Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Justified (2010- 6 series ) by Kevin Johnson

The Get the Chance team share some of their favourite binge-watch series they have been enjoying during Lockdown. First up Kevin Johnson with Justified.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a hitman while both are sitting in a Miami rooftop bar, the latest of many such incidents. Although the shooting is considered ‘justified’ by the authorities, as a punishment he is reassigned to his home state of Kentucky, a move he considers a demotion. There he’s forced to face his past, including his ex-wife Winona (for whom he still has feelings), his estranged criminal father Arlo (for whom he doesn’t), and his old friend, and crime family kingpin, Boyd Crowder (for whom?).

While ostensibly a crime show, Justified is also a modern take on the western, as well as a psychological drama. The characters are rarely either completely good or bad, with relatives and friends on both sides of the law. They’re living in a state that is poor, jobs are scarce but drugs aren’t, and corruption is rife. To show how morally confused things are, in one story Loretta, a teenage girl, outwits a sexual predator, who is an enforcer for the crime family that also employ her & her father to grow cannabis for them.

An excellent cast is well-served by superb writing that not only conveys believable characters, but has a rich vein of laconic wit running through it. At one point Raylan, after warning a criminal about trying to kill him, punches him to the floor, drops a bullet on his chest, and remarks “next one’s coming faster”. To a snitch too scared of another criminal to talk, he says “You think you’re scared of him? You got no idea what you can expect from me.”

Nor is he the only one to be given good dialogue. About to be shot by a member of the Bennett clan over a family feud, he’s told ominously “this bullet’s been on its way for 20 years.”.

While Raylan is terse, Boyd Crowder is all Southern charm, whether he’s trying to relate to someone or about to shoot a rival criminal. There’s a bond between the two from when they worked in the mines:”we dug coal and drank beer together”, as Raylan puts it. He joined the Marshals and Boyd enlisted in the army and served in Iraq, both trying to get away. Both failed.

Despite being the ‘hero’, Raylan is actually a tragic figure, often his own worst enemy. His boss Art, a father-figure to him, driven to exasperation by his actions says at one point “you’re a great lawman but a lousy Marshal”. Brooks, a black female Marshal, also tells him that he wouldn’t get away with such behaviour if he weren’t white, male, and handsome, which given that this was said in 2013 was a little ahead of its time.

There are also many layers to the storyline, and events often take place without Raylan’s participation or knowledge. One of the best scenes is in a diner where his Aunt Helen is meeting with Mags, the head of the Bennett family. What seems like a simple chat over a coffee is actually a parlay between the matriarchs of two warring families, both trying to negotiate a peace treaty before there is more bloodshed. It’s subtle, but almost Shakespearean in its execution.

Each series also features a new antagonist, as well as recurring characters, and it helps to keep the show fresh. The scope also varies from Kentucky to Florida to California, as well as Mexico, which feature memorable figures who may or may not turn up again.

Despite it being a great series overall, I was disappointed that the characters of Tim Gutterson, a former army Ranger, & Rachel Brooks, a black female Marshal, colleagues of Raylan’s, are not really developed over six series, despite both being fascinating. But with so many others in the cast, that’s understandable.

The show was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, who got the idea for it after meeting a young man at a book convention in Amarillo, Texas. When finding out that the man’s name was Raylan, Leonard asked him, “How would you like to be the star of my next book?”.

One more thing, Raylan always wears a white hat. Whether this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to him being the hero, I don’t know. As he says himself when asked about it: “I tried it on and it fit”.

If you’re looking for a good drama with plenty of action, but also one with a lot more depth than your average shoot-em-up, this is the show for you.

Review Fy Ynys Las, Eddie Ladd, A Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales production in partnership with BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Arts

From one Country Bumpkin to another..

Eddie Ladd provided us with a virtual tour unlike any other. This captioned performance gave the audience an insight into Eddie’s childhood home and where she was residing for lockdown. By using a pre-recorded Zoom session, Eddie shared her screen as she looked back through images of her home, telling whimsical tales and allowing us to experience her nostalgia of her childhood with her.

Eddie sat in one corner of the screen, using the rest to direct us through her process of thoughts. By seeing her reactions to what was occurring on screen, the audience resonated with her and her experience of these events whilst still allowing us to create our own experiences of what was happening. She used layering of images in a stylistic way, much like how we would layer movement to create effect. A box of files also sat on the screen, organised by section into folders of Subheadings. This gave a very organic feel to the performance as was if she was flicking through her memories rather than watching a finished performance. By also using her dialect and country slang, all formalities of the performance were lost and hence it became a sharing, from one person to another.

The performance paralleled with Martin Parr’s exhibition “Martin Parr in Wales”. These snippets of images resonated with a sense of home and a resemblance to growing up on a farm (although mine was a sheep farm in Yorkshire). This is something I have never come across before. Through the familiarity of how ordinary farm life was and the niftiness of adaptations (using a soil filled bucket as a dumbbell), the piece really resonated with me and my lived experiences. It held truth and honesty about a simple life of living in the sticks, and especially highlighted how British farming has changed over the past decades and even more so the economic struggle of British Family farms today.

Not only did this resonate through farming life but also through the isolation of being in Lockdown and how it has affected our livelihoods as artists. The resilience needed to continue and adapt with the change happening all around us (and in Eddie’s case, with a fallen tree full of memories) was eminent as looked through past, present, and future obstacles. With comparative reflections of the events that occurred over time, Eddie used a mixture of light-hearted anecdotes and trivial props to provide a wonderfully human experience. This alongside the pulsating techno, carried us through a vast range of shared experiences whilst also gaining insight into Eddie’s creative process.

This piece was refreshing and an honest reminder of the beauty within simplicity and the importance of shared human experiences. And for that reminder, thank you Eddie, as it’s something we all need. Now more than ever.

Becky Johnson, GTC

Connor Allen, Opportunity (Two Years On…)

This article is a follow on from “On Opportunity” Written by Connor Allen in 2017, which can be found below

getthechance.wales/2018/03/03/connor-allen-opportunity/

“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.”

2 years ago I wrote that above quote

On Friday 28th June 2019 … Thousands of young boys and girls sat at home from their “cheap seats” and watched history play out.

They watched a 24 year old Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. headline The biggest music festival in the world. Or as many and most people know him by the name of Stormzy.

The reason I start this article with that is because 2 years ago I wrote about Oprah being sat at home as a little girl in 1964 and watching history play out with Sidney Poitier winning an award and found herself inspired.

Now fast forward over 50 years and the exact same thing has happened.

There are little boys and girls who were either there like I was lucky enough to be, or at home watching, but either way were inspired to see a young Black British man on the biggest stage in the world and his talent and hard work got him to that position.

That inspiration is priceless. And that’s how we encourage the next generation to strive for bigger and better things.

By showing them what they can achieve.

Like I said 2 years ago “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?”

Stormzy, for example, got the opportunity to headline and smashed it out of Worthy Farm. His talent got him there, not the colour of his skin and that’s inspirational to everyone that can relate. Thats inspirational to all our peers and to the next generation who can watch that and believe that they can headline Glastonbury, Or perform or direct at the National Theatre or on Broadway, Or be on the front cover of GQ, Or play football for a premiership team, or be in the next avengers movie. Or be the next Stormzy or Oprah.

