Category Archives: Theatre

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

“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

Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. Jên Angharad, CEO, Artis Community

Jên gave the presentation below as a part of the recent Zoom Participation Meetings. This meeting was supported by Art Works Cymru, NDCWales and Tanio. Thanks to Jên for sharing her statement.

Cyflwyniad Presentation: Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. 18/06/2020

Bore da… good morning! Jên Angharad ydw i… I’m Jên Angharad… a year into my current post as prifweithredwr… CEO with a wonderful organisation that is Artis Gymuned – Artis Community.

Cyn i mi ddechre… before I begin… hoffwn jesd diolch i Guy, Lisa a’r partneriaeth, sy’ ‘di gwneud y sgyrsiau ‘ma’n bosib… ac am fy ngwahodd fel un o’r siaradwyr… I’d just like to say a big thank you to Guy, to Lisa and the partnership, that has made these discussions possible… and for inviting me to contribute as one of the speakers…. Diolch o galon!

So here we go…. Yn meddwl tu hwnt i lockdown… Thinking Beyond Lockdown … catapulting between what was…. what is … and what MIGHT be… at a time projecting into a future that is still unknown! Sounds like a dance improvisation to me! 

I’m not going to talk about the work that Artis did before lockdown, (perhaps you can visit the website if you want to know more about that – https://artiscommunity.org.uk) because beyond lockdown is of course, about our futures… the future of us… as creative, cultural organisations, of independent artists… the future of us as a practice… and the future of us as a community of practice that includes the people who we are building relationships with and people who we’ve yet to have the privilege of meeting, making and growing with…

A future that sits within a broader arts ecology, currently in crisis.

Mae ‘na fwy o gwestiynnau nag atebion… There are many more questions, than answers and so, I asked the Artis team and board, what are the questions they are asking about our future as an organisation and as part of a national practice beyond lockdown and I’m focusing this reflection on just some of the many questions they’ve shared with me!

So this is a collective effort that we can continue to explore further with our communities.

The first question is a big one! It asks for thoughts on how the community arts sector might navigate its way out of lockdown? This is probably a question many of us are trying to answer!

When we consider community arts as a sector, currently capsuled into zoom boxes and flat screens, I think navigation requires kindness, it requires us to take good care of our health and wellbeing and to support our colleagues and friends, so that we are then able to maintain good connections and support as best we can, the people in our communities who make and feed our collective creative practice.

Then I like to think that we can draw strength from being a community of practice that holds a common unity locally, regionally and nationally, we are after all a people practice. We are a community of improvisers, planners, dreamers, strategists, collaborators, communicators and engagers and isn’t it fantastic when we come together to share concerns, find solutions to puzzles and celebrate successes! Conversation platforms like this one are providing a space to reflect, share and learn… connecting, re-connecting and I hope, strengthening our collective knowledge, practice and passion into the future. The more we do this, the more we can feed a shared understanding and form a united voice, which I’m sure we can all agree, is needed if we are to convince the Westminster government, that the social and economic value of community and participatory arts, is crucial to the wellbeing of our both our current and future generations.

The next question asks… What impact can we have now, in the next few months and further ahead into the future? 

In Artis we’re learning through the stories of current lived experiences that in as much as it can never replace social 3 dimensional gatherings and interaction, we are making some difference to people who are engaging in our current digital, local doorstep drop offs, telephone conversations and posted activities… for some living in isolation and without access to digital technology, the non-digital activities provide a crucial connection with the outside world and that of their own imaginations.

Our digital activity has had a surprising impact, I think mostly on our own thinking about the possibilities that digital engagement can create!

The main driver for this development was an urgency…. a concern about how, during lockdown, we could possibly maintain a connection with the people who regularly take part in activities.

Refocusing practice into a digital domain is time-consuming work, but it’s worth it in terms of connecting people during social distancing, it means we can continue to employ freelance artists and we’re learning new skills!

But, if we are to survive beyond lockdown, we face an even bigger challenge and that is to add our voices to the voices of Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government in influencing the thinking of the Westminster government… to call them to understand the need for and the benefits of, locally driven community and participatory arts experience… on health & wellbeing, on learning, on skill development, on identity, on our sense of place in this world, on our environment and on the economy and regeneration of communities. [These are] Community and participatory arts practices and experiences that are priceless and can be life changing.

Efallai mwy nag erioed… We now need perhaps more than ever, financial investment in the arts, and importantly, not just in the larger organisations, but in smaller companies and charities and independent artists who do incredible work in and with communities of people who can otherwise be invisible and feel the weight of injustices, amazing people who are entitled, after all, to explore a world of imagination, creativity and growth.

I attended an ArtWorks Cymru partners meeting yesterday to discuss the Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence, of the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors… the deadline is Friday – that’s tomorrow! ArtWorks Cymru is drafting a national response and if we can, as organisations and individuals also submit responses, however small, our national voice – our sector voice can be louder. Our immediate challenge is to convince the current powers that be, of our relevance. 

Projecting forward… Beth yw’r heriau… What are the challenges of facing a new and different future?

There are undoubtedly big challenges ahead, not only in the practicalities of coming out of lockdown, and transitioning into choreographed… physical… social… spaces, but also in how we approach this… mindful that social distancing, isolation, ill-health and grief will have impacted individuals in many ways and require sensitive approaches to re-engagement.

Lockdown has unearthed the ugly truths about inequalities and injustices in our society and in as much as the Artis vision is well intentioned, we, as an organisation need to question what we mean when we say:

Mae ein gwaith yn ceisio creu lle i bawb

I brofi rhyddid mewn creadigrwydd a grym i ddarganfod gwychder mewn dathliad o fynegiant artistig.

Our work seeks to create space where all people

find freedom in creativity and are empowered to discover great moments in a celebration of artistic expression.

