The Haircut, Coffee and Sugar

sugarcakeblog

First blog of 2017 and its about SUGAR our new show to be previewed in March.

It’s a first stage development production, which means just that, its in its first stages of development.

Who is the cast? We have the brilliant Zoe Lambert, Kylie Ann Ford and Christina Dawson. The lovely and extremely talented Laura Lindow is the director, Katie Doherty is working with Laura on the song that lies within the piece and Emily Harrison is the Assistant to the Director. The utterly exceptional Jill Heslop is Creative Producer for the project and next week we will be joined by the lovely Kate McCheyne (Stage Manager), as well as two of the women we collaborated with on the piece, one woman from Low Newton prison (out now) and the other from the women’s hub (supporting women on probation). I think that’s everyone.

So the story so far…

Laura and I spent the weekend prior to rehearsals emailing, back and forth with edits and amendments to the script in preparation for Day One.

Day One – We enter the rehearsal room at West End Women & Girls Centre and the very lovely Mary Wilson (our administrator) has put on a spread of cakes and treats, the aroma of coffee and the sound of laughter fills the room – it was a good start.

Laura introduces the project and together we speak about the workshops and the collaborators who are key to the storytelling of SUGAR. The actors look, listen and ask questions. There is a lot to communicate and take in.

Pencils are given out, Laura says ‘right lets read the script’ and stabs herself in the hand with a very sharp pencil. I’m the first aider – rewind – during the introductions I’ve told the story of how I’m a little Catherine Tate when I see injuries, but I’m alright with this one, I’ve got it – Emily reassures me that pencils are no longer made of lead, its granite now and its fine. Laura washes her hand, I bandage it and a sling is sent for (kidding)!

Ok so what happened on day one

I’m always nervous, doesn’t matter if the feedback for the script is good, I’m nervous and at times paranoid. I know the feeling, have felt it before and I’m confident it will pass, want to fast forward to that moment when everyone is happy with the script and it enables the room to flood with creativity and ideas, not got stuck in pot holes and puddles.

The script is read, and games are played. In the afternoon questions are asked and we return to the script and then its home time. Wine is needed!

Day Two – much better. I wake at 6am and start to edit, I like the hair cut the script is getting, am enjoying combing through, being brave in the cuts and wanting to ensure the finish is of top quality. We have one actor today, but that’s OK as SUGAR is a story of three and at the same time one. We spend the morning with a character called Tracy, and we’re transformed back to the hostel in Manchester to the women we met, tears and laughter, along with plates of hot food. It’s a good morning.

In the afternoon, I go back to my desk and phone. I speak to the woman who’s been released from Low Newton, we’re trying to get her up for the performance at Live Theatre, to join the panel, but we need to cross some T’s and dot some I’s first. Laura is joined by Katie, and the song in the piece is heard for the first time… its exciting, so very exciting.

Later Laura and I go over the timeline of one of the characters Julie, we rewind, fast forward and then see a gap. In the edits a vital piece of the story has gone, is missed. I find the line, words and this morning Day Three I’m more than pleased with the save made.

Day Three – We’re sharing two of the actors with another show, so today I’ve been back on script, the final, final edits (for now), Laura’s at home and sometimes on the phone, email, talking with Jill, finding answers, ideas and opportunities. All heads are buzzing and whirring.

Tomorrow is day four and the song of the piece will be unleashed.

Advertisements

Christmas without tinsel? NO!

Before we hang up our stockings for Christmas our heads are hurting as we try to raise funds to reduce our shortfall and answer the Big Questions that will help with our case for reinvestment from the Arts Council as one of their National Portfolio Organisations for 2018-2022 – to help us develop and grow, reach and stretch, engaging audiences far and wide, nationally and internationally – in our quest to change the world one play at a time

  1. Why are we here?
  2. Why are we unique?
  3. Who are we here for?
  4. If we weren’t here what would the Open Clasp shaped hole in society look like? 
  5. Why are we exceptional?
  6. Why (assuming they do) do the Arts Council value us?