During Stormzy’s set he bought on Dave and Fredo to perform ‘Funky Friday’

He used his platform and his moment to give an opportunity to Dave and Fredo to perform on the pyramid stage and to experience that thrill and allow them to share in the moment.

Thats huge!

I say it all the time in conversations with friends, when running workshops or giving talks – If I’m winning then we’re all winning because I’m going to learn some new skills, new knowledge and make new networks etc which I can then relay back to others to allow them to bask in the new found knowledge and glory I have gained and vice versa.

If YOU are winning then we are all winning because you’re going to learn things that can only help benefit others journeys and careers.

To quote Denzel (as I always do) – “I’m not in this to compete, I’m in this to get better”

That night in June at Glasto, Stormzy was winning but he gave an opportunity for others to win as well.

That for me is on the Macro Level in Stormzy and Oprah and I’m going to bring it to the Micro Level of myself and Wales.

Back home in Wales the last 2 years have been a whirlwind (for me personally)

I’ve been given so many opportunities that have led to me:

  • I’ve had organisations like Literature Wales believe in me and my talent to help develop further works of mine.
  • I’ve been on TV (which for a kid from Hammond Drive is huge – Check out changing the narrative from 27 for more clarity)
  • I’ve been a part of a sold out show by the incredible Tin Shed Theatre again in my hometown.. bringing top class theatre to my doorstep (something I never had when I was growing up)
  • Ive been made Associate Artist of The Riverfront in my hometown of Newport.

And so much more

And when I think of all that and more, I’m so blessed to have had the opportunities to get me to this position in my life and career 2 years later.

Ive had so many people like Julia Thomas, Branwen Davies, Gary Owen, Helen Perry, Justin Cliffe, Louise Richards, Olivia Harris, Bryony Kimmings and more, all give me an opportunity and help nurture my talent and craft so I can be in a position where I can help and inspire the younger generation. I can open doors for them (potentially) that were never opened for me.

But again as I echoed 2 years ago the key word in ALL of that is opportunity.

They’ve given me the opportunity so i’m on the same page as other creatives and artists.

They gave me that opportunity to either sink or swim but it’s that chance that is so greatly needed. Without that chance, very few people can reach the potential that they have the ability to reach.

Without opportunity all that remains is an imbalanced and under-represented system where inspiration can’t flourish.

And without Inspiration many journeys won’t even start and many potentials never realised.

I can’t write this and act like opportunity hasn’t been present for me because it has but hard work and determination has been right along side it as I’ve built a career for the past 6 years.

The more I reflect on the past 2 years since writing that article the more I realise that it has been a good starting point in Wales where more of my peers and community are getting given opportunities and they’re smashing it outta the park everytime.

Alex Riley is breaking down barriers with her Mixed documentary and being a member on the above writing groups alongside myself and starring in smash hit TV like The Tuckers and End of the F***ing World

Mali-Ann Rees is killing it in the Tourist Trap alongside Leroy Brito.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06mf8kn

Kyle Lima, like myself with The Riverfront has been made associate artist of HIS hometown theatre at The Sherman.

The reason I list these Kings and Queens is simply because like myself, 2 years ago they weren’t in the position that they are now.

Through hard work they’ve been given opportunities which they have consistently smashed.

So many young Welsh black and mixed race girls can turn on the tele and see Alex and Mali on their screens. Thats huge! because that’s inspirational. Thats showing them that it can be done and they can one day be in the same position as them.

Like Oprah did when she turned on the TV back five decades ago.

Youth who see Kyle and myself in Associate roles at their hometown theatres again can start to think that they too can achieve the same success. That those local buildings are for them as much as anyone else. They can start to aim for similar aspirations.

Once opportunity is given then all you’re judged on is your talent. It’s a level playing field where all it comes down to is you. BUT opportunity has to be given for the talent to shine.

So carry on giving opportunities to the talented individuals that warrant them and if you can’t find those talented individuals then seek them out. Because trust me theres plenty of them!

Talent comes in all shapes and sizes and we simply HAVE to find that and represent that.

We can’t afford to be lazy.

I guess what am I trying to say with all of this ….

Well simply put, I recently asked a close friend of mine to list White Welsh Published Playwrights and without hesitation they were able to list many amazing playwrights, many of whom I look up to myself and have helped paved the way for me BUT then I said now name me Black Welsh Published Playwrights and there was a pause as we both tried to think.

That pause is what has to change!

And that’s why I list the amazing individuals and there are so many more but in future when little welsh boys and girls of colour are talking about playwrights and writing that represents them and inspires them, they can think of Connor Allen, Alex Riley, Kyle Lima, Darragh Mortell, Taylor Edmonds, Durre Shahwar and so many more

There won’t be a pause.

Thats how we change the system and keep that encouragement for the next generation to follow in the footsteps that we lay before them. We must become the change that we seek. We must become the role models that we never had growing up.

Mentorship and role models are huge and so vital to development. It’s the work of them that lays solid foundations and blueprints down for the next generation to follow and build upon, so they can make a more equal and justified system and industry.

Opportunity is now being given and its a great and much needed starting point.

But we have to develop that starting point.

There is still more that can be done to make equality and inclusivity a more normalised thing within the arts.

Create more gate keepers, role models and mentors that relate to and represent the communities that make up Wales’ rich diverse culture and history.

According to Welsh Government Data only 6% of Wales is made up of “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” (not sure how much I believe that) but my point is that in a country that is predominantly white we need to make systems and industries that represent ALL walks of life. Even the 6%.

We are experiencing a real positive shift at the moment and this can only be fully realised through education and sacrifice of power and privilege.

I realise that the more I am improving and the more success I gain, the more power and privilege I am given. BUT with that power and privilege I am given, I can make a choice to share that.

Take my recent Literature Wales commission 27, I chose to give some of my commission to other artists to allow them the opportunity to have paid artistic work where one of the artists is still in high school, one is yet to graduate and another has only recently graduated. Now I don’t say that to be like “oh look at me” I say it simply because if I can do that then people in far bigger and more important positions than me can do that as well.

I know how important opportunity has been in getting me to the position I am in today so i’ll never shy away from offering opportunity to those coming up

J Cole says it brilliantly in Middle Child – “I’m dead in the middle of two generations I’m little bro and big bro all at once”

It was only 5/6 years back that I myself was one of those artists looking for a chance and if it wasn’t for people taking a chance on me and believing in me well, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so its only fair that I give back where and when I can.

And if I can do that so can other organisations and institutions. I’m just one man with a modicum of influence. Imagine the potential if others with far more influence and power made the same approach that I have done.

Its about being courageous and then we will see some positive changes. Changes that are generational. That can have an impact for future generations.

Every single role model/person that we look up to, started off exactly like us. As people learning and working to get better.

Yes, many of my community are angry, upset, confused and more at the moment. And its the likes of role models on a global and local level that will maintain the inspiration and development of the next generation. If we don’t see ourselves and our representation then how are we meant to be engaged and inspired to be the next generation of role models and trend setters.

It’s cyclical.

In these dark times we must never forget our own power, our own talent, our own strength.

It’s only in the darkest of times that we can see the light.

