elsa is the first Disney princess to be crowned Queen20180409_220255366_iOS, it’s been translated into 41 different languages, plus Walt Disney wanted to produce a cartoon based on the Snow Queen for over 70 years. These are just some facts behind the highest grossing animated film of all time, which has now become a musical in its own right.

As I started this review, we saw the preview, but I can’t see much changing as what we saw was epic.

If you’ve not seen Frozen (seriously?) here’s a basic plot; Fearless optimist Anna teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven and sets off on an epic journey to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. The rest, well, go watch it on DVD.

St James Theatre is steeped in Broadway history, just recently it was 75 years since Oklahoma was first premiered there, and now another piece of Broadway history is being made with Disney’s Frozen playing out to packed houses each night.

Having watching the film once or twice (maybe more), the first half of the performance seemed to use all the songs – I couldn’t remember what songs were supposed to be in what place, but ending on Let it Go is definitely a show stopper into the interval.

There are several new songs for this production, and they help flesh out the story. True Love and What do you know about love will certainly stay with me, as will Hygge which opens act two. My only slight disappointment, is not being able to have a cast recording – needless to say, it’s being released in June 2018!

Caissie Levy plays Elsa, and Patti Murin, Anna. Both are extremely talented performers and will certainly leave you with goosebumps during certain sections. Olaf is played Greg Hildreth, and it might be a little unfair to say, but he’s so much like Josh Gad in his performance and vocals. You can close your eyes and think it him. Young Anna & Elsa were played by Mattea Conforti and Ayla Schwartz the performance we saw, and let’s just say I believe they’ll will be names to watch for in coming years.

The ensemble, the effects, and the orchestra all played a part in bringing the most beloved in car karaoke soundtracks of recent years to life, and then some. Like I saw previous, the only thing that I’m disappointed about was not having the cast recording, so for now I’ll have to make do with youtube clips – suppose in terms of a soundtrack, it’s a little bit of a fixer upper….

There is talk of it coming to London, but not for a little while – so in the meantime, get a flight to NYC, walk around Central Park, go see Starry Night at MOMA, and most important of all, believe in true love and spend an evening with the fair folk of Arendelle. Hold onto your ticket as you won’t want to lose it…or let it go.

REVIEW: Patrick Downes

Review: Waitress Musical #NYC 2nd March 2018 by Patrick Downes

IMG_5243So whilst in NYC for a few days myself and my girlfriend went to see Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The main reason for this being the theatre was 50 metres away from our hotel (honesty being the best policy I believe). That aside, it also had an extra bonus in that Sara Bareilles – the composer & lyricist was appearing as Jenna.

If you don’t know much about Waitress, it was a quirky little film from 2007, written by the late  Adrienne Shelly and starred Keri Russell in the lead role. It was bought by Fox Searchlight pictures for about $6 million, and went on to make $16 million, winning plaudits along the way.

It tells the story of a young woman trapped in a little town, a loveless marriage and a dead-end job as a waitress, who falls into the next trap of an unwanted pregnancy. Escape beckons when she falls in love with her gynaecologist, but he hesitates to leave his practice and his wife.

Staging wise it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. There’s not the effects like Wicked, or Frozen, but in its own way, the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a small venue and that adds to the cosiness of the musical. It’s a little piece of small town USA in the big city.

Musically, it feels right – with lyrics written and performed by Sara Bareilles. It has a country contemporary feel that oozes emotion with each note. Till seeing it, I’d not heard any of the score, but once was enough and it left me wanting more – so much so, upon arriving back in the UK I bought the original cast album and Sara’s album of songs from the musical.

As a lead character, Sara Bareilles is able to inhabit the role quite well – considering she wrote the music and lyrics – there were moments that left me speechless – “She used to be mine” certainly has left a lasting impression.

NaTasha Yvette Williams as Becky (a role once taken by Keala Settle – her that now is part of The Greatest Showman), together with Caitlin Houlahan as Dawn provide the perfect harmony and backing to the main story, and both excel with their own story arcs.

Drew Gehling as Dr Pomatter plays Jenna’s love interest with brilliant comic timing, as does Christopher Fitzgerald as Ogie for Dawn. His “Never ever getting rid of me” performance ranks as one of my favourite musical theatre moments – ever!

My one slight problem with the production lays in the fact, will it transfer across the pond to the UK? The musical style is intrinsically American country – so would audiences in the UK buy into it? I don’t see why it shouldn’t work – Leann Rimes, Shania Twain, and Taylor Swift are all country music based – and they’ve done quite well over here.

I hope it does, because I’d say you need to see it. If you’re a fan of Sara Bareilles, the film Waitress, or a beautifully written musical that will send you away with a song in your heart, and the taste of pie in your belly, this is for you.

REVIEW: Patrick Downes

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Sharing Positive Action to support Access, Inclusion and Diversity

In this article we interview a range of arts professionals to share good practice in the areas of Access, Inclusion and Diversity.

