It is water, the lifeblood of all things that is the major component of Chapter’s latest exhibit. A diverse group of mostly female artists and other academics have teamed together to tell an absorbing tale of their relationship with water on both a personal and cultural level. The lands of Wales, Palestine and Morocco feature, spread out in the gallery and not cluttering any of the work.
The first room with Kandace Siobhan Walker sees a fishing net looming over us with polaroids, song lyrics and sea-scape video that welcome us with much poetry and retro charms. Noureddine Ezarraf had made fabric pieces which I’ll confess don’t ignite the senses, though do have subtle nuances, both works marbled with black lining over the soft, amber palettes.
Bint Mbareh has found her own little nook, with a live performance of Stellar Footprints in her fabric fort. As we watch seeing only her feet and bottom legs, she asked us to feel as if we had water dropping on us and around us, then requested we walk around her structure so that she could capture the sounds. Speaking to Bint after, she admitted more needed to be done to capture the energy of the audience, who fizzled out after a while, giving up on the stomping, as if we were wading through water. She invited us beforehand for a select few of us to join her in the fort towards the end, some did though the piece appeared to be over. With a bit more rehearsal this could be quite tight, Bint’s vocals singing through especially exquisite towards the end.
Fern Thomas’ work sees wordy verses spread out all over the wall, as a rock on rope gently sways in our line of sight. A rich spiritual heritage fills the words and a universal mood comes across in these words of love and respect for water. The final room filled with the pieces by Alia Mossallam and Maya Al Khaldi had headphones with folk singing mothers looping and a little study area with desks and carpets (we are encouraged to add to the embroidery, with staff offering needles). I found this room quite absorbing, letters from the British government in Egypt allude to corruption and racism, the carpet spreading up to the wall a really nice touch as well. Veils also hang from the ceiling a slight flutter to the end of a exhibit with history and culture as it core.
Calls the Waves continues at Chapter Arts Centre till 20th November 2022 along with further workshops, talks and further performances.
One of the many fine exhibitions in London presently has to be for Raphael. Though well known as a master artist in every field he covered, he might still be lesser known, more love for his contemporaries.
Arriving in the space we are first met with a stunning small piece, a painting of Saint Sebastian. Here, he appears full faced and holding a spear, his famous symbol from the Romans trying to do him in. He simply glows and the finer details of his bright features and eloquent clothes stand out. You can see why they chose this first. I loved it so much I went all the way back to see it again prior to leaving the show.
The amount of painting of baby Jesus is on mass. Of course he is frequently seen with the Virgin Mary and his cousin, John the Baptist, recognisable for his long, cane cross and fur. It’s the posturing of each figure that helps formulate a highly stylised vision. It’s the shading that stands out and the magic that Rapheal could colour with paint. Ginormous fabric pieces based off his work tower over exhibition walls, staggering to think the amount of hours that would have gone into making these.
A huge Crucifixion impose upon the viewer, though not his most stimulating offering. Saint Catherine of Alexandria looks to the heavens for answers, in a perfectly contoured show of details and poise. Some drawings are too indistinct to truly appreciate and some scribbly letters prove his muddled writing, through a brilliant intellect.
Lorenzo de’ Medici stands proudly in the final room, his clothes showy for this huge figure in Italian history. Growing up an orphan, one wonders if these mother and child iconography had a deep impact on the Rapheal. Architecture and metal work would also show off his vast talents, reaching fever pitch in a tiny room with video work of his buildings and some frescos. Looking back a good amount of time is required to drink this show in. At least two hours I’d say.
Truly the hot ticket of the summer.
Raphael: The Credit Suisse Exhibition continues at the National Gallery till 31 July 2022.
(4 / 5) Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan
(4 / 5) Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection
A final gallery trip would be an action packed afternoon at the Royal Academy. In Whistler’s Woman in White show, we get a telling scope on Joanna Hiffernan, Irish model and muse to many an artist of her time. The show features her in many frames and other women in white from the era, Willkie Collin’s book of the same name getting referenced and a poster print from a staging looms over most viewers. A Klimt painting remains a thing of beauty, though we crave his more exuberant gold pieces. Rossetti’s painting of The Annunciation is one of the finest work here, of a slim build, the biblical image compress to a narrow canvass of tension. Truly something to marvel at.
