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

Director Jack M Dunbar

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

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

What got you interested in the arts?

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

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

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

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

BEAR Playwright Jon Berry

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

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

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

Cardiff based animator Emma Davies

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

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

The Grand Pavilion Theatre, Porthcawl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here, thanks.


Helo, fy enw i yw Cerian a dwi’n hwylusydd ymgysylltu ieuenctid am yr Amgueddfa Cymru. Rydyn ni’n dechrau prosiect newydd am bobl ifanc LHDT+ o oedran 16- 25. Enw’r prosiect yw Trawsnewid, bydd y prosiect yn canolbwyntio ar y thema o drawsnewidiadau. Trwy’r prosiect byddwn ni’n archwilio pobl draws a gwrthiant cydymffurfio rhywedd o hanes Cymraeg a’r profiadau o bobl sy’n byw heddiw. 

Bydd cyfarfod bob ail wythnos gyda’r bobl ifanc, bydd y sesiynau yn weithdai creadigol sy’n archwilio’r thema o’r prosiect gyda’r cyfle am y cyfranogwyr i redeg sesiynau eu hunain. Trwy’r prosiect byddwn ni’n gweithio tuag at cynnal ddigwyddiadau fel trosfeddiannu’r Amgueddfa yn yr Amgueddfa genedlaethol y Glannau yn Abertawe ac arddangosfa o’r gwaith sy’n cael ei chreu dros y prosiect. Bydd y prosiect yn cael ei addasu am y diddordebau’r grŵp fel celf, perfformio, ysgrifennu creadigol neu hanes. 

Bydd y prosiect yn dechrau gyda sesiwn ar lein am 6yp ar y 24ain o Chwefror, byddwn ni’n cyflwyno’r prosiect, cyfarfod ei’n gilydd a dylunio cerdyn post sy’n cael ei ysbrydoli gan y casgliad LHDT+ yr amgueddfa. 

Os ydych chi eisiau cymryd rhan yn y prosiect, cael unrhyw gwestiynau am y brosiect neu yn gwybod unrhyw berson ifanc gyda diddordeb i gymryd rhan anfon e-bost i: cerian.wilshere@museumwales.ac.uk

Trawsnewid A New Project for LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 from Amgueddfa Cymru- National Museum Wales.

Hello, my name is Cerian and I am a youth engagement facilitator for Amgueddfa Cymru- National Museum Wales. We are about to start a project for LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25. The project is called Trawsnewid and is going to be focused around the theme of transformations. Throughout this project we will be exploring trans and gender non-conforming figures in Welsh history and lived experiences today. 

There will be a bi-weekly meeting with the young people, these sessions will be creative workshops exploring the theme of the project with the opportunity for the participants to run their own sessions. Throughout the project we will be working towards putting on our own events such as a museum takeover at the Waterfront Museum in Swansea and an exhibition of the work created throughout the project. The project will be tailored to the interests of the group, whether that’s history, art, creative writing, performance etc. 

The project will begin with an online session on the 24th February at 6pm, we will be introducing the project, getting to know each other and designing our own postcard inspired by the museum’s LGBT+ Collection. 

If you would like to get involved in the project, find out any more information about the project or know of any young people who would be interested please email: cerian.wilshere@museumwales.ac.uk 

Collaboration, Connection and Coronavirus: An Interview with Theatr Clwyd’s Tamara Harvey on new online production, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Get The Chance critic, Beth Armstrong, chats to Tamara Harvey, Artistic Director of North Wales theatre, Theatr Clwyd. Tamara is the director of new online play, The Picture of Dorian Gray, featuring cross-county creatives and a star-studded cast. This adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s famous novel is a collaboration between the Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre and Oxford Playhouse with partner venues including Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Torch Theatre.

Tamara, congratulations on being named The Stage, Regional Theatre Of The Year. Can you tell me what that meant to you and the whole team at Theatr Clwyd?

Executive director Liam Evans-Ford and artistic director Tamara Harvey. Photo: Theatr Clwyd

It was just an amazing start to the year because everyone in the team has worked so hard whether they’ve been working on serving our community or creating online content or whether they’ve been on furlough and have had to navigate the emotional difficulties of that – home-schooling, friends and family being ill – so to have a moment where the industry and The Stage said ‘you’re doing alright’, you know, ‘keep going’ – it was a really good way to start 2021.