If we truly mean ‘pawb’ … ‘all people’, then we must proactively change our focus towards areas and cultures we are failing to reach in the South Wales Valleys. We know that we can’t do this alone. We need to work together with organisations and individuals to achieve this.

The unknown is perhaps, for most of us an uncomfortable prospect. But I think if we look to our community and participatory practices, that are by their very nature, improvised, uncertain, adventurous, unexpected… we can remind ourselves, that we can call on these same resources to propel us forward into the unknown, knowing that our collective creativity and resilience will see us through.

Diolch am wrando… thank you for listening!

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Shakespeare’s Globe, London (2013)by Beth Armstrong

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dominic Dromgoole’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is just that: dreamy. It has everything you could want from a woodland romp – gorgeous costumes, plenty of gags and superb acting, but is never cliché, nor rests on the Globe’s laurels.

The Fairy Queen (Michelle Terry) and her followers. Image: Alastair Muir  

This production uses both Elizabethan staging and costumes though you’d be mistaken to think it fusty: John Light’s Oberon and Matthew Tennyson’s Puck both bare their chests, while Michelle Terry as Titania skips about in a fur pelt skirt that looks straight off a runway. The fairies’ costumes are also stripped down; trousers and corsets are embellished with natural materials like twigs and mud, as well as animal features such as feathers and stag horns. Delicate winged creatures these fairies are not. Instead, they snarl and shriek like a wild chorus, adding an element of danger to the forest scenes. Their bestial and androgynous clothing contrasts heavily with the pristine, stiffly laced, and heavily gendered garments of the humans in the Athenian court. But when the four young Athenian lovers get lost in the woods, they gradually become more uncivilised and less dressed, which makes for an interesting crash course on the various layers of Renaissance garb.

The lovers a little worse for wear – well, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’. Image: John Haynes  

The set design by Jonathan Fenson is pleasingly simple: the existing polished brown wood and red ‘marble’ arches of the Globe suit the pomp of the court scenes, and these earthy tones, when coupled with foliage and green tapestry curtains, equally complement the autumnal imagining of the forest scenes. As an outdoor venue, staging Midsummer at the Globe is always a special experience, but the rejection of the usual floral, sunny features is a welcome change and actually matches the overcast day of recording rather well. Opting for a darker, cruder design captures the more mysterious and animalistic themes of magic and lust within the play.


The opening of the production begins uniquely with a dance sequence reflecting a battle between male swordsmen and female archers, in which Hippolyta is bested and won as a war trophy wife. This completely alters the meaning of the first lines between King Theseus and his new bride. They are not a lovesick couple longing for their wedding day but a growling Lord and his bitter captive (both roles played brilliantly with seething venom by Light and Terry). This patriarchal tyranny informs the next shocking scene where Hermia’s father reminds his daughter that the penalty for disobeying him is death. In the forest, we learn there is also trouble in paradise where the tension is mirrored between the fairy king and queen; themes of misogyny are not brushed under the woodland carpet and the threat of violence lingers here too. When the young lovers enter the realm however, things do take a turn for the ‘fancy free’. In this version, the line ‘What fools these mortals be’ rings true as the lovers are played less seriously – a valid interpretation for me, as Shakespeare’s device of having them ultimately wake up and fall in love with the ‘correct’ person is a silly notion in the first place. All young actors give accomplished performances, Hermia (Oliva Ross) and Helena (Sarah Macrae) as headstrong women and Lysander (Luke Thompson) and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) as hapless posh boys.

All is not well in Fairyland: Oberon (John Light) threatens Titania (Michelle Terry). Image: Alastair Muir  

Stand out performances also come from Michelle Terry, the Globe’s current artistic director, whose Titania is just as haughty as her Hippolyta, though more full of the joys of spring – or summer. John Light adopts a husky Irish accent for his Oberon and his ultra-masculine portrayal contrasts with Matthew Tennyson’s boyish Puck. The pair makes a great duo, employing Sian Williams’ tactile choreography – the use of gymnastics and swinging ropes also bring out the production’s playfulness. The tactility flows into romance: everyone, regardless of gender or species, seems to be getting it on in this production.

Oberon (John Light) is enamoured with his protégé Puck (Matthew Tennyson). Image: Alastair  

It’s Bottom, however, who steals the show; Pearce Quigley is a comic genius, his Salford accent thicker than gravy with cheesy chips and his performance raises belly laughs from the audience. The comedy is ramped up with the Mechanicals, a usual audience favourite, who certainly don’t disappoint here. The infamous roll call is blocked clearly and each actor’s intonation allows us to fully understand the dialogue. Though the Mechanicals’ questionable acting skills mean they shouldn’t give up their day jobs, director Dromgoole adds yet another trade to the craftmen’s collective wheelhouse – clog dancing. Bottom the Weaver and Peter Quince (a brilliant Fergal McElherron) clash fantastically; Bottom undermines micro-managing Peter (‘Peter?’) through constantly interrupting and forgetting Peter’s name, but the rivalry is ultimately settled with a ‘clog off’, where Peter whips out a delightfully anachronistic moon walk.

‘Take pains. Be perfect.’ The rude Mechanicals celebrate their play’s commission. Image: Alastair Muir  

The play within a play brings the comedy to a crescendo and is a great reward for the near 3 hour runtime, though this production is definitely no chore to watch. ‘Director’-cum-‘narrator’ Peter is in his element and his campy, over-bearing manner wouldn’t be out of place in any am-dram rehearsal room. Under his direction, the misguided players bring out a pop-up replica of the Globe itself, which is wonky and requires periodic mending by Snug (an understated Edward Peel), regardless of whether the sound of hammering and the piggybacking of actors is a tad distracting to both ‘players’ and their courtly audience. Things only get worse (or rather, better) when Wall’s (Tom Lawrence) huge costume threatens to eclipse the entire structure and his ‘crannied hole’ is set in a very unfortunate place. ‘Beauteous’ Thisbe (Christopher Logan) provides no respite to this theatre of the absurd as her portrait is visually terrifying, all garish face paint and huge hooped skirt which upturns in her death scene, though this is too drawn out and the audience’s laughter drops off a little. Despite the otherwise successfully overblown actions and slapstick tone, these elements are contrasted with many pregnant pauses, subtle glances and small gestures, all timed perfectly to alter the pace and heighten the comedy. As the play in miniature and play proper draw to a close, the cast have us eating out of the palm of their hands.