Perhaps most fascinating is Joanna in Gustave Courbet’s Jo, the Irish Woman. Most remarkable, there are three version of the very same painting and it remains unclear which is the original. How fascinating to pick up on the slight variations in each of them, her eyes more sunken in one, her cheeks more rouge in another. It’s quite a candid work and it remained a highlight. Courbet’s Seascapes on the other hand felt quite pedestrian and of little interest, I spent a very short amount of time with them.
Of course, it all lead up to the big guns. Whistler’s Woman in White was the dazzling finale to this mostly fine exhibit. Joanna glows here, her red hair almost veil like with strangely little detail in it. As if a bride, she holds a flower and is atop a wolf skin rug. This is a moving encounter, Whilst proving his mastery though other work in the show would also prove this. She looks beyond the viewer as if lost in another realm, adding to the dreamy quality of the whole encounter. I can’t gush enough about this painting. Though quite a small exhibit, it’s effect is monumental.
Following on was something drastically different. Kawanabe Kyōsai’s work from Japan makes for a highly amusing and often touching apparition. It’s the ink work that really makes it. Some of the fine folklore and depictions of animals stand out. A female ghost is a horrible sight on one screen, a shocking sight in keeping with the superstition of his home country. The West adored his work and it’s easy to see why. Even just a cat with such a look of contentment makes for a joy to gaze upon. Some of the more outrageous drawings involves the bottoms and testicles of the figures, the latter being affronted by another more curious cat. You could almost hear the slide whistle.
The detailing on the robes of some women in the art is another eye watering detail. Also noteworthy how some of the crow works are highly figurative, the ink generously spread around, yet still it is clearly a crow. It’s the beak that gives it away, as well as the obvious black ink usage. A giant wide-spread panel sees demons and creatures, looking as if it was created yesterday, such was it’s fine quality (Gerald Scarf would lap it up!). This has clearly been well looked after (dating from 1871-1889. This would clearly go on to influence manga and anime, staples of Japanese culture today. Another fine show, for another fine artist.
At the Royal Academy of Arts, Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan continues till 22 May 2022 and Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection till 19 June 2022.
My time in London has mostly been swallowed up by theatre and music. Itching to see more fine art shows, I approached the Hayward Gallery to get my fix.
Starting with Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, this was a partially haunting experience in my view. The French-American artist had a long career and this show lingers with work from the last 20 years of her long life. Real clothes and textiles drape certain installations, bones and wire haunt others. The act of birth and motherhood dominate a lot of the imagery. Her cloth heads and figures disturb for their uncanny qualities, shapes and forms are colourful and pleasing in other work. The gallery itself was busy to witness these worn pieces, alive in the macabre mood which stung in the air.
Female forms hang from the air, half the body a lumpy spiral with the loss of a head and arms. Bourgeois makes you see the female form anew through these warped, bumpy bodies. An element of bondage creeps in, with the hangings, the wrappings and use of cloths making for steamy, messed up sights. It can leave you puzzled and enthralled. One installation featured the roots of a tree, with a wooden hand perfectly fitting into one branch of the root, another pleasing sight. The black, headless bodies in an apparent act of coitus as perhaps the most messed up things in the entire exhibit. I found myself awash in a fight or flight response to it all.
Of course her giant spider creature, (her most famous piece) makes an outing, perhaps the true highlight of the show. Resting on a metal cage, along with its very own eggs, the work appears powerful if fragile, inspired if taxing to make. Visitors really drink in this and you could feel the love with may a photo taken with the momma spider creation. Bourgeois spoke of her family as if spiders: always mending and repairing. Her lovely insight about a spider never getting angry when its web is broken just making it anew, is a nice quote for the wistful state out world is today.
It is a gallery experience which is entrancing, but might just leave a bad taste in the mouth.
The biggest London exhibition of the work for years of Francis Bacon presently stagnates at The Royal Academy. I have fond memories of the previous exhibit at the Tate Britain in 2008, a lasting legacy for me as a lover of his craft. I can’t tell you how many times I doodled his Base of a Crucifixion figures in uni, a version of this on display, though not the pure horror of the original. The only work of his I’ve seen since is the lesser known painting in Cardiff at the National Museum, not one of his best (though I believe) is still on display.
