The Albany Café – why you can’t please all of the people all of the time

Early this year we began work on updating and refurbishing the Albany café because, well, it really needs it. Our hard-working staff team are struggling to keep it clean and presentable and our lovely customers aren’t always getting the speed or quality of service we’d like due to some quite specific practical issues. We’re also very aware of all the changes locally – with great new independent bars and cafes popping up (and some slightly less independent ones) and lots of new people moving in next door to and all around the Albany – we wanted to make sure the Albany café could continue offer something unique and competitive within the local ecology. That’s about more than the décor of course and the team have done quite a lot of work over the last year to refine the menu, focus even more on local suppliers and use more fresh produce grown in our garden.

We chose Studio Raw to do the work in the café because they understand some of this pretty well – they worked with us on designing our current logo and brand identity several years ago and they’re now also our newest ‘resident company’, that’s what we call the other organisations who are based in our building, having asked if they could move in at the bottom of our garden in their very own cabin late last year! (A great example of how we do things a little bit differently to most arts venues!

 

 

The brief was to suggest a new name and a new look for the menu as well as physical changes to the layout, décor and space, all for a bijou budget! We asked them to consult with our staff and other resident organisations to design the changes as well as our regular café users. They’ve done just that and the process has been eye opening.

It’s always been a hard balancing act to get the things right in our café because we need it to make money in order to justify keeping it but it sits at the heart of the building, so we also need it to be welcoming to such a massive range of people. It is taken over every Tuesday by older people doing everything from choir to crafts when we have Meet Me at the Albany, packed full of families when we have Sunday theatre shows, a regular theatre bar when we have shows on and a haven and regular haunt for loads of people who are all looking for different things, from students using the WiFi to do academic work to homeless and vulnerable people who just want somewhere safe, warm and welcoming to hangout.

This has been so apparent in the feedback we’ve gathered from people who use the café. Lots of people saying it’s great value and great quality, others the opposite – that they feel it’s too expensive, some people saying they love relaxing there with kids or that they like it because it’s quiet and relaxing and others saying the kids are noisy or disruptive or the music is too loud – you get the picture… you can never please everyone and you certainly can’t when the range of needs and wants is so broad.

But overall it has surprised us just how much people like and appreciate the space for the very same things that make it a challenge – they feel it fits with what we hope the organisation is and does – they described it as ‘vibrant’, ‘chilled out and warm’, ‘friendly’. They really get that it is a space for everyone – including the green and outdoor space in the garden – and they value that. Over and over, the atmosphere was praised and it’s defining characteristic of openness to all referenced.

 

We’ll be doing most of the work in late April and really hope it will be well received… by most people at least!

 

Stavros Chirdaris

Head of Food and Beverage, the Albany

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Move, Shake, Mango – A Creative Journey

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Since mid-January we have embarked on a unique journey, a wonderful opportunity to create and produce a show from scratch to be featured as part of the Lewisham Live Festival. Did you say from scratch? Yes… that’s scary! Well, it’s ambitious, because although some of us have experience with events, and we all have the awesome support from industry experts, it’s incredibly complex to coordinate the passion and ideas of fourteen Young Creatives into one holistic experience.

We meet two or three times a week at the Albany, for planning sessions, rehearsals, seminars, and also pure creation. The only premise we had to start was the title ‘Move Shake Mango’ (created by the previous group of Young Creatives), which could become a theatre show, an event, a fair, or anything we wanted…  So how do you trim the infinite jungle of possibilities into one beautiful bonsai? Well, we are discovering that along the way.

We are lucky to have fantastic people supporting us and our project, from start to end, our workshop leader Andy and our Programme Manager Zaylie always giving their best to create a substantial programme full of educational and professional content. But no matter what level of support we get, the responsibility of creating a memorable and valuable experience lies completely on us, the Albany Young Creatives, and that is a challenge that will build character in whoever takes it.

With a series of group exercises and brainstorming sessions we decided on a theme that felt important to all of us and relevant to the community. We followed the guidelines of our guest speakers to divide the roles and responsibilities among the members of the group and set up teams of performers, marketers, producers and so on. Then, with a strong optimistic attitude, we set up a timeline for the project indicating the dates when tasks should be finished and content ready to go. And after doing all this… we actually started creating the content. Funny how it works right?

Now we are less than a month away from opening night, we are getting there, we have created original dance, music, poetry and an inspiring storyline to bring our theme to life, and more importantly, to awaken it inside the audiences hearts. We have grown from a group of young people into a team, a professional working team that sometimes struggles with communication and grow together with understanding, patience and an eye on the horizon. A team of passionate millennials striving to step out of their cocoons to create something bigger, which can only happen if we work together.

