Bear, A Drama About Crisis, Community, Family and Blame.

Director Jack M Dunbar

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

Hi, I’m Jack. I graduated in 2019 from Royal Holloway, University of London with a BA in English and Theatre Studies. I’m a dirty Leeds fan, a chaotic book-worm and a prospective East 15 Acting School student.

What got you interested in the arts?

Musicals. I’m a hardcore thespian at heart. The unbridled joy of singing and dancing with a group of people at such a young age instilled within me the transformative qualities of the arts. Singing in particular engendered a keen interest in poetry; something I focused on for my undergraduate thesis. Everyone should sing and dance more.

It’s great to be able to discuss some positive news about a new play being produced and performed during this difficult Lockdown period. You have just directed BEAR by Bridgend based writer Jon Berry and it can be listened to now here…

…I believe the plays production has had some ups and downs?

Jon Berry and I were running auditions for BEAR in a comically cupboard sized space in the furthest corner of the Sherman Theatre, early March 2020 – our eyes set firmly on the Scottish capital. We had secured financial help from the Carne Trust and were assembling a company to take BEAR to the Fringe. Needless to say, the rest is history. Throughout the pandemic we met as a creative team and continued to rehearse and discuss the piece virtually, but the length of the pandemic took its toll and the viability of a live production at a venue vanished.

BEAR Playwright Jon Berry

Some months ago I thought to myself ‘enough is enough’ and with a bit of tenacity and good faith I pitched the project to some folk at Awen. I was looking for financial support for my actors as well as some much needed publicity. Awen were very generous and I was able to not only pay the actors involved but also myself, as well as the writer Jon and even get a fabulous motion designer on board to bring an even greater reality to the voices.

And now for the inevitable question, why should we listen to Bear?

Bear is a piece about crisis and community, family and blame; themes that we have all experienced intensely over the past 11 months. All the characters are managing their own crises whilst giving so much of themselves to a seemingly ‘bigger’ cause; a missing daughter. In addition to the arresting textural quality of Jon’s writing the audio drama features beautiful animation by Cardiff based animator Emma Davies.  It’s a play about resilience and keeping an eye on hope, something that I believe will resonate profoundly with all who choose to listen.

Cardiff based animator Emma Davies

The production has been supported by Awen Cultural Trust who are they and how did they come to be involved?

Awen Cultural Trust is a charitable organisation focusing on the enhancement and accessibility of cultural opportunities in the Bridgend area. I first encountered Awen as an employee at one of their beautiful venues. I joined after finishing my degree, as a Front of House assistant before successfully applying for a Duty Manager role at The Grand Pavilion Theatre, Porthcawl.

The Grand Pavilion Theatre, Porthcawl.

It was there that I forged some great relationships and organised ‘WHIP’ (Working Hard in Progress); my first collaboration with Jon Berry.

WHIP was, at its bare bones, a scratch night. We invited writers from around South Wales to send in new writing that they felt needed critical attention. Each writer had a six hour rehearsal process spread over 3 weeks where they could essentially ‘R and D’ their work with some local actors. Jon and I would aid the directors dramaturgically. The process culminated in a sold out event at an Awen venue where each writer celebrated their work as well as receiving the opportunity to ‘Q & A’ with the live audience. Lots of drinks were drunk and brilliant stories were shared – a cracking event we hope to revisit soon.

I believe you are based in Bridgend? Are there many opportunities to pursue a career in the arts where you live in this area of Wales?

Yes, I am based in sunny Porthcawl – a wee seaside resort for the beautiful and the damned. Sadly there aren’t a great deal of opportunities, particularly when you surpass the adulthood milestone. There are loads of Youth orientated events in the area, which is an amazing kickstart for anybody’s creative career, but nothing that really caters to those over the age of 18. Nothing that is readily available at least.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face. If you do what might be done to remove these barriers?

Diversity in the decision rooms of funding. Diversity in the creative teams. Diversity in the Front of House staff. It’s not enough for some of these big buildings and organisations to “discuss diversity” and talk about a community of people, they need to talk to them directly, include them in the discussion. We need to fundamentally change the makeup of who is creating and watching work. Reassessing the arbiter’s of taste in the Arts is a monumental task, but it’s necessary.

There was an important scheme some years ago from ACE called ‘Change Makers’. It was a fund directed at increasing senior leadership in art and culture by helping to develop a cohort of leaders who were POC or disabled by means of targeted senior leadership training.

With the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccines, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract new audiences what do you think they should do?

Theatres are proper funny places. They are beautiful, intricate, complex and unlike any other building you will find. But they are buildings. And people make buildings. Theatres need to serve their community like never before and I believe this is vital. They need to be producing and creating theatre that seeks interlocutors, rather than just presenting to an audience; reflect the social geography of a location.

I always think of the panto model. It’s a big day out. It’s an event and not just a performance in a theatrical space with lights and actors and pricey ice cream. How do we generate that excitement and enthusiasm for every show all year round?

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

Honestly? The Welsh language. I was born in North Yorkshire and only made the move to Wales at 10 years old. Learning the language was, and remains to be, daunting. Yet with the very recent strong and youthful charge for Welsh independence the language has gained a new found pertinence for my friends and I. We’ve all seriously started learning. I think the Arts has to take hold of this and broadcast it for everyone to hear. Whilst employed at Awen I witnessed some astonishing bilingual theatre for young audiences, and only just before lockdown took hold I watched the tragically hilarious Tylwyth (Kin) by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru at the Sherman Theatre. Tylwyth, performed entirely in Welsh, was a revelation to me as a director.

Firstly, I found that I understood so much through gesture and scenography, which is a completely separate phenomena. But more impressive was that, as a non-Welsh-speaker, I was still completely immersed in the language, the jokes, the fillers, everything! It opened my eyes (and ears) to the beautiful complexity of working and creating in Welsh and I think we should hold onto that dearly and not as a novelty either.

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

There are so many brilliant acts of art I have witnessed over lockdown, not least theatre. However, I have to give my immediate thoughts to France’s ‘Lupin’.

A Netflix mini-series that captures all the slickness of a Bond chase montage at one glance, only to be peppered by the implausibility and wit of Jonny English on steroids, the next. It was a perfect watch from beginning to end. Short, clever and all in another language. Language was no obstacle in this charming espionage thriller that was a much needed binge-worthy bit of fun to kick off (hopefully) a much better year.

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