The tragic tale of Pyramus and ‘Thingy’ (Christoper Logan and Pearce Quigley). Image: Alastair Muir  

The live music, composed by Claire Van Kampen, is sparse but used to good effect: the traditional fanfare frames the opening sequence, and periodic drums and strings create an eerie atmosphere to signify the faeries’ arrivals. The accompanying wordless singing is unearthly and a perfect fit; as such, it also closes the show with a final masque, categorising this production as both beautiful and haunting.

With innovative interpretation, visual flair and real comic wit, the Globe’s 2013 performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, dare I say, the best version I’ve ever seen. Acapella vocals and traditional yet naturalistic costume take Shakespeare’s deceptively dark comedy back to its roots, but in doing so, breathe fresh life into it. It’s passionate, stirring, and above all, funny – they must have taken Bottom’s plea to heart and took pains – for it was perfect.

*
The ensemble in the closing masque. Image: Alastair Muir  

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cAwaNRIEF8

An Interview with Welsh Actress Michelle McTernan.

In this exclusive interview Welsh actress Michelle McTernan spoke to Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell about her training in Wales, the work of Rising Stars Theatre Company and where she thinks funding for the Arts in Wales should be prioritised.

Hi Michele great to meet you, so what got you interested in the arts?

I was 8 years old and my dad took me to see ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ at The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. I was amazed. I found myself not so much engrossed with the story but with the whole experience. I wanted to be on the stage acting, I wanted to be the one to make others feel what I was feeling.

Later at 15 I auditioned for West Glamorgan Youth Theatre which had a profound effect on me. It helped develop an appreciation of the arts. It instilled a sense of discipline, character and respect. As well as being fun it also created new friendships some of which I still have to this day.

I got into The National Youth Theatre Company and that sealed it for me. I wanted to be an actress.

During Lockdown Rising Stars Theatre Company have launched a new book called “How do you get a Rainbow in your heart when its in the sky?” I believe you launched during Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental Health is a huge issue during Lockdown, can you tell me more about the book and your intentions for it?

It is such a  beautiful book and we are so proud of it. The book was born out of a zoom session where we asked the students to give us words associated with Rainbows. One of the students asked “How do you get a rainbow in your heart when it’s in the sky?” This felt so profound to me. It was although he had said “How do we find hope when it feels so far away?”. I just thought that that was how many children and those with disabilities were feeling right now. So we sent out a task to put the words into a sentence or a story.  One of our volunteers wrote the story and another illustrated it. We’re lucky to have such talent. We then had it printed and decided that it would be free to school hubs, food banks, Women’s Aid group and all minority groups.

We have just had it translated into welsh and are  currently having more printed. We also  have an online version which is fully accessible and will be launched in July. To date 2000 books have been distributed and not just in Wales, the books have gone to Italy, New  Zealand and Australia. The response has been incredible.

During Lockdown a range of arts organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?

We’re all looking for new ways to communicate and connect with others. I’ve been involved with lots of friend/ family quizzes, zoom webinars, chats and discussions about the arts I was part of a live zoom production where we had 2 rehearsals, a tech and then went Live to a paying audience of 200 people. It worked but was so alien.

One thing I’m happy to see is The Far Away Plays set up  by Fran Goodridge and  Scott Arthur. It’s a new online platform for reading both established and new plays. It allows actors, directors and creatives to keep their minds focused on what they do best and at the same time networking and seeing who else is out there.

Work is scarce at the moment but I’m lucky to be involved with Hijinx Theatre Company and have taught some zoom classes and set tasks to keep everyone busy during this time. Also at Hijinx, we’re  working on an R&D for later in the summer. The process is strange and different but we are making it fun by setting games, doing breakout rooms and using what we have around us to create ideas for the production.

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

I’d like to see more funding for creative arts within schools and bring back drama departments to those schools who have lost them.  We need to invest in the next generation of theatregoers.. Teachers should be encouraged to bring their students to the theatres and more funding would that possible. I would also like to see more investment into making theatre for actresses over 40s. 

 What excites you about the Arts in Wales?

The quality of new writing within Wales right now is incredible. In fact I’ll go as far to say that we are leading the way in that respect.

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

The last show I saw in a theatre was my husband in Pantomime.  ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at The Regent Theatre in Stoke on Trent. The sheer joy that Panto brings to families and audiences is extraordinary.  For some it’s their first experience of being in a theatre, the lights, the atmosphere, the buzz of the people getting to their seats, the actors talking to you, singing along and dancing  in the aisles. It’s an absolute explosion of everything that makes going to the theatre an experience and that feeling will last forever. I hope we get to have our fix soon…I miss it.

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

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Naz Syed Freelance Creative Practitioner, Visual Artist and Travelling Teacher

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.

Naz Syed a freelance creative practitioner, visual artist and travelling teacher with over twenty years’ experience in community engagement and education. She will be speaking at the meeting organised by Youth Arts Network Cymru 5pm – 6pm Tuesday 9th June. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. At the meeting Naseem will outline some of the challenges and solutions she has created to support the public to access the arts in the current climate.

Photography by Women of Newport

In the photograph above I was featured in the Women of Newport exhibition in my home, my mother’s art work on the wall and the textile banner I created with the community for charity Baby Bundles. 100 women’s hands created by different groups and individuals, including Go Girls, Public Theatre, The Riverfront and Llantarnam Grange. The banner was featured on BBC news and was part of the Processions to mark 100 years of women getting the vote.

