Kathy and You: Consequences of a Stunning Wig

‘I like your outfit: you look gorgeous!’, ‘What is this all about? Why? Why the wigs?’, ‘Look they have Barbie in their legs!’, ‘Your hair is so fuzzy’. These are some of the comments and questions that resonate around Kathy’s Parlour and that as a performer of Kathy I am addressed with in the midst of camera flashes. There were five of us in the afternoon on Mountsfield Park, welcoming the adults and children who were enjoying the music, food and joyful atmosphere of Lewisham People’s Day on Saturday 8 July. As a Kathy I wove through the crowds and smiling in my gargantuan wig, swaying on high hills, upright in my shoulder pads and proud of my flashy necklace.

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After the first group meetings of the new Albany Young Creatives team with the Levantes Dance Theatre trio Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I still could not grasp the actual relevance of this experience. Those of you who have followed our Move Shake Mango journey know that as Albany Young Creatives we created and produced a show from scratch, with the Albany stage as our main setting. The space carried its own clarity in setting roles and boundaries between performers and audience and we were also the authors of the message we chose to convey. In contrast, with Parlour nothing could be set or controlled completely. The costumes, the colours, the shape of the parlour, any little object and detail, all had the potential to provoke a reaction from unknown people happening to pass by and from ourselves as Kathy. This could only be discovered in the moment of the encounter.

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The process of making the piece seemed to me like a guessing, a hypothesizing and made me feel confused and sometimes useless. I tried to add pieces to the vision of Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I immersed myself in the art and craft, enjoying the specific aspects of the project but with the same questions as we encountered from the audience in mind: why the wig? Why the pastel colours? Why the flowers? Why Barbie in the legs? Then, I had a first glimpse of understanding when in charge of photographing the first Kathy group walking around the Hilly Fields Summer Fayre, and it all came together when I sat down and begun spreading foundation and glitter on my face. Since then, I painted the Parlour with a new enthusiasm, curious to discover how something as small as that little cloudy touch on the blue would contribute to the interaction.

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The interactions we had as Kathy on the shadow of the Parlour were incredible. It feels safer than in normal encounters: I wave and say hi naturally as I wish I could do in my everyday life without being frightening or disturbing. People trust Kathy, they want to have a hug and a picture with Kathy and peer into her life history. It almost feels like giving people a gift by throwing them for a minute into a world they do not know, into a story that could make them imagine and dream, and they reciprocate with curiosity, smiles and comments. The same questions like ‘why the wig?’ can be answered in multiple ways and the story is layered and variable, but what matters is the feeling that brings someone – the desire to ask why and to listen to the answer, it is about that precious moment of exchange.

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For these reasons, I will not tell you, reader, who Kathy is and why she is there and what she is doing: follow her around London and ask yourself because as Camilla writing I am not sure. I can say that Kathy and all the Albany and Levantes team have brought me a step further in my journey, as anthropologist and performer in understanding the magic and infinite aspects of encounters.

By Camilla Sollecito

Click here to find out where you can catch Parlour this summer!

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My experience of working with the Albany Young Creatives

I’d been looking for more creative opportunities in theatre so when I had the chance to be part of the Young Creatives group at the Albany, I snapped it up! Upon arriving at the theatre, we learnt that Levantes Dance Theatre (run by Bethanie Harrison and Eleni Edipidi) were teaming up with the Albany to devise a piece. The only limitations were that the main theme had to be about hair, it had to be an outdoor piece, it had to be targeted towards children and the budget was £10,000. I’d never done anything like this before or been involved at such an early stage in a theatre project so it was really interesting to see how it all worked, and how everyone’s ideas were incorporated.

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We split up into groups and got to know each other while we brainstormed ideas for the project. A lot of people immediately thought of Rapunzel and other fairy tales as they were the most synonymous with a children’s play about hair. However, a lot of other groups had completely different ideas involving aliens, cults and other original concepts! The group of Young Creatives was then streamlined from the first session as the Albany and Levantes really wanted a selection of creative individuals that genuinely got along well and bounced ideas off each other. As a person of 25 in the older end of the ‘Young People’ spectrum, it was really exciting to meet youths from all walks of life that were talented in many aspects of production and performing arts, with a variety of skillsets in the room.