Even with my energies waining I found this show at the Academy quite absorbing with all the morbid curiosity, crowds rushing to see the weird stuff first indeed. This is certainly for the strong of stomach as the amount of viscera splashed around is unbounded. We see some electric bull fighting paintings, (I saw an actual living spider in one of the canvasses and notified security!) with swept paint and a mustard yellow backdrop, the scorching Spanish climate defining death in the afternoon that is the so called sport. We know he loved boxing as well, violence is never far away. This gory spectacle both horrifies and delights.
Fine work is seen in his portraits of friends, lovers and his contemporaries. The way he holds the faces is but a still shot of a highly rendered, bruised stop-motion. The pit of despair which never leaves any of this work…consider the drunk and drug fuelled nights he created this paintings without any idea of what they might be in his baffling, hoarder like studio. His influences are clear and also quite random. The early photography of Meyerbeer, the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin and even the animal world strongly feature and maintain masterstrokes in every flick and scrub.
Monkeys and chimps appear a few times, a reminder of our primal heritage and of our base desires. Sex is never far away from Bacon’s mind, a homosexual during the time it was illegal must have had a deep effect on him. His lover George Dyer haunts many frames, their tragic love story best presented in the film Love is the Devil: A Portrait of Francis Bacon. Derek Jacobi was simply made to play Bacon…
Nobody nor face comes out of his gaze undamaged, as if surreal boxing match in a dark theatre box outline. The deformed and the decayed loiter. His use of colours not usually seen in art: purple, orange and black also defines his brilliance. One sensational triptych even features huge pink paintings with three squalid female figures. His blows dust in other pieces, or newspaper print in another. Perhaps other unmentionables as well, maybe? His work is now in museums around the world and private collections. Here was a small buffet of his twisted vision with some good highlights and lesser seen work to boot.
I’ve often wondered what defines the United States. Is it the polarising politics? The proud, hammering patriotism?The melting pot of cultures and lifestyles? Within this reassurance of nostalgia hyped up by popular culture, one book returns from the past with a subtle yet brilliant impact.
Though met with puzzlement when first published, Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces is a very telling piece of its time. Having traveled in 1972 from New York to Texas and back, Shore inhales everything around him. No sight is too banal or sordid and we get these really telling moments from a bygone era. A “palette of the age” seems to capture what I’m trying to say here. All images appear to utilise flash, all are in landscape and their breadth remains impressive.
We see meals, buildings, portraits and everything in-between. Though the shots of food make us think of today’s influencers, he seems to capture houses and other buildings rather well. The pop art feel comes in with the many photos of adverts, stands and sign posts throughout his American journey. Though only 24 at the time, his eye for a real cracking image is proven here and would herald a fine career in photography.
You can see Andy Warhol and his numerous polaroids soon to create similar sights, though on a much more intimate scale. An interesting feature here is the ominous shadow which lingers over models for their portraits, due to the intensity of the flash. This is undoubtedly the most 70s thing you will ever see…the fashion, design, cars and advertisements are all its testament. This is very much my parents era, yet I still have a pang for this yesteryear. There truly is a real joy in these haunting, candid shots.
Although this revised and expanded edition is sold out, we can only hope more copies come out soon.
Local artist CONSUMERSMITH has kindly given The Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre permission to sell prints of his headline-hitting lockdown-inspired street art ‘May Love Be What We Remember Most’.
The prints show the piece in its original home, the street where it was created, as a nod to the fact that it originated as a site-specific memorial for the coronavirus pandemic.
The money raised from the sale of these prints will go back to fund future projects that The Riverfront will be working on with artists and the community to bring people back together to enjoy the arts and being creative in person once again.
CONSUMERSMITH comments ‘I think it’s fantastic that The Riverfront are using my work to raise money to fund projects that will bring artists and the community together. The very nature of street art is being for the people.’
Sally-Anne Evans, The Riverfront’s Community Arts Development Officer adds ‘We are so honoured to be the home of this wonderful artwork. It was central to our community project ‘Share the Love’ that we ran while closed and now the piece is going to allow us to run more activities and reach more people now that we’re back open. As a registered charity Newport Live and The Riverfront are extremely grateful for donations and public support to be able to do a lot of the community work we do and we really hope that these wonderful prints prove popular so that we can use the money raised to run some wonderful workshops and community sessions. Lockdown showed us that the people of Newport love being creative, and we would love to be able to invite more people through our doors to join us for exciting new projects in 2022.’