Well it’s a brilliant achievement. So your new production, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is an online play. Now online plays are becoming more commonplace amid the pandemic but each theatre has their own definition. Could you give us more details on what this play might look like or are you keeping it under wraps?

Yeah I’m very happy to. Essentially it’s born of the question of: ‘What can we do?’ So we can’t tell stories on our stages right now. What can we do? It’s a combination of audio recordings, found footage, filmed extracts – some filming taking place in person, socially distanced, obviously, and some in people’s own homes, so it’s come from adversity but hopefully it means that we’re just creating a slightly new way of experiencing the story.

It sounds really innovative. And there have been a lot of brilliant pieces of theatre, TV and film made during lockdown. Does your adaptation make any coronavirus parallels or does it provide a brief respite from it all?

I think it certainly provides respite, I would say, in that it’s full of brilliant actors and it’s a fascinating story. It is set now so there are moments that allude to the world we’re living in now but it isn’t a story about a pandemic. It’s a story about people living their lives in a particular moment in time.

So as you said it takes place now. The play modernises Oscar Wilde’s story and transforms Dorian Gray into a social media influencer. Recently many influencers have been criticised for travelling despite restrictions. Do you think audiences will have less sympathy towards the character in light of this? Will their opinions of him change in any way?

Ah, interesting…I think we each when we watch a story, when we experience of piece of theatre or digital storytelling, we bring our own experiences and our own opinions to it so I think everyone is likely to react to Dorian in a slightly different way, depending on whether they have experience of that online world or they don’t, whether it’s something that they’re completely familiar with or something that they find totally alien. I think, and I hope actually – it’s one of the stories with making a piece of theatre, whether it’s on screen or on stage – I hope that people will have different reactions depending on their own experiences.

Social media and the idea of keeping up appearances seem to be a key theme. Do you think the pandemic has increased our anxiety of showing off our best selves online or instead alleviated some of the pressure, as teachers and colleagues are now allowed a little window into our lives everyday – messy kitchens and all?

It’s certainly increased my anxiety! *laughs* There’s nothing like having to be on a TV screen every day, you know. The great joy of discovering you can turn off your self-view on Zoom is amazing. Look, I think it’s done both, hasn’t it? We’re having to spend more time – even if only at the moment when we sign onto a facetime or a Zoom or whatever – we’re spending more time seeing our own image and for some of us that’s, you know, not a pleasant experience, for others I’m sure it’s delightful. We’re also able to have pyjama bottoms on as long as only our top half is seen so it’s a really curious mix. I put on heels for the first time yesterday and it felt totally bizarre because I haven’t done that in months and so yeah, perhaps with all of these things, each of us is having such a different experience. You know it’s that thing – people have said we’re all in the same storm but in different boats. I’m having to spend almost all day everyday on Zoom and there are other people who don’t go near it. So I think it’s impossible to generalise really.

Rehearsing online and with social distancing measures must have presented a lot of challenges but are there any positive aspects or creative innovation to have come out of these restrictions?

Well the whole piece is a creative endeavour that wouldn’t have happened under any other set of circumstances. So the fact that it exists is in itself a positive coming out of this moment. Online rehearsals are…difficult. Partly because of the time lag, partly because there is a focusing thing that happens when you walk into a rehearsal room – you’re leaving your life behind, plugging into a different space and that focuses your mind, whereas if you’re in your own home, you’ve got the door going or you’ve got the dog barking, you know, or your kids running round, whatever it is. But there are advantages; I still get to have tea with my kids every day and people don’t have to leave their loved ones behind to travel. Given the choice, I will still want to be in a room with people but it is possible to find positives even online.

Yeah I think that’s true. So starring as the title character Dorian is actor, Fionn Whitehead, who audiences will no doubt recognise as the breakthrough star of Dunkirk. What do you think Fionn brings to the role?

Fionn is just extraordinary. On screen he is completely mesmerising and I think that’s to do with the rare combination of vulnerability and strength. And wit. And innocence. He’s a kind of fascinating mix and the other thing that’s such a joy about him is he’s just an incredible person to have on set because he’s utterly delightful every second of the day. That means that you can be playful and collaborative and try things and as a director, feel able to make mistakes or try something unexpected because he’s so open and engaged. He’s extraordinary.