And even though opportunities are becoming more and hopefully more of the younger generation are finding hope and inspiration in looking at the current generation of us achieving success we have to strive for more.

Opportunity is just the planting of the seeds, For real fruition we have to see representation in all forms, from all walks of lives showcased throughout the arts and throughout all sectors.

We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world where all forms of race, gender, sexuality, disability and more are ripe and without positive and sustained change then we run the risk of an industry not embracing that and not showcasing every form of the human condition.

Art is a reflection of life, in ALL its forms.

Real collective change can only be made when representation is across all levels of infrastructure.

PERIOD

So as always

Much Love

Keep dreaming

Keep striving

Con x

REVIEW Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as a quirky Icelandic musical duo who fail their way to the top in representing their nation at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is, at its heart, a celebration of togetherness; it’s essentially a festival of campy delights that annually gathers the wondrous and the weird together on a single stage. It’s so singularly, spectacularly strange that I’m not surprised to hear that Will Ferrell of all people is a fan. The man loves to sing! He sings in practically all of his movies, like this one, this one, this genuine belter from Casa de Mi Padre and of course this classic. He even sang at the Oscarstwice!

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga – Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir. Credit Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX © 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga brings two of these loves together in a joyous ode to being completely and defiantly true to yourself. Directed by David Dobkin, the film follows Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell), a lovably unlucky wannabe-musician who dreams of nothing but winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The only support from his small-town home of Húsavík comes in the form of his long-suffering bestie and Fire Saga bandmate Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who has been in love with the oblivious Lars since they were children. Through a series of loopholes, freak accidents and government wrangling, the unlikely duo finds themselves representing their nation in the contest.

Ferrell could play the lovable man-child archetype in his sleep, and in his last few films he seems to have done just that – Daddy’s Home 2, Get Hard and Holmes & Watson all missed the mark in so many ways – but here he’s on top form (aided in no small part by an absolutely fantastic wig). Rachel McAdams shines once again in a comedic role after her hilarious turn in Game Night, and they have real chemistry – even if the film veers into fantasy by suggesting that McAdams and Ferrell could have grown up together or that she would be the one pining for him and not the other way around. Fire Saga is not quite a musical, not quite a pastiche, but its songs are enjoyable across the board. I liked that neither Lars nor Sigrit are inept musicians – the lavish music video for the extremely catchy ‘Volcano Man’ may exist only in their dreams (for now), but their songs are genuinely excellent, from the foot-tapping ‘Double Trouble’ to the sweeping ballad ‘Húsavík’.

The highlight of the whole thing is Dan Stevens having the time of his life as Alexander Lemtov, an ostentatious singer representing Russia in the contest. Not to spoil the film, but you should absolutely know in advance that there is a scene in which Stevens, wearing a gold-brocade suit and a Careless Whisper-era George Michael wig, sings a song called ‘Lion of Love’ while flanked by a group of scantily-clad hunks. You owe it to yourself to watch that in HD.

A starry medley featuring a multitude of Eurovision winners (I spotted Conchita Wurst and Alexander Rybak) is the cherry on top of a loving homage to the hilarity and exuberance of the contest. It compelled me to revisit my Eurovision favourites of yore – Only Teardrops, Running Scared, Hard Rock Hallelujah and Fairytale – and though nothing could ever beat Ukraine’s entry from 2007, Ferrell has distilled the magic of what makes a classic Eurovision act, capturing the campy charm in a way that only a superfan could.

Sometimes Ferrell’s comedies veer into the mean-spirited (Get Hard, Anchorman, Daddy’s Home) – that’s not the case here. Instead, the film affectionately teases a show which is already acutely self-aware, and gloriously proud, of its quirks. In terms of Ferrell’s filmography, it’s his most successful blend of good comedy and genuine emotional warmth since 2003’s Elf (although I have a place in my heart for both The Other Guys and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, you would be hard-pressed to call either film particularly warm-hearted).

Although it’s a shame we won’t get to witness Daði Freyr win the top spot with the immeasurably catchy ‘Think About Things’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling this year’s contest, Netflix’s endearing, fun tribute is a loving send-up of the things which make Eurovision bizarre and brilliant in equal measure. It may not be for everyone, but for me it’s the best film released in lockdown so far, and a welcome slice of escapist fun.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is currently streaming on Netflix.

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Memories of Talking Heads By Barbara Michaels

The new BBC 1 TV series Talking Heads brings back a personal memory of Dame Thora Hird, DBE, to Barbara Michaels

If any of you were fortunate enough to have seen Thora Hird in Cream Cracker Under the Settee, one of Alan Bennet’s witty and often heart-breaking monologues in the series, Talking Heads,  premiered back in 1988,  you will fully understand why I rank meeting and interviewing Thora Hird as one of the high spots of my career.  I interviewed Thora at home in her London flat, with her husband Jimmy Scott pottering around making us coffee in the kitchen.

Forward to 1994. The next time I met her was when I sat next to her at a long prearranged gala performance hosted by Melvyn Bragg, at which she was the guest of honour.  Sadly, it was not long after Jimmy, to whom she was married for 57 years, had died.  In the darkened auditorium she wept silently, with tears coursing down her cheeks.  Widowed myself just over two years previously, I understood only too well what she was feeling.

But wonderful trouper that she was, when the spotlight shone on her (at least she was spared having to walk on stage) she stood up, all traces of the tears gone, and made a speech without a wobble in her voice. 

It was her audience who choked back their tears then.

Since that day, there has been a hugely prestigious list of actresses including Dame Eileen Atkins, Stephanie Cole and Dame Penelope Wilton who have performed in the monologues.  This time around, the list includes Imelda Staunton (did you see her in Finding Your Feet on Channel 4 recently?) and Dame Harriet Walter.

Great actresses, all of them.  But it is Thora I will always remember.   Perhaps it is just as well that Cream Cracker Under the Settee has not been included in the remake.  The reason why?  It calls for an actress  over 70 years of age (as Thora was) and, under the lockdown rules, the BBC felt unable to include anyone of that ilk!

An Interview with Director Alison Hargreaves by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Director and Producer Alison Hargreaves

In our latest interview, Get the Chance community critic Barbara Hughes-Moore chats to director Alison Hargreaves, whose latest short film Camelot features in the anthology The Uncertain Kingdom. Produced by John Jencks, Georgia Goggin and Isabel Freer, the anthology assembles twenty visionary filmmakers to paint a portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Alison discusses her career, the urgent need to invest in the arts, and why it’s so important to give children the opportunity and the control to tell their own stories. Camelot was creatively led by a group of pupils at Idris Davies School in the Rhymney Valley in collaboration with professional theatre practitioners from May-July 2019, and is described as ‘Wales’ ancient legend reimagined by its future men’ .

This interview has been for edited for ease of reading.

Hi Alison, thank you for making the time to speak to me this morning. Can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’ve been moving into film in the last 5 years, but my background is mainly in theatre. I’ve worked for organisations like Bristol Old Vic and Clean Break Theatre Company and other companies that have tried to find ways to reach people who didn’t necessarily have access to quality creative engagement and finding ways to democratise resources so that more people can have their voices heard and be represented. I’ve worked in criminal justice settings, in prisons, in different communities, different vulnerable groups, and in schools.