Throughout the Riverfront’s closure the artwork was on display in the front windows of the building for passers-by admire. The piece stands as a memorial for life lost in recent times and during the pandemic. The elderly, the vulnerable, the isolated, the lonely, the people in care unable to be visited, so apt was its new home in the window of a building built for people to come together to socialise and share joy, yet a building forced to stay closed to keep people safe.
The piece will be on display in the Riverfront’s first floor gallery from the Art on the Hill weekend of 26-28 November through until the new year so that visitors can admire the vibrant portrait in person and up close.
The A3 prints of May Love Be What We Remember Most are available for purchasing at the price of £8 each from the Riverfront Box Office. You can view the Box Office opening times and find out how else you can support The Riverfront online at newportlive.co.uk/Riverfront.
If you go up to the woods today, you’ll be in for a great surprise. Open your eyes take a deep breath and let Mother Nature take you on a tour of her wonderland.
Amidst the spectacular and historical Rhondda Fawr Valley lies an environmental organisation that is open to all. It is called “Welcome to our Woods/Croeso i’n Coedwig” incorporating the Skyline Project.
It is surrounded by the drama of Pen Pych Mountain and the majesty of the Cwmsaerbren Woods Treherbert. With the legacy of Nant Saerbren powering the micro hydro electrical resource which channels the supply to the area.
Avant Cymru, in partnership with the organisation brought the Hydro Jam event to Treherbert over several weeks during June and July. The event proclaimed a collection of creativity and activities, so many to note here. Marquees were erected to enhance the surroundings and supply covering in the event of changeable weather conditions, with refreshments and seating accommodated by hard working volunteers.
The event began with a dancing session bringing ballroom dancing to the forestry of flora and fauna, all taught on an outdoor dance floor and stage; then the BeatBox Boys added their specialty to the prize-winning Lewis Merthyr Band, combining the band’s brass instruments to the sound of the beat. “Cwm Rhondda” was never so melodic, with the ‘beat box’ technique adding to the enjoyment for both sets of performers. The event continued during the week with Sewing demonstrations, courtesy of Julie the Stitch, make up demonstrations, Zumba on Zoom, Pilates, BeActive, the Vogue group performed, there were Swing Sessions, plus demonstrations from young dancers all leading up to the eventual Hip Hop Jam Competition held on the very last day of the event.
It was an eagerly awaited eco-friendly attraction of entertainment from local Rhondda Artists which included BAGSY, LLOYD the Graffiti master, SUZI JOSHI who produced some fantastic paintings on Perspex, Rap Cyphers presented by Larynx, together with the support of James and Bridie DOYLE-ROBERTS of Citrus Arts. The Bella Vista Coffee Club brought their folk and easy listening music to the event, performed by Helen Probyn-Williams, Sally Churchill, Gerhard Kress, Jim Barrett and Ann and Paul Hughes.
Members of RCT Creative Writers Group read their poems and short stories – who can forget the poet’s admission of being “A Naked Gardener”? (All said in fun highlighting the creativity of words).
On one night there was a battle scene performed as a rehearsal for Avant Cymru’s forthcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The last day was the culmination of much planning, hard work and ingenuity during this time of Pandemic. Welcome to the Woods arena, courtesy of Avant Cymru, saluted the UK Breakin’ scene with BBoys and BGirls from across the UK participating in the UK Breakin’ competition. How can I describe such enthusiasm flexibility and sheer joy of expression in one sentence? Enough to say I didn’t quite know what it was all about until this day, I now know I’m a fan. An incredible intergenerational gymnastic dancing spectacle (how the heck did they get into that position?) and what was more, everyone – and I mean every entrant was happily encouraging and congratulating each other on their routines. Let us just say it showed what taking part is supposed to mean.
The final came down to BBoy Nene who had travelled from Birmingham and BBoy Callum from Cardiff with the ultimate winner being BBoy Callum who was a student of Emma’s Motion Control Dance Group of Barry. Representatives of the Breakin’ Organisation WOOSH had a lot to consider, (one had to be in quarantine for a fortnight as he had travelled from the Netherlands to be at Treherbert for this competition) there were three judges (who each performed their own routine to much appraisal) plus DJ Jaffa from Cardiff and DJ Silence. The anchor woman was BGirl Sunanda Biswas a Choreographer and Teacher from South London.