Fionn Whitehead

The show is currently in pre-production but are there any aspects or ideas you’re particularly excited to share with the cast and other creatives?

Well we’ve kind of got everything, as it were, in the can. We’ve now done all of the filming. The bit that’s happening now, which is quite new for me and therefore really exciting, is the editing. And I’m in this lovely position where I’m spending most of everyday on Zoom with our amazing director of photography and editor, Ben Collins, from the Barn Theatre with both of us watching the dailies and working out the edit so there’s something really heart-warming in this moment about knowing that I’m up in North Wales in my regional theatre and he’s down in Cirencester in his but there’s this invisible string reaching between us as we both create a thing. And the whole time we’re watching onscreen all these other people who’ve come together, whether physically or remotely, to make a story in order to support regional theatre and that feels pretty special.

The cast of The Picture of Dorian Grey

I love that sense of connection that you have. So would you like to add anything else?

I suppose the only thing is that it’s worth saying that it does have what Henry Filloux-Bennett, who is the adapter, has done so beautifully – he’s managed to hold on to the spirit of the original which of course has all the wit of Oscar Wilde so as well as talking about social media and being about the downfall of this young man it’s also funny and fun and irreverent and all of those things.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett

Thank you so much. I think that just leaves me to say best of luck and I can’t wait to see it.

Beth Armstrong

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Beth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here, thanks.

Major Bursary Success for Newport-born Artist Connor Allen

Local artist and The Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre’s Associate Artist, Connor Allen, has successfully received a £20,000 award from the Live Work Fund from Jerwood Arts. 

The fund received over 1,200 applicants and Connor is one of just 33 artists across the UK to have been successful.

Connor will be using the funding to set up a collective of professional black artists working across various artistic disciplines, of all ages and based in Wales.  The collective will support the development of artists during the challenges faced due to the current pandemic including mentoring, sharing and supporting each other’s practice as well as providing increased representation and professional opportunities for more black artists to grow and progress. Members will work together to learn and develop as well as to give back to the arts community and inspire the younger generation of black artists in the making.

The Live Work Fund has been created in direct response to the impact the Covid pandemic has had on self-employed artists across the UK and is the result of four major arts funders (Jerwood Arts, Wolfson Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Linbury Trust) coming together to award a total of over £660,000 to successful applicants.

About the bursary and project Connor said “My growth as an artist and the development of this project and my collective idea wouldn’t have been possible without the Jerwood bursary and the support of many organisations such as The Riverfront who have been instrumental in my success since me becoming Associate Artist.

“I believe that the impact of my collective idea can be exciting and influential on the landscape because it will allow artists of colour in Wales the opportunity to develop themselves and explore their craft alongside my own exploration throughout 2021. This has the potential to nurture the next wave of exciting Welsh artists of colour which in my opinion is awesome and so much needed.”

Since graduating from Trinity Saint David as an Actor, Newport-born Connor Allen has worked with companies such as The Torch Theatre, Sherman Theatre, Tin Shed Theatre and National Theatre Wales. He joined The Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre as Associate Artist in 2020.

During the past 12 months, despite the difficult circumstance the pandemic has created for artists, Connor has written and performed multiple pieces across South Wales including Dom’s Drug Prayer as part of Sherman Theatre’s Ten and The Making of a Monster at Le Public Space’s Right Now Online Theatre Fest. He was also commissioned by Literature Wales to create an online album of creative mediums, 27, a collection of thoughts from his life, the journey he has been on and the lessons he has learnt.

Olivia Harris, Creative Producer for The Riverfront said “We’ve been working with Connor for some time now and are delighted his talent has been recognised with this bursary. He truly deserves it and we can’t wait to see where it takes him and go on this journey with him.”

To find out more about Connor Allen and to keep up to date with his upcoming work, visit https://www.connorallen.co.uk/

Review Simply Charming by Nathan Scott Howe

Reviewed by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Having spent a year trapped in our towers and unable to let our hair down, it’s only natural we would long for the escapism of fantasy. Even before the world stood still, a rise in fairy tale retellings spoke to our collective yearning to break free from everyday existence; to conjure up a pumpkin carriage and finally go to the ball. Fairy tales have a unique power to transport you into a world where anything is possible. This is a realm in which good people get everything they’ve dreamed and deserved, where cynicism and cruelty go unrewarded, and where a happily ever after is only one wish away. If you want your wish granted, look no further than Simply Charming, a reimagining of Cinderella from her prince’s perspective, written and illustrated by Nathan Scott Howe.

