Entelechy’s Artistic Director David Slater describes the powerful impact of when the Albany and Entelechy’s BOLD Festival took to the streets of Deptford

The Albany and Entelechy Arts arts club for isolated older people, Meet Me at the Albany continues to flourish. As well as a place to meet, chat and take part in a range of creative activities, Meet Me is fast becoming a propagating bed for new creative work.  Meet Me participants have designed and knitted a pocketed blanket that is the central feature of a new street performance work, premiering at this year’s Brighton Festival. BED is a nomadic street event performed by older members of Entelechy. The work has been commissioned by Without Walls, Brighton Festival and Winchester Hat Fair.

Bed 6

“Sometimes I just sit indoors hoping that the phone will ring. Even if it’s a wrong number: just to hear another voice”, reflects performer Rosie Wheatland. She is one of a core of artists from Entelechy taking theatre into the street: “It feels like when you get to our age you become invisible. We want to be seen. We want to be heard.”

“Understand who your audiences are. Discover who they could be” advises the website of the Audiences Agency. In order to understand their ‘markets’ these seventy and eighty-year olds performers have taken their theatre literally out into the market on their doorstep. Here in Deptford, you can almost feel the tectonic plates of the city shifting underfoot as you wander down the High Street. Regular shoppers brace themselves against the unseasonal late April chill with the newly arrived affluent apartment owners, flea market bargain hunters, the street drinkers and the evangelical preachers.

The stage is set. It’s like an inversion of immersive theatre. Instead of inviting the world to submerge itself in the art this is a theatre that throws itself into the world. In the midst of the Saturday afternoon street scene, far apart from each other, there are two abandoned beds each occupied by an older woman. In different ways, both performers share fragments of their character’s experience as they inhabit the delicate space between waking and sleeping. There are stories of loss, isolation, longing and hope.

Some people pause, choose to ignore and pass by. Some people pause and get drawn into the narrative. Somebody whispers that an ambulance is on its way. A prayer meeting has formed around one of the beds and suddenly everyone is singing hymns.

Small clusters of people are stopping to talk: “I was shocked. I’ve like never seen anything like that in my life.  I think it’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. The elderly are treated in such a poor way.”

The lines between what is real and what is fiction are edgily blurred.  The minty ‘tic tacs’ mimic hypotension medication in a plastic pill box; the glyceryl trinitrate spray for angina is real. It must take some courage to inhabit this other self, to be present and engaged, wrapped in your nightclothes, out on the street lying on the bed with only the protection of a duvet.

“Anything could happen to us but we take the risk. There’s a lot of trust. We belong to this body of trust, like sisters to each other. Sometimes you’ve got to take risks for the unknown. You don’t know what you are going into but you’ve got to take that risk,” says company member Gwen Sewell.

It was a trail run but I think that the older artists achieved their ambition. They successfully engineered this collision between every day Saturday afternoon moments and a glimpse into the experiences and stories of the isolated old: the hidden, the avoided, the unknown, the willfully ignored. They took people by surprise. They placed them off balance. Maybe they made them think.

BED next appears at the Brighton Festival on the weekend of May 14th and 15th.

 

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An Interview with Jim Pope, Director of Hearing Things

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Tell us about your involvement with Hearing Things

I’m the co-artistic director of Playing ON and we’ve been working in mental health settings for about five years now. Devising and creating engagement work in hospitals and community settings, over that time we’ve devised material for this play at the Albany.

 

Where did you get the idea to stage a play about mental health?

We were in Homerton hospital delivering some engagement workshops and we were waiting to go into the wards to start. And before you go in there’s an office where you can see into the wards and the administration, and there was this guy at a computer cackling maniacally in the corner. Then a member of staff came up to me with a clipboard and started talking about schedules and how busy it was, how they couldn’t possibly fit anyone else in, double bookings etc and she was really stressed and gabbling away. I told her ‘I’m not here for that, we’re just delivering a workshop, I don’t know about your schedules.’ And she didn’t hear a word of it, she just kept going on and on. So we had this guy cackling in the corner, and a person talking over us about what’s going on and I looked over into the ward and there were just a couple of guys playing pool, calm as anything. It was very apparent that at that moment, if you were asked to say ‘Who’s mad’ and ‘Who’s sane’, it would be the office where the stress and tension was.  And that was our experience throughout. The environments felt very anxiety-laden. That situation sparked an interest in the question ‘what is mental health?’.

 

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What themes and issues does the play raise awareness of?