Meredydd Barker 

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I’m a playwright, artistic director of Narberth Youth Theatre and the west Wales rep for Youth Arts Network Cymru – YANC

 Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

It begins with the young. Youth Arts Network Cymru – YANC – is doing tremendous work in this regard in the hope that as the young people involved grow older and, perhaps, make a career in the arts, best practice can spread through the industry . Then, one day, access, inclusion and diversity will not be issues that have to be continually addressed. They won’t be issues at all.

Helena Davies

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi, I’m Helena Davies, and I’m a linguist with a background in Technical Translation and English as a Foreign Language. I have a BA in Italian and Spanish, an MA in Literary Translation and I am currently preparing for my Welsh Mynediad exam in June. I moved to Cardiff from London last year, and over the last couple of months, I have been training to become a Captioner, working on producing film and TV subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. I recently received audio description training from Dr Louise Fryer, BBC Radio 3 Presenter and Audio Describer, and Anne Hornsby of Mind’s Eye, both pioneers in UK audio description. I am now looking to establish a career in Captioning and Audio Description. I dance samba de gafieira and samba funkeado, and am passionate about media and arts accessibility.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

With a strong interest in dance and accessibility, I was delighted to be invited by Carole Blade, Creative Producer for Dance in Wales, to attend a three-day audio description training course based on the Family Dance Festival at Chapter Arts Centre. Over an intense three days, we learnt how best to audio describe dance, which is considered to be one of the hardest mediums to describe. We all concurred that “Drifter” by Jukebox Collective, featuring the talented Kate Morris, was by far the trickiest to describe. The Family Dance Festival is presented by Bombastic and Coreo Cymru, and features four short audio described dance performances in Welsh and English, with accompanying touch tours. It is a great initiative and exciting to see dance being opened up to all. The Family Dance Festival is running from 24 March to 14 April 2018

Elise Davison

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I’m the co founder and Artistic Director of Taking Flight Theatre Company, the company I co founded with Beth House in 2008. Before this I was an actress for 10 years, a teacher, a presenter and a facilitator. Taking Flight is an inclusive company originally set up to break down the barriers, or perceived barriers to participation in the arts. We have been integrating access tools into our work for a long time now and act as creative access consultant for many other theatres companies. We have produced over 17 tours of Wales, run many residencies and trained many facilitators in our 10 years. We have recently become a disability led organisation, as over half of our Board of Directors identify as disabled, and this is really important to us.

Currently we are touring our inclusive family show You’ve got Dragons which gently raised the issues of Mental Wellbeing in young people and accompany this with free resilience building ‘Dragon Taming’ workshops which have been created in collaboration with clinical psychologists. This is touring the whole of the UK and is a really exciting development for the company. It’s been great to find so many theatres in England keen to programme inclusive work. We are a company that seeks to nurture the next generation of theatre makers, we have taken risks with casting, with our creative access, with our marketing materials. As creatives we take risks with everything else we do so we need to be prepared to do so with regards to diversity and access. It’s great to see some of our former employees ‘take flight’ and set up on their own e.g. Sami Thorpe and Chloe Clarke of Elbow Room and we continue to wish them every success on their new adventures. TF offer support and advice when we can and do everything within our power to ensure we make our work and our process as accessible as possible. We make mistakes, we often get it wrong and we continue to learn and to develop our work and we love to collaborate…many heads are better than one!

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

Fio – Abdul is doing so much to raise the issues around the lack of diversity in Wales and is producing some cracking work. We hope to work more closely with Fio in the future.

Mess up the Mess – a ‘quietly inclusive’ company that really nurture the young people they work with creating strong, independent theatre makers with excellent ideas about access. Can’t wait to work with them again – we continue to learn from them.

Hijinx Theatre – producing excellent touring work and taking the international scene by storm, this company is changing the attitude towards in inclusive work featuring learning disabled actors. Meet Fred continues to tour across the world and the next show The Flop is sure to be another success. Additionally the academies which are now running pan Wales are a real example of the kind of training that we need to have in place to nurture the next generation of learning disabled performers. We would love to have the capacity to run an ongoing training forum for D/deaf/HOH and disabled performers and are in conversations with a number of organisations about this.

Ramps on the Moon – an amazing initiative in England which is placing disabled performers and accessible productions on main stages and in producing houses across the UK.

Stopgap Dance – they have been so generous to us over the last year, giving us advice and putting us in touch with like minded organisations and really are the leading lights in inclusive dance. Love their work. www.stopgapdance.com

WMC – Jenny Sturt is making massive changes and embracing access and inclusion in a huge way. Her drive and passions is infectious!

Yvonne Murphy – has produced some excellent all female work and is enthusiastic and determined to challenge any inequality which may lead to people being excluded from the arts.

Bath Spa and The Atrium – I’ve worked with both these organisations as a creative access consultant and have worked to integrate a BSL interpreter ( the wonderful Julie Doyle and Tony Evans) into their shows and to integrate audio description. It’s great that the Universities that are training the next generation of actors feel so strongly about making accessible work. The students have loved the process and have been inspired to think more creatively about access as a result. Long may it continue!

