Monthly Archives: June 2014

Bringing People Together through Opera

James Redwood (centre, in orange) leading the sharing event

Award-winning composer James Redwood (centre, in orange) leading The Albany Street Opera sharing event, 21 June

After a successful sharing event on Saturday 21 June, The Albany Street Opera is progressing well. The day offered the chance for all of the participants, from Meet Me at the Albany, Uncover Theatre Company and Lewisham A Capella Singing Group, to meet for the first time with composer James Redwood and devise a new opera, to be performed Saturday 19 July, 5pm.

Participants of the project range in age from 6 – 90 and come from a variety of backgrounds, many facing access challenges such as disability or language barriers. The sharing session saw twenty-five people come together to solidify their vision for the opera. Participants spent time getting to know one another, sang some simple rounds and worked in groups to make up song lyrics.They then shared the progress they had made on the opera itself since the project started in May.

The opera is inspired by John Bird’s book ‘The Necessity of Poverty’, which explores how the rich exploit poverty. Dramaturg Hazel Gould has been working with the groups on the development of the story around this theme and its ideas of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. The resulting plot is a dystopian future where the environment is so ruined that the most precious thing in the world is a spring of fresh water, protected fiercely by guards for the benefit of the ‘haves’. The Meet Me at the Albany participants have created the central character, Jean, who is on the run and  has her own theme song, created by the young singers of Lewisham Music Hub.

Clearly, the day was immensely valuable to the development of this new opera, and enabled a diverse group of people to meet, socialise and devise new music, irrespective of musical background, and sometimes with little to no music education. The project is in its first stage of development, with hopes to develop the work further into a full-scale opera production by the autumn of 2015/2016.

The Albany Street Opera has its first public performance Saturday 19 July, 5pm. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Have a look at some more pictures from the day (by photographer Charlotte E. Groves) below:

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This project is proudly supported by the Merry Trust, Arts Council England and the PRS for Music Foundation.

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Allison Gold, Marketing Assistant, The Albany

 

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Mark Williamson is the director of Action for Happiness, a movement for positive social change, bringing people together from all walks of life who want to play a part in making a happier society. As part NOW Live Events’ residency at our sister venue Deptford Lounge, Mark is giving a talk on the vital keys to happiness tonight, Monday 23 June at 7pm. We hope this video will shed some light on the value of tonight’s talk and even just spread some happiness and positive thinking.

Part of the London-wide Anxiety Arts Festival, a new festival exploring anxiety, looking at causes and how it affects our lives, including how it can as a creative force, NOW Live Events offer a sort of solution to anxiety by championing unique ways to savour the moment and live for the now rather than dwelling on the past or future. NOW’s residency at Deptford Lounge began today and runs all week with free workshops and talks until Saturday 28 June – click here for the full list of events.

For more information on Mark Williamson’s talk tonight and to book, click here. For the full listing of Anxiety Festival in Deptford, click here.

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Julie McNamara and director Paulette Randall discuss Let Me Stay

Let Me Stay imageThroughout June, Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 is taking over venues across London, exploring anxiety and how it can manifest creatively. As part of the inaugural festival, Vital Xposure’s Let Me Stay is performing here from Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 June, 7.30pm. Writer and performer Julie McNamara explores the impact of  Alzheimer’s on family relations, specifically focussing on her mother’s experience with the condition. Below is an interview conducted by Naomi Cortes with both Julie McNamara and director Paulette Randall:

Share with us how you began to collaborate together?

Julie: I had read about Paulette’s work, when I was on placement with Talawa Theatre and I was looking for a new Director for a play I was working on. Other artists had suggested I contact her. So in 2009, whilst working on the production of Crossings we had an initial chat on the telephone and she suggested we meet for lunch.

Paulette: Yeah, from the phone call I followed my instinct and knew it was going to work. When we met for lunch we really connected about storytelling and music and I knew that her work was something I really wanted to explore.

Julie: I had no expectations and went to meet her with an open mind and an open heart and thought great she’s going to do the job.

Why did you decide to place your mother Shirley at the centre of Let Me Stay?

Julie: I’ve always listened to my mother’s stories and her mother before her, my grandmother.  My mother still remains one of the funniest women I have ever met, she’s extraordinary. She’s full of life and has a strong rebellious spirit and I just thought other people should meet her.