Image credit: Nathan Scott Howe

Cinderella is one of our most culturally beloved stories, retold countless times in myriad ways – but the focus, as you might expect, has (almost) always been on its pure-hearted heroine. Simply Charming flips the script by centring on Prince Charming himself, a character so historically generic he’s become a byword for one-dimensional hunky niceness and very little else. In the original tale, he’s more a prize than he is a prince – simultaneously the person everyone’s searching for and the person whom nobody truly knows. Howe’s book not only gives Prince Charming a personality and a proper character arc, it shows how his parents shaped the man he would become; a man who would search an entire kingdom to find his true love.

Image credit: Nathan Scott Howe

Just as Maleficent fleshed out Sleeping Beauty’s ‘villainess’ into a complicated anti-heroine, Simply Charming takes a character formerly reduced to one-note chivalry and explores exactly why he deserves that much-prophesied happily ever after. Part one focuses on Florence, Charming’s mother, and part two on Charming himself. Howe takes time and care to craft sympathetic characters whose company it is a pleasure to share, and you can sense his genuine affection for the characters in every word. It’s a real labour of love, having taken eight years from inception to completion. This self-published book has both the grounded, loving feel of Ever After and the sumptuous palette of the Disney classic. Howe has an eye for tone, texture, and visuals in his writing, and his brilliant use of descriptive imagery often made me feel like I was stepping into a painting – an immersive experience enhanced by his gorgeously illustrated chapter headings (which eagle-eyed readers might spot changing as the story progresses). The stunning cover image alone, which combines illustrations from key moments throughout the book, is a work both of art and heart.

Image credit: Nathan Scott Howe

I was constantly thrilled by Howe’s inventive incorporation of the Cinderella mythos – right down to the pumpkin carriage and the vengeful housecat! – in ways which wonderfully expand on and enhance the original tale. Learning the origins of these elements, and especially the motif of time which underscores the tale, has made the story even more resonant than it was before. It’s a rare treat to watch an author hone their craft in real time, and you can witness Howe’s confidence and skill blossom chapter-by-chapter. Although it may at times seem a little uneven, I feel this can be forgiven as the first half is setting up the pieces which pay off brilliantly in the second. Though I would have loved for some intriguing story points and interesting characters to have gotten more of the spotlight (a Poppi/Samuel spinoff, anyone?), I greatly appreciated the book’s focus on character and theme over plot. It reminded me of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, which is more concerned with making you feel like part of a kooky and loving family than bamboozling you with twists. Simply Charming is a story for everyone: pure escapism into a kind and gentle world.

That the story concludes just before the happy ending we know so well is incredibly poignant. We know that Cinderella will marry her prince – it’s part of our collective consciousness, after all – but Simply Charming is about the journey to happily ever after. It’s like life: sometimes it all falls into place, and sometimes it doesn’t. Living happily ever after is never a certainty, and even if it does happen, we’ll never know where the fairy tale really ends. We’re left on the precipice of hope and promise; a precarity that a year in lockdown has only served to magnify.

Image credit: Nathan Scott Howe

Immersive, innovative, and involving, Simply Charming had me completely under its spell. Howe crafted a world I simply didn’t want to leave, and reading it was genuinely joyous from the first to the last word. During a time in which the bad news more often seems to weigh out the good, Simply Charming reminded me that people can be brave and kind, that wishes do come true, and that a love that is secure and unfettered and fought for is a magic all of its own. Last Christmas, Howe and his colleagues designed and produced Christmas cards to raise funds for the New Theatre (they sold out in less than a week). Profits from the sales of Simply Charming will be donated to Macmillan Cancer Trust and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and it’s a beautifully generous act which underscores the heart of the fairy tale: that time is fleeting and therefore precious, that kindness and goodness always triumphs, and that a happy ending lies ahead of us all, if we fight for it. In Howe’s words, “Have faith in your dreams, they have more power than you think”.