Creu Cymru and hynt – Still doing fab work with venues via the hynt card scheme. It’s also been great to host our 4th access symposium Wales – a diverse nation? at Theatr Clywd with Creu Cymru in Feb, such a great bunch of people attended and so many ideas were generated and will hopefully start to be put into play. As a result we are hosting free access meeting – practical access solutions at WMC once a month and the first one sold out in 12hrs! So there is obviously a want to be more diverse and a desire to be part of the conversation, we all just need to be a tiny bit braver and not worry so much about getting it wrong!

Ucan go! app – also needs a mention here – an app to help orientate blind or partially sighted visitors at theatres, it’s so great it would be wonderful to see more venues investing in this.

Adeola Dewis

Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

My name is Adeola and I am an artist and researcher working across visual arts and performance. My practice engages conceptual, performative and aesthetic notions on Carnival, ritual, folk and emancipatory performances.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I highlight Carnival as an area that exemplifies good practice in terms of inclusion, diversity and access.

Jacob Gough

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

My name is Jacob Gough, I’m Production Manager for National Theatre Wales, which in a nutshell involves the logistical planning for productions.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I would like to highlight the amazing work of companies that don’t just champion but incorporate access into their shows; companies like Taking Flight, UCAN Arts, Hijinx, Llanarth Group and artists like Jonny Cotsen amongst others. Companies and artists are doing a lot more work now to provide captioning, BSL and audio-described performances, which is great to see. Access forums are a fantastic mechanism to help organisations and artists share knowledge and learning, and a lot of new technologies are being developed that help accessibility; all of which helps develop this all-important feature of the arts.

Jafar Iqbal

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I’m a freelance artist and arts critic. I’ve written for publications such as The Stage, WhatsOnStage and Wales Arts Review, as well as regional and online publications over the course of my career. I’m also a scriptwriter and storyteller.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I’d like to raise awareness about Where I’m Coming From, a monthly Open Mic event hosted by writers Durre Shahwar and Hanan Issa. Currently at the Tramshed in Cardiff every month, the spoken word event is aimed predominantly at the BAME population. Going to one of these events is an enlightening experience, as its attended by people who you usually wouldn’t see at other such events. It’s become a safe space for writers to express themselves in a welcoming environment and, for many of these people, the first time they’ve ever shared their creativity to an audience. A fantastic event.

Rachel Pedley Miller

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I run Avant Cymru. At Avant we aim to be acceptable creating work with audiences and delivering projects that are accessible to many individuals. In the past we have used apps such as swipe to caption our performances and we have worked in venues which are acceptable to those with mobility issues. We work with the community into raise our awareness of the needs. We also look to highlight a range of needs especially through our continual drama Rhondda Road, which is directed by Shane Anderson. Rhondda Road will be starting again in May 2019 and we would love to have a character in the show who would want to raise further awareness of the difficulties people who have a disability have accessing the arts. As a dyslexic person living with a chronic illness, I refuse to let my conditions prevent me from trying new things and will always work with audience and cast members to make the shows as accessible as possible. To date Avant have not produced one show without BAME cast members, we have also employed LBGT cast members on various projects. This has not been something that we have shouted about as we have seen our staff as the best people for the job, the fact that they identify as disabled, LBGT, disabled or from a BAME background is for them. We just see everyone that is hired as the best person for their role and we are proud that we see diverse people as equals.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I think that it is important to look at each project, Consider if it is relevant to 2018. What I mean is if there is a pre-written script is it possible to make it appealing or relevant to audiences now. Because if it isn’t then Avant are not interested in producing that show.
When we have established a compelling idea we look to hire someone who has the correct skills, energy and enthusiasm to create the work. Looking for a cast member who can ply the role with the right drive, rather than worrying if they can tick a diversity box. Seeing each individual on their own merit and supporting them to make a career in the arts, or to participate in the arts should be considered on a person by person basis and implementing various tools to make work and audience opportunities accessible to all should be considered. We always evaluate after each show, so far our audiences have been happy that they have been able to access Avants work. We need to keep evolving to have more tools in place so we are able to cater for different individuals.

Yvonne Murphy

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I run Omidaze Productions. I set it up back in 2008 specifically to use drama and theatre to shake stuff up, entertain new audiences and inspire change. We make politically grounded theatre, run workshops in schools and produce annual Summer Schools for young people which give full scholarship places to those for whom economics make the arts harder to reach. Our first production and tour (Things Beginning With M) examined how women learn from each other about everything from Motherhood to the Menopause, Miscarriages, Menstruation, Masturbation, Men, Money, Marriage, Mysogyny, Media Images and Maturity. Everthing begins with M!

I am really interested in smashing down boundaries between different art forms and exploring the difference between for example a visual art installation and set design or dance and movement/physical theatre. I love to smash the fourth wall and explore how audiences behave when you break the rules, or even have none at all. I like theatre to break beyond the confines of the designated space and like using unusual public spaces to entice and spark curiousity in those who might not otherwise enter a theatre.

I use visual artists, stand-up comedians, circus choreograhers and aerialists and movement directors to help me discover what will entice new audiences into the theatre and allow text to become relevant, accessible and visceral.

I created, directed and produced the Shakespeare Trilogy (co-productions with the Wales Millennium Centre) which consisted of two all-female productions immersive site specific productions in the WMC roof void (Richard III 2015 & Henry VI 2016) a ‘gateway’ Shakespeare production which strived to reach younger audiences and used a BAME strong and gender balanced cast.