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

Hi, I am a freelance creative practitioner, visual artist and travelling teacher with over twenty years’ experience in community engagement and education. Working in community and education settings across a range of visual art disciplines, specialising in fashion, textiles, mixed media and applied arts.

My type of work is in the heart of the community with The Night Out Project ACW, I am a freelance facilitator, I work with school groups from Primary to Secondary and community groups with children, young people and older adults in South East Wales, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys and more. Supporting schools and community groups to promote, market and deliver an event with a selection of touring theatre groups in unique settings. Sessions include; PR, design, promotion, print, fundraising, budgeting and health & safety. Each event is organised with a leading theatre company for the public after 6 weeks of event planning. I have worked on the Night Out Project for over 6 years. Working with each group for 6 weeks with creative tasks, enterprise, building resilience, collaboration and confidence. building up to a final show with a touring theatre, including PuppetSoup and Circo Rum Ba Ba.

One of my favourite pieces of theatre to be involved with was Dirty Protest Theatre, ‘How to be Brave,’ I worked on audience development in Newport and supported the promoters with Coffee and Laughs at Community House, Maindee to create a community event. A really powerful and moving on woman show and totally captivating and even better that it was about Newport!

http://www.dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk/now-on-how-to-be-brave

Credit Fez Miah, Night Out Project
Description: A large crowd of people in a room

Description automatically generated
Credit Fez Miah, Night Out Project

Women of Newport

I work as a freelance art tutor in different venues including the Riverfront, Llantarnam Grange and local community spaces and organisations. Delivering arts classes, holiday workshops, family sessions, school visits, Criw Celf.

Description: A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
Description: A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

I have developed and delivered creative projects in education including an eco fashion project called Ringland Runway, with KS2, year 2 class and year 4. Eco Fashion project I developed and delivered with support from Newport Fusion at Ringland Primary School. Creating outfits with a Year 2 class and year 4 eco team, in recycled and reclaimed paper, plastic and upcycling donated clothing. The children won the enterprise troopers foundation award with the enterprise and sustainability project and featured in the Big Splash festival.   

Photos Ringland Runway – Gareth Croft Films, Newport Fusion.

With Arts & Education and the innovation seed grant, I worked with Blackwood Primary School to develop new ways to create, respond and reflect, making their own sketchbooks, collages and using mixed media. Using the exhibition in a box, a portable multi-sensory resource that explores the theme of silence in connection to the First World War by Head4Arts. The children’s poems and artwork were published in a book by Burst Publishing

I am an Arts Award Advisor and I deliver and support accredited courses. I am Lead Creative practitioner trained. I have delivered creative CPD workshops to teachers, and arts organisations as part of the Arts & Education Network, South East Wales and created learning resources.

I enjoy working with others and building their confidence to develop creative skills. I am currently delivering Art Clwb workshops voluntarily in my home each week on facebook live, Sofa Share Wales. Where people engage live, ask questions and create work along with me. I also run a featured artist each week where people send in their artwork created with the theme, inspired by the workshop and one artist chosen by the public wins an art bag. I have found this a way to support families and teachers with workshops and ideas for children at home.

Description: A picture containing little, child, small, girl

Description automatically generated

My passion lies in the power of the arts to connect, empower individuals, communities and cultures, bringing a sense of belonging. How art can transform the perception of yourself and others, promoting wellbeing and mindfulness.

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice?

Lockdown has affected my freelance work in projects and venues which I have worked for years. My work is based in the community and in education – creative practitioner visiting schools and Night Out Facilitator, ACW. The schools I was working with at the time had created such wonderful work and unfortunately the week it all changed was their theatre events with PuppetSoup, Land of the Dragon. I was absolutely gutted to not be able to host these wonderful shows with the children, but they were all understanding, and I plan to go back and do a creative workshop once things have settled. It all just went silent and the main part I love about what I do had just stopped suddenly, I found it quite isolating at first and I was worried about the groups and individuals I worked with. A wonderful group I connect with called Coffee and Laughs set up a zoom and then I started to reach out and have conversations with others to see how we could adapt and move forward.

I also deliver creative workshops within heritage, cultural sites and communities, theatre and arts centres, in the holidays, at events and some weekends. Until further notice, all of it just stopped, due to outside visitors in schools stopped and then all the venues and schools closed down. It is a people facing job and due to the venues being closed, other staff furloughed, schools shut and community spaces my current freelance work was cancelled.

Once projects and communities are back, there will still be restrictions and possibly they could not accept visitors and some of the groups I work with are more vulnerable, so they may not want to attend events and projects afterwards. Future work is uncertain and difficult to determine. Creativity and the arts, now more than even is key to wellbeing and to connect us all.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

I had conversations with other artists, practitioners and organisations to discuss and share best practise, safeguarding and digital delivery through zoom and calls. I spoke to community groups I work with and some parents, teachers about ideas and ways to adapt things.

The sharing of our learning process aswell as others, is key to moving forward and navigating our way through.

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

I am currently delivering Art Clwb – #CreatewithNaz each Saturday on Sofa Share Wales, with live workshops, community art gallery and featured artists each week, who win a creative bag. Promoting creativity and being resourceful in your home, using recycled and reclaimed materials.

The current times have made us feel isolated and arts is a ways of bringing people together. Creating in their homes and making us be more resourceful with the items around us. The community gallery shows work from families, children, artists collectively. A featured artist is chosen each week to feature on the page and I have been putting together bags of creativity for them to use. The connections with artists helping donate bags, Newport museum supporting some of the materials going forward and the conversations I have had each week have meant so much. It has helped me greatly too, when all my work is focused on others being creative and that spark and energy, also moments of calm and concentration are so important. To see videos, creative pictures and happy faces and videos of others sharing their work..there are just no words to describe it! I have had to adapt and look at new ways of bringing people together and getting my workshops out to them. As I don’t have many set groups, I am a travelling teacher and artist at different events, community spaces and schools. So this static creativity has to move and adapt in a different way.