As a theatre fan, it becomes more interesting if going to the theatre teaches us something about our society that we didn’t know, and that means not telling the same stories again and again. Theatre and film should help you understand the society you live in and what you have in common with other people. That’s always been where my creative interest has been because the most impactful and exciting work has been made that way.

How important is it to support the arts?

We live in a country that doesn’t necessarily support the arts properly, and especially in education, so when I started to make films I was interested in documentaries that would give a platform for people who might have been under-/mis-represented. With a film, you can frame something in a new way, you can help people to feel a kind of complicity, and feel a connection to or empathy for people who they might otherwise have never really felt connected to. A film can take you inside someone’s inner life; it can help you understand the way someone thinks, whereas in the course of everyday life we sometimes live in bubbles and don’t always reach out to each other.

I think that the process of theatre-making is that it’s beneficial not only for training children for the creative industries (although it can often spark that interest); theatre-making is about working together, respecting ideas, having your own ideas respected, having a safe space to experiment and imagine new things, to support each other, to be supported, to tell a story, to connect with people and to learn and develop skills like devising and reinventing a story and making it your own. The devising process in particular is brilliant for children because its enables them to understand that they can rewrite a story, meaning they can have an influence not only in the way that a story is told but in the way that their story is told. This means they take some ownership, and have some control, over the story, which I think is huge for children who may not have the opportunities and role models; some people feel they are on a  conveyor belt and the only thing they think they’ll end up doing are the things people around them are doing.

Engaging them in constructive creative process gives them an opportunity to really understand that the world is their oyster. What I was really interested in doing for Camelot is using theatre to engage the imaginations of those children so that a film audience could step inside their imaginations and see what was inside their heads, and for those children to be taking ownership of ancient stories, the sorts of stories that underpin our culture. These stories are handed down to us and they repeat ideas about who we are as a country, as people, and I think it’s really important that we don’t treat those stories as set in stone; that they come with their own biases and it’s important that everyone has their own interpretation and has an opportunity to decide for themselves what the story could mean and how its relevant to them. I was really interested to see what the children came up with – they’re at an age where they’re not self-conscious, where they are complete free-thinkers, but not given a huge amount of opportunity to do constructive creative work that doesn’t get graded. We tried to find a way to make sure every set of abilities could find a contribution to make.

This idea of reclaiming the narrative came across so strongly in the film – do you think it applies to the community as well, because the interconnectedness of people and the place they inhabit seems to be at the core of the film. The Pit Pond seems to be the axis of that. Is that an image that realty stood out to you?

Totally – I’m so pleased you got that! What’s interesting about the Camelot story is that it’s about building a kingdom of your own, creating a space for yourself. A lot of the rhetoric in Wales’ Leave Campaign was about a mythical idea of reclaiming your land – and those kinds of themes must be interrogated. It was time to reinvent the story rather than just repeat the tired tradition way these things are told. Communities are shaped by their landscape; their history has been shaped by their landscape. The landscape itself has been changed by their lives, by their industry; the actions of people in the Valleys have literally shaped the landscape around them, so they’ve got a very interesting connection to the land. It’s a timeless and extraordinarily beautiful landscape, and King Arthur was said to have passed through Gelligaer common, which is located immediately above the school.

There are many myths in South Wales that connect to the Arthurian legends, and there is a sense of the land holding all these stories, all these histories, but it’s changed so much and now these boys are living in a moment where their fate looks so different from the fate of their grandfathers because of the way their worlds have changed. Bringing in the grandfather I hope gave this sense, because he was able to share his perspective on how things have changed, and how his grandson’s life is different to his was when he was his age. You’ve got this really interesting moment where, because they’re not going to be sent down the pits, these boys have freedoms in some ways that older generations didn’t have, but they’ve lost some of the certainties that those older generations had, so it’s not as simple as saying it’s either good or bad. It’s complex.

King Arthur discovered his destiny and achieved something unexpected, and he did that with the support of Merlin as a role model, and I was interested in role models for the boys and who they look to in their lives, and one of the boys discussed frog hunting with his grancha, and he brought that element to the character of Arthur. Then they took me to the Pit Pond which just happens to be the world’s most beautiful place – lots of young kids go angling there in the summer, and it was such a gift. It felt like the perfect connection between the world of the play and the real world.

Photo credit: Anna Jones

There seem to be two opposing views on destiny in the film: the young ‘Arthur’ believes that ‘destiny wins your future and how you want to live’ whereas his grancha doesn’t believe in destiny and thinks that ‘what you get out of life is what you put into it’. Which side of that debate resonates with you most?

I’d have to side with grancha on that one! I think it is what you make it, and understanding that it’s in your control is really important. It’s positive if you can believe that unexpected things are possible, that change is possible, that there can be these moments in life where even someone with not many prospects or who doesn’t know who he is can learn something surprising about himself. But I also think that you have to understand the influence you can have over your own life. Of course there are circumstances that impact on our lives, but you always have a choice – even if you can’t choose everything, there are always things you can choose and exercise some control over.

Photo credit: Anna Jones

You’ve given these boys a real gift in giving them this opportunity. They seem like directors in the making!

Arts and education have been whittled down to nothing, and these boys have never done anything like devising a stage production in their lives. We had this amazing moment when we’d been developing the story with them, and we came back one day with a script for us to sit down and read together, and the boys took it so seriously. It meant that they cared about it, and they felt like it was theirs, because they’d never have showed it the same amount of respect. They were so keen about finding their lines on the page, they gave their characters personalities, and were really invested in the story. I knew then that the whole concept was going to work because they’d made it their own.

Some of the boys had specific skills, and we needed to channel them into particular roles. One boy was obsessed with drumming and he never expected them to get a beautiful orchestral timpani drum from the RWCMD, but we did – we really invested in where their areas of curiosity were. They were drawing their own costumes and we brought them back made as they’d specified. One boy took a while to come out of his shell. He was one of the shyest boys at the start, and then he turned up on the day before the performance with a remix he’d composed on garage band, specifically for particular moments in the story. Giving them an experience where they’d been taken seriously and their ideas had been made real, hopefully is a really positive memory for them, that they were taken seriously, they contributed, and were celebrated. The show was such a hit with the community and it was such a proud day for them. I hope it’s something they remember for a really long time.

Photo credit: Anna Jones

There’s a real sense of joy and exuberance in the film, which I think comes from this particular way of working. Is this a method you’ve used before?

I’d never combined theatre and film in this way before, so I took a chance on a new way of working; something I’d been curious about for a long time but hadn’t done in exactly that way. I knew that it had to be a positive story, as it was genuinely my experience of that community. They’re used to having a lot of lazy journalism that repeats negative stories about the valleys. When they found out we were going to tell something positive and creative with the kids, they were so accommodating and supportive. I’m interested in not repeating tired, narrow judgments of what communities are like. It’s a close community, and those children are adored by their families; they’re living in a little bubble where they are safe and can explore both their landscape and their imaginations. Before life gets a bit more complicated for them, there is joy in their lives, and there is something lovely about where they live and who they are.

Photo credit: Anna Jones

Was the school already putting on an Arthurian play or did you approach them with the idea?