One day I was playing truant from school and was smoking a fag at home and mum came home unexpectedly. I was trying to hide it behind my back and she told me she’d seen it. I thought she was going to tell me off, but actually she was playing hooky from work and had walked out during an appraisal. I never forgot that day because we both had an afternoon together playing hooky and she told me why she had walked out. She didn’t know words like feminism, but she was the first real feminist I ever knew.

Writing Let Me Stay has become part of my own grief in letting go. My mother’s been living with Alzheimer’s for ten years. She has been many people to me and I have always been on shifting sands with her, it made me think about who we are to each other in each space we travel, in each world we inhabit.

It’s also about challenging all those ubiquitous images around what a terrible, dark tragedy it is to end your life with Alzheimer’s. I have to be honest. I’m witnessing somebody who is quite enjoying herself. She’s having the time of her life.

What made you think that now was the right time to explore Alzheimer’s in your work?

Julie: It was just before my mum’s physical tipping point. We had been working together on this for a while with songs and stories. I would share back what she had said, she would deny having said it, I would remind her she had and we would laugh.

Or I would show her pictures of things she had done. One of the funniest was when she had decorated a mug tree with chocolate bars and I showed her the photo of it. She asked who had done it, I explained she had and she said ‘well, that’s very clever!’. I thought it would be really sad if all of that was lost inside some dark story about how at the end of her life she withdrew away from it all. Shirley is dancing and grooving up and down the wards, very much the life and soul of the party.

Paulette, what attracted you to the story of Let Me Stay and working with Julie again?

Paulette: After our first time of working together, I said to Julie, I wanted to keep working with her. And when she came back from working in New Zealand and Australia, she confided in me that she was better known over there than in U.K. I thought this was a disgrace and I wanted people to know Julie McNamara here, because I think she has a really important voice and a beautiful, funny way of telling stories. Her work touches and moves people and with all the voices out there in theatre at the moment, there is nothing quite like hers.

Whilst training, I chose a course which was about working with specific communities. So, creating work with Julie was the first time in my career I worked with a mixed ability group. And that was terrifying and exhilarating because I didn’t know what to expect, it was going in at the deep end for me, but it was a brilliant opportunity.

And we both knew from the beginning of Let Me Stay that this was just the starting point, that the show had a life and that’s quite exciting.

Tell us about a magical moment which happens onstage?

Paulette: We were looking for things which could be found during the play amongst the many boxes on the set. And Julie found an old record box of singles and in it was a copy of Queen Bitch by David Bowie. And written on the label was ‘this is no reference to you!’

Julie: And it was in my dad’s handwriting. I had never seen this before.

Paulette: It’s brilliant, funny and beautiful. It’s a great track.

Julie: So, every time I take that out on stage, it’s like a message from my dad.

The journey within the production is incredibly personal and intimate, how do you manage to maintain this onstage whilst working within the conventions of theatre?

Paulette: I have to remember that Julie is the writer and the performer. I have to honour both those roles. Sometimes when I’m directing Julie we will talk about what the writer would say if they were in the room. And I remind her in rehearsals that the script is more eloquent and tells the story in a more successful way than if you were just saying it.

Julie: Once I have made the decision to commit it to the page, my role as the writer is very different to Julie who is remembering. I think I’m a savage editor of my own work and I’m quite happy for it to be a live process. The first script you take into rehearsal is like a road map but it’s not necessarily where we’ll end up. What I love is being able to surrender that to Paulette and saying ‘there you go’.

And being in the show, I then surrender the connection to Julie McNamara the person who has lived that moment. The director is the boss. I trust Paulette with my life, she’s a great director.

We know that music can make people living with Alzheimer’s experience great joy. How important is music to the production?

Julie: It all started with Shirley. I began recording her singing, when she started losing her language. I know that music is in a different part of the brain to language and her singing voice is sweet. I recorded quite a few tracks of her singing.

Paulette: To add to what Julie has said, one of the things I love about her work is the music. I discovered that there had been music and song in everything she’s done, it’s an integral part of her life. So it wasn’t surprising to me that music was being included in Let Me Stay. And it’s also a cultural thing, there are certain communities where singing is important. It’s important to storytelling.

Finally, what gift would you like your audiences to leave with?

Julie: A sense of hope. Alzheimer’s is not an apologetic withdrawal from life.

Paulette: Being able to not fear something you don’t understand…embrace it.

Naomi Cortes

Let Me Stay is here as part of Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 from Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 June. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

For more information on Anxiety Festival at the Albany and Deptford Lounge, click here.