A creative learning in the arts project was cancelled, so I had to find new ways of working with the teacher, to keep creative ideas alive for the children in Year 6, Blackwood Primary School. So I have been sharing the resources and online workshops with the teacher. To have videos and images of the creative tasks each week sent to me, has kept me connected to the group and one of the group has even been making his own videos as a presenter, which as wonderful.

‘One of the best aspects of distance learning during lockdown was the impact of Naz Syed’s Art Clwb activities. As a teacher at Blackwood Primary School I reached out to Naz for some inspiration on what creative tasks I could set my Year 6 pupils as part of their home learning. They have absolutely loved watching the videos and creating their sketchbooks, birds of peace and sockipillars. Parents responded by saying how much fun their children had in making the crafts and the results are amazing! A huge thank you to Naz and Art Clwb for supporting us during this difficult time.’ – Mrs Phillips, Year 6 Teacher, Blackwood Primary School.

The challenges are digital access, safeguarding, access to materials at home, a different space and way of learning and so much more. Online tools can feel overwhelming for some and difficult to navigate. How to create a more personal touch when communicating through a screen. To create authentic connections, projects and outcomes.

I am thankful to all who have connected, shared their thoughts, ideas and creativity and artwork.

Art Clwb community gallery snapshots
Description: A picture containing photo, different, group, standing

Description automatically generated
Blackwood Primary Twitter

Description: A screenshot of a social media post

Description automatically generated
Blackwood Primary Twitter

What are your plans for future delivery?

I want to share as much as possible, so it is looking at how to make it sustainable moving forward. To keep sharing creativity, ideas and workshops for others to access. Looking into what Funding is available to continue this and to work with other organisations to deliver and develop this effectively for digital learning at home.

I am taking part in the ICE 5 to 9 Club virtually each week with ICE and Business Wales. I am developing a creative business idea that has been on my mind for a long time.

To keep Art Clwb going and delivering creative packs and workshops. I have to adapt and be resourceful. Going forward I would like to develop more sustainable projects and use of materials in the community and education.

Description: A picture containing table, wooden, sitting, food

Description automatically generated

In my own practise, I am currently developing work and sketchbook ideas at the moment, Lockdown stories..using collage and mixed media to portray thoughts and feeling of this time. 

Description: A picture containing sitting, wearing, water, beach

Description automatically generated
Description: A picture containing text

Description automatically generated

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 have been keeping in contact with the organisations I work with, as collaboration is key and keeping those conversations and ideas alive is really important. As I am a travelling artist/teacher and it can feel lonely at times. I have found these organisations have been adapting to the needs of the community and freelancers to support.

Weekly Art workshops Art Clwb on Sofa Share Wales: https://www.facebook.com/sofasharewales/ 

#CreatewithNaz every Saturday on Facebook live. 6pm (May be subject to time change 3pm or 6pm)

Each week has a different theme and Naz will create ideas and mini workshops for you to make along with or after the live workshop, using materials around your home. You can share and send in your work. One artist is chosen to feature on Sofa Share and wins a creative bag. All work sent in, is featured in a live gallery.

I been creating workshops online for Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, holiday club workshops on their facebook page and Criw Celf. The Grange are also running a sketchbook community gallery, linked with Art Clwb.

Free holiday workshops with Naz #CreatewithNaz

You can access these workshops at the Facebook Page at the link here

I currently work as a Co-ordinator for Newport Fusion, part time. Developing ways to support cultural and community organisations and network partners. Supporting projects currently including; Sofa Share Wales, Beat Technique, Tinshed Theatre in new ways to develop and deliver their programmes and workshops to their groups and the community, also Operasonic with wellbeing.

Newport fusion, Sharing and posting local creative projects, heritage sites, arts and cultural organisations. https://www.facebook.com/NewportFusion/  

Get in touch with Naz if you have any projects, ideas, events etc running in Newport.

More about Fusion here: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2019-11/fusion-programme-report-2019-to-2020.pdf

Arts Council of Wales have continued to support artists and open up new funding strands. The Noson Allan/Night Out project has supported and kept in contact. With the Creative Learning in the Arts I delivered an expressive arts masterclass – online workshop and resources, using materials and equipment at home, My creativity book – creating concertina books and collage, which will be available on Hwb.  https://hwb.gov.wales/

Arts & Education Network they have been releasing all their educational resources for free by artists on their site and facebook page – #StudioAdref. My resource – Digital visual journeys through collage, is available to download, as part of the Make it digital project. Cultural and Arts Organisations. https://artsed.wales/en/digital-collage/?fbclid=IwAR19Yewj3-SpD7PuATsCKB8wx2Efv1XLo6HaalJDMSflvgkU4VrQJRfA4tU

Arts & Education Network South East Wales– educational resources #StwdioAdref https://artsed.wales/en/ 

Head4Arts have supported by practise and development of ideas, as events I had booked were cancelled. I have produced creative packs for families in the community and designed printed bilingual resources. #DoorstepCraft

Newport Museum & Art Gallery have kindly donated materials towards the Art Clwb bags I have been creating.

The Riverfront theatre are still supporting and advising creatives moving forward.

Contact Naz to collaborate, for workshops, creative packs and resources.

naz.syed@outlook.com 07860 660870

Instagram: @nazeeba22

Twitter: @nazeeba

Facebook: Naseem Syed

Thank you for sharing the stories of others and letting me be a part of this.

Thanks for your time Naz  .