By Ciro Reynoso

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Greg Wohead: Celebration’s Falling of the Leaves

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Celebration, Florida is a planned community in Osceola County, Florida. It’s near Disney World and was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company. It features a town square, houses modeled on a variety of architectural styles (Victorian, Gothic, American plantation house) and a fully integrated graphic design of everything from street signs and shop signs to manhole covers, golf course graphics and fountains. To some, Celebration is a dream come true; quaint nostalgic Americana brought to life. But to others it all seems inauthentic.

Because of the temperate Florida climate, autumn foliage can be rare, so every October leaf-shaped confetti is pumped into the Celebration, Florida town square.

I’m obsessed with The Falling of the Leaves. It’s like this genuinely exciting moment even though you can see all the fakeness. The device pumping out paper leaves, everyone gathered to catch them. To me it feels fun and funny and strange and maybe a little bit sad.

My performance called Celebration, Florida, for me feels like this moment, only with people instead of paper leaves. Where the paper leaves are standing in for real leaves, in the performance two people who are unrehearsed and have never met both stand in for me. That’s quite a big difference, actually. Even though the unrehearsed performers are standing in for someone else, they are also their own people–they are self-consciously themselves and someone else at the same time, constantly slipping off one and onto the other. As a performance idea this is constantly interesting to me, as anyone who might have seen my previous work like The Ted Bundy Project or Comeback Special can clearly see.

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photo by Matt Cawrey

The performers are wearing headphones and hear my voice in their ear guiding them on what to do and say via a prerecorded audio track. They know almost nothing about the show beforehand. Maybe this seems a little gimmicky. The idea of unrehearsed performers guided through a show is certainly not original. I’ve seen it before, notably in Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree and in Glen Neath and Ant Hampton’s ROMCOM. For Celebration, Florida, though, this felt like the only way to do it. Not just because of the exciting on-the-same-team relationship this creates between the performers and audience, but because it speaks to playback delays, disconnection, missed details, a voice that’s *just* out of hearing range, a sense of the odd, the off-centre, the peculiar. As audience members, you’re not only invited to see what is being enacted onstage, but you’re being asked to imagine and to try and access what has gone on in another place. My hope is that the form of the piece can help create a portal to this slightly strange other place. Celebration, Florida isn’t really about Celebration Florida. It is sort of about an anyplace.

But what I always come back to is a sense of doubleness. While you’re invited to access this other place, this Celebration, Florida anyplace, what we actually see is two people–who didn’t know each other before the show started–slowly form a real relationship as they interact and perform various tasks together over the course of an hour. That can be a fun thing to watch.

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photo by Jonathan Potter

In the end, Celebration, Florida is about all and none of these things. It veers between feeling ‘about’ a relationship between me and the performers, the performers and the audience, me and the audience, each performer with the other. And hopefully in the slipping and sliding in between, you can bring to it whatever is going on with you.

I made the performance with an energy of reaching out for connection with other people. That reach itself requires vulnerability, and it can feel thrilling, confusing, comforting, maddening and impossible. Like the Falling of the Leaves x 100.

Celebration, Florida is on at the Albany in London on 1st and 2nd March with a post-show talk on the 2nd, followed by national touring.
BOOK TICKETS

By Greg Wohead.

Celebration’s Falling of the Leaves

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I Need A Dollar! Part of SKINT Festival at Canada Water Culture Space

Next week at the Albany’s sister venue, Canada Water Culture Space, InShort Film Festival presents a showcase of ingenious, surreal and innovative short films exploring humans’ relationship with work, money and happiness.

Each year InShort Film Festival screens the best international, inclusive, and independent shorts, exposing multicultural audiences to stories from all corners of the world. Their film programmes celebrate the differences and similarities in people’s experiences worldwide, with many themes popping up universally in the visions of filmmakers from different perspectives.

InShortFF was invited to curate the film part of the Albany’s SKINT programme, which allows you to get your film and theatre fix this February, even if you’re skint – all the events are £5 or pay-what-you-decide. People both locally and worldwide are affected by the financial restraints and poor employment opportunities of our current age. So on Friday 17 February 2017, InShortFF’s screening I Need A Dollar! brings some of the best, most powerful, and most relatable of these stories, with filmmakers from Chile, Australia, India, Russia, Spain and the US, to name a few, to our Southwark theatre.

Some of these films depict economic realities with stunning realism and accuracy, like Far is Here from Chile. This unforgettable experimental documentary will amaze you in its story of exile, migration and economic survival. Other films leap inspirationally towards happiness and freedom – material or immaterial.  A stand out short is The Chunk and The Whore, which was awarded TOP 10 of InShortFF 2016. Its director, French provocateur Antoine Paley depicts the unlikely relationship between a bored gas station cashier and a sex worker, and puts a middle finger up to working life! The programme also features a brilliant and surprising Spanish comedy Grown Ups by Javier Marcos, who plays with film form and expectation to shock and amuse audiences. A playful story about social expectations of how successful and happy adult life should look. You can expect a good mixture of film genres, including mentioned documentary, fiction, comedy, experimental and animation.