I am deeply concerned by the inequality within our society and within the theatre industry where we tell and share our stories which help us to connect and make sense of our world and what it is to be human. I therefore strive to make work which challenges myself and the status quo and attempt to raise awareness of that deeply ingrained inequality, issues of social injustice, conflict and stuff which I believe needs to shift and change through my work.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

The Young Vic did some good work on how we should think and act differently as cultural organisations when recruiting. Where and how we recruit for positions at all levels is key. Recruitment processes could be so much more creative and reach people from different sectors and walks of life. They have walked the talk with the recruitment of their new Artistic Director, Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Taking Flight have taught me so much about inclusivity in theatre and I would love to see the day when they no longer need to call themselves an inclusive theatre company because EVERY theatre company should be an inclusive theatre company.

The Clore Leadership Programme gave me phenomenal training in so many areas including governance and is striving to change the face of cultural leadership within the UK and make it more equally representative. It made me realise how key governance is and if the board of an organisation is not leading the way in challenging systemic inequality then the organisation most likely won’t be either. Any board which is truly diverse and ensures that trustees step down after a set period of 5-6 years is good practice.

Kaite O’Reilly

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi of course, please find some information on myself below,

Kaite O’Reilly is an award winning Playwright who works both in the so-called mainstream and disability arts and culture. Awarded the Peggy Ramsay award & Ted Hughes award for new works in poetry for ‘Persians’ with National Theatre Wales (NTW). A leading figure in disability arts and culture internationally, she received three Cultural Olympiad commissions and her Unlimited commission production with NTW of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ was part of the official festival celebrating the 2012 London olympics/Paralympic and created an important political and cultural precedent – the first production written from a disability perspective with an all Deaf and disabled cast performing on such a high profile national platform. She is currently touring ‘Richard iii redux’ – reclaiming Richard iii as a disabled icon and her 2018 Unlimited international commission ‘and suddenly I disappear – the Singapore ‘d’ monologues’ premieres in Singapore in May and comes to U.K. to tour in September. Her acclaimed collected ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’ are published by Oberon. She is patron of Disability Arts Cymru and DaDaFest and publishes widely about diversity, inclusion and disability.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I think it’s about changing the whole way performance is made, how, about, and with whom, it’s the content and material as much as including innovative use of the aesthetics of access. Theatre is supposed to be the study of what it is to be human and yet it still has a very narrow perspective – we need to broaden this in the stories we tell, the protagonists we create and the theatre languages we use (integrated Sign interpretation, captioning, audio description, etc).

I have written widely about what I call ‘alternative dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’ when AHRC creative fellow 2003-06 and 2010-2017 when fellow at International Research Centre in Berlin. We could be far more inventive – and work, like mine, had been going on for decades but is still marginalised. We need to make this central . But not just access as add-on – we need disabled and Deaf writers, makers, directors, designers, performers etc and this should be mainstream not ‘inclusive’ for brownie points.

You can read more from Kaite on this subject matter at the links below,

The Necessity of Diverse Voices in Theatre Regarding Disability and Difference

Cripping the Crip—Is It Time to Reclaim Richard III?

Chloe Philips

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I’m Chloë Clarke, a visually impaired actor, director and theatre maker and cofounder of Elbow Room Theatre Company in Cardiff. I have been working as a performer for 8 years and now focus on making my own work, both as an individual and with ERT partner Sami Thorpe, which champions creative access and truthfully representing disabled people within the arts. ERT is committed to producing new writing that does the same while showcasing relevant and cutting edge work.

I also work as an audio description consultant, which means I work with companies, venues and artists to integrate AD into their work through joining their devising and R&D process, or find creative ways to add it to existing work in a way that is inherent to the piece’s unique style.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

The recent discussions and debates surrounding diversity in the arts, within Cardiff and on a global scale through events like the Oscars and the promotion of the inclusion rider, are vital and long overdue. If you’re not from a minority it may not seem relevant, it may in fact feel quite uncomfortable, but we all have a responsibility to ensure that we, as artists, provide fair representation of our society through all facets of our practice, and to date we have fallen worryingly short of this. However, the very fact that these debates are taking place in our industry is a very positive sign. Now it’s time to act.

I, for one, can only speak from my own experience as a female disabled artist. As well as stipulating the need for wider and truer representation of people like me in the arts, I’d also like to highlight the importance of considering access from the outset of any project – namely the writing of a script or the start of R&D wherein a piece is being devised. Once we start committing to this idea across the board the arts will become fairer.

I will always advocate for creative, integrated access rather than ‘traditional’ methods (an attitude that I have encouraged and nurtured within many companies I have worked with over the years to great effect), as this is the best means by which access can become relevant to every audience member and not just those with access requirements. It’s wonderful that the collective consciousness is growing in this regard and that more creatives are becoming aware of the opportunities afforded them by considering access as inherent to their work – we just need more. More awareness, more action, more choice.