I approached them. I had supported another director on a project a few years ago who had worked with the Head4Arts organisation. So Head4Arts introduced me to Caerphilly Borough Council, who then introduced me to the parents’ network, who introduced me to the school – the parents’ network knew the schools very well and had an idea about which schools would be up for it. After I won the commission for the film, I sat down with the team at Idris Davies [primary school], and then I applied for a specific strand of funding (which no longer exists) for collaborations between schools and artistic practitioners from Arts Council Wales. The Council invested money in the film too, and the Area Regeneration Team in Rhymney made that first step in investment, as it was positive for boys and looks for role modelling which they wanted to prioritise, as well as anything that would bring the community together. So, it started completely from scratch with me saying we want to devise this show with boys in the school, and make a film that tells the story and paints a portrait of the community.

What does Camelot as a concept mean to you?

Camelot is an aspirational place that brings to mind this idea of wealth, health, opportunity, safety, a sense of peace – but also it doesn’t exist. It’s a place that was spontaneously made by someone, and when we think about the idea of Camelot we’re thinking about how we could change the world if we could, and what kind of world we want to live in. Camelot is an idea, a utopia; where we would want to live and what that would look like. It’s a man-made kingdom that was an improvement on what came before. I’m interested in that kind of engagement, productively moving together towards building a better society. An idea like Camelot is a way in to that kind of conversation.

Camelot builds on the idea of the anthology being titled The Uncertain Kingdom – is Camelot that uncertain kingdom?

Yes – and if you’re sat in an uncertain kingdom, it’s where you might be hoping to be. It’s what you might be dreaming of while you’re sat in your uncertain kingdom. I suppose I wanted Camelot to be this moment of unbounded opportunity for these boys, a moment where they are safe, happy, free and unburdened by the world. This sort of perfect moment, when it’s summertime in the Rhymney valley, they’re hunting for frogs and they’re enjoying their childhoods.

How was the anthology put together?

The Uncertain Kingdom was thought up by three producers who were responding to the ways in which the political landscape felt last year. They wanted to empower filmmakers to make a comment on events and they wanted a fast turnaround so that the moment wouldn’t pass. They always intended to make 20 films; they reached out to 10 filmmakers and had an open call process for the other 10 – it was a really open brief, you just needed to pitch for an idea that would provide an insight into life in the UK now and connect with the questions they were asking about uncertainty. We had to write an application, submit a treatment once shortlisted and then pitch it in person. I understand that there were over 1400 applications, so it was really popular.

How do you think the experience will stay with you? How will it impact how you work in the future, the projects you align with?

I’m just thrilled that it worked! It was always going to be quite complex and difficult in some areas, so you have to accept that of all the elements you can expect one or two to be tricky. The only thing you hope for is that the tricky things aren’t in the important areas. I was lucky they weren’t. When it came to relationships with the boys and the community, there were no tricky areas; it felt like everything that really mattered went well, and all the tricky areas were in the boring financial areas. In a way, I feel like I got the problems I wanted.

You can never expect to make perfect work and I’m still learning a lot, but what I’m satisfied with was the tone of the film. The approach was what I wanted it to be, and the heart of the film was where I wanted it to be. It gave me confidence that it’s possible to connect a theatre project with a film project and tell a story that weaves between an imaginary world and a portrait of the real world. I want to make films that are revealing of our society, but our imaginary lives are important and can be revealing in themselves; I’m interested in the kind of documentary that wraps around something that might be imaginary, so I’ve left with some confidence that that sort of project works, and that people understand what I’m trying to do when they’re watching it.

Part of you always thinks is this just in my head, but it’s lovely that what you’ve made has communicated what you wanted it to. I’m hoping to develop it even further and continue to work in that way for sure. It’s also made me really appreciate how important relationships are in any project, that the collaborators you work with are so important, and that you never make anything like that on your own. I’m extremely grateful: I worked with lots of people I hadn’t worked with before, had some fantastic collaborators, took a few risks, and I’m so pleased they paid off.

Photo credit: Anna Jones

The notion of collaboration is so important in an age of lockdown, which can be extremely isolating.  Is the arts sector having to change fundamentally in light of this – and is collaboration the answer?

I think it is, you have to be quite inventive now with how you find your support for projects. I’ve always had to resource my projects from a real mixed bag of grants, private help, and volunteer support. You have to think really creatively about how you get things off the ground now. In recent years there’s been a lot of attention on how you make things and who you involve and how you involve them, and it’s not just about what you come out with at the end, it’s about who is represented in that process – it’s crucial that people are trying to think about the methods of working as being as important as the outcome.

People are recognising that you can’t tell certain stories unless you involve certain people – if you’re talking about the experience of certain communities or people of particular identifies, there’s a very specific way you have to go about that. People are creatively understanding how the who is just as important as the what, and just how connected those two things are. You have to think on a case-by-case basis what a project specifically needs, and who would be interested in it. You’re having to work out who your audience is before you get going because you’re having to find support to make it possible. Private funding is going to become more and more important now with creative projects, and filmmakers/theatremakers are needing to become effective fundraisers in order to stay in the game. I think the relationship between business and creative industries needs to be a closer one. I’d love to see more public funding for the arts.

In the same vein as you discussed earlier, it’s not just about humanity coming out the other side of this, it’s about what keeps you going along the way.

And to remind us what we’ve got in common, remind us that it’s what we’re working towards, why it’s worth looking after each other in the first place.

Giving people control of their own stories, as you’ve done here, is one of the most beautiful and important steps so that we can make a better world. The optimism of your film is so necessary.

I really agree. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t make it.

What’s next for you?

I’m lucky to have a side hustle in producing projects that inspire me, so I’m helping Cargo movement right now. They’re a really inspiring company that’s making innovative teaching resources and exhibition design that tells new stories from Black history. Creatively, I’m writing another short film, and I’m working with a production company to develop the Camelot concept into a miniseries for TV, which I’m very excited about. It’s a long road, and it’s very early days, but I’m pleased at least to be having intentional conversations

Wonderful! Thank you so much for your time, Alison – it’s been an absolute delight to talk to you!

I’ve had a lovely time! I can’t tell you how lovely it is to hear you loved the film, and that everything came across in the way I hoped it would. It’s like music to your ears. It’s been a long process – we met the boys in May 2019, but I’d been working on it from January 2019, so it feels now that people are starting to see it. We had to wait a long time for people to see it, and now that they are, it feels like a lovely end to the process, and it’s such a huge reward when someone has taken from it as much as you have. Thank you so much, I really am grateful.

The Uncertain Kingdom is available to watch on demand from Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon Prime, BFI Player, and Curzon Home Cinema.

Alison Hargreaves: TwitterInstagramCreator Site

BlacKkKlansman – a review by Eva marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In the wake of the Black Lives Protests, it has become clear that the majority culture has missed a few episodes so a look at Spike Lee‘s BlacKkKlansman is needed. The film makes subtle points in a non-subtle way. The most important is that white liberal middle-class Christian male identity is the ‘original’ identity politics. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a white liberal middle-class Christian man, the problem lies in the refusal to see that our society has been shaped in that image and our consciousness reflecting specific prejudices and values. 