We really want to look at the artificial division in mental health. There’s such a stigma and the phrase carries judgement and people are either mentally well or mentally ill with nowhere in between. And that’s just not realistic. It’s not like that. So we’re very keen to expose, challenge and explore those preconceptions.

 

What do you want audiences to take away from the play?

I’d like people to come away with a different attitude. We don’t want to teach them, I want them to ask questions, because it is a complex issue. And to consider the role that both medicine and community have on mental wellbeing. Medicine in mental health has a vital role to play but so does community. So does engagement, so does acceptance and lack of empathy within society. I think funding cuts and the current constant outcome-driven system creates mental illness and makes things worse.

 

What has the audience response been like so far?

When we did this performance in the grounds of the Maudsley Hospital, We had patients and professional actors improvising the play together. The patients played doctors and some of the staff agreed to be in it playing patients. And there were various doctors, funders, friends and family of patients watching. At the end the audience didn’t know who was who. There were senior consultants who said ‘well that person is clearly a psychiatrist.’ When actually that person was resident in the Maudsley Hospital and had been there for several weeks. They didn’t know. That was a very powerful result of what we’re trying to do – which is mess around with the boundaries and see what wellness and illness is.

 

Hear more from Jim and the actors in the trailer.
Hearing Things plays at the Albany from 26 – 30 April, find out more.

 

 

 

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Permission to Speak

I guess you could say Alaska the show exists because I never learned how to talk about how I really feel with people.  I never did when I was a kid:  I wrote poems instead.  That started when I was about eight or nine, and I never stopped.  When I was very grown – 32 – I started going to a psychiatrist on the NHS, and kept on for the next sixteen years.  At the end of those sixteen years, my psychiatrist said I had never talked about my feelings – only about symptoms, and how to control them.  I think I did Alaska because I never felt able to talk about my depressions outside a doctor’s office.

That’s not what I thought I was doing when I started working on the show.  I had just had an invitation from Commonword, a grassroots publisher in my adopted hometown Manchester, to publish a collection of my poems.  I’ve been a playwright and director for years and years, but I started out as a performance poet in a workshop run by Lemn Sissay [currently Associate Artist at the Southbank] at Commonword.  Going to that workshop turned out to be crucial:  I got my first Arts Council grant for a writing residency, my first professional playwriting commission, my first few professionally-produced plays, my first published poems – all from the Identity workshop at Commonword.

I only went to the workshop because I didn’t want to be a difficult-to-understand ‘page’ poet, as my Cambridge training had made me.  I wanted to write things that were both intricate and accessible.  If you needed a university degree to understand something, then to me that ‘something’ was lacking.  Work could be complicated and imagistic and intellectual, and still be understood in one hearing.  That was my goal.

That was my intellectual goal.  But the most important part – the emotional drive — was being understood.  Writing was the only way I could tell the truth about how it felt to be depressed, suicidally depressed.  And if you write it, or perform it, no one ever asks you any questions about it.  You can hide in plain sight, and I desperately wanted to hide the depression. I felt that it worried my friends and family, and downright panicked a lot of my doctors.  But being a performer is the true Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility – you can say almost anything, as long as it’s within the sacred circle of the stage, and it is as if someone else said all those things, not you.

What complicates all this, is that the performance of normality that was going on all this time – acting like everything was OK – well, it was an act and it wasn’t.  If you’d seen me, you would have probably seen me laughing.  A lot.  Having fun with my friends, having fun at work.  Drinking a bit more than I should, but having a hell of a good time.  And that was true, too.  Both selves were true.

And getting that deeper reality into Alaska the show is what surprised me about doing it.  When I started thinking about it, I wanted to do a poetry-play, that used a lot of the poems that are now in the book Alaska.  But when I started work with my director, Darren Pritchard, he had me lay all the poems out along the floor, and put them in chronological order.  Then he asked me what was happening in my life at the time I wrote each one.  He immediately saw that the stories behind the poems would make the better play.

Darren and I really worked very closely together to craft Alaska.  I’d describe it that I wrote and performed, while he devised and directed.  I could never have written the show without him. More specifically, I couldn’t have structured it.   His sense of how to put together a show that juggles impressions to create a whole was essential.  Darren had worked several times in collaboration with Quarantine, especially on a play he performed with his mother, Susan + DarrenQuarantine create shows with both trained and untrained actors, based on people’s own life stories.  They’re strong on visual imagery.