We still have quite a way to go to overcome a lot of the barriers faced by audiences, performers and companies, but as long as we talk AND act (and start engaging diverse people in these conversations rather than just listening to white, straight, middle class, non-disabled people talking about what ‘they’ need) the positive changes we’ve started to notice happening will gain momentum.

So, no one shut up! Let’s keep this going and hear from the diverse array of people we actually have in this industry.

Good practice (very generally speaking) is to openly discuss issues surrounding diversity rather than shying away from them because they’re awkward. In more specific terms, Graeae are the obvious UK trailblazers with regard to best practice surrounding access, particularly for d/Deaf audiences and performers. As everyone who works in disability arts knows, nobody ever gets it 100% right all the time, that’s where open dialogue needs to be continual. It never hurts to ask questions.

Gagglebabble really impressed me with their commitment to having a VI consultant involved from the outset on one of their latest of projects and their commitment to auditioning VI performers for at least one role in the show. They have taken a very natural approach to it without any hint of wanting to tick a box, and their high standards can only help to improve general perceptions of what a quietly integrated cast can do.

If all ‘mainstream’ companies could adopt the same attitude – very openly and naturally deferring to those with lived experience to guide them on best practice and having the intention of also representing this on stage, while not making a big song and dance (sorry, couldn’t resist) about it – things would move forward much more smoothly and there would be little need for drum-banging from those of us who are marginalised.

Elena Schmitz,  Head of Programmes at Literature Wales.

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

My name is Elena Schmitz and I am the Head of Programmes at Literature Wales. In this role, I am responsible for the development, effective management and operational delivery of Literature Wales’ varied programmes including high-profile projects in Community Participation; Arts & Health; International Development and Writer Development. So quite a varied role. I am particularly interested in collaboration, co-production, interdisciplinary work and in achieving social change through arts provision.

We have been running many inclusive literature community projects for a number of years, most notably the South Wales Literature Development Initiative (SWLDI) which is now called Lit Reach and has been extended further to areas in North Wales. We are also currently facilitating a number of health and wellbeing projects, including the delivery in Wales of the UK-wide Reading Friends Project, as well as our new Health & Wellbeing Funding Scheme.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I think many arts organisations in Wales are exemplary in this and others can learn a lot from their approaches. Some of them have focused on access, inclusion and diversity for years and this is absolutely part of the raison d’être of the work that they do. For example, Hijinx Theatre is brilliant at co-producing high quality theatre with disabled and non-disabled artists, while Valleys Kids focuses on providing opportunities for disadvantaged families. Head4Arts has worked tirelessly in providing meaningful, empowering arts experiences to the disadvantaged communities of the heads of the valleys. NTW’s TEAM is a great model of widening access for larger arts organisations and allowing for more shared decision-making and wider reach of the organisation’s work. The new BAME community-led Where I’m Coming From collective organises regular literature events in Grangetown in Cardiff, arising from the need for more diversity in the literature sector.

Across the UK there are a number of really inspiring projects. One that I find very powerful is the Fun Palaces initiative, conceived by writer and activist Stella Duffy. At the heart of this growing and influential project lies the believe that everyone is an artist and everyone a scientist, and that creativity in the community can change the world for the better. Fun Palaces is an ongoing campaign for cultural democracy, with an annual weekend of action every October. The campaign promotes culture at the heart of community and community at the heart of culture.

I think the model of co-producing work with (rather than for) communities and shaping things together is increasingly important for all arts organisations. Arts and culture that truly matters and changes minds needs to be shaped by all, not just by an elite minority.

Sami Thorpe

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi, I’m Sami, I work as a performer and also as a qualified British Sign Language/English Interpreter. I am also a cofounder of Elbow Room Theatre Company. I have a longstanding passion for inclusion and accessibility in the Arts ever since training at a unique degree course at the University of Reading; Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I thought it might help to share the dates for the British Sign Language Interpretation for the productions below over the next few months which I am providing.

All But Gone – The Other Room Theatre,  7:30pm (plus post show talk) 05/04/2018 (Thurs)

BSL video info:

Almost Always Muddy – Wales Millennium Centre
11am & 3pm, 08/04/2018 (Sun)

The Girl With Incredibly Long Hair – Wales Millennium Centre
11am & 3pm, 13/04/2018 (Friday)

Fleabag – Wales Millennium Centre
8pm, 27/04/2018 (Friday)

The Effect – The Other Room Theatre
7:30pm, 03/05/2018 (Thursday)

Rhiannon White

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

I’m a Cardiff born, Cardiff based theatre director. I mainly work with my theatre company Common Wealth but I also work on freelance stuff which has ranged from taking a circus to Gaza to making a show on a beach.

I think it was growing up in St.Mellons, Cardiff  that got me into theatre. We didn’t have very much growing up but what we did have is loads of kids to play with. I spent my childhood playing in the street, dressing kids up in my mums old clothes and on plays on in the garden. I think that’s where my DIY spirit came from in those early lessons of making the most of what you’ve got.

My company Common Wealth grew out of those roots – we were a group of people that came together to make theatre. We started with nothing, making shows in large empty buildings, without funding and with the generosity of people who wanted to get involved.