Society is not a neutral space where individuals interact with other individuals, as libertarians think. Society has structures of power, which create obstacles for the Other (the non-white liberal middle-class Christian man). Culture is the narratives that emerge from social relationships and that legitimise them. The image of a neutral individual colour-blind, gender-blind, etc. is ‘white privilege’, the privilege of not being racialised, gendered, othered. White privilege means never having to ask yourself what it means to be white. BlacKkKlansman explores what it means to be black and what it means to be Jewish, but also how white Christian nationalism has shaped whiteness. 

BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), an African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. He does so by establishing contact with Klan’s leaders on the phone and through a Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Spike Lee oscillates between teaching his audience about American history and identity politics and portraying the KKK as fools, between tragic and comic mishandling both. I grew up with Spike’s movies. They shaped my consciousness, so I miss the old Spike. 

In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee has played it safe giving us a crowd-pleaser, but one that is muddled and weakened by the tension between comedy and melodrama. Gone are Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing with their uncompromising look into a messy reality told with ironic anger.  Yet, buried underneath the self-satisfied humour and self-righteous preaching, BlacKkKlansman offers a few glimpses of the making of racial identity that are worth considering.  

In the film, the KKK repertoire of language, symbols, and rituals is contrasted with that of the Black Power Movement. The storytelling of White Supremacists watching DW Griffiths’ A Birth of a Nation, is counterposed with Harry Belafonte’s telling of the lynching of black people. American culture has been shaped by Christian nationalism and capitalist individualism. It has been presented as the default, the universal, while suppressing the experiences of the Other and depicting them through stereotypes and labels, and confining them into social roles (e.g. women as mothers and wives).  Above all, it has hidden the systemic violence and oppression black people have suffered and are still suffering.

BlacKkKlansman shows that racism and systemic inequality have been legitimised and reproduced by the cultural process of Othering. Racism is not merely individual prejudice, but a whole set of norms and material obstacles that keep the Other in ‘their place’.

The film highlights that race is embodied but also performed. Ron Stallworth does a ‘white voice’ to fool the Klan, but can only infiltrate it because of the ‘white body’ of his colleague Flip Zimmerman. To persuade his boss to let him go under cover with the Klan, Ron tells him there are those who speak ‘King’s English’ and those who speak ‘Jive’. He’s perfectly fluent in both. Ron needs Flip Zimmerman to play him as a white man with the Klan. In a moment of camaraderie, under instruction from Ron, Flip tries to perform a speech by a black power leader, only to be outperformed by another colleague (on blackness, performance, and politics see Patrick Johnson’s Appropriating Blackness). 

The image we have of the body is also highly racialised (voice, hair, skin etc.). White privilege means whites do not normally ask themselves what it means to be white. Yet, there are many shades of white. Foreign-born and Jews are not considered ‘whites’. Zimmerman had never considered himself anything other than white because he had not grown up as part of a Jewish community. It is the Klan’s idea of whiteness that leads him to confront his identity. 

Flip tells Ron that he was not raised to be Jewish, it was never part of his life, he had never gone to bar mitzvahs, and never had a bar mitzvah. He never had Jewish friends, he was just another ‘white kid’. Flip’s Jewishness is called out by a colleague mentioning his ‘Jewish necklace.’ Flip replies that ‘it’s not a Jewish necklace, but the Star of David.’ Asked whether he’s Jewish, he says: ‘I don’t know. Am I?’ Zimmerman realises he too is Other as he faces white supremacists.  

The most poignant scenes are the real footage of Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right Rally,’ where a white supremacist drove his car deliberately into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters and killed Heather Heyer, to whom the film is dedicated. It may seem far away from our British and European sensibilities and yet it is very close, we just have not talked about it much (please read Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack). BlaKkKlansman is weighed down by its pedagogical impulse, yet it’s a lesson many have not yet heard. 

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger, Age Cymru

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger
Age Cymru hosted the first Zoom participation meeting. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Kelly gives an overview of the work Age Cymru has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support the public and her service users in the current climate.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your organisation?

Hi, I’m Kelly Barr, and I am the Arts and Creativity Programme Manager at Age Cymru, who are the national charity for older people in Wales. I have been working on participatory arts projects with all sorts of organisations for 6 years, including NDCWales, Earthfall and the Sherman.

The two main arts projects here at Age Cymru are Gwanwyn Festival, an annual celebration of creative ageing which happens in May each year, and cARTrefu, the largest arts in care homes project in Europe.

We also run other projects throughout the year that might try to tackle isolation and loneliness (like our Gwanwyn Clubs), stereotypes of ageing or representation of older people.

Your organisation is hosting one of the free Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning / Beyond the Lockdown meetings. Why do you agree to support these events?

I am in a very fortunate position to still be working at this time, and I felt like I had a responsibility to support conversations within the participatory sector. I saw many people reacting wonderfully quickly and adapting their practice, but I also recognised that that isn’t always an option, particularly with the groups of people that I work with. I have always believed that we have much to learn from each other so it was an ideal opportunity to do my bit to support some good practice sharing.

What challenges has lockdown present to the delivery of your service?

Gwanwyn Festival has often been about bringing people together, many of whom are in the high-risk category at the moment, so we made the decision fairly swiftly to postpone the festival.

We had a duty of care to protect the people that might attend the festival events, and those that are running them.The creative ageing sector is very supportive so I have been lucky enough to have regular chats with colleagues across the UK and Ireland (Gwanwyn Festival was inspired by Bealtaine Festival), so that we can support each other to think about how festivals like ours might work moving forwards.

We also knew early on that it was going to be difficult to continue to deliver the cARTrefu project, as care homes were starting to close their doors in early March. We’re lucky to have supportive funders who we will be able to work closely with as things progress. We have multiple scenario plans but are very much being led by what care homes want and need right now.

What issues have your service users/participants faced?

I’m really proud to be part of Age Cymru, as they have been able to adapt really quickly during the pandemic to ensure that older people in Wales are supported. We run an Information and Advice line, which received a 200% increase in calls at the start of the pandemic; people needed advice on whether they should be self-isolating or shielding, where they could get support with food shopping and collecting prescriptions. People have also struggled to access their money, and needed support to find new ways to stay in touch with family members. I’m pleased to say that we have been able to help, in partnership with our local Age Cymru partners, Age Connects and other voluntary services across Wales.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

Many of us are well-used to working from home, but it’s been really important to find moments to connect with colleagues. Many of us are spending most of our day making calls to older people through our Check In and Chat service, so it’s not always easy to have online ‘meetings’ as often as we used to have physical meetings. So we’ve set up Whatsapp groups, we send voice-notes, have catch-up phone calls, send pet pictures (in my case, plants!) as well as whole team Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. It’s ever changing and adapting!

With my specific work, it’s about being available to our partners and being flexible and open about the realities. We’ve been taking time as a team to think further ahead, and problem solve, and take any opportunities we can. We’re also keen to use Gwanwyn and cARTrefu Facebook, Gwanwyn Twitter and cARTrefu Instagram to promote creative opportunities for older people as far as we can.

Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?

Back in April, I, like many people who are in a position to, wanted to offer out informal chats to anyone interested in running creative ageing projects, or having to adapt current projects. I had no expectations of what would come from this, only that it felt like the right thing to do, but it’s introduced me to new practitioners and individuals, which has helped to build up my understanding of what’s happening in Wales. Many people I might have struggled to physically meet pre-lockdown, due to being based in Cardiff, I have been able to connect with over the phone. I hope to continue to offer this out and to meet more people – digitally!

What are your plans for future delivery?

We’re exploring a range of options at the moment, but we’ll be working closely with our Gwanwyn Festival event organisers to look at how this might be possible. There may be ways to replicate events online, or using social distance rules. I have no doubt that our event organisers are already coming up with innovative and interesting ways to continue to connect to people and I’m looking forward to working together to adapt and learn!

With cARTrefu, we are ensuring that we are listening to care homes, and being led by their needs right now. We have developed a fortnightly e-newsletter that gives care homes low-resource activities to try, and links to lots of online performances and activities from Age Cymru (like Tai Chi classes, now on our website) and other organisations.

I’m aware that we’re now regularly speaking to people that are more isolated, some of whom who aren’t connected to the internet, so a lot of my thinking has been about how to stay connected to them and to provide interactive creative opportunities that are offline.

I’d like to highlight Age Cymru’s Friend in Need service that has launched this week, and direct anyone to it if they’ve been supporting someone who is self-isolating or shielding through lockdown. There’s lots of useful guides and resources, as well as details of our new Befriending scheme – Friend in Need

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

I’d love to highlight the wonderful speakers from our first Participatory Arts Capturing the Learning Event:

Artis Community, Re-Live and Welsh National Opera.

And I’d love to shout out to all of the cARTrefu artists whose work has suddenly come to a grinding halt with us, but have been helping us to provide creative activities for care homes remotely.

Thanks for your time  Kelly

The meeting notes from Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning – Older Peoples Zoom Meeting that Kelly hosted hosted on Thursday 28 May, can be found at the link


Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning, A Response from Megan Pritchard, Marketing Campaigns Manager, National Dance Company Wales

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Megan Pritchard, Marketing Campaigns, National Dance Company Wales is presenting at the first Zoom Dance meeting on Wednesday 3rd June 3-5pm The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Megan gives an overview of the work NDCWales has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support professional and participatory dance delivery in the current climate.

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

Hi I’m the Marketing Campaigns Manager for National Dance Company Wales: under usual circumstances that means I lead on connecting with our audiences and communities with a focus on the national touring work that we do. I work closely with the Participation department who are a fundamental part of how we connect with and stay connected with our audiences.


At the moment that work is much the same – but with a hugely digital focus, and a wealth of new ways to share dance with people. From early on in the lockdown we’ve seen a huge rise in people dancing across media from TicTok to daily community dance parties in the street.

I’ve been with the Company for just under nine years so for me that’s really exciting to see, the heart of my role is sharing this thing that I love with the world- I truly believe that dance is a universal language that is available for everyone from shuffling along to the radio in your kitchen right through to sitting in an Opera House watching a contemporary ballet.

NDCWales has as real ethos that dance is a wide spectrum and we try touch people with dance at all levels. I’m here to reassure those unsure about watching dance or bringing physicality into their bodies – to take away that fear of the unknown.

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice and what systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

Our biggest challenge was not unique – how could we digitally re-create work that relies on physicality and connection; how could we do it with reduced resource, and what should the focus be?

We were just two venues into our twelve venue mid-scale touring – our largest annual tour, one that we rely on not just for income but for connecting with people.


As a Company we already had plans to create a digital programme over the next year, but in response to COVID 19 we needed to do this more urgently. We were not in a position to move everything that we usually do online, there wasn’t the money or capacity – but as a Company we value all aspects of our work equally. To help focus our resources, we asked our audiences and looked inwards,

“National Dance Company Wales makes brilliant dance with and for all kinds of people in all kinds of places. With innovation and imagination, we widen the spectrum of what dance can be so that more people can make, watch, participate in and learn about dance in Wales and across the world.”

So we put our energy on repurposing what we already had and building on what we do well-  creating spaces to learn about, and participate in dance at a range of levels.

It was important too that content was as accessible as possible – using captions and BSL interpreters wherever we could. This meant that things such as live classes were not a solution for us at the outset because they could not easily be captioned in real time.


To make things as streamlined as possible we used simple ideas and simple programmes, that could be used quickly and taught quickly to people who might be working in new ways.

We used Zoom, YouTube and Facebook live and explored new ways of manipulating these programmes in ways that they may not usually be used. We also used simple editing and captioning programmes – and taught anyone in the Company with a free hour how to use them.


To ensure a polished feel despite content being created in different spaces, on different cameras and in different styles, we created simple branding and guidelines that were easy to follow and carefully spent money on animations to tie the content together.

The creation of #KiN:Connected was hard work, but that hard work was met with innovative ideas and rewarding content – and I’m really proud of how quickly all of the team pulled together to create a virtual version of our work – right through from the performance streaming and post-show-talks to the . bilingual classes for children about rugby and dance.

Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?

I’m really proud of all of the work that we’ve pulled together to get done during this time – but some stand outs for me are:
 

The live performance of 2067: Time and Time and Time (a reimagining of a repertoire piece from our cancelled tour, performance from the dancers home and directed in real time by the choreographer).

https://youtu.be/iYK-l2iLEZ8

Our Rygbi learning pack and everything that surrounds it (including bilingual classes for parents of welsh speaking children who may not speak welsh themselves, and of course the full length stream of the piece itself).

Our dance classes for adults with mobility issues – we’ve had a lot of mums of NDCWales team members use them in their daily routines, which has been really directly rewarding.

I think the biggest challenge for us moving forwards is maintaining meaningful relationships with our amazing participants and continuing to imagine new ways to bring dance to them – especially those who may not be digitally proficient. 

What are your plans for future delivery?

We are just moving into the second phase of our digital delivery – taking our learning from the first phase and building on it with more real-time live performances and exciting collaborations with other Welsh companies. We’re also launching some things that took a little longer for us to perfect for our participants such as our Dance for Parkinson’s classes.

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

It’s been really inspiring to see how resilient the sector is as a whole and how vitally important the arts are for people’s health and wellbeing at this time (possibly more than ever). Arts companies have been at the forefront of providing accessible and free content for home-schooling, fun classes to keep us fit when we are unable to leave our homes, and beautiful digital distractions in the forms of films, play readings, dance, get togethers, streamed performances and more.

Below is a guide to streaming a live performance from NDCWales, Stage Manager, Perla Ponce. (Please note this information is in a draft format and will be updated.)

Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning

Meeting Minutes

35 Participants

Julie Hobday – County Youth Dance Swansea

  • Sister company of West Glamorgan Youth Company
  • Created when Swansea became a County
  • To promote dance for 13 – 21 and also run an outreach strand for younger pupils
  • Collaborate across Swansea with schools, YMCA, Taliesin Arts Centre
  • Creative educational model – training – exploring professional work – peer support – develop a love for the artform
  • Follow an academic year
  • Challenge to be flexible and keep the company relevant
  • Community element is very important / but also the opportunity to create work in response to stimulus 

Challenges of Lockdown

  • No direct funding – all income from the students
  • Meeting through Zoom. Had to put robust safe guarding in place
  • Meeting participants in their homes – some participants don’t have the internet connection or capability to digitally engage. 
  • No shared space – we start with conversation – just so people can chat about how they are feeling and keeping everyone positive
  • Keeping the dancers engaged is hard – some people are keen regulars – but some people drop off. We deal with this by emailing and prompting them through social media.
  • We can’t recruit for new members at the moment.
  • At the moment, we are not charging. But there are questions about how this will develop. It leaves us with a shortfall and this is vulnerable.