There’s a flavour of that in Alaska:  it’s full of images and worlds created by words, and full of fun and dreaming and imagination, and singing and dancing on the moon.  And the truth about how it has felt for me, growing up a depressive.

Doing the show has been loads of fun.  It’s changed my life – Alaska is leading me to places I would never have imagined going before — to rural tours in the Lake District, to a Fringe Festival in Plymouth, to being part of A Nation’s Theatre here at the Albany this spring.   It’s given me a team – Darren and my producer, Jayne Compton – that supports me in ways I didn’t even know I needed support.  It’s led, indirectly, to our team founding the Black Gold Arts Festival, to give that same kind of support to other black performance artists in the North.

And all because for once I wanted to be able to talk about my feelings as well as I can write about them.

 

By Cheryl Martin

Co-Artistic Director, Black Gold Arts Festival

Alaska is coming to the Albany on Tuesday 19 April, 7pm & 8.30pm.

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Meet Me at the Albany: A Guest Blog by Yestrans

Yestrans  is a German to English translation company based within the Albany.

 
We’ve had our office at the Albany since January 2014; we love it here, and the community focus of the organisation was a huge attraction for us. We’re a translation company with international connections, but supporting local initiatives is really important to us, so The Albany feels like the perfect home for our company.

 
Meet Me at the Albany means that Tuesday is always a highlight of our week. It’s such an uplifting environment to come into when arriving for work, with the café space full of happiness and creative energy. When we found out more about the programme and the fantastic work it does to reduce social isolation for the over 60′s in the area, we were delighted to become official supporters. The remarkable – and enormously popular – programme includes creative partnerships with established artists and has been cleverly designed to include things like professionally-run courses on circus skills – a brilliant idea which aims to reduce falls among participants by promoting better balance.

 
As the Albany themselves say, this isn’t your usual over 60′s programme:
‘At Meet Me at the Albany, participants are just as likely to be suspended on silks in a circus workshop, enjoying a performance of jazz or writing poetry with top poets like Simon Mole and Malika Booker, as they are to be drinking cups of tea or knitting.’

 
With the ever-increasing challenges programmes like this face due to reductions in local authority funding, we wanted to do our bit to help.
Activities coming up in the next few weeks at Meet Me at The Albany include poetry, sculpting and choir sessions so we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing the results when we arrive in the office each week!

 
Luke Trinder, Founder, Yestrans

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Hidden Gems: Matthew Bellwood brings (The Story is Not) Set in Stone to the Albany and An Icy Man to Canada Water Culture Space

As a producer, one of my favourite things is uncovering hidden gems – artists who are working just outside of the mainstream, who haven’t yet had the recognition their work deserves.

One of these is the brilliant Matthew Bellwood. Matthew has spent the last few years telling stories, uncovering unexpected tales and creating unique events in his native Leeds. He has brought together a fantastic body of work that explores the beauty of the everyday, and the endless possibilities that life offers to change our lives, and the lives of those around us.

This strand of his practice culminated in the spectacular 365 Leeds Stories, which explored the multiple versions of the city that exist in the minds of the people who live there. It engaged hundreds of residents in creating a series of imaginative “maps”, through performance, visual art and multi-media.

I’m thrilled that Matthew now has the chance to show his work in London – audiences are in for a treat.

One of the incredible places that Matthew uncovered during his explorations was another hidden gem – the wonderful Leeds Library. Not the usual municipal affair, this is an independent members subscription library, founded in 1768 above a bookseller’s shop in the city centre. It’s now the oldest surviving example of its kind.

It provided the inspiration for his latest piece, a collaboration with A Quiet Word’s Alison Andrews. (The Story is Not) Set in Stone takes place in a mythical library, which the characters seem to remember differently every time. An intimate performance in which the audience is seated round a large table, this is a playful show about the places and ways in which we tell stories.

Matthew and Alison will be performing the piece at The Albany on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th April. It forms part of a residency in London as part of A Nation’s Theatre, a festival celebrating work from around the UK – and in process (you’ve guessed it) uncovering some hidden gems from across the country.

Along with the new show, the pair will be spending time in and around Deptford with their specially constructed model of the Leeds Library, asking members of the public to fill in miniature books telling their stories. The material they gather forms part of the finished show, making it unique to each place it visits.

Matthew will also be performing his solo show, An Icy Man, at Canada Water Culture Space on Wednesday 6th April. This is the first piece we worked with Matthew on, and I knew from the start we were on to a winner. It’s a beautiful storytelling experience, in which the audience is seated round a model, snowbound village. It’s kind of a contemporary ghost story – but the narrative will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost.