Over the years Common Wealth has grown, we’ve made work in many different places, with incredible groups of people and have worked  on shows in places like Neath, Chicago and Germany.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

Last year I completed a report called  CLASS  ‘The Elephant in the Room’s it was researched, written and performed as part of my Arts Council Wales supported Clore Fellowship (2015 – 2016) and was funded by the Arts Humanities and Research Council. The purpose of CLASS The Elephant in the room is to investigate the inherent social conditions that exist in the creative industries today; social conditions such as social class and geographic location that can influence and determine a career in the arts. It pays attention to the contradictions that play out where class is considered, and how these contradictions continue to reproduce and reinforce class divisions.

It is an auto-ethnographic study that draws from my own personal experience and combines it with interviews with others who share a similar position. It provides a personal testimony on working in a sector that is dominated by white, middle-class, males.

This report was first and foremost delivered as a live performance debate that provides a resource for theatres, artists and institutions to use if they would like to form their own discussions around the themes of diversity and class.

You can access the full report at this link

 

Common Wealth are also starting a Youth Theatre Lab in Cardiff. The aim of this youth theatre is not to play games or train to become an actor (although this might happen too.) The Youth Theatre Lab is about developing the skills to make theatre that has something to say. The YTL will be a place of experimentation – we will collaborate with highly experienced theatre practitioners, choreographers, visual artists and composers to develop important work by and for young people. The Youth Theatre Lab is  FREE but booking is required. Its or ages 13-18 6pm-8pm and starts on Wednesday 4 April.

Nickie Miles-Wildin

Hi can you please tell us a little about yourself and your practice?

My name is Nickie Miles-Wildin and I’m a theatre maker. I’m currently Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme, Resident Assistant Director based at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I am also Artistic Director of TwoCan Theatre Company based in Gloucestershire, where I’m originally from. Alongside my colleagues Becky Andrews and Louise Partridge we set up TwoCan to promote diversity in the arts and enable D/deaf and disabled people access to the arts, something that was lacking in the county. We have a successful youth theatre and have produced work made by professional disabled actors, writers and directors.

Which area/s of good practice in the arts relating to the themes of access, inclusion and diversity would you like to highlight?

I would highlight the work of Graeae as they have been going for 30+years and continue to push the barriers of access. They have taught me what I know and I continue to admire their work. Ramps On The Moon builds on the Graeae model and will hopefully change the views of directors and audiences as it progresses. In Wales I admire the work of Elbow Room who are challenging us all about creative use of audio description. We all fall in love with sign language (have our epiphanies) and Elbow Room are making us do the same abut audio description.

Any companies pioneered by D/deaf and disabled artists are the ones for me. We face the biggest barriers as sometimes we can’t even get into buildings to see work. Or even into training establishments. Extant, Birds Of Paradise, Fittings, Access All Areas, Daryl Beeton theatre maker, PAD Productions  are all up there as some of my highlights.

 

Connor Allen on Opportunity

In 1964, There was a little girl sitting on her mother’s floor in Milwaukee watching the 36th Academy Awards. She watched as Anne Bancroft opened the envelope for Best Actor and said five historic words: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’

This little girl had never seen a black man being celebrated for his talent and to quote her “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses

That little girl grew up to become one of the most influential people on the planet – Oprah Winfrey.

And at that moment of celebration at the 36th Academy Awards she was truly inspired by what she saw. She watched history unfold from her cheap seat, took inspiration and the rest as they say is history.

Fast forward over 50 years and Oprah has joined Sidney Poitier in becoming a recipient of the Cecil B DeMille award and when accepting the award she recounted that memory of the cheap seats and went on to add “there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award

At that moment and later on in her speech all over the world girls and boys and men and women were inspired and in awe. With that inspiration and determination those little girls and boys will become the next Oprah Winfrey or the next Viola Davis or indeed the next Denzel Washington.

After the #OscarsSoWhite movement two years ago The Academy has implemented drastic diverse change and many others have followed suit because after years of feeling unappreciated and uninspired and pretty much fed up, many people thought enough is enough.

If we don’t show diversity in our nominations and winners then how are the next generation meant to be inspired like Oprah was all those years ago.

By having more diverse nominations and shortlists you are giving the opportunity for the next generation to be inspired. And the key word here is opportunity.

Now more than ever we need the next generation of BAME talent to be inspired and its so great that the #OscarsSoWhite movement has taken effect and we are now finally seeing a hugely diverse and more equal nomination and shortlist spectrum. Closer to home in Wales its not the case. The Wales Theatre Awards for one have not embraced the diverse change needed to inspire the next generation of BAME talent.

Now Wales is quite small in comparison to the rest of the world but we’ve still managed to nurture brilliant talent in all fields and all I ask is that diversity is implemented like with the Oscars and many other global awards. That way the next generation of actors of colour can have a platform to look to and aspire to be on. That way we can inspire and empower the next generation of BAME talent. That way young actors like myself can look to the awards and be inspired to work harder and be in a position to celebrate their talent like Sidney Poitier was all those years ago.

We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.

But let me take you back to that word I mentioned a few lines ago.

Opportunity

Because when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, opportunity is a massive factor.

If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?