Thinking about ‘if we weren’t here what would an Open Clasp hole in society look like’,  we said it would be like opening a tin of Quality Street and finding it empty, like Christmas without tinsel and The First Noel without a note to sing.  It’s coming up to Christmas, so it was in my head, but if you ignore the reference to Nestle, and think back to the excitement and anticipation of opening a tin of Quality Streets, seeing the wrappers, diversity of colours, fillings and experiences, that’s us.  Christmas without tinsel, come on!  And The First Noel without a note to sing – the song wouldn’t be able to start…

Open Clasp is important, we’re told that….maybe more so than I Daniel Blake, but who would have known about Open Clasp outside the region if Northern Stage hadn’t supported us at the Edinburgh Festival – we wouldn’t have had the reviews (a small women’s theatre company in the North East just doesn’t pull them in).  We wouldn’t have been long listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. We wouldn’t have got four stars in the Scotsman, which made us eligible for the Carol Tambor Bes of Edinburgh Award, and we wouldn’t have won the award and ended up in New York.

In New York we received recognition and validation for the beauty of the theatre presented via the New York Times Critics Pick, but also by experts such as Professor Evan Stark and Professor in Criminology Rosemary Barberet from the John Jay College New York who joined us on stage for post-show discussions.  Practitioners, academics and theatre goers circulated information about Open Clasp and Key Change far and wide. There was even a rumour that Michelle Obama was going to come, as well as the Good Wife but a snow storm put a stop to their train (artistic licence).

Collage.jpg

We were so small and the city was so big, and yet we made such a big impact. We used the same approach we use to making work happen here, we networked, got introduced and made connections. Funders supported us to get over there, a criminologist broke us into a prison, we had sell out audiences and received rave reviews. Stepping out of the region was a huge decision for us to make; supported by our board we held our breath and made the right choice.

Our aim going to Edinburgh was to try and gain national recognition, and never in a million years did we expect to win such a prestigious award.  Our win, and our time in New York has opened doors, we’ve just completed our first national tour and it started in the Houses of Parliament at the heart of democracy.  We shared a panel with Baroness Corston, and Baroness Doreen Lawrence was in the audience as were many other parliamentarians and policy makers – contributing to the debate about alternatives to prison for women.

During the national tour we had sell out audiences across the breath of the country and standing ovations, for not only the show but the post show discussion.

Over the last 18 years we have been successful in this region, we have had recognition from communities and practitioners alike – and again without these partnerships and collaborations Open Clasp wouldn’t exist.  But it was stepping out of the region that made the difference, by reaching up and wide we were able to shine a light on the North East, and the beauty and power of women’s theatre.

Our collaborations with women ensure theatre is made through their lens, the diversity of the women ensures the theatre created reflects society, and through this reflection we can learn and change.

Looking around the corner into the new year and beyond, if we get funds and support we will develop and grow, reach and stretch, engaging audiences far and wide, nationally and internationally  – in our quest to change the world one play at a time.

 

The Office and the Run

There is no purple in my diary, but in my attempt to step up my blogs I said I wanted to blog about key moments and that included the staff team.  This week I could feel the breath of the staff team as if it were collectively a long distance runner, or that of a cross country runner, or at times a sprinter, hurdler and then that of a relay team.  I’ve no idea where the metaphors are coming from, but it was the ‘in and out of the breath’ that felt palpable during a week.  The staff team are managing our first national tour, additional creative projects, applications for funds as well as working on the design of our programme of work for the next five years.  Computers pound ensuring compliance as a charity, our NPO requirements in terms of monitoring, evaluation and Julie’s Bicycle.  Every desks has a list that never ends, as well as cake, biscuits, nuts and coffee.

But to explain what these tasks involve, as sometimes the projects sparkle and we could all overlook the staff teams back at the office that make it all happen.