The piece was first performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of their Transform season, but has since travelled the length and breadth of the country, playing in theatres, festivals, church minsters, and even an old railway tunnel.

One of the best parts of my job is watching the faces of audience members as they come out of the show. You know they’ve all experienced something very special – the kind of thing they’ll want to tell someone about.

So – a hidden gem? Definitely. I hope you’ll join me in discovering it.

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George Egg: Anarchy, Cookery and Comedy

George Egg, the Anarchist Cook is coming to the Albany’s sister venue, Canada Water Culture Space on Friday 4 March. This intriguing character got us thinking that we wanted to know more, so here we are…

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George Egg was born in a tower block in Charlton and grew up in South East London. He ran away to join the circus aged 16, cooking for French anarchic circus Archaos and it was this experience that made him want to perform. After acting in productions with Lewisham Youth Theatre in the late ‘80s George devised his own show and started street performing next to the Cutty Sark when he was 17. This lead to performing on the comedy and cabaret circuit and his first paid stand-up gig at Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich.

In 1994 he performed at the Albany as part of a groundbreaking show called The Feast, an absurdist comedy-cum-cabaret-cum-circus show that was commissioned to relaunch the venue after an extensive refit. Performers actually cooked a meal during the day that was fed to the audience during the interval. Little did George realise that this interactive experience would be inspiration for a future show.

Two decades have passed, during which George performed extensively in the UK as well as Germany, Spain, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Hong Kong and India. He has also supported Lee Mack, Micky Flanagan and Jack Dee.

But George has always had a love for food and cooking, and a few years ago, tapping into his experience as a hungry performer on the road, he devised George Egg: Anarchist Cook, a one-man show which is part stand-up comedy, part illustrated lecture and part live cookery demonstration. George cooks a three course meal using just the equipment you’d find in a hotel room. And then, at the end, the audience get to taste it.

Anarchist Cook sold out at Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe last year and won the coveted Spirit of the Fringe Award in Edinburgh.It is a true pleasure for George to return to South East London to perform a show that has in many ways been some twenty plus years in the making

George Egg: Anarchist Cook, Friday 4 March, 7.30pm, Canada Water Culture Space

‘It’s an hilarious show, with surprisingly good food’ THE TIMES

‘My find of the Fringe… someone should give Egg his own anarchist cookery television show as soon as possible‘ ‘i’ PAPER

‘A genius… He is the friendly face of anarchy, the anarchic face of food and the foodie face of comedy’ SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

‘Go see George Egg… you’ll never look at a Corby trouser press in the same way again. Brilliant.’ JAY RAYNER (OBSERVER RESTAURANT CRITIC)

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Low Tech Solutions to Complicated Problems

Walking Video Guides by Ben Stephen

Click here to access the guides.

For people with limited mobility and poor eyesight all routes to the Albany have a variety of obstacles.

We had been wrestling with the challenge of producing a simple guide for 18 months and getting nowhere. We needed to create clear instructions for getting to the Albany, but with so many public transport options we faced a complicated task.

After discovering that paying for an app was beyond our means, we tried different ways of representing the routes to the theatre, but it became clear that this was almost impossible on our limited budget.

Then we had a bit of a ‘lightbulb moment’ when noticing that Network Rail had just installed lifts at New Cross and Deptford. Whipping out a smart phone, we put in our headphones and walked to the Albany, describing what we saw along the way. Watching the videos back we discovered that these were really simple to follow.

We planned routes from the three nearest train stations with lifts by walking them through and looking for the smoothest, flattest routes with the highest number of pedestrian crossings and lowest number of obstacles. We used shortcuts where they were wheelchair friendly, but avoided them if they were not.

Once we’d recorded the routes we realised they were quite lengthy and there was a lot of background noise as we’d recorded them on a windy day. So we borrowed a computer from the Albany’s youth engagement team and had a go at editing it. We re-recorded the sound with the same smart phone and added a few captions.

Uploaded to our YouTube channel and embedded onto the Albany website, the video route maps are now available to everyone.

After some very positive feedback our video map idea is being championed by Attitude is Everything, and looked at by other arts organisations across the country. Our next task is to look at how to make a map for driving to the Albany and extend the route maps to include bus stops.

Our low tech solution to a complicated problem cost us almost no money and was incredibly simple to achieve.

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