Next we got stuck in with designing the stage that the play would take part in, which Bethanie and Eleni visualised as a small shed-style building that was painted and decorated to be twee and pastel. This became known as the ‘parlour’, and we all sketched our ideas for how it would look, as well as creating the props that would go inside it. This was really fun and a great chance to do some art and crafts, which a lot of us don’t do in our day-to-day lives, but is very relaxing and meditative. Every week we would present our ideas to the whole group, as well as the Albany and the Levantes team for feedback.

Finally we had decided on the concept of a group of people looking the same but being different. The character of ‘Kathy’ was created, a woman of unusual style (to put it mildly) who wants everyone to look exactly like her. She brings people into the ‘parlour’ to have a makeover, which actually involves them putting their heads into a cut-out hole to have their picture taken, like on Brighton Pier. Unbeknownst to them, they actually look like Kathy when they do this as the costume is attached to the other side of the wall. They write down their address and the picture is sent to them in the post, when they finally realise they have become a Kathy.

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I had my first performance as Kathy yesterday, and getting into character as her is very surreal. She wears a reversed dressing gown with 80s shoulder pads, tucked into a long white skirt with tights including dismembered Barbie dolls stuck to them. The pièce de résistance is the hair, which is made up of two huge white fluffy wigs stuck to each other and piled high on our heads. By the end, we look like people from the Capitol in The Hunger Games. Our performance at Lewisham People’s Day was extremely fun, with lots of people being curious about us and wanting to have their picture taken with us. Kids are particularly interested and we get a variety of questions like “is your hair made of candyfloss?” and “what are those things on your legs?” It’s very fun to become Kathy, and ‘perform’ to the people around you. As you are playing such a provoking character, it’s very easy to confidently approach people and ask what they think of your outfit or wave to them as they pass by.

Overall I think that this year’s Young Creatives project has been key in learning new skills and improving my existing skills in performance and production. It is a realistic look at the world of theatre, and offers insight into the industry which allows you to decide if you want to follow this path. We were involved from inception to actualisation of this project, and we can all take the experience with us to future theatre projects.

By Helen Monaghan

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Blog From Aisha Mohammed (actress) – The Crows Plucked Your Sinews

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews has allowed me to re-connect with something I’ve longed to re-connect with – the Somali language.

It is so important for me, as a Somali diaspora, to have that route into which I can access my history and language. What better way than through poetry and performance? This is one reason why I am very happy to be a part of this play.

It has been very educational and has provided me with a lot of context conflicts in Somalia.

In terms of performance, I’ve begun to enjoy taking on these characters. I’m continuously blown away by the script – in terms of the performative aspects that went from being really abstract and me being fearful about how these characters would come about. But that definitely changed when I was in front of the audience for the first time. It’s a continually evolving cycle of states of being.

I really enjoy being in front of an audience and the energy exchange that takes place. I feel a sense of responsibility as I know that it’s an important story I’m delivering – becoming the vessel for that and by the end I’ve handed it over to the audience. And I feel a sense of lightness afterwards.

I’ve definitely begun reflecting on time more because of this play and the measurement of it during the performance.

It’s a strange, but beautiful thing.

Aisha

 

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NINE NPOs

We were relieved and delighted to have our 2018 – 2022 NPO funding confirmed yesterday. While that’s worthy of celebration, we’ve been reflecting on how remarkable it is that our building is now host to a total of nine NPOs. We’ve also been loving seeing brilliant organisations around England expressing their delight and relief on social media!

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The Nine

The Family Arts Campaign has become a brand new NPO as a Sector Support Organisation. It’s a consortium of ten organisations, led by the Albany since April 2016, and one of only a small number of new Sector Support Organisations announced within ACE’s NPO structure.

The Family Arts Campaign’s role as an NPO is to work to help deliver ACE’s national priorities under Goal 2: giving everyone the opportunity to experience and be inspired by the arts, museums and libraries.