With thanks to all who provided the entertainment refreshments accommodation and an especially warm welcome to those who came to assimilate just who or what was where at Welcome to Our Woods.
Appreciation to Rachel and Jamie of Avant Cymru for the invitation to contribute as RCT Creative Writers Group Members to this event. To Gavin Owens for the media film and Lee Williams for the photographs.
The Valleys were alive with the sound of a community enjoying life and being entertained at the same time!
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – in collaboration with Literature Wales, Adra (Tai/Housing) and the lead artist Iola Ynyr – are delighted to announce a year of activity for people affected by addiction through the project Ar y Dibyn. This new development has been made possible thanks to the support of the programme HARP ( Health, Arts, Research, People), financed by the Arts Council of Wales, and Y Lab (Cardiff University and Nesta).
Ar y Dibyn gives people affected by addiction – whether they themselves are living with addiction, or supporting other people with their addiction – the opportunity to come together and share those stories in a creative way and through the medium of Welsh. With the artists Iola Ynyr and Mirain Fflur at the helm, the aim of the workshops is to promote creativity to celebrate the possibilities of addiction, rather than the obstacles it presents, and to develop heart-felt creative work to share more widely. Iola Ynyr, lead artist and founder of Ar y Dibyn, said: “It’s a pleasure to begin another series of Ar y Dibyn workshops within a year of activity funded by HARP. It takes great courage to participate in activities such as these after periods of isolation in the grips of addiction. But we offer an environment of acceptance without having to reveal any details. Creativity is the tool we will be using to open the door to our inner treasure. We look forward to discovering what will be created by our participants over the coming year!”
This year of activity will expand on earlier projects held face to face at Galeri, Caernarfon, and on-line during the lockdown periods. One participant who took part in a workshop at the end of 2020 said: “Fear held me in a tight grip, and I didn’t mention to a living soul apart from my husband that I was attending the workshops. Fear, shame, nervousness… but by the end I was looking forward to the next session. I hadn’t realised that there was an intention to create a film or script or anything – I had no end goal in sight, I just wanted to give myself some time and space to recover, to be in a room with people who were similar to me, people who understood, and to have the opportunity and the permission, in a way, to be myself, in my own language.”
With support from the North Wales Area Planning Board for Substance Misuse, Adferiad Recovery and Stafell Fyw, Ar y Dibyn also highlights the importance of the relationship between the arts and the fields of health and well-being, and responds to the need to develop the support that is available through the medium of Welsh. Professional health specialists are at hand in every creative session to give support as required. Rhian A. Davies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s Executive Producer, said:
“We are very grateful for this grant provided by Nesta, as part of their HARP (Health, Arts, Research, People) scheme, to develop the Ar y Dibyn project that gives people throughout Wales living with addiction an opportunity to come together to share their stories in a creative way and through the medium of Welsh. Our ambition is for the project to become permanent – in collaboration with partners in the health, care and third sectors, both current and new – and to show the importance of the role of the arts in recovery and health, and the health and well-being of Welsh-speakers.”
The HARP programme also focuses on giving the arts an opportunity to play a leading role in the health and well-being of the people of Wales. Rosie Dow, HARP’s Programme Manager for the Arts and Health, said:
“We’re delighted to be working with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, Iola and their partners to explore how Ar y Dibyn can reach as many people affected by addiction as possible. We know that there is a need for Welsh-language creative interventions to support people’s recovery and wellbeing, and the team’s combination of passion and expertise will really help to change peoples’ lives for the better. HARP is all about how innovative projects like this can grow and become embedded in health and care in the long term, so we look forward to exploring with the team how that might be possible.”
The first series of Ar y Dibyn workshops in this new year of activity started on 6 July 2021 – but a warm welcome is extended to any participants or artists who are interested in joining the project. Go to theatr.cymru/arydibyn for information.
Hi Brad great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi Guy, it’s great to meet you and be here for the interview and to share some about the exhibition with your readers.