Meg Lewis and Monologue Mix Up

Many Welsh or Wales based arts graduates are finding this current period especially difficult. Their usual opportunities to meet agents, prepare for final year exhibitions or productions may take place later in the year or sadly not at all. To raise awareness of the diverse talent graduating this year GTC is offering any Welsh or Wales based graduate the opportunity to be showcased on our website. If you are interested, please do get in touch.

Please note this interview contains Monologue Mix Up videos, some of which feature strong content.

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

I’m an actor and writer born and bred in Cardiff. An NYTofGB member, Sherman Youth Theatre alumni, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama 2020 graduate and founder of Monologue Mix Up.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

Growing up my parents always made sure we were engaged with the arts, whether that was going to the theatre, the circus, painting on the wall in our back garden, we were always exposed to the arts and influenced to be creative ourselves.

Can you tell us about your creative process?

Process is always a funny one, as is creating. It really depends. I usually write from an instinct, a thought, an image, I just begin and continue. I try not to censor myself or stop and look back until I’ve reached a natural conclusion. Then I’ll go through it, reading it to myself to see how it feels to speak and usually make some edits based off of the way it feels more natural to be spoken. When it comes to acting, it’s such a malleable process that depends on who and what I’m working on. Especially if it’s theatre and we are in rehearsals for weeks, my process will be influenced and guided by those around me – the other actors, the director etc.

As a young Welsh artists graduating during a very difficult period what investment and support do you think is required to enable your career to develop and prosper?

I’m hope that as the graduating year during this time, we will be have an opportunity to be heard. Whether this is through, as we are seeing now, people in the industry giving up their time to do 1-2-1s and making the effort to meet graduates, or through projects like Monologue Mix Up, where we make our own platforms and provide space for other artists in the same position. I think the more our community make an effort to engage with the work of new graduates, the more hope we have for our future careers, connections and creativity.

A range of arts organisation and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?

It’s so inspiring to see how much work is being put online. The free streaming of shows and those with pay what you can schemes make art so accessible to wider audiences who may not have had the opportunity to interact with this work before. I’m loving seeing all the new work being produced through avenues such as the Sherman Theatre’s TEN project – giving new writing the chance to be developed and distributed throughout this difficult time.

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

More funding for the arts within schools. School is such an informative time during your life – you’re constantly learning and developing new skills and evolving as a human being. I think if the arts were given more of the time and energy they deserve in schools we could be teaching our children the benefits of listening – to ourselves and others – of empathy, dedication, communication and creativity. Keeping the creative child within all of us is is key to a happy life.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

The community in Wales is just incredible. Everyone is so supportive of each other’s work and growth that it’s truly beautiful to see. The range of places art exists is also so exciting – from the pub theatre, to the outdoors, to the warehouses. There seems to be no bounds to where art can exist in Wales.

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

Seeing the support from other grads, creatives and human beings for the work produced and put out through my project Monologue Mix Up has been truly inspiring. It really reflects how much stronger we are when we come together to build each other up and support one another’s work and success.

Thanks for your time Meg

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director & CEO Fio.

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.

Abdul Shayek is Artistic Director & CEO of Fio. Abdul will be speaking at the meeting organised by Youth Arts Network Cymru 5pm – 6pm Tuesday 9th June. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. At the meeting Abdul will outline some of the challenges and solutions Fio has created to support the public to access their services in the current climate.

Abdul is a former Creative Associate for National Theatre Wales with a particular focus on engaging communities and has worked with a range of organisations including Contact Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, RSC, the National and The Almeida and various international organisations and projects connected to participation and engagement.

He is a visiting lecturer at the University of East London and has guest lectured at a host of other institutions.  Abdul is a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow (2013-14)and sits on the steering group of the National Alliance for Arts in the Criminal Justice System, is a trustee of mid-wales dance company Impelo and on the board of No Fit State Circus.

Currently, Abdul is Artistic Director & CEO of Fio.  Fio makes fearless theatre: work that tears down stereotypes and challenges injustice. 

Abdul has directed all of Fio’s productions to date from ‘Swarm’, a site-specific show about migration to Katori Hall’s ‘The Mountaintop’ to critical acclaim, to most recently directing ‘Death and the Maiden’ by Ariel Dorfman, and a UK touring production of Athol Fugard’s ‘The Island’.

He is currently working as director and dramaturg in Fio’s stage adaptation of ‘Orchard of Lost Souls’ a novel about the female experience leading up to the Somali genocide which will tour across the UK and internationally. 

He is also developing a VR project with Bangladeshi women. Over the summer of 2019, Abdul worked on ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ at English National Opera.  

‘Orpheus in the Underworld’, English National Opera.

At the meeting Abdul will discuss the projects below:


#FioPen2PaperChallenge

Has self-isolation got you going doolally? Is the company of your phone just not enough?  Are you finding it hard to escape the ever-growing challenges of COVID-19?

If you’re anything like us you’ve watched everything Netflix has to offer and the person leaving the fridge door open for the 50th time is starting to grate on you. Why not shake things up?

We’re challenging you to put Pen 2 Paper and write us a letter.

Join the #FioPen2PaperChallenge

Let’s revive and reinvigorate a faded art form.

We want you to feel free to write whatever you wish – get creative, be inspired.

What would you tell your future self? 

Do you want to reflect on what’s happening in the world? We’re living history!

Do you want to reflect on how you’re feeling and how you’re coping? Impart your wisdom to others.

Do you want to just forget this whole thing is happening? Just tell us a funny story.

This is YOUR letter you can write whatever you want, but we just say make it YOU.

If you need to, nominate a scribe, translator. We don’t mind. 

but

Keep it authentic- don’t worry about spelling mistakes,  you can write in any language you want. It just has to be signed, sealed and delivered….we love a pun, so please feel free to include others!

We encourage kids, grandparents, parents, those on the front line, those who’s stories might get left behind and even you, yes YOU on the other side of the world, to take part. 