Diversity has become this big hot topic over the last couple of years and its just about equality. Being treated the same regardless of your skin colour, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation and many other labels that are handed out in our day and age. We are all equal. We are all human.

Finally in our society we have seen a positive shift in diverse action and we cant afford to get left behind whilst others continue to implement that change. We have to embrace it.

Without embracing it we risk loosing much talent to other locations. A prime example of this is the current crop of actors going overseas in search of better opportunities. Idris Elba highlighted it during his recent speech to Parliament.

John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and Lenora Crichlow are just a few other names who have also ventured along with Mr Elba over to the States in search of better opportunities.

A statistic recently showed that according to government data from 2013, there was a 500% increase in one year in approved visa petitions for UK actors and directors seeking to work in the US.

That number is staggering but only goes to show that this issue surrounding opportunity and representation is real.

We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage or screen. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged? If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people. Period.

That same situation is at risk of running its course here in Wales. If we don’t champion opportunity and give representation the platform others have then we run the same risk of loosing home grown talent to the likes of other more diverse locations like London, Bristol or Manchester for example. For many new and upcoming actors/performers America simply isn’t attainable yet but the likes of closer inclusive locations are very much a reality. For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. To be cast in productions they have to have the opportunity to be seen for the roles.

Once again I echo the key word in all of this … Opportunity.

Seeing that I’ve mentioned him already I will bring up the case for Daniel Kaluuya. Daniel Kaluuya has got huge attention lately as he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film Get Out. With this nomination, Daniel becomes the first black actor under 30 to garner a nomination. Only one word can be used to describe that achievement and that is phenomenal.

But many people think that this success just happened off the back of one movie. They don’t realise that Daniel put in years of hard work from his time at the Royal Court in Sucker Punch.

to Blue Orange at The Young Vic

to his time on Black Mirror to name just a few. But without opportunity would he have got to this stage in his career where he is now the first black under 30’s actor to be nominated for an academy award? Who knows?

And then we have the global box office hit that is Black Panther and the success that has followed this movie.

As I write this article the global box office of the movie stands at $704 million and its broken into the top 20 for highest grossing movies of all time. There are even rumours of it becoming the highest grossing Marvel movie so far. Not bad for a movie with a predominantly black cast featuring a black superhero in the title role.

But why is this movie such a milestone many people will ask. Well simply put 1) Its massive progress in a positive direction and 2) Its shown that you CAN invest in diverse talent and it CAN be successful.

All they needed was the opportunity.

I guess what I am trying to say and I will echo Viola Davis here when I say that “All that separates actors of colour from anyone else is opportunity

Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.

So with all this being said I’m going to challenge every person who holds a degree of power to embrace the positive shift that has begun and implement change so that we don’t get left behind. Don’t hide away because if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

This goes for everyone in all industries, not just people in the creative arts. Embrace and Implement. Those two factors will allow diversity and talent to flourish magnificently. The world is now beginning to show us that our possibilities are boundless. And we have to keep on striving to achieve every possibility. Striving to achieve every dream.

Keep dreaming

Keep striving

Much Love

Connor Allen

Breaking Out of the Box 4: ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ by Emily Garside

The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February. Subtitled ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ An access symposium’ the focus of the event centered on the question of how diverse are we, and what can we do to change things?

Opening the event was Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council Wales.  He spoke about the history of the Arts Council and Diversity- citing reports from as far back as the 90s into the issue.  He acknowledged the responsibility as  a publicly funded organisation towards diversity:

Capaldi also noted the need to do more to reach communities and the idea of ‘changing hearts and minds’. While this contribution from Arts Council Wales was welcome, and well intended it was let down by a lack of representation from the organisation throughout the day. The focus of the day around galvanising towards action, having an engaged representatives from the Development teams at ACW could really have helped the organisations present to make practical steps in their next projects towards diversity. We all know ACW funding is at the heart of the work made in Wales, and a level of practical support and real engagement on the day from the organisation would have made a huge difference to what could have been achieved. While Capaldi’s support was welcome, and his words supportive, it felt like a missed opportunity from ACW.

Following Capaldi, my own talk. Which focused on turning questions back on the audience to reflect on for the day.

Reflecting on the discussions already taking place, a call to keep talking and keep fighting through these issues

As hoped this provocation moved into an engaged discussion about the many areas that need addressing- from programming to the access needs of audiences.

Following a break we heard from Jamie Beddard, one of the UK’s leading disabled theatre practitioners,  Jamie talked through his experiences as a disabled performer.

Jamie’s experiences, and the video clips he showed of projects in England he’s been a part of showed that the sky literally is the limit for what can be achieved.

Jamie was part of a couple of amazing circus projects where disabled performers worked alongside able bodied performers with no  barriers or prejudice around what they were or weren’t expected to do. That this kind of work is possible can be an example for companies in Wales to aspire to.

Keen for the day to have some practical take-aways there were two workshops on accessibility led by Elise and Beth from Taking Flight Theatre Company. Elise took people through some simple steps to make a rehearsal room more inclusive, while Beth talked through making accessible marketing materials.

These practical elements were a really useful element of the day for the group-providing some tangible next steps that are relatively easy to incorporate and help slowly change the nature of diversity and accessibility.