Positives of Lockdown

  • We start by asking participants how they feel at the beginning and the end. They have usually doubled their energy by the end of the session.
  • We can use artists from anywhere in the country. This has helped us to support artists who might have lost work.
  • We’ve been able to engage with some of recent graduates who have missed out on  their final presentations
  • Being creative about how we make work – participants are making videos – they have to think differently about how to work in different spaces
  • Access to resources – suddenly students can access performances and class online from some amazing companies and artists
  • Trying to stay positive about the future and keep thinking about ways we can keep participants engaged through the autumn

Gwyn Emberton – BA Honours Dance University of Wales Trinity St Davids 

  • University course has moved on line
  • Degree is based in Carmarthen. 
  • Intensive training in dance focused on contemporary & ballet. Also look at inclusive practice, community work. 
  • We hope our students will stay in Wales.
  • The shutdown was very sudden – we only had a week to move everything online. We were about to start our last 2 months of big projects for the 3rd years & a final show for the 1st years. It was crucial to be face to face.

First Years

  • Challenges  – Bad wifi – small spaces that students were working in
  • Gwyn found an online resource that he could focus the 1st years around
  • They kept class regular at 10am and explored lots of different ideas 
  • They wanted to keep it positive and try to find things they could focus on
  • Explored musicality, articulating with the upper arms, creating phrases
  • 1st year is about introducing ideas and reaffirming their practice
  • Ballet class – they did two phrases in one hour – took time to watch Gwyn on speaker view – and then repeat it so that Gwyn could watch them. Then they could reflect and consider.
  • Used the breakouts for creative making and collaborating. It actually helped some of the less local students to open up. This was a very useful tool and gave them space and time to investigate themselves.
  • Mental Health was a big thing – everyone was fluctuating. Gwyn and the students were constantly in contact with each other – used Whats App and had regular tutorials. Gwyn introduced a thursday afternoon social – a quiz or coffee and cake.
  • Creating a dialogue was important – getting feedback through the screen was hard – so Gwyn would call on people and having them named was important.
  • Resources online were important – students got to watch pieces that they wouldn’t usually see.

THIRD YEAR – Zosia Jo

  • Worked with students to not focus on looking at her and explore disconnecting and being present in their space.
  • Visualisation – Deborah Hay’s work of absorbing the space through your body.
  • They made site-specific work – learnt how to make dance films together
  • Each day they would make a little film – meet in the morning, work through the day and then meet in the afternoon to reflect.
  • Meeting more frequently for less time works much better. 
  • You can only do one thing at a time online.
  • Giving students as much autonomy as possible worked well. Zosia was available for questions.

Sara Sirati – Ardour Academy

  • New organisation. Ten years of working in the community led to setting up a studio – mind , body and soul
  • Dancer and psychotherapist – interested in trauma and how to use the body to explore it
  • The dance studio also have a counselling service online – this is unusual
  • We work with schools, community and the health board
  • They also have a coffee shop and bar online where they do events
  • Students are usually people who haven’t danced much before
  • Covid struck – my first priority was the make sure all artists we worked with were OK
  • Considered the options for how we might work carefully. We wanted to offer something that was good quality and really helped our dancers

Jack Philp’s experience

  • Having a regular online session gave everyone a sense of stability
  • I was nervous about delivering online sessions – would I be able to communicate?
  • Trial and error – we navigated it together and found what worked
  • Pitching the level of complexity was hard as you can’t see what people are managing and not managing
  • Understanding how you can move big in a small space was a challenge
  • Grappling with the tech was also difficult but Sara supported this well
  • Jack found he needed to stop and check in with people regularly to see what was working and what wasn’t

Megan Pritchard – NDC Wales

  • Participation is tied into touring work – decisions had to made about what needed to be taken online
  • Blindsided by the sudden lockdown and were 2 venues into the tour
  • We couldn’t just move everything online – lots of difficulties and barriers including Intellectual Property & rights issues

Kin Connected 

  • Online digital season replacing the tour 
  • Watch Together – some live & some pre recorded – Q&As with artists following them – they wanted to keep connection to the audiences
  • Create Together – for professional artists to create something
  • Dance Together – focused on dance classes for young people and for older people
  • Learn Together – schools and digital work for education – 
  • 1. Tundra Learning Pack relating to a piece that was already online – made a you tube playlist 
  • 2. Created dance classes for pupils relating to our repertoire online 
  • 3. Rugby Learning Pack – relating to work they were already doing around rugby
  • Kept things simple and accessible – so they were easy for dancers to make – and they wanted to use captions – and for them to be short, simple and available at different levels
  • Created a simple brand to over arch everything. 
  • They had a team of people who were keen. Megan taught dancers to caption and edit. Created best practice documents to help the dancers and an intro so that the dancers all said the same thing.
  • They created something for the Wales Arts Review Digithon early on and this got us thinking about how we could make work.
  • Dancers are performers – we needed to make this possible somehow – so we looked at Zoom. We wanted to make it love somehow.
  • Zoom can go live on You Tube – we hadn’t seen anyone using it. We played with framing and using phones. We used the spotlighting function – this was done live.The choreographer could direct the show live. The stage manager controlled the holding screens, music and spotlighting. They have created a document about how they did this which they will share with the sector.
  • They have more performances planned and are thinking about how they can develop the Dance for Parkinson’s work.
  • More people are dancing at home than ever – the opportunities are really exciting.

Discussion

How has online learning challenged people’s teaching skills? What strategies are people using?

  • Sara – I use a feeling scale to see how people are doing. We keep our Zoom classes to smaller number so they feel more personal. We use people’s names and give people a chance to talk.
  • Julie – using directive teaching methods is the default online – its harder to get feedback online. But if you know people then that’s helpful – check in moments are important. Asking questions is important so that people engage. Trying to have prolonged moments when they are doing things – but then stopping and talking – and working to get that back again. The pace is more like a rollercoaster.
  • Mirroring is tricky – the camera flips round on some computers. So either you have to negotiate this or not worry about it.
  • Explore Stop Gaps access training – they use great language for describing movement and this works really well on zoom

Has anyone considered creating dance exchanges with groups that wouldn’t normally get the meet?

  • NYDW are involved in UDance – there will be ways to get involved.
  • We can team up more as a sector. Zoom helps us to do this much better.
  • Youth Dance night for NDC Wales – they are exploring how to do this online. We can co-create work with young people across the sector.

Music and licensing – questions around how to negotiate this? How have people managed this?

  • NDC Wales have done lots of work on this. To use music you need written permission from the artist and the publisher. Online streaming is not covered by PRS.
  • It’s a difficult area – there is music online that has been shared through Creative Commons and they are clear what tracks can be used for
  • You can also get young people to compose their own music
  • Or work with existing composers so it’s clear what the contractual arrangement is