Simply Charming is available for digital download on Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: The author has a pre-existing relationship with Get the Chance; a copy of the book was purchased in exchange for an honest review.

The Power of Dance is Magical! Simone Sistarelli and Popping For Parkinson’s

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

Thanks for having me! I am Simone Sistarelli, and I am the founder of Popping For Parkinson’s ®, a project that transforms Parkinson’s patients into Popping dance students. I am passionate about inspiring people. I am a dance artist, a social entrepreneur, a musician and public speaker. I am in the Universal Hip Hop Museum Hall of Fame for my contribution to Hip Hop Culture.

I have a BA in Contemporary Dance from Trinity Laban and an MSc in Dance Psychology from the University of Hertfordshire.

What got you interested in the arts?

I fell in love at first sight with dancing at age 10, and I have not stopped being in the arts world since! The arts are an incredible vessel of expression, and they feel liberating to me. 

You have been running Popping For Parkinson’s since 2015. On your website you describe your approach as

“Using Popping dance techniques as an innovative therapeutic tool for improving the physical condition of people affected by Parkinson’s disease. Participants see improvement in their natural movement capacities, but also gain confidence, feel less socially isolated and have fun.”

It sounds like a fascinating approach. Where did the project originate?

 I had the original idea in 2012 while training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. It originated as a result of various inputs, from my granddad having Parkinson’s to the similarities between the Parkinson’s tremors and Popping dance. I thought: people with Parkinson’s shake without the beat;I train my whole life as a Popping dancer to shake to the beat. In my head, people with Parkinson’s could turn their symptom into a superpower! After years of research on Parkinson’s, dance, music therapy, dance therapy and more, I developed a methodology, started a collaboration with SLYPN (South London Younger Parkinson’s Network), I offered the first dance class as a trial run, people loved it, and we haven’t stopped since!

How does someone get involved, do they need to have any prior dance experience?

Absolutely no prior experience is needed! People can simply sign up for the online classes through our website and join us!

How would you like the project to develop?

There are around 10 million people with Parkinson’s worldwide. The ultimate aim of the project is to reach all of them and empower them all to become dancers! In practical terms, I am working on future developments by exploring different ways to reach people, from writing a book to creating dance tutorials (both on streaming platforms and DVDs), creating bespoke music for dance classes and more.

You might not normally think of Hip-Hop culture and Parkinson’s as strong partners. What has the reaction been to the project in the Hip Hop community?

My work has been recognised by the Universal Hip Hop Museum, the ultimate dream for anyone in the Hip Hop community. I hope I can inspire people in the Hip Hop world as much as Hip Hop inspired me in the first place.

There is a lack of Diversity in mainstream cultural provision. Do you think your project has connected with people who might not normally think of themselves as Dancers?

Yes! Dance is so much more than solely performing, and appreciating that is key to inviting more people to improve their life through social artistic movement.

Music is a key element of Hip Hop. How do you select the tracks to use in your class and if you had to choose one, what’s your favourite?

As a musician myself, I carefully choose the songs for my classes. I know the impact that a good tune can have! I am a record collector and I have a vast collection of songs to start from, then depending on the theme/mood of the class I will pick the most appropriate songs. Songs can go from classic Popping tunes (Cameo, Zapp) to Popping beats (Slick Dogg, Beatslaya), from recent Electro-Funk releases (Mofak, Makvel) to my own music productions. 

Asking for a favourite song/album to a collector is like asking for the favourite child to a parent, it’s impossible to answer! One of the songs that I keep going back to though is Brass Construction’s “Get up to Get Down”.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that people living with Parkinson’s face to access dance and your organisations work? If you have identified any, have you been able to reduce these barriers in any way?

People with Parkinson’s face several challenges on a daily basis. Some of these limitations are specific to accessing dance classes. We did encounter some of them and we tried to reduce the impact that they had. One example was offering both seated and standing classes, so that people with limited mobility can access Popping dance (which tends to be a standing dance style).

Another limitation was costs, so from the very start of the project we offered the classes free of charge for participants (thanks to the support of funders such as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the National Lottery Community Fund). 