Finally, the last two provocations of the day. Michele Taylor, Director for Change for Ramps on the Moon and critic Jafar Iqbal. Both proved to be a rousing call to action. Michele punctuated their talk with the repeated phrase ‘Seriously are we still talking about this?’ Sharing her frustration but also experience in creating active solutions through ‘Ramps on the Moon’ this was a non-nonsense call to get things done. And one which also called out well meaning sentiment with again, a call to concrete action.

Challenging all of us on everything from our choice of language to what we believe to be exclusivity Michele provoked passionate discussion about how we really enact change. There was also a clear desire from the room to mimic the ‘Ramps on the Moon’ initiative in Wales.

Finally Jafar Iqbal  talked about the lack of change we’re experiencing in Wales. Criticizing those at the top for a lack of action while others repeatedly shout for change.

Drawing on his own experience as a British Asian, Iqbal has often wondered if he’s in a room to ‘tick a box’ but is also conscious that he’s benefited from that in his career. And despite personally benefiting, being conscious that this approach isn’t good enough any more.

Acknowledging the recent controversies in Wales,  Iqbal talked about the need to change being felt across the sector, but a lack of action being taken. And actually giving us a fairly simple way to start solving these issues:

Further discussion in the room, following this final clear provocation was to that end- the time for talking (and social media debate) has passed and it’s time for action. The very clear notion however, was that this needs leadership. And that is something the movement for diversity in Wales is lacking. Not from those engaged in the arts, but from those organisations with the power and scope to be really influential in making change. And this remains a frustration.

Despite continued frustrations, it was a galvanizing and productive event. Connections between organisations developed during discussion and networking time and there seemed a real commitment to move forward from the event with a new sense of purpose.

Let’s hope that soon an event won’t be asking the question of Diversity in Wales but simply celebrating it instead.

The event was organised by Hynt, Creu Cymru and Taking Flight Theatre with support from Arts Council Wales. 

More information about Ramps on the Moon and the work they have done to date can be found on their website.

Emily Garside

Review The Sound of Music by Jane Bissett

 

(5 / 5)

 

The Sound of Music is a musical masterpiece from the talented duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based loosely on the life of Maria Augusta Trapp and her journey from novice Nun to devoted mother. The Sound of Music has taken the drama which hangs on the story ‘The Trapp Family Singers’ (written by Maria) and has condensed it into a stage musical with a romantic rosy glow.

Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are set to music by Richard Rodgers and between them they produced wonderfully descriptive songs that take us from an abbey, to the top of a mountain and capture family life in its simplicity. These songs have been sung by enthralled cinema and theatre goers worldwide for the last five decades.

Indeed, I found myself singing whilst working the following morning, tending sheep in a windswept field in South Wales. Perhaps not such a dramatic landscape as mountains of Austria in the summer, but uplifting all the same.

The story of the family is set in Austria in 1938 with WWII on the horizon. Maria is a young novice Nun who is sent by the Mother Abbess to the home of Captain von Trapp to act as governess and care for his seven children.

Without a mother the children crave the attentions of their father who in his grief has distanced himself from the children, their family home and the memories it holds.

The welfare of the children is Maria’s primary concern and she can see how much they need to regain the love of their father. All she wants is to see the children happy again. She teaches them how to sing and bring music back into their lives. Little does she know that the Captain is himself an accomplished musician and singer and when eventually he hears the children singing it breaks the spell of his unhappiness and allows him to rebuild his relationship with his children whilst unwittingly falling in love with their governess.

Lucy O’Byrne gives an outstanding performance as Maria as does Neil McDermott as Captain von Trapp and for me, much more believable that Christopher Plummer ever was, maybe it was the beard.

Megan Llewellyn was a truly realistic Mother Abbess, kind, compassionate, and wow, what a voice!

The nuns were outstanding, their voices breathtaking and the children adorable in every scene. It was easy to imagine their lives being improved by the arrival of a much needed mother figure who would love them and bring their family back to life.

The set design was a triumph. The audience was transported from the Abbey to the Von Trapp residence effortlessly. The sets were vast and visually beautiful providing an atmosphere that extended well beyond the boundary of the stage. The vastness of the scenery and the skillful way in which it was brought to the stage added to the audience being effortlessly transported from place to place. Although the New Theatre is not the size of a West End stage, for the visual effect and the performances, it was for this production.

It would be unjust to single performers out as this was a whole cast production of talented individuals who together made us believe that we were there.

The audience were so engaged with story and the performances that I am certain that I head an audible ‘boo’ for the Nazi Officer!

Although unseen the orchestra gave an awe inspiring performance of musical talent. The balance of instruments and voices were perfect and crated a world of musical pleasure that elevated the entire show to completely fill the auditorium.

It was no surprise at the end of the performance when the audience rose to their feet before the curtain call and gave the entire cast the standing ovation that they so clearly deserved.

This really is a ‘must see’ production. I was only disappointed that it was not like the film shown in the 1960’s when you could remain in your seat and see it all over again.

The Sound of Music

The New Theatre Cardiff

Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 February 2018

Evenings 7.30pm

Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday Matinees 2.30pm

For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889