Send your letter to the following address:

Fio
The Old Library,
Singleton Road,
Cardiff,
CF24 2ET

Don’t forget to provide a return address so we can write you back!

Once you’re done, share a picture of your writing set-up and tag us @wearefio #FioPen2PaperChallenge on instagram and then tag 2 of your friends to take on the challenge.

Leave your username so that we can tag you back. Happy writing!  

Ysgrifennu Hapus! Bonne écriture! ¡Escritura feliz!

for people to write in letters during the lockdown

Unheard Voices

“We’re making sure BAME Women are being heard.”

Hosted every Wednesdays at 3pm on Zoom, we are working in collaboration with Women Connect First to listen to the stories from BAME Women of all walks of life. Whilst set online, the setting is honest and raw as we record conversations and discuss topics such as the meaning of Home and how this translates from generation to generation, culture to culture.

One of our most inspiring projects yet, this female-only collective is resilient as they are supportive of one another.

A New Normal

Being innovative and responding to the environment is what we do well here at Fio. That’s why, we’re introducing you to A New Normal!

Using their film-making skills online and offline, our inspiring group of young people will be working together to create a web series to document past, present and future pandemics. All from the comfort of their own homes! Combining education and history with creativity and reinterpretation, we’re dreaming up A New Normal for each pandemic to realise the mass effect of change on a global society and how this draws comparison to COVID-19.

What have we learnt from past pandemics?
What do you think a future pandemic might look like in the future?
In 2020, what would you put in your Time Capsule?

Happening every Tuesday @ 4PM on Zoom.

Why not make the best out of a bad situation?

Want to get involved?
Get in touch with judy@wearefio.co.uk to sign up and we’ll take it from there!

Abdul will discuss the challenges and solutions Fio has found below

Challenges

Health and safety, morale, data poverty and access to equipment, translating the work via screen – how do we turn what inevitably needs congregation into creating a similar on screen?

Solutions

Think about what the purpose of the project is and how do you make sure you find a way to enable that online? This has to be the central question.

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Laura Bradshaw, Community Musician, Composer/Performer.

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.

Community Musician, Composer/Performer Laura Bradshaw will be speaking at the meeting organised by Tanio on June the 11th. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Laura gives an overview of the challenges and solutions she has created to support the public to access her services in the current climate.

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

Hi, My practice is as a community musician and a composer/ performer. I’ve been working with the general public, as well as with specific potentially marginalised groups using music and singing workshops as a vehicle for creativity and skill building.

The amazing and very clear bi products of participation in such activities being that of community building/ confidence and cohesion  as well as mental and physical wellbeing for participants. I’ve been following this vocation for for almost 30 years. My own performance and composition skills feed quite naturally into the workshop setting.

Writing this in the knowledge of the terrible racist killing of George Floyd in USA as well as the fact that it has been confirmed that BAME people are far more likely to die of corona virus than white people show that we have a long way to go in our endeavors for community cohesion and equality in the world in general and so the I feel that the role of the community musician or community arts worker is more crucial than ever!

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice?

I had actually delivered a workshop on the Monday just before the Tuesday lockdown,  there was a sense of shock at the realisation. Also performed a joint gig on the Saturday at Cardiff library with Bread and Roses(the vocal trio I sing in with Frankie Armstrong and Pauline Downas well as Oasis World Choir and Band, for international women’s day.

The immediate challenge many of us faced was that our careers – communities had come to a standstill. Firstly, and selfishly, the fact that there would be no possible income – I am freelance and if I don’t turn up to a workshop then I don’t get paid – this appeared to be the scenario at first under lockdown. Secondly a panic about all the regular people I interact with weekly through my choirs – many of whom are vulnerable mentally and physically and the lack of connection with others and the lack of participation with their favoured activity, could be a grave addition to their worries. It was almost too much to comprehend, so I found myself in a bit of a state of ‘red alert’ trying to find out ways to protect both my income stream, and maintain my workshop offerings to those who’d most appreciate them at this difficult time. The research I did was constantly engaging with one of the professional bodies I am a member of Natural Voice Network on their social media as fellow tutors helped (and continue to help) each other out with constant questions, ideas and inspiration. I am also a trustee of the NVN and there were constant discussions going on between board members but how best to support practitioners.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

I managed to get up and running in a basic way with Zoom on the free program for the first week – allowing each meeting of 40 mins then cutting out. Also an addition to the stress but by going through this it proved that the online delivery of the workshops could somehow work. So I bought the pro Zoom package allowing unlimited meeting time.

The next challenge was audio. Doing music on this platform was a huge challenge at first, as  it gradually dawned on me that there is no way on earth (as of yet) to make the live sound sinc up between all the users/ participants, so myself, as leader, would be leading a song or activity and participants were thinking they were singing with me when my reality was a lot of delay of varying lengths between all the participants – this they also experienced. To this day I don’t like ‘muting’ people – it goes against the philosophy of community music – shutting peoples voices off – however I have realised that the chaos of sound can be pretty hard work for all to be hearing all the time.

By muting participants at certain points then they experience a clean and relaxed sound – but they do feel alone in their singing  with just hearing their voice against mine – not with the usual wonderful feel of a group of people singing together.

So another challenge was to create more of a group sensation by finding long lost recordings of some of my community music gigs – songs loved from the past – which have proved to be lovely to re-visit – invoking both positive memories as well giving people hope that somehow, at some point we will be able to safely do these live events again.