Now that classes are online only for obvious reasons, barriers are different. For example, commuting to class can be challenging for people with Parkinson’s, yet this particular limitation is not present online. At the same time, online classes present other barriers, such as technological knowledge, Zoom fatigue, access to broadband (especially for older people). We want to expand and offer several ways of participation, from interactive classes via Zoom to pre-recorded classes on YouTube, from dance tutorials to DVDs (coming soon) in order to minimise the impact that barriers create to people with Parkinson’s. It is a constant work-in-progress. 

The video below is a taster video of a Popping For Parkinson’s Class

With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract people living with Parkinson’s what do you think they should do?

Venues should understand the needs of people with Parkinson’s in order to accommodate them, making sure that venues are accessible and that staff are trained accordingly. 

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

All of them! But if I had to choose, I would dedicate way more funding to the phenomenal individuals that dedicate their lives to supporting people through artistic expression. The value that individuals bring to the arts is immense, and without them organisations could not thrive. 

What excites you about the arts at the moment?

Two main aspects really inspire and excite me at this stage. One is dance science, getting a deeper understanding of the relationship between arts and health, as I believe there is unlimited potential there.

The other one is the creation of new cross-disciplinary experiences that engage a diverse audience through the combination of several media (for example, from the genre-defying dance film TOM by Wilkie Branson to choreographing for drones).

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

Seeing my students come to class with severe difficulties and then leaving energised, smiling and confident is an experience I still cannot get used to after many years! The power of dance truly is remarkable, so much so that sometimes it feels magical!

Thanks for your time Simone

Thank you

You can checkout the PoppingFor Parkinsons Spotify playlis here

If you are interested in finsing our more abour Simone and his work you can do so at the links below.

Website: www.poppingforparkinsons.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/poppingforparkinsons

Facebook: www.facebook.com/poppingforparkinsons

Simone’s personal website: www.simonesistarelli.com

Review, The Answer, Jodie Marie by Gareth Williams

Muscle Shoals comes to Pembrokeshire as singer-songwriter Jodie Marie releases her latest genre-defying album ‘The Answer’.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie is an artist who refuses to play by the music industry rules. Her latest album The Answer is an exemplary response to those who would wish to classify her sound under a single heading. For though there is a blues thread that runs soulfully through this 12-track collection, the genre-blending that goes on both within and between each song makes this a musical tapestry of the highest quality. It is rich with meaning, drawing on inspiration from the past and mixing it with a contemporary sound to create something that is both reminiscent yet highly original. The result is a sublime record that makes for a captivating listen.

The Answer opens with the smooth funk and soul of ‘You are my Life’. It is characteristic of much of the album insofar as it transports you back some fifty years whilst remaining firmly rooted in the present. ‘Ain’t No Doubt about It’ echoes this same feeling, with a gorgeous arrangement that soaks you in the sounds of Motown whilst being resonant of the music of people as eclectic as Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini and CeeLo Green. It demonstrates an altogether playful approach to music making as Jodie mixes and matches various flavours to compose songs that are replete with nods to the past. In doing so, she does not just pay homage to the music she grew up listening to but, on songs such as ‘A Whole Lot of Loving’, she breathes new life into these timeless sounds. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Don’t Go Telling Me (That It’s Over)’, a ludicrously enjoyable song that combines classic doo-wop with electric guitar blues to create an incredibly moreish track.

Even when she strips things back to produce moments of acoustic tenderness, Jodie’s sound remains impossible to clinically define. ‘Carageen’ washes over you like the gentle crashing of waves on a shore. Its central metaphor seems to represent a kind of spiritual grounding for Jodie: a place that centres her and from which her music, in all its eclectic glory, therapeutically flows. ‘Saving Grace’ offers up a beautifully intimate picture of love that requires deep listening. It is storytelling in the vein of a Nashville Songwriter’s Round yet one cannot claim it as pure country. Just as ‘Kiss These Tears Away’ cannot simply be a ballad of the blues. Instead, Jodie manages to weave enough elements into each track so as they become wonderfully ambiguous. This is most true in the title track. ‘The Answer’ contains hints of modern country, ‘60s rock, and Welsh electro-pop, undercut with a blues vibe and layered with pure soul. The result is a raw and rousing sound of real emotion and depth.