A transplant from Alabama, I’m a visual dramaturge with a diverse practice – from set, costume, and projection design to assistant directing to more management/producing/development roles across a variety of genres, from opera to theatre for young audiences to new and queer works. I am the resident designer for Chicago Fringe Opera; was the program coordinator for Prague Quadrennial 2019; run the online magazine Ascending focused on emerging theatre designers, scenographers, and visual dramaturges; designed the award-winning British pavilion Make/Believe at PQ 2015; and have had work selected for World Stage Design 2017.
For me theatre is the ultimate art of collaboration – which I define as the exploration of ideas that do not exist until everyone is in the room. Really great theatre (wether narrative, musical, dance, opera, physical, or any other type) thrives on the intersection of a diverse group of people bringing their talents together to create a unique experience for audiences, and I try to always approach my work in that spirit.
What got you interested in the arts?
Originally it was music – I have vivid memories of these concerts on public television with two nested grand pianos playing full orchestral scores, so for most of my childhood I wanted to be a concert pianist. This led into choir and eventually theatre. However, I have always been interested in both the theatre making itself and the wider system, having studied business management and organizational theory at the undergraduate level. I’ve also always had a deep love of literature and history which have fed into theatre, as well as growing up around some great storytellers.
Some examples of Brads work below
You are curating a new exhibition at the Wales Millennium Centre called Your Voice which runs from 22 July – 29 Aug 2021. On the WMC website, the exhibition is described as “During the first lockdown the Wales Millenium Centre invited people of all ages to share their stories and experiences during this challenging time through art. The call out captured the imagination of the nation, and you received hundreds of pieces that responded to lived experiences over the past year – from lockdown to Black Lives Matter, to reclaiming the environment and our hopes for the future. Artworks were sent from all parts of Wales – from Pembrokeshire to Newport, Builth Wells to Caernarfon, and by artists aged 4 to 90 years old. The pieces include paintings, spoken word recordings, digital art, photography, installation, mixed media and film.”
How did you decide what artwork to exhibit and what are your hopes for the project?
Actually we didn’t decide in most cases – that is to say that almost all of the art in the exhibition was submitted through the open call and there was no curation in regards to what was included – everyone who submitted has their piece on display! There are a few pieces which were commissioned from community-based artists and some pieces which have come to the centre through partner organizations or other community groups, but overall the exhibition has emerged from the wide range of work submitted through the “Voices of Change” open call. We have also really striven to treat each of the over 400 individual pieces with real integrity – treating each equally as a wonderful and exciting contribution and having all photographs and digital creations professionally printed.
A selection of artwork from the exhibtion below
What I was charged to do was more curating the experience looking at the visitor’s journey through the building and how the art would all be installed. We looked at a number of approaches and ultimately settled on a series of thematic galleries, which give some sort of narrative frame to each group of works. We have also tried to create a unique one-way journey through the building, which includes all the major public spaces, three different views into the Donald Gordon theatre (including walking through a tech booth), and number of interactive engagement points. I have sought to be inspired by the spaces in the building and to create dynamic conversations between the physical space and the works in being placed in them.
Examples of Brad’ design for the exhibition below
I hope that people get a sense of the diverse communities and groups that not only make up Cardiff but all of Wales and of the creative force that lives here. The exhibition should not only be reflective, but also a real celebration of the creative resilience that has lived on and thrived over the last 18 months.
You are also exhibting work from the Theatre Design course at RWCMD, how did they come to be involved?
Actually, we are exhibiting work of emerging designers from 4 different courses across Wales –University of South Wales, Aberystwyth University, Coleg y Cymoedd, and RWMCD. We have some of the best training in the world for theatre designers in Wales, and many of the course have been industry leaders in the last year of finding ways to continue practical training and making work under all the COVID challenges, and I wanted to celebrate these amazing artistic incubators that contribute so much to Wale’s cultural life.
When I was offered the role of curator, part of it was a commission to design an installation to be part of the exhibition. Instead of which, I decided to showcase the work of these emerging artists working in Wales. The last year has particularly hit emerging theatre designers, who are often making less than minimum wage to begin with in addition to the emotional and mental stress that the industry places on those just starting out. And yet, there are a good number of designers who are working in Wales regularly with smaller fringe companies but are often overlooked by more established producers who go after London-based designers. So, I wanted to really bring some of these creatives to the forefront.