Leading the campaign feels like a perfect fit for us, especially having launched A Theatre Trip For Every Child, Lewisham last week – a campaign to provide a free theatre trip for every 5 year old in the borough.

The Albany are also now home to seven remarkable National Portfolio Organisations who are resident organisations, based in our Deptford building. They are Heart n Soul, Entelechy Arts, Spread The Word, Spare Tyre, Apples and Snakes, Kali Theatre and brand new NPO, Yellow Earth.

They’re a diverse bunch, each with a distinct mission and contribution to make across art forms, audiences, participant groups and artist development. They all share one thing – brilliant, dedicated and passionate people working at all sector levels to champion accessible arts.

We feel so privileged to share our building with them, have partnerships with many and get to witness their superb work on a daily basis.

Oh, and we’re the ninth – the Albany.

Thank you Arts Council England for helping this corner of south east London to make waves locally, nationally and beyond.

By Kate Farrell

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Oerol: A Sense of Place by Zaylie-Dawn Wilson

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I have just returned from Oerol, a theatre festival on the Frisian island of Terschelling in the north of the Netherlands. For 35 years Oerol has been a haven for theatre producers, landscape artists and multidisciplinary artists who use the versatile island landscape as a stage. The setting makes it unique in Europe. The exclusiveness of nature and culture are the main focus points of the festival; the beaches, dunes, heather, woodlands, dikes and villages are sources of inspiration, and are used as platforms for site-specific performance and art.

As a location theatre festival, Oerol is on the line that separates culture and nature, using nature as a layer of imagination over the landscape.

Marcel Proust said, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.’ Oerol really does take the environment seriously as a stage with the location emphasising spatial identity even more. The festival directors feel this has to act as  a response to social changes and globalisation more broadly, as whilst everyone is trying to find their place in the world, our environment has to play a part in it.

My work with LikeMinds, an Amsterdam based theatre organisation that provides a platform to develop young talent on a professional stage, is what has led me to Terschelling for the festival. They work very organically with artists to offer them opportunities to develop new work in response to the landscape at Oerol. As well as taking a professional show to the island, they took a group of emerging artists to experience the island as a theatrical space and to respond to it artistically over a weekend.

As a result of the environment everyone could be seen to be asking questions rather than finding answers. No one seemed to know where they were but they knew where they were heading. This enables beautiful stories and inspirational art to be born through the landscape. The festival director describes this as ‘art putting the intervention into perspective, at the same time as the art being the intervention’.

I spent some time thinking about the environment and how this differs from the work of the Albany’s emerging artists. Their work tells its own story in terms of landscape; they feel they have less and less ownership over their identity with place, as artists and as young people, navigating London. They feel boxed in by an educational system that lacks the sort of exploration that could be seen at Oerol, and by the beauracratic boxes they are required to ticket as artists. This in many ways removes the imagination required for incredible art to happen. Oerol looks to free the mind to be able to be able to convey a feeling of freedom, communicated through the landscape. A sense of place to think from within the landscape to be able to see outside it.

I spent my time there thinking about what would happen if I took them to this island and set them free on the landscape? What would they discover and create as a result?

As STEM subjects are pushed and arts subjects cut, giving young people in London a way to explore, discover and create feels more important than ever, especially to those who would normally experience the arts in school but who may now not have that opportunity. Whether or not they want to be professional artists is irrelevant. The question here is how we continue to enable our young people to see the beauty in exploration and discovery and enable them to be creative free spirits?

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Deptford Cabaret Night wins Arts Council England funding to grow!

Following six seasons sharing ground-breaking works-in-progress in the Albany studio, the pioneering curators of Cabaret Playroom have been awarded an Arts Council grant to invest in a scaled up version of the event.  Cabaret Playroom: The Big One will take place in the Albany’s main space on Saturday 10 June.

Tricity Vogue and Matthew Floyd Jones. Photography: James Millar

“The night plays an invaluable role in supporting artists’ development and nurturing emerging talent, giving them the chance to experiment and try out new ideas and material in front of an audience.” said the Albany’s Artistic Director, Gavin Barlow. “We’re delighted that the work of co-curators Tricity Vogue and Lisa Lee has been recognised by the Arts Council England, who have awarded the project funding as part of their Grants for the Arts scheme.”

“The grant enables us to present the very best work from performers who’ve been involved with the night, on a grander scale, to a larger audience,” said Tricity Vogue, Cabaret Playroom’s host and co-curator. Cabaret Playroom: The Big One will showcase eight of the artists who have developed new acts at the night; established performers with an international profile, and emerging artists who took their first steps into cabaret on the Albany’s studio stage.

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Andrew Pepper and Tricity Vogue. Photography: James Millar

The line-up includes: musical comedy star Matthew Floyd Jones of Frisky and Mannish, “opera reggae” musician and poet Ennè – featured on BBC Introducing, “the naked stand up” Miss Glory Pearl, and Pride’s Got Talent finalist, Lord Hicks.

Top left: Lord Hicks, top right: Miss Glory Pearl, bottom left: Matthew Floyd Jones, bottom right: Ennè. Photography: James Millar

“The Arts Council grant means we can offer mentoring time to more artists and their acts,” said producer and co-curator Lisa Lee. “We’ll be able to give directing and dramaturgical support to selected artists, to grow their acts into powerful and engaging pieces of cabaret.”

Arts Council England have awarded Cabaret Playroom a grant of up to £5,867 through their Grants For The Arts programme.

“You never know what to expect at a Cabaret Playroom night,” said cabaret blogger and queer arts activist Ben Walters. “It could be anything – from drag to divas to tap dancing clowns.”

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Tricity Vogue. Photography: James Millar

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Let’s Spread This Like an Oil: Giving a Voice to Young Producers and Makers

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11 countries, 12 arts organisations, 1 mission… to facilitate the voice of a generation!

I have just returned from two days in Brussels networking and planning an international platform project. This will involve arts organisations across Europe who are creating and producing theatre for, and by, young people. It will be a partnership with the aim of exchanging ideas and work, collaborating with young people and mentors, and commissioning new work.

As part of this process I have taken time to reflect on the work that we are doing with our Young Creatives (a collective of young interdisciplinary artists and producers who create original work and platforms for young artists) at the Albany. We have ambitions to support them to develop as creative individuals, active global citizens and well-rounded human beings.

The Young Creatives describe themselves as ‘millennials’ – a term they both associate with, but also find problematic as they aim to overcome the perception of millennials being an apathetic and uncaring generation who are only interested in themselves. In fact, their upcoming event Move, Shake, Mango aims to flip that on its head to prove that as millennials they are driven, successful young people and to further explore the negative stereotype.

I’ve been inspired by the partners commitment to young people internationally, by their fighting spirit, their ambition and determination. I have found myself returning to England with questions about why I think international partnership, exchange and collaboration is so important to young artists and more broadly speaking young people.

For me it is about connection, real connection, real communication… reality! My experience tells me that young people are becoming less and less engaged with reality and are seeking authenticity as a result of the digital age we live in. Not to say that technology is a negative thing, in fact the very opposite, but to accept that it disengages us from the world we live in. International conversations, partnerships and collaborations for me are about the basic principle of removing people from their everyday habitat, connecting them with possibilities, and mentoring them to flourish in a different environment- in this instance using art as a universal lubricant.

As the European political climate becomes more unsteady and uncertain this week as Article 50 is triggered, as borders are being created, and as there is less money in social services and the public sector as head teachers are speaking out about major cuts, how do we put internationalism back on the agenda? How do we ensure that our young people continue feel ‘European’, exchanging dialogue and collaborating with other young people across the world? Do we not owe it to the ‘millennials’ to break down the borders that others are creating?

The last few days have reminded me that individuals on a mission, with a purpose and ambition really can change the world! I have reignited my passion for this work and reminded myself why I do, and always will, fight for these opportunities for young people. As the slippery changes in the EU start to happen this week, to me it feels more important than ever to spread this work like an oil.

By Zaylie-Dawn Wilson

Youth & Community Programme Manager, the Albany

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