‘Hanging by a String’ is like an audio illustration of the kind of building blocks that go into making Jodie Marie’s overall sound. From its humble intro, Jodie stacks brick upon brick of musical instrumentation to construct a track that is perfectly-formed and insulated with solid soul. ‘This House’ is built on the blues and is kitted out with the best of classic rock. Such rock is infused with pop to create a catchy refrain on ‘Curse the Day’ that sparks with electricity. The Answer is brought to life by such commingling of genres which, one cannot help but feel, reflects the beating heart of Jodie herself. This is what makes the album so special. She has not compromised or standardised on anything. Instead, she has made a record that is truly her. And that authenticity shines through. Jodie Marie is a champion of artistic vision over and above what the industry demands. The Answer is the answer to anyone who thinks otherwise.

Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or purchase the album, visit her website here.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Boogie On Up with Bonnie & the Bonnettes. Interview by Eva Marloes

Get ready for a good night out in your living room with Boogie On Up, a series of digital drag performances by Bonnie & the Bonnettes. The exuberant musical trio, made of Hattie Eason, Cameron Sharp, and Rebecca Glendenning, wants to inject fun into our lockdown lives with sequins-embroidered masks and a repertoire full of classic hits, feel-good ‘gay anthems’, some rock, some pop, and a new song by Newcastle-based artist MXYM.

Last year, Bonnie & the Bonnettes succeeded in fusing moving theatre with comedy and music with And She (see review). The pandemic made them want to go back to drag, which they did when they started off, and give the audience a “cracking night out,” as Hattie put it.

Rebecca said: “We wanted to offer our audience something to keep them going and give them a similar feeling to that of when they come to see us live.”

The performances are geared to make people sing and dance in their homes. That’s why the trio went back to their origin of drag performance.

Cameron said: “Drag is something we’ve always done and that we always like to do. I think that’s what people need right now, some relief from tension.” Hattie adds that she was feeling a little nostalgic about being in a theatre and “the rush of excitement, which the audience also feels. It’s the feel of a goodnight out.”

Cameron also tells me: “For us it’s important to give people that sense of community and togetherness. Drag comes from the Queer community. That community now with lockdown can’t happen. So this is our little way of making that community visible and present in people’s lives.”

Hattie said: it’s a way for us to reach people through the universal language of music. I remember a lady coming to me after a show and telling me of an amazing and euphoric night out of when she was a teenager. That’s why we have included 1980s songs. I’d like the songs to bring back great memories for people.’

Rebecca said: ‘in our drag performance we can go places that we might not get to otherwise. We can do some hilarious comedy that it’s just there to make people laugh. You can do it at a very high standard. The whole point is to have an absolute scream!’

Without the energy of a live audience, Rebecca, Hattie, and Cameron encouraged one another during recording and fill the performance with so much energy to get across to the audience. They’d like to see people dancing and singing and posting their videos online with the hashtag #boogieonup

Your boogie nights start in March with two videos to be followed by two videos every month on Bonnie & The Bonnettes YouTube Channel.

Boogie On Up is in association with Northern Stage and Live Theatre in Newcastle. The eight videos were made by TJMov. The original song is by Newcastle-based songwriter MXYM.

The Play about Theresa May by Amie Maria Marie, Review by Lois Arcari

Figure 1: Amie’s costume of May accurately conveys all the warmth of a frozen kipper

Theresa May. She’s an easy political footnote to miss. She’d probably be overlooked in any year: but 2020 provided the perfect environment for this indentured Tory to withdraw from the public conscious. How we can imagine her laugh, head bobbing like a grotesque puppet, captured in a hundred memes, at each new Boris Johnson blunder, glad she’s not withering in the hot seat anymore.

A play about this unremarkable PM might seem like a hard sell. Playwright Amie M Marie’s book of the play, written in 2017, provides a look back to the politics of 2018. Practically a different century in the post Covid world order. Marie provides an especially important perspective as a queer, disabled writer, and comedian: belonging to two of the groups most marginalised by Tory leadership.

On the one hand, certain references date the play. On the other, the play can be harshly prescient. Jokes that once may have been played small, become harder to laugh with and easier to grimace at. The following exchange, part of a scene where Miss May is confronted directly by a member of the public, is one of those moments:

‘‘Do you think you could do a better job?’’ ‘‘I don’t know. Maybe any of us could.’’