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

Along with the Zoom set up I had to find a way to be able to broadcast my sound well– using many original songs a well as exercises due to it now being almost like a broadcast. There was a whole way to enable original sound which is apparently better for music – it doesn’t auto correct which would make guitars and other sounds wobbly. However it does allow pick up of background sounds! I had to make use of a good mic and sound card, which enabled me to be playing a track and sing along at the same time (Colleagues who are purely using computer audio are broadcasting good sound but their singing along sounds delayed to their workshop participants). I still have a long way to go feeling secure with Zoom but after a lot of stress and a lot of support from my very patient partner I generally feel it a success. Also a big success is that now after 10 weeks of Zoom I feel it is on it’s way to precariously working income wise – I am receiving a very cut back income as only about half of my previous participants are engaging. Those not engaging either just find the sessions too alien or they can’t actually access he Zoom session – if their tech is out of date etc. I have many more elderly people who don’t have the tech but do try and if they are alone it is very very frustrating for them. Also working with people who are perhaps asylum seekers with old phones which have not allowed the recent Zoom updates. Some of those people I have been doing individual wattsap video calls with. – It’s very difficult to know how to help these people properly and really feels like they are being excluded even more from society at the moment . I feel there’s a gap in the tech that maybe some tech businesess/ charity could really help with

I also decided to create online videos for my groups to keep them feeling engaged even if they couldn’t access Zoom. I invested in the app “Acapella” which enabled me to fairly easily bring to life some of the simpler songs I’ve written whilst seeing how the harmonies fit together with a different screen for each harmony. Also this allowed a collaboration led by Swedish singer Kajsa Norburry and 7 other singers singing a song in tribute to the essential workers To The Heroes involving Natural Voice leaders from Australia, Ireland Scotland England and Wales.  These acapella App videos were kind of interesting for my participants. eg. Give me the Freedom. There were 2 motivations for this – one to immediately keep sending, hopefully interesting and fun, content to my workshops regulars; and two, to help me to prepare to finalise the material for my book of ”All Year Rounds” something I’ve been planning to bring to fruition for 2 years but never had the time! SO after all the initial stress I did actually have a little extra time to develop my round book (now available on Amazon and as an ebook with 2 bonus songs.) I also had a small amount of headspace for some exploration into more serious and in depth composition – something I’ve not had the head space for a long time.

Another challenge/success is the fact that I am one of the four people who bring Sing for Water Cardiff to the Oval basin every coupe of years involving 800 singers singing together and raising money for Wateraid.

This year was to be extra special with us lining up with Green Squirrel and “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Give Up” The “Get Creative” festival as well as Oasis World Choir and Band having a key role in leading into the whole concert with a special song and carnival  procession. So so sad to have to postpone this. However we did manage to create an online event – where project manager Sue Ellar created ticket links for people to pay £3 each – also gave the option to pay forward £1 towards anyone who might not be able to afford a ticket – also the option for ‘hardship” meaning that people could get the event link for free too. These are all things I find difficult but working as a team Sue came up with excellent solutions to ensure we could somehow receive some kind of payment for our planning of the session. 115 people engaged with that session and there will be links sent to choir members with a compilation of the highlights of the session with a motivation for them to continue their fundraising for the charity Wateraid.

Access – as I mentioned earlier due to tech has been a huge challenge with people trying and trying to join the sessions but their tech simply not working for them – we are at lockdown so those people can’t have anyone to physically show them how it works or to re-set their devices or event to buy in new tech if they have the money. Zoom updates have meant that some phones no longer allow access. People I work with are often extremely isolated for a multitude of reasons, from disability to asylum claims, to mental health issues, to simply being more elderly and living alone. This includes younger people now living and coping alone – many of whom have fully appreciated the regular Zooms – a chance to interact and participate in a positive and familiar activity together.

A huge but unexpected positive of this situation is that people who have moved away or been moved away so could no longer be a part of the sessions due to physical distance have now been re-engaging with the workshops.

I have regulars from the past who moved to Bristol and Brighton who now regularly join the Friday morning Chapter Singers workshops. Also people who have been members of the Oasis World Choir and Band project who have moved by choir to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester are joining us and still feel a part of our extended choir family. Also the terrible situation where people who are asylum seekers and then suddenly moved away with no notice. This happened to one of our vey special choir members and her then 4 year old daughter – they were moved to a hotel in London a month before lockdown – they were then moved to another 2 different hotel rooms and are still in a hotel room in the London area. Thankfully they have a good enough phone to be able to Zoom in with us weekly, a fact which truly helps them to feel slightly human and normal as well as still getting all the scientifically proven additions to wellbeing that singing, dancing and laughing bring.

Amazing joy at being able to collaborate with Ethiopian composer performer and community musician Tewolde Girmay after 10 years! (Flute duet Wales to Ethiopia)

What are your plans for future delivery?

I think I will be leading Zoom sessions for a long time as singing is proving to be a less safe activity to do, Corona wise, due to the otherwise extra healthy deep breaths that people expel during the act of singing.

When it does feel safe to do so again I will need to ensure that people can decide on their own terms how and when to join, and I will have in place social distancing measures and guidelines carefully thought out beforehand.

I know for sure that I will be aiming to continue Zooming perhaps one weekly session due to all the amazing interactions that wouldn’t have happened without Zoom access and I have group members who are vulnerable health wise and are currently shielding who have already asked me if I’ll be able to include them in this way in the future. I’m not sure how to make any of it work in a financially secure manner – it’s all been a great gamble so far, but fingers crossed and on I go.

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 have been paid to continue weekly workshops by Tanio through March, April and May for the Oasis World Choir project.

Oasis World Choir project

Also Community Music Wales have asked for videos for their website.

Newport Mind have continued to pay for my weekly sessions with their clients, this will be on-going which gives a sense of real security to me as a freelancer.

I have facilitated the YMCA staff choir for the past 6 years this recently turned into YMCA Community Choir  – then lockdown stopped that but a YMCA linked organisation have hired me to do some try out sessions with young carers which is a new challenge working with people I had not actually previously met. I have now done the first session which went really well so watch this space!

laura.communitymusic@gmail.com

Natural Voice Singing leader, Composer, Performer

www.laurabradshawmusic.com

Thanks for your time  Laura

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