So what does the national tour involve – yes its booking the tour, organising with venues, negotiating rates, venue size, technical requirements and challenges. There is the thinking through of audiences, school packs and accessibility (which in itself is huge).  Managing a tour also involves the staff team organising all the accommodation, travel, and petty cash.  Ensuring the creative team and venues have everything they could possibly need and that everyone is happy.  The lists get ticked and then they fill up again.  The staff team are ever vigilant to ensure no balls are dropped and the Key Change tour goes as smoothly as possible.

Applications to fund the work – this is like trekking up a landslip at times, and this week, as with every other, the computers have been taking a pounding and brains were imploding. But what does writing an application involve.  We have the ideas/projects in mind, then there is the pulling together of the facts, need and impact to evidence and argue for.  Budget setting, word counts, and balancing risk and ambition.  And the time and space to complete them!

We have 15 freelance artists about to go out the doors to deliver projects, tours and conferences.  Every actor, director and member of the creative team/s need to be happy, have scripts, knowledge of issues and rehearsal schedules, rooms need to be booked and nice coffee on hand.

It was our administrator’s birthday this week, and as with tradition a cake was made, a song sang and gifts given.   But we also decided to go for lunch together.  Now its rare that you get the staff team to stop, take a breath, breathe and chat about other things, other than the long lists that sit on desks, pens that itch to tick off tasks but this week we did. We stopped, ate, laughed and then returned to our desks.  You could hear everyone re-join the run, walking first, then stepping up the pace, then to a jog, some running faster than others, some in a relay (helping taking the strain), some tripping and then picking up hurdles and then you could hear the moment when everyone was running together, as one, in harmony.

The staff team are four (which includes me) but if you take me out of this, they are three, and these three women I have the upmost respect for.

What world do we want for ourselves and future generations?

Open Clasp conference supporting older LGBT people in care settings

Open Clasp conference supporting older LGBT people in care settings

We have just held our very first National Conference and performed an extract from Swags & Tails, a play that we created back in 2011/2012 from collaborations with 166 older women, carers and care staff. We have had a year of firsts, and this was the icing on the cake, because this conference inspired delegates to go back to their organisations and agitate for change, a change that would ensure the voices of older LGBT people are heard, listened and responded to. I felt extremely proud of the conference, proud of the staff team who worked tirelessly to make the event seem effortless. And proud that the voices of the women we worked with back in 2011 are still being heard. Swags & Tails has seen the company produce its first legacy project which was included in the delegate packs; a DVD and training tool using Swags& Tails as stimulus to explore the issue of Person Centred Care and older LGBT people. This legacy means we have been able to leave something behind so that others can continue to develop thoughts, it supports conversation and inspires change where change is needed.

As a lesbian I have a vested interest in making sure that this voice is heard, and I make no apologies about this, it’s important. It was clear from the conversations that we all know that things have changed for the good, but we still live in a world that is heterosexist and homophobic. Back in 2011/2012 when working on this particular storyline, which centres around an older butch lesbian who finds herself sitting in a skirt in a dementia unit, my focus was on getting this voice heard – but it felt like it was only yesterday that I really thought about how life might be for me and my loved ones should we need care. After the performance, and workshop, I was able to be a delegate, to hear the issues and relate it to my own life. It made me consider the harsh reality of the care system as it stands and what would happen if I was vulnerable and in need of care when I’m older and I come up against someone who wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality. Someone told a story of a lesbian who had a carer who showered her at arm’s length after she had come out to her carers.

Audience response to Swags & Tails performance

Audience response to Swags & Tails performance

Last year I had minor surgery for basal cell carcinoma skin cancer (so not life threatening but, as everyone knows, you hear the word cancer and you feel frightened and a bit vulnerable). It was a couple of months before my civil partnership to my partner of 21yrs so as the surgery was taking place I chatted about the day we were planning. And I felt something change, it felt tangible though you couldn’t pin point it to what, there was a shift, something you feel when someone isn’t totally comfortable with your sexuality. This can trigger your internalised homophobia, you feel slightly less and judged – you can also doubt yourself, think you’re imagining it, but when I met the surgeon again I still felt something had changed. I am a strong out lesbian, but homophobia can knock you especially when you are vulnerable. In the conference one of the speakers talked about how we have to risk assess every day about when it’s safe to come out, and that really struck a chord with me. In hindsight maybe it would’ve been easier not to have come out during surgery as then I wouldn’t have spent time worrying about what the surgeon was thinking other than making sure all the cancer was gone.

Right now I have a great network of friends, a loving family and I’m blessed with a partner, son and children that I love and who love me. I’m only 51, but what will my world look like when I’m 91? What will the NHS look like? Or will it have vanished like so many of our public services in relation to the care of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

There was lots of talk about the need for training, but I wonder given the current funding climate how this is going to happen. How will care staff be able to attend training to raise awareness of the diversity of those in their care, how will they have time to develop and grow when they are busy trying to look after so many people, when they are paid the minimum wage and not paid for travel time between the homes they visit, when they are understaffed, when they have a million and one practical things to do. How will they find the time to sit with people, to hear their stories, to find out who the people they are caring for really are, how will any of this happen in this current climate? And I suppose the answer is that we have to try and make the world we want for ourselves and our children, and children’s children. This is our world, and I have to believe we can change it, otherwise it’s too scary. A friend of mine told me last night that if we continue to follow this Coalition programme, by 2020 our Welfare State will be smaller than in America*.

We need a care system that supports and develops the skills of care workers. We need those that have a vested interest in making the provision of care profitable to know that profit shouldn’t negate care. We all need to think about what world we want for ourselves and for future generations. I want one that is generous, caring and one that ensures that the basic human rights of all are recognised and valued. I want those that are vulnerable cared for, I want care staff to be valued, I want provision of care when it’s needed, and I want a society and world that doesn’t discriminate.

This conference gave me a lot of food for thought, and the evaluation gathered so far suggests that this was the same for all that attended the day. Changing the world, one play/one project/one conference at a time.

*As Taylor-Gooby and Stoker (2011) note, however, the Coalition programme “takes the country in a new direction, rolling back the state to a level of intervention below that in the United States – something which is unprecedented”’

Why I want to work with young women and give them a voice

I want to make a brilliant play about young women living in the North East and North West.  I’m from Liverpool and I’ve lived in the North East for 20 years.  When I was 18, I attended a drama scheme in Liverpool and it changed my life.  I got a job, I started to question the world I lived in and I became passionate about the role that drama and theatre can make in people’s lives, especially young people.

This project is especially important to me, as I have a connection with both regions.  I have successfully worked with women and young women in the North East for the past 15 years.  The success, I believe, comes from the fact that there is a commonality between Liverpool (the North West) and the North East.  Both regions have a strong history of heavy industry and resilience. We also have a reputation for intelligence and the ability to use humour to comment on the world we live in.  However both regions have faced challenges, both with unemployment, discrimination and stereotypes.  Now both regions are disproportionally being hit by the austerity measures.  This play will coincide with the general election in 2015.  This is a perfect opportunity to create space for a conversation with young women about the lives they live, challenge their experiences and celebrate their skills and strengths.

I want to listen and hear their views on being young women and living in the North of England.  I want to explore how they perceive themselves and how they feel others perceive them, and what they want from their futures, and what part will they play in making their futures happen.  I want the workshops and the play created to support positive change for those attending the workshops and audiences seeing the play.  I want a huge conversation about being young and to support participation and democracy.  I want to support young women to have equality in their relationships, respect in their schools, work places and communities.  I want to support engagement in the democratic process, and for young women (and men) to have hope and to take control of their futures.

In order for this project to have the desired impact it needs to be the best it can be.  The creative team will work towards making this the best play to come out of the North East, and will form a strong link with the North West, creating solidarity between both regions, facing similar challenges.  I am particularly excited about the prospect of the bursary scheme, supporting new and emerging artists in the North East, young women who might not otherwise have an opportunity to find a job and explore a career that contributes so much to the society they live in.

Fracking Up North is Open Clasp new project.  We will be collaborating with young women’s groups from the North East and North West from Sept 2013 and then throughout the project, which will conclude with a tour in early 2015.  

Workshops will be held during September to December 2013, and then again in February to March 2014.  This play will give a voice to working class young women living up North with the view to bring about personal and social change.  If you have a group who would like to participate please get in touch with Catrina on Catrina@openclasp.plus.com

Overcoming challenges and realising The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us Tour 2013

Last year I started to write a blog for the first time, I managed four entries. I stopped in September when I started to write the company’s most recent play The Space Between Us.   I had been working with women from 24 countries, blown from four corners of the earth.  The aim of the project was to create a play directly informed by the lived experiences of women from minority communities living in the North East.  In the blogs I wrote about my thoughts on the women’s experiences of discrimination, of my disgust at the asylum system, and questioned whether theatre can really change the world.   I always say, I like a challenge, but the reason I stopped writing the blogs because this script was the toughest challenge I have faced so far, and its only now that I can write about it.

The women I was working with share space e.g. school gates, community centres and estates but they don’t share lives.  I felt it was important to highlight space between communities, how we co-exist but have divisions that separate us from any real connection.  I started to write monologues.  Using direct address, the characters would talk to the audience.  The first draft was set at a community cohesion event, bringing everyone together, sharing food and stories of family, history and culture.  I thought this would lead to a cracking play.  I wrote about a clumsy white woman asking questions about community cohesion, the Hijab and whether Muslims listen to music (this was me).  The idea sounded good, but the first draft wasn’t.

The creative team entered the research and development.  We created movement, space and a soundscape but it didn’t glue together.  I got frustrated at the space between the characters, the fact that I couldn’t bridge the divide, and wanted to break free of the reality around me.  While pulling my hair out I thought about the floods and evacuations, and suggested to the director that the women seek sanctuary in a local pub, the director said a church.  I agreed the church had more potential but I managed to have one of the characters find the holy wine, and taste the blood of Christ, apparently it ‘tastes like Echo Falls’.

Each of the women are at a turning point in their lives, Cheyanne, a British Traveller living on a local site, is set to leave her violent partner.  Eman, an Arabic woman from Syria, locks horns with her husband over the civil war and her right to recognition and freedom.  15yr-old Eyshan, a Czech/Roma whose relationship with a non-Roma boy has been discovered by her brother and threats are made to tell her parents.  Zeyna, a Muslim lesbian from Nigeria, refused asylum, destitute and fearing deportation, she’s on the run from immigration.

On their arrival at the church nothing is how it should be.  There are no lights, the presence of a man, police or immigration, and they have no phone signal.  As the night passes the women connect through the space that divides them, sharing experiences of discrimination, culture and loss.  However on discovery that the man’s money has been stolen, the women bounce apart.  They battle each other, with Zeyna being top of the hit list.  Prejudice and racism from within minority communities is exposed. When Zeyna’s sexuality is revealed, Eman cannot hide her disgust and threatens her with the police.  Zeyna can’t go back to Nigeria, and feels she has no alternative but to take her own life.  The flood waters enter the church and the women find themselves in a battle to save Zeyna’s life and humanity itself.

As the water rises and the lights fade, 15yr-old Eyshan vents her frustration at the rules that govern their lives, she wants a new way, one where women are free, safe and have their basic human rights respected.

The Space Between Us Tour 2013

It was a challenge for the women to survive this night and for me to write this play. It challenged audiences and changed perspectives when toured in March and April 2013.  I believe it was a huge success, and all evidence gathered backs this up.  No other theatre company in the North East is doing this sort of work. We ask difficult questions, encourage debate, ask for solidarity and agitate for change.

We are currently working with the women to support them to create and perform theatre and film that further supports the telling of their individual stories; this along with the play will be celebrated in November 2013.