This sounds just like the hand-wringing Johnson supporters’ level on his behalf. How could any of us know what to do when faced with a pandemic? In our current situation, as in this play, we might not have all the answers ourselves. But we generally have a better idea of what not to do.  What would rankle an individual conscience more than a political one. Marie’s play also shows how well-kept convictions, knowledge and assurance, have been damned by political inaction.

The play illustrates the failure of senior Tories to engage with – let alone convince us they believe – their own rhetoric. May repeats mantras which she’s well aware make as much sense as the ramblings of King Lear. Visual representations of sound bites, real statistics woven into dialogue may shock you. But that shock has not translated to a change in voting habits for the last 10 years. A play designed to tackle complacency has accidentally created an incriminating portrait of it.  

Theresa May, as played by Marie, appeared on stage with a red nose. An unconscious clown in the empress’ new clothes, alongside her party’s faithful hand-me-downs of cruelty and coldness. The play deftly illustrates May’s clownishness through frenetic physical comedy and a whirligig cast of political cameos. But when it slows down, it’s unafraid to show she is the owner and creator of her own devastating decisions – holding her to particular account over her policies towards disabled people.

One problem with the written material vs the performed play is that I can’t imagine to what extent the costuming works. As written, it makes sense. it’s hard to visualise the performance from her dialogue and monologue, and advertising for the play previews seemed quite ‘on the nose’: not just playful but almost self-congratulatory in a way the play just isn’t when you read it.

Figure 2: Amie Marie as Theresa May, wearing a red clown nose

The tension and exhaustion May’s character feels are tangible just through the written material, but Marie was careful not to fall into the ‘trap’ of portraying her sympathetically.

Although May’s tenure was dwarfed by the outlandish characters she was surrounded by, her calculated greyness enabled them to rise through the ranks the minute she jumped ship. The play introduces Jeremy Hunt (through a joke either I can’t remember or everyone else will have forgotten), Amber Rudd, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Macron, Trump and the Queen. While one thinks more could have been made of the President’s cameo, Macron provides a much more clever slice of comedy, while the interaction between May and the Queen provokes a hilarious crack in the Prime Minister’s mask.

The cast is rounded out by Two Points Garage, Hackman, Dim Bee and The Mail. TPG, as he is later referred, is as brash a character as you would expect, but there’s real tension in his control over May. Hackman represents media complicity, while the Mail is probably the most well written role. He offers rare detachment, perfectly content in the knowledge of his own power.

The play also contains a multiplayer role for 3 characters who represent the public: the Junior Doctor Clown, the Cleaner Clown and the worker Clown.

Their inclusion felt uncomfortable. The only characters who attempt to use their fragile autonomy for good, and they’re considered clowns. Their names implicate them as another class of fools in politics. Hope and conviction makes them clowns. Perhaps this hurts only because it seems true. It seems a foregone conclusion to Uk leftists that few people will hope for change, and fewer will act on that hope in the voting booths. But directly comparing them, by just their class of character, to May, seems mean-spirited. Again, it would be helpful if I had access to the original production. Are these dressed as clowns too, in full regalia, or merely named as such?

As a reading experience, it’s the subtler jokes and intense monologues that make an impression. As for the performance, jokes which seem a little stale on the page might have been the perfect laughs for a communal audience. An audience which the play hinges on. May directly addresses them and pleads with, belittles, and implicates them in turn.

The play will retail as a physical book and e-book, in both a bonus edition and as a basic performance script. I was given the copy flush with interesting bonuses. These included a number of introductions to the play, earlier short ‘Emperor May’ and, a brilliant interview between Amie Marie and clown Conér Swords about their political performance art, and finally reviews from the initial performance run of the play.  

However, I questioned the formatting at times. The sheer volume of additional material before the play seems like overblown padding. It’s interesting to see how the more intelligent play evolved from a less polished short (which you can watch a brief introduction of here). The short is a bit sophomoric, however, and depending on whether you think its humour lands it may predispose you against the longer play rather than show you just how much the latter developed.

Finally, the formatting and editing of the copy I received really let the content down. Certain images are copied to back-to-back and spelling and grammar issues are frequent annoyances. This carelessness shows a lack of respect to Marie’s material. I can only hope that she goes on to have more opportunities as a creator, and her later material has the support of publishers who give it the dignity it deserves.

The play is available to buy in multiple formats here.