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‘Still I Rise’: An Exhibition by Nadine Walker, Inspired by Maya Angelou

Inspired by the beloved poem by the late Maya Angelou, Still I Rise, visual artist Nadine Walker presents a stunning exhibition about overcoming racism, criticism and personal obstacles through a series of images featuring women who are beautiful, strong, occasionally sensual and infinitely empowered, on now in the Albany cafe through Monday 30 June. The images are made using mixed media with digital editing to create striking portraits that portray inner strength and endless endurance.

 

 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

(with illustrations by Nadine Walker) 

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You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

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You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise?

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

 

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While completing her MA in illustration, Nadine’s lecturer challenged her to craft an image using both visual art and text. At the time, Nadine was reading one of Maya Angelou’s books and stumbled across a poem she immediately connected with, Still I Rise, leading to her inspiration for this exhibition. She shared her love of the poem with her year 7 and 8 students from Virgo Fidelis Covent School in Norwood- challenging them to illustrate the poem. She ran a competition across 8 classes, selecting four to join her in her exhibition: Akalia Newland, Tahreem Sattar, Shafia Ali and Tia-Louise Bryan.

Nadine Walker is an art educator, graphic designer and illustrator from Lewisham. She has participated in collaborative and solo exhibitions across Central London, most notably being selected by the BBC as one of 20 artists invited to visually document the HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Thames Pagent.

For more information about Nadine and her work click here.

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Deptford meets opera in The Albany Street Opera

James Redwood - Photo by Robert Day Work is underway on The Albany Street Opera, a music project that is engaging a diverse group of Deptford locals and will culminate in the unveiling of a brand new opera created by the participants with the help of award-winning composers and musicians. Creative Producer Rachel Nelken tells us more about this ambitious project.

I’ve been involved with the Albany for some years. I was lucky enough to spend some time on the Board of Trustees from 2010-2012, and have been working in the community as an arts and music producer for many years in this part of South-East and Outer London. I’d always been intrigued by the unusual model of the Albany with its resident community and arts organisations – all living and working alongside each other but not necessarily with each other – or even ever meeting. So, about a year ago I had a crazy idea of seeing if we could bring some of the different groups together to make some new music and theatre. I went to talk to Gavin Barlow, the Albany’s CEO, about the idea, and the Albany community opera project was born!

Further discussion with Gavin and Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes, led to us identifying key organisations who could take part in the project. We wanted a real range of ages and backgrounds and chose organisations Entelechy Arts, Heart n Soul, Lewisham Music Education Hub, Deptford Green School, Uncover Theatre Company, the Central Afghanistan and Asian Association and local primary schools.

Our next job was to find the right musical director for the project. It had to be someone who was not only a great composer but who had the energy and enthusiasm for working with a real range of people, and getting them to collaborate together to create their own music and story – especially as we knew some participants would be completely new to the experience. After much searching and some great recommendations we chose award-winning composer James Redwood, who was awarded the prestigious RPS British Composer Award for his community and education work in 2013. When it came to a ‘dramaturg’ – to work with the groups to create the story – we then chose Hazel Gould following many recommendations – whose opera ‘We are Shadows’ had won that same award the year before.

Singing and performance will be a big part of this project and we have two fantastic vocal leaders as part of the creative team – Abimaro Gunnell who already works regularly with the Albany, and Freya Wynn-Jones who has an extensive background in this work and is a theatre Director herself.

The project came to the attention of anti-poverty campaigner and Big Issue Founder John Bird. His book ‘The Necessity of Poverty’ written in 2012, with its themes of collective transformation and ‘people power’ will help to inspire the creative team and they devise some story lines with the participants.

This first year is the ‘research and development’ phase of a longer-term project, and we hope to work towards a fully staged opera production featuring local performers alongside professionals in the next couple of years. Participants for this stage in the project will range in age from 5 to 90 and will be given the chance to contribute musical or narrative ideas through a series of workshops taking place in and around the Albany throughout June and July 2014.

Key events include a ‘Sharing session’ on 21 June for all participants to meet, share their work and learn a song together, and a ‘work-in-progress’ public performance of all the work created by participants will take place on Saturday 19 July at 5pm. Come and join us and see what we’ve been up to – we’d love to see you there and you too will play a part in this exciting project!

We are really grateful that this project has been supported by the Merry Trust, Arts Council England and the PRS for Music Foundation.

Rachel Nelken, Creative Producer, The Albany Street Opera project

For more information about The Albany Street Opera and to book tickets to the performance on 19 July, click here.

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