I Need A Dollar! gathers together the best internationally awarded short films set in, and dealing with, economic survival, through surreal and comedic filmmaking. Setting the scene for InShort Film Festival’s return in Autumn, see the best film talent and most interesting stories from around the (working) world. These films will free your mind – all you have to lose is your chains!

www.inshortfilmfestival.com

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#InShortFF

P.S. Are you a filmmaker and have a new short? Don’t miss the upcoming Early Bird deadline for this year’s edition of InShortFF! Submit here: https://filmfreeway.com/festival/InShortFF

 

By Martha Margetson, InShort Film Festival

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Family Arts Conference 2017

Wednesday 15 March
St George’s Bristol and Watershed, Bristol
10am Registration & Coffee, event 10.30am-5.30pm

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Over 30 speakers confirmed for this major cross-artform event exploring age, diversity and inclusion in family arts.

Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley will join us to welcome arts professionals from across the UK to learn and share best practice in working with families.

Including speakers from a wide range of organisations including Arnolfini, Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham, Z-arts, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The day includes chances to network with family-friendly venues, programmers and touring companies. You can view the delegate list here.

Schedule

10am Registration and coffee

10.30am Morning sessions: new insights on arts-based approaches to inclusion and diversity

Deputy Mayor of Bristol Cllr Estella Tincknell will speak on the role of arts in diverse and socio-economically disparate cities.

Bristol Family Arts Network, organisers of the large-scale Bristol Family Arts Festival, on diversity and inclusion at the heart of Bristol’s cultural provision. Keynote from Clare Karslake from Arnolfini, Roseanna Dias from Watershed, and Amy Harrison from The Architecture Centre.

UK & international perspectives on welcoming older people as part of the family experience from Kate Organ, expert on arts and ageing and former consultant for Baring Foundation, Heidi Wiley from Art of Aging (European Theatre Convention), and Gabbi Mesters from European initiative Long Live Arts.

1pm Lunch with a performance from St George’s

1.55pm Breakout sessions

Working with older people and families: panel session with Emma Robinson from Age Cymru and its Gwanwyn Festival, Jill Rezzano from New Vic Stoke and its Ages and Stages programme, and Fergus Early from Green Candle Dance Company. Chaired by Charlotte Jones from Independent Theatre Council.

Marketing to families: a panel session with Sharna Jackson, Children’s Content Creator, Sara Lock the Associate Editor of CultureHive, Kate Mroczkowski from Spektrix as well marketing teams from leading UK family arts organisations, discussing innovative approaches to reaching families.

Developing diversity in family audiences: panel session with Liz O’Neill from Z-arts, Emma Spencer fromYorkshire Sculpture Park, Rachel Clarke from Knowle West Media Centre, Nikki Locke from East Durham Creates, and Sarah Bird and Rowan Hoban, Directors of Wild Rumpus and Just So Festival

A family-friendly workplace: how family-friendly is the arts sector to its employees? Panel session with Anna Ehnold-Danailov and Cassie Raine, co-founders of Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA), and Nicola Smith, Founder of We Are Resident, who provide international residency opportunities for parents working as artists.

3.15pm Afternoon sessions: approaches to access, research findings and future activity

Approaches to access: panel session including Chris Proctor from Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham, Karen Townsend from ATG, Victoria Grant from Manchester Meseums as well as contributions from Stagetext.

Keynote: Leo Sharrock, Director of Data Platforms at The Audience Agency and Jonathon Blackburn, Senior Policy and Research Officer at Arts Council England, present findings from new research on family audiences and participation.

Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, on the past, present and future of family arts and its importance to Arts Council England’s strategic plan.

Family Arts Campaign Manager Jenny Daly on new initiatives and ways to engage with the Family Arts Campaign.

5.30-6.30pm Networking drinks reception

Tuesday 14th March 5.30pm, Circomedia, Portland Square, Bristol

All conference delegates are invited to a pre-conference celebration and networking event on the evening preceding the conference. As spaces are limited, we ask that you please book your place in advance if you would like to attend this event.

“So many interesting things: hearing about a range of offers for families was very useful.”

“It allowed time to think and understand how families perceive our offer – lots of food for thought.”

“I will keep this inspiration with me when looking at my own upcoming collaborations.”

– Delegates, 2015 Family Arts Conference

Book here

The Family Arts Conference is sponsored by Spektrix and Supercool.

Family Arts Campaign is supported using public funding from Arts Council England.

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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.

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“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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