We are hoping that the general public gain a greater understanding of what designer’s do, with 4 of our designers offering more in depth looks into their process. It might also inspire some young people who have not considered theatre design to think of it as a possible career path or to pursue at university. There are so many opportunities developing now for those interested to get involved and for fresh voices to be developed, and I hope that this part of the exhibition plays some small role in encouraging people to become storytellers themselves.
You are an ex RWCMD student yourself what designers inspire you practice?
There are so many thst I find that really difficult to answer. Last summer I was on a podcast called Beyond the Lights and on listening back I realized I mostly just talked about other designers.
I’m definitely inspired by the work of Gary McCann and of the late Paul Brown, but also that of Sophie Jump, Vicki Mortimer, Stefano Poda, John MacFarlane, Colin Richmond, Leslie Travers, Luboš Hrůza, and so many others. I’m particularly interested in how different genres and disciplines intersect and can create new or more impactful audience experiences.
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 are, what might be done to remove these barriers?
Specifically in theatre, I think there are three big barriers. One, at least as an emerging designer, is the list of skills that you need to even get someone to look out the window – let alone get your foot in the door – is immense and basically only acquirable through doing a good university degree, which are often competitive entry. However, courses like RWCMD are eager to have a greater range of voices on their courses, but really struggle in connecting with young people who might consider that a career. So the whole industry has to do the work directly and support degree courses in planting the seeds early with people from all socio-economic backgrounds that encourages and inspires them to pursue theatre as a career.
Secondly, the performing arts industry is almost exclusively operated on a “who you know” basis, so there is a huge pressure on networking and continuously putting yourself out there despite a continuous stream of rejection (or in most cases unanswered inquiries). Adverts for roles as a theatre creative (whether designer, director, or choreographer) are few and far between, with theatre’s inviting artists to make work with them most of the time. So it becomes a very insular system with breaking in being a game of sheer luck. When I moved back to Wales in autumn of 2019 I reached out to almost every company I could find in Cardiff and the surrounding area, some of whom I had met previously or had mutual connections that encouraged me to introduce myself, and only 3 even returned my emails, and all of those responses were “thank you for your interest but we have the people we like to work with and have our next three seasons already planned out”. I can’t think of any other industry like that.
And finally, there is a real barrier to establishing yourself in this career, which is now at least being discussed more widely thanks to platforms like Scene Change, but still in nowhere near as honest or dynamic terms as it needs to be addressed.
Most emerging theatre designers are working obscene hours – sometimes 60- or 80-hour weeks – making far less than minimum wage trying to make it all work and often getting almost no credit for their contributions to productions or projects. It is absolutely emotionally, mentally, and financially draining. Many of the people I would have said would be the greatest designers of my generation have already left the industry – people whose work was so beautiful that it would catch my breath and leave me speechless in brilliance far beyond their experiences – they have moved onto other brilliant careers, and that is terribly sad. The industry really is overdue a reckoning about career development and paying people a living wage at all levels.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?
Venues and producers really need to consider and actively listen to their audiences. They need to find authentic voices and ways of connecting with those who they want to attend the work and ask themselves how they can better serve the communities that surround them, whether that is a small local organisation or one with a national pull. Far too often decision makers think they know what audiences want or engage projects which are only superficially giving voice but at the heart are quite hollow or ego driven by an artist. Why this story? Why now? And why is this person (or group of people) telling it?
And a big soap box of mine is don’t just ask global majority artists to work on or tell stories that are uniquely theirs. Engage artists and ask them what stories they want to tell and support them in doing so!
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
It would definitely be smaller companies that are doing really dynamic work both in engaging young people and new audiences and those taking chances on new creatives! There are some really wonderful people working hard to produce work on tiny budgets and what they could do with more funding would really be industry shifting.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
The shear breadth of quality work that happens across Wales. But also I look around and see so much potential – there are so many places, building, and institutions that are ripe for a renaissance of sorts and I hope that potential really blossoms into an even more dynamic and flourishing global arts scene.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I got to sit in on a dress rehearsal of the RWCMD puppetry performances inspired by the Artes Mundi artists – there were some absolutely inspiring moments ranging from reflectively poetic to slapstick style comedy – the creativity and dedication of the first year designers never ceases to amaze me!
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw