Brinson: Before He Cracks The Sky and 10 Things Every Christian Hip Hop Artist Should Know-feature by Cian Kinsella

I would not call myself an expert in self-help books, but Brinson Wright’s 10 Things Every Christian Hip Hop Artist Should Know is a highly specialised illustration of their common features. I am not an aspiring Christian rapper either, but there is serious value in Brinson’s counsel, no matter your goals. Coming in at fewer than 40 pages, Brinson wastes not a single word in his book. It is split into 10 chapters; each chapter is a rule for finding success as a Christian rapper.

Earlier this year, I received a copy of Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life by Roxie Nafousi. It’s a bright orange hardback with minimal artwork, big line spacing, and thick paper; it’s nice to hold, to feel, and to look at. Perfect to be left on a coffee table or as a spot of colour on a bookshelf – and never to be read.

 Part of selling a self-help book is knowing your audience. I have no concrete basis for this claim, but I believe these books are less about the exhortations themselves than about our personal dialogues with the words and how we see ourselves as congruous with or aspiring to the author. For example, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life – drivel though it may be – is invariably seen in the hands of metaphorically lost, doe-eyed young men. Yet they are drawn to Peterson’s belief that the waning of masculinity in society is responsible for its apparent decline. Ironically, these boys have little in the way of masculinity themselves, toxic or otherwise.

 Nafousi’s book, on the other hand, speaks to a millennial consumership. Minimal and aesthetically pleasing, one not only wants to be reading it, but to be seen reading it. Nafousi relates to this reader from the off: she returns to London after a month of yoga somewhere in Asia only to slip into the old habits of smoking and drinking too much; she filters manifestation through the language of vague spirituality – never religion – with terms like ‘the Universe’, ‘abundance’, and ‘vibrations’. It’s for the kind of person who visualises themself as being or becoming that kind of person.

 Anyone who’s experienced or researched Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may recognise many of the nuggets of wisdom given by Nafousi and others. (Peterson’s rules are more poorly connected ramblings.) Be grateful, set SMART goals, work consistently, be patient, and have faith that what you want will happen – realign your cognition, realign your behaviour. We are far more receptive to these ideas when they are set out in terms and by a voice which reflect your own values.

 Brinson, like Nafousi and others, refracts many reliable precepts, but through the hyper-specific world of Christian hip hop. ‘Guard your heart’ and ‘You gotta work’ are two exemplary chapter titles which fit into the CBT–self-help guidance matrix. But the most curious part is Brinson’s negotiation between personal success and ministerial success. He frequently refers to ‘your ministry’ – i.e. your personal religious practice and evangelism. Even though one of his rules is that your career should be ‘all about the people’, hustle culture and individualism are woven into the fabric of 10 Things, in all its Americanness.

 Although the lexicon of ‘the Universe’ alongside advice like ‘wake up earlier’ made me want to vomit, I recognised the value in Manifest. Likewise, Brinson calls for unwavering faith in the power of God to deliver what you need. Nafousi filled her book with afffirmations, increasingly popular phrases you repeat to yourself to reframe your self-image; 10 Things has a prayer at the end of each chapter. But what rings throughout all effective self-help books is faith.

 Testament to the efficacy of 10 Things is my strengthened resolve after finishing it in one (albeit not that long) sitting. Brinson’s book sits at the intersection of self-help, motivational speaking, and gospel preaching – three practices deeply embedded in black American culture. The only thing that makes the book seem strange is the relatively esoteric focus on Christian hip hop. This cultural gap was most apparent in some moments that read almost like satire: ‘[Jesus had to] get his miracle flow up, and THEN he went into the ministry. Jesus was 30 years old before he went on tour, so don’t be too hard on yourself.’; ‘imagine a new rapper named D’Maskus who just finished up his album. Next, we have a guy named Fresh Praise Dude (FPD), who is signed to a big Christian rap label.’

One of my favourite things about 10 Things is that it is good advice from someone who is in the Christian hip hop grind. Peterson’s first rule for life, for example, which encourages you to be dominant and accept the hardships life throws at you, horribly backfired when he was admitted to a Russian medical centre in 2020 for benzodiazepine addiction. And as far as I can tell, most of Nafousi’s huge success is from her manifestation guidance – I’m not convinced that her book will help me become either a more successful teacher or a better culture writer.

 Full disclosure: Before He Cracks The Sky, Brinson’s latest album, was my first brush with Christian hip hop. His far-reaching stylistic range is one of the first things I noticed about it – second only to the quite unusual ‘God chaserz baby!’ producer tag at the beginning of most of the tracks. The second song, ‘Flowers From Da South’, wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Drake album; the following track, ‘O.M.S.’, showcased heavily autotuned vocals and quasi-Pi’erre Bourne production. Virtually all the songs are in the ‘hustler hip hop’ vein, with lyrics about working hard, surviving hardships, and reflecting on struggles and successes. Some match the unintentional comedy of the book, like ‘Comment Section’, when the internet troll realises he’s been blocked at the end of the song.

 In both his songs and writing, Brinson is concerned with the duality of secular and religious music. Since the blues guitarist Robert Johnson was reported to have sold his soul to the devil in return for musical success, the divide between the two in American contemporary music – especially in black communities – has been a strong one. (The same divide was apparent in the gulf between gospel and soul in the 60s and 70s.) But no matter how odd Brinson’s world may seem to us in a Britain where religious congregation plays a much smaller role, the religious–secular duality is a continuation of an American music tradition that lays the foundations of millions of lives across the pond.

Image: Before He Cracks The Sky, album cover

Before He Cracks The Sky | Brinson (bandcamp.com)

Feature by Cian Kinsella

Cian is a Classics teacher and part-time pub quizmaster living in London who is primarily interested in music but is also interested in theatre, literature, and visual arts. He is particularly intrigued by the relationship between art, criticism, and the capital forces always at play. Furthermore, he believes that subjectivity – which is ultimately at the heart of all artistic and cultural criticism – should not be concealed, but probed and perhaps even celebrated. Who decides what we like? How do they construct widely held beliefs about what is good? These are two of the questions Cian looks to address.

About Brinson

Brinson’s passions for youth ministry are backed by over a decade of experience and training as an ordained minister and studies in the renowned Music Business Program at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He is a 2011 graduate of the SOMET Ministry School, has traveled and performed his music and ministering the word of God on international stages, and was recognized as an Honoree at Atlanta’s Holy Hip Hop Awards. It all led to his founding of GodChaserz Entertainment (GCE) which has since released over 20 Christ-centered hip hop albums by a roster of artists designed to inspire, uplift, and entertain. The works of Brinson and his GCE family have been covered by various media outlets including ESPN.com, NPR, MTV, Jacksonville Magazine, JamTheHype.com, Trackstarz.com, RapReviews.com, The Houston Chronicle, The Wade-O Radio Show and the GodChaserz Podcast.

About ‘10 Things Every Christian Hip Hop Artist Should Know’

Regardless of your specialty in the music industry, this book is an indispensable resource. Readers new to the business of Christian hip hop and seasoned ministry professionals alike will find Brinson’s handbook to be a practical guide for navigating the complex world of music and ministry. This text is ideal for introducing concepts such as an introduction to Christian hip hop, general music business, as well as more focused thoughts on the heart of ministry. 10 Things Every Christian Hip Hop Artist Should Know includes coverage of key topics such as promoting online, marketing, creating multiple income streams, and the entrepreneurial mindset required for success. Uniquely, it also provides direction on conducting business without compromising the Gospel and prayers geared toward guarding your heart while in music ministry.

Available on 10 Things Every Christian Hip Hop Artist Should Know : Brinson: Amazon.co.uk: Books

Brinson | GodChaserz – New Album REVERSING TOMORROW Available Now!

About Roxie Nafousi

Roxie Nafousi is a self-development coach, manifesting expert, author, ambassador for the Mental Health Foundation and Instagram Agony Aunt. Her commitment to transforming the lives of people who suffer with emotional and mental health issues, and helping them to fulfil their potential, has seen her become a well-known figure in the wellness world. She has hosted self love and motivational workshops.

Home Roxie Nafousi

About Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life

MANIFEST is the essential guide for anyone and everyone wanting to feel more empowered in their lives. Self-development coach and ‘Queen of Manifesting’ Roxie Nafousi will show you how in just seven simple steps you can understand the true art of manifestation and learn how to create the life you have always dreamed of.

Manifest: The Sunday Times bestseller that will change your life: Amazon.co.uk: Nafousi, Roxie: 9780241539590: Books



Read our September Feature here: Julia Hales & Finn O’Branagain: You Know We Belong Together (abundantart.net)

Sean BW Parker In Conversation-His book ‘States of Independence’ is a celebration of independent-spirited music that will have you reminiscing about moments in time!

Sean BW Parker (MA) is a writer, artist and lecturer in art, cultural studies and justice reform, born in Exeter in 1975. He lived in Istanbul for ten years where he gave TEDx talk ‘Stammering and Creativity’ at Kadir-Has University in 2013, and also lectured at Istanbul University.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sean to talk about his latest book ‘States of Independence’ which takes you back to times in your life where music was key in London’s cultural scene. All the tracks Sean writes about will undoubtedly have unique meanings to different people and reading about them made me nostalgic about unforgettable times in my younger years. Days discovering new albums while at secondary school and gigging and dancing with friends in the 90’s and noughties to probably the best music ever written. I bet certain feelings will re-emerge when you read this book. Music is feelings and Sean does his best to look inside some of the best tracks in independent-spirited music, and to locate the root of what they really mean.

Tell us about Kate Dale who you dedicated your book to.

The book is dedicated to Kate Dale, who was a tireless champion of independent-spirited music until her death in 2017. I met her following my return from Istanbul a few years before and discovered she had worked for The Cure’s label Fiction Records in the 1980’s. I also found out she was friends with the band’s long-time producer Dave Allen, whom she brought along to my Chi-Signs mini-fest in Chichester in 2015 and was a ‘meet your hero’ moment for me. Kate would seek out and promote interesting new acts everywhere her innovative curiosity led her and would never stop in her championing of them. The arts rely on people like Kate Dale far more than it will ever acknowledge, and she continues to be greatly missed.

What inspired you to write your latest book ‘States of Independence- From Pop Art to Art Rock and Beyond’?

I found myself in a place with no access to computer or the internet, but still with an almost physical need to write. I collected up all my remembered research from years of writing about what can be called art rock and put it together with the books I could find and my fine art education (from the University of the Creative Arts). Every day we hear about songs being banned or cancelled, from Frankie’s Relax to Pharell’s Blurred Lines, so I wanted to write a book that talked about what these songs really mean, beyond the politicised headlines of the culture wars. I have a long-held belief that Pop in all its forms is not as disposable as some critics have liked to make out, and the charts have never reflected this properly (being a tool of business as they are). This book looks at big business with the appreciative eyes of an art lover or music fan.

What makes an artist different and stand out from the crowd in your opinion?

Well, if only I knew … but the honest answer is that a generous PR budget deployed with a modicum of insight and imagination will make any artist stand out from the crowd. Repetition of one voice within a sea of other one-offs will work, purely by dint of insisting on attention. Another problem is that the new progressive orthodoxy in the arts only seems to have room for positivistic identity messaging, and I struggle to see much of the whole human experience within that. Artists and art orgs all need to wrestle free of culture-political considerations, otherwise they just become poster-children for another new machine.

What made you choose the artists and songs that you write about in your book?

The truthful answer to that is that they are songs which have stayed long after either their release, or when I first heard them. To counter any accusations of over-subjectivity, I made sure I analysed them for circumspection and deeper context, to make sure it wasn’t all about ‘good times’. But they’ll all be good time memories for some people! I can’t pretend Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ is an all-time favourite for example, but it sums up a universal transatlantic feeling in the mid-80s, so earned its place by cultural relevance (and big hair) alone. Is that song as ‘gaslighty’ as it might seem now? How important is social context in how we hear these songs? Every track covered is checked for this weight of multi-levelled meanings, beyond just the tunes.

How would you describe the spirit that connects different artists that you write about in your book i.e. Amy Winehouse, The Roots, The Cure, Public Enemy, The Flaming Lips, Blur, Bjork etc?

Great question. As your list indicates, it’s not genre that connects them, nor financial independence (re: having no money). Most of those were, or are on major labels anyway, and now every artist is, if they market their wares through Amazon, Youtube or itunes. So it’s not the financial aspect of making modern alternative music that matters, as being a part of something wider now necessitates the old-school notion of ‘selling out’, and even original 1976 punks realise that (as they pay for their grandchildren’s school fees). So, the spirit that connects those mentioned above is a spirit of idiosyncratic independence, juxtaposed with a certain stubborn charisma. They’ve been marketed and image-manipulated somewhere along the line, but their individuality stands out despite that.

What draws you towards writing about music and culture? What does music and culture mean to you?

A counsellor once told me music and culture were my ‘nurture’, and I fell back to them at times of distress through not having had enough love in the family home. To me the arts and creativity in general represent the highest of human values, outside us and within us at the same time. I have had epiphanies from experiencing a certain moment in music or film that were never replicated elsewhere. I guess that’s pretty nurturing.

Who are the writers you most admire?

They tend to be either dead males writing poetry, novels or philosophy, or living females writing about culture. Thomas Hardy wrote about British aspiration like no other. Dylan Thomas invented a new genre of the music of words through modernist poetry, and Jean-Paul Sartre explained the real roots of anxiety decades before it became endemic. Steven Pinker and Will Self are both still alive, and I’m an enthusiast of both (particularly Pinker). Ella Whelan writes and presents brilliantly on the necessity for the end of identity politics, and my guilty pleasure is Julie Burchill who writes with a sort of autistic honesty from the depths of human truth. It helps that I interviewed her a few years back too.

What would you like your readers to get out of your book?

If the reader is younger, hopefully to be turned on to an artist about whom they’d heard but didn’t know much about. If they’re older, the recognition that those songs or artists they loved so well aren’t as disposable or irrelevant as others may have made out – they were just critics, with their own axes to grind. For those between those ages, an entreaty to listen beyond what other people have said about an artist or song, to listening to the song itself. Do you really think it’s so immoral for Rod Stewart to write a whole song celebrating someone’s legs? How do we feel about Freddie Mercury writing a whole song about his orgasm (Don’t Stop Me Now)? Why did the young Coldplay sign such an endless-seeming record contract?

What advice would you give to a young person writing their first book?

There are a lot of people out there who want to be drummers and guitarists, but who find out when they try that they’re not much cop. Some get better with practice, some don’t. It’s the same with writing. Try to work out if you just aspire to be a writer, or if you have a genuine need to express yourself through words. If it’s just an aspiration without a need, and that need doesn’t grow, then find something else to aspire to because there are more than enough books out there already. If you write from the heart, without editing (leave that till much later) and express unfiltered from an individual perspective, it will be picked up on. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soo…you get my point.

You’ve achieved so much already what’s next and what in your opinion has been the most culturally impactful moment for you this year so far?

I’m tempted to say the funeral of Queen Elizabeth has been the most culturally impactful moment of the year so far, but the truth for me is that it was watching the David Bowie biopic Moonage Daydream at an imax cinema. It was like being inside one of Bowie’s dreams of his own life. The TED talk I did was called Stammering and Creativity, and I’m working on publishing a companion book to it (nine years later) titled Stammering and Culture, which will be a look at the condition from inside and out, with the humour lacking in most work on the subject, and referencing Blackadder, The King’s Speech, The Life of Brian, A Fish Called Wanda etc. I also have a poetry collection coming out next year with the working title of Panopticon, gathering poems I’ve written or had published over the last few years.

If you would like to listen to the tracks written about in the book, check out the ‘States of Independence’ Spotify playlist here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/41g1mhkS0xgddxLPk4m0ly

Hard copies of States of Independence: From Pop Art to Art Rock and Beyond can be purchased here:


This interview was put together by Jules Nelson.

About the Book: States of Independence: From Pop Art to Art Rock and Beyond is an attempt to look inside some of the best tracks in independent-spirited music, and to locate the root of what they really mean. In a time of artists and creatives being ‘cancelled’ or edited in any way because of not being on-identity-message, it behoves any cultural critic to try to look inside that to see what’s going on. Do you really want your culture spoon-fed to you, having passed trigger-warning checks to make sure it might not offend? Why can’t some governors at open prisons allow the bands of rehabilitating prisoners to even practice Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall, in case there are any objections to the line ‘Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone’? 

But it’s also a celebration of the best music written over the last half-century and beyond. Independence in the music industry can no longer be defined as independence from corporate patronage, as every artist needs to be heard on a media platform of some (generally corporately owned) kind; but those corporations rarely interfere with their artist’s material any more, being more interested in those artists hopefully saying something even slightly controversial – as it’s controversy and conflict that sells. But, the only way to say something controversial is to rail against the dominant ‘woke’ orthodoxy in Western culture, to which these corporations now universally subscribe. There is the cultural Catch-22 which lies between the lines (and photos) in States of Independence. 




FEATURE: Julia Hales and Finn O’Branagain: You Know We Belong Together

‘Julia has survived a house fire, there’s been stalkers, and there have been amazing weddings she’s attended – Julia has had such an incredible life and she has so many amazing stories’, says Finn O’Branagain, co-writer of You Know We Belong Together, in reference to her co-writer and star, Julia Hales. One of those stories is that she is the first person living with Down syndrome to host Compass, a show which focuses on investigative journalism and intellectual storytelling on ABC ­Television – the national TV broadcaster in Australia. She hosted her own documentary, The Upside, which both shone a light on her own talent and ambition, and celebrated living with Down syndrome in a culture where many wrongly presume that Down syndrome equates to poor prospects and a poor quality of life.

You Know We Belong Together was developed over a year and a half, initially selling out at the Perth Festival in 2018. Hales has worked tirelessly to become a professional actor since before she even knew she had Down syndrome, first realising her ambitions when her older sister wanted to become an actor as well. The show was supposed to come to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but for some reason it was delayed until this year.

Rather than looking to her numerous accomplishments and experiences to centre the show though, Hales knew what would tie it together: the beloved Australian soap opera, Home and Away. She’s been watching it since 1988, and has dreamt about being on it since then. She loves ‘the cast, the action, and all the drama.’ O’Branagain reckons the drama of Hales’s life is worthy of a soap opera in and of itself.

But You Know We Belong Together is not simply a show about a woman’s love of a TV show; for Hales and O’Branagain, Home and Away is a springboard for exploring her life, her stories, and her experiences. After all, it makes sense ­– what better way to glimpse into someone’s life than by watching them light up through the lens of what makes them tick?

From the unassuming love of Home and Away, Hales goes on to construct a performance about so much more than that. When asked to describe what You Know We Belong Together is about, she says, ‘It’s about acceptance and belonging, relationships, karaoke.’ But one of the most striking differences between the two women is Hales’s proclivity to speak about themes, activities, and goals, versus O’Branagain’s to speak about the importance of Hales herself. O’Branagain: ‘It all fits together because of [Julia] and through her; that the work is about Julia and her life and her dreams and her loves.’ It goes without saying that Hales is modest. Unless you ask the right questions, she doesn’t say much about herself unless it pertains to her work. Both perspectives equally illuminate the full picture of You Know We Belong Together.

In her own words, it took about three years in total to get You Know We Belong Together ‘up and running’. And the very first stage of research was interviewing people with Down syndrome. Hales is a leader in the Down syndrome community, and her show is starring, informed and created by people with Down syndrome. Alongside the express purpose of entertainment, she wants the show to be educational.

It goes without saying that the world has historically treated disabled people poorly, and we still have far to go when it comes to ableism and equality. Hales believes that by educating people on the treatment of people in her community in the past and present, we can make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again. For the disabled community, You Know We Belong Together has been a ‘strong and absolutely joyful depiction of living with disability on stage’, and O’Branagain is not just speaking about Julia here: the whole cast has Down syndrome.

You Know We Belong Together has had no less an impact on people who don’t have disabilities either, though. O’Branagain pointed out that 20% of Australians have a disability, and not all of them are necessarily visible. Therefore, very few people don’t know anyone who lives with one. She says, ‘It’s so important that we share these stories, because far less than 20% of the stories we see on stage and screen feature disabilities.’

Although You Know We Belong Together is an unabashedly optimistic show, developing a piece that so frankly grapples with the social attitudes around Down syndrome and disability necessitates some difficult conversations. For her research, she interviewed not only people with Down syndrome, but parents of people with Down syndrome, and even couples who had previously terminated pregnancies when they found out their child was going to have Down syndrome. Of course, it’s O’Branagain who is eager to shine the light on Hales; she remarked that ‘as somebody on the outside watching a very difficult and fraught conversation – a very emotional conversation – happening, Julia handled it with such kindness and such elegance.’

Hales clearly has an emotional and compassionate capacity far greater than the average person, and her ambition disregards the difficulty inherent in conceiving of You Know We Belong Together. And her labour is paying dividends: O’Branagain describes how on lunch breaks people used to speak to Julia in an infantilising way, but now is ‘inundated with people wanting to talk to her about the show and saying that they loved the show and that they’re amazed by the show.’

The transformation of interactions between Hales and the public is mirrored in a change of attitudes to disability in those who watch the show, too. A doctor who saw You Know We Belong Together approached the director because earlier that day, he had counselled a pregnant woman that she should terminate her pregnancy since the child was going to have Down syndrome. After seeing the show, he said he was going to have a very different conversation with her.

Hales notes that she loves to get audience members involved – she recruits a ‘mum and dad’ from the audience, and at another point asks for ‘a very handsome man’. For her, You Know We Belong Together is a part of a conversation in which people with disabilities can be rightly given undivided attention. Yet a conversation always has more than one participant, and her invitation to the audience, disabled and non-disabled, to participate and to involve themselves in a karaoke rendition of the Home and Away theme song speaks volumes to her key theme: belonging.

You Know We Belong Together presents its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre (18-20 Aug) and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre (24-27 Aug).

Written by Cian Kinsella Cian is a Classics teacher and part-time pub quizmaster living in London who is primarily interested in music but is also interested in theatre, literature, and visual arts. He is particularly intrigued by the relationship between art, criticism, and the capital forces always at play. Furthermore, he believes that subjectivity – which is ultimately at the heart of all artistic and cultural criticism – should not be concealed, but probed and perhaps even celebrated. Who decides what we like? How do they construct widely held beliefs about what is good? These are two of the questions Cian looks to address.

Foot Notes:

Brought from Australia by theatre-maker and performance artist Julia Hales, You Know We Belong Together is a warm and uplifting play about people living with Down Syndrome, love, friendships, dreams – and a love of Home and Away. Julia’s aspirations of being the first person with Down Syndrome to act in Home and Away are central to the plot and actor Ray Meagher (Alf Stewart) makes a cameo, infusing the play with nostalgia for the beloved Australian soap opera. This acclaimed play won two Performing Arts WA Awards and Julia was nominated for the prestigious Australian of the Year award.

Following sold out seasons in 2018 as part of Perth Festival and Black Swan’s 2019 season, You Know We Belong Together comes to the Southbank Centre.

You Know We Belong Together is written by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson. The original production was commissioned by Perth Festival and co-produced by Perth Festival, Black Swan State Theatre Company and DADAA.

Black Swan’s tour of You Know We Belong Together is supported by the UK/Australia Season Patrons, the Australian Government, the British Council, and Creative Partnerships Australia through the Australian Cultural Fund as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021/22, the Government of Western Australia DLGSC and the Black Swan Future Fund.



INTERVIEW: Director of ‘De Matos Ryan’ Jose Esteves

After hearing about De Matos Ryan’s new project benefitting young performers, we were curious to find out more from their Director and architect Jose Esteves De Matos. De Matos Ryan specialises in contemporary design within culturally sensitive contexts and we had the pleasure of hearing about how this recent architectural and design project will recharge one of ArtsEd schools in Chiswick’s ambiance and extend its space and facilities.

What made ArtsEd decide to redevelop their performing arts school in Chiswick?

ArtsEd comprises four distinct schools, previously disparate and located on various sites. The School of Musical Theatre and the School of Acting offer full-time BA and MA courses, The Independent Day School and Sixth Form. ArtsEd Extra focuses on outreach and community provision, drawing in a wide array of the local community to share in the school’s facilities and expert staff through term-time and holiday courses for people of all ages and abilities. Over 400 children and adults participate every week in a wide variety of courses.

The specialist curriculum of the schools and lack of space had resulted in hiring off site spaces. At the outset, the school looked at development options including relocation and new build development at another site. The existing buildings had many ad-hoc measures in place with none designed for performing arts training.  In spite of this, the school decided that the relationships and community ties that it had established since the 1980s in Turnham Green/Chiswick were too valuable to justify moving to a new site.

Our development of the site will bring opportunities to expand this work even further. Greater and more inspiring space provision with much needed outdoor amenity space improves both the physical and emotional wellbeing of its participants and the extent to which Arts Ed can play an active and vibrant role in the local community.

With, economic and environmental sustainability in mind, we have minimised demolition and alterations to existing fabric and maximised the potential of existing spaces by using localised interventions. This lean retrofit strategy to old fabric then abuts the new build areas which deliver state of the art purpose build dance and drama training facilities. Restructuring and clearly defining safeguarding separation has helped to consolidate all students and staff on one site and eliminated the need for either expansive demolition or relocation and intensive new build elsewhere.

What new spaces are you creating and how will they help the future generations of creative young performers?

Located in a tight landlocked block, the scheme reorganises a previously disparate campus into a cohesive whole, maximising every millimetre of space to unlock the potential of the existing buildings whilst delivering 2875m2 of new facilities. The project is delivered in 3 phases to minimise disruption. The completed Phase 1 consists of a triple layer volume at the centre of the site housing; three 5m high dance studios, a suite of classrooms, large format rehearsal rooms, capped by a rooftop outdoor recreation space. A naturally lit atrium between new and old becomes the new heart and shared space for the schools. Inspired by ‘natural movement’ and the concept of transformational education through the medium of dance, the design reflects the pioneering vision of the women who founded ArtsEd in 1944. The new façade concept, reminiscent of musical and dance notation as well as physical movement, brings renewed coherence and identity to the campus reflecting the dynamic activity within.

How important is it to match the quality of teaching with facilities and an inspiring space? What’s the secret to creating a state-of-the-art site for performing arts schools?

The quality of teaching is the most important factor to deliver an inspiring performing arts education and ArstEd has this in abundance.  In spite of its lacking facilities, the school continually delivers the highest standards.

That said, the existing building was in desperate need of extension and refurbishment. The site was unable to accommodate all of its students nor provide them with the physical and environmental quality of facilities that they deserve and that its teaching requires. Demands on space were such that Day School students used dance studios at the Polish Centre, requiring travel between the two sites and gave rise to safeguarding concerns. The Day School also had no outside recreational space. The project brings all these previously disparate and physically separated schools under one roof and within one campus reducing travel requirements to and from ‘campus’ and by creating dedicated social spaces, a more cohesive social hub to the school.

Reduced energy loss, energy use and operational costs with a new sustainable services strategy was implemented to improve wellbeing. Previously, existing practice rooms, were poorly lit and ventilated with moisture visibly running down their walls. A new mixed natural ventilation strategy throughout the building, improved lighting and external aspect, reduced noise transmission between studios as well as sound leakage to adjoining properties were some of the environmental improvements put into place to provide outstanding facilities for the students. Improved height requirements of studios, the installation of much needed sprung floors to prevent long term injuries as well as the provision of much needed outdoor space has greatly improved the physical wellbeing of the students.

Does the school have a strong community outreach and how can the local community share the school’s facilities?

The school has a very strong and established outreach programme. ArtsEd Extra focuses on outreach and community provision,drawing in a wide array of the local community to share in the school’s facilities and expert staff through term-time and holiday courses for people of all ages and abilities. Over 400 children and adults participate every week in a wide variety of courses.

Now you’ve completed Phase 1 of your masterplan and redevelopment what will future phases provide for the young performers and local community?

Phase 2 will deliver a new Studio Theatre/Performance Hub, including a flexible performance theatre space, additional rehearsal rooms, one-to-one singing studios, a new lift core to provide level access to all floors and mediate between the new performance hub and phase 1 floor levels including the new roof terrace/recreational outdoor space.  This phase will also encompase the refurbishment of the existing school refectory and caterig facilities.

Future phases can deliver additional 5m floor to ceiling dance studios replacing the pitched roof of the existing street facing main building.

ArtsEd: https://artsed.co.uk

ArtsEd schools project X De Matos Ryan: www.dematosryan.co.uk

This interview was put together by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.


FEATURE: Street Style Abstract Painter Kai Motta: ‘Just Paint, Don’t Stop’

(Featured image: Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 02 524cm x 180cm 2022)

Chelsea/Pimlico born artist Kai Motta was immersed in street art, graffiti and hip hop culture from a young age.

Each of his paintings are an expression, a capturing of a moment, a feeling indelibly marked across the canvas made to look like a piece of graffiti, made to look like a word, but actually, they say nothing.

Everything is said in the energy, the cadence, the rhythm of each piece like notes in a symphony. What it means, he leaves to the viewer. The whole process of painting for Kai will have a soundtrack, sometimes just a song constantly on repeat or a full album. John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, The White Album by the Beatles or The Doors can be regularly heard when he paints. We chat to Kai about his journey living as an artist and why having a gallery representing him leaves him more time to paint.

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 69 40cm x 40cm 2022

Your work has a musical abstract rhythm. Tell us about your hip hop influences and inspirations?  

Hip hop has been a huge influence in my life from a very young age, perhaps as early as 11 or 12. I distinctly remember in 1985, and unfortunately this kind of eagerness and anticipation will never exist again, sitting by the radio on a Saturday night recording onto cassettes America’s latest street import ‘The Show’ by Dougie Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew featuring Slick Rick. It was an introduction into a whole new world for me, light years away from Duran Duran, Culture Club and other 80s icons in Britain at the time. I loved the art and like any self-respecting ‘b-boy’ I owned the two bibles of graffiti: Subway Art and Spraycan Art turning the pages in awe at the gigantic vibrant, sometimes highly complex ‘pieces’ spread across trains and buildings by these incredibly brave artists who lived outside of the law.

Other inspirations are other painters work, an anger galvanized by the iniquities of politics or something similar, something psychological under the skin struggling to surface. To paint abstract is to roll the dice. You never know what is going to be left on the canvas when you finish, after the process of catharsis. I like the danger. For me the period of incubation can be painful as I wrestle with something inside, then when the moment hits, I enter the studio and set up canvasses.

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 32 245cm x 47cm 2021

What inspired you to start painting in the first place and how would you describe your art?

From a young age I loved art. Our family grew up a 20-minute walk away from the Tate Britain in Pimlico and my father would routinely take us there to look at the art. I recall being stunned by the work of Roy Lichenstein particularly the ‘WHAAM!’ piece, as it should, it had an indelible effect along with my many others, but that piece in particular. Then there were the years of graffiti and hip-hop culture which played its role and then my love for the European Tachisme non-geometric and the American Abstract Expressionist movement. I just love those huge paintings. So, art was always there in different forms. I recall at school I wouldn’t bother with certain lessons; I just didn’t see the need for them and would routinely find myself just sitting in the art class. The teacher was very welcoming and accommodating, would simply just give me time and be very encouraging about what I was doing with art. I would say she was a very strong influence and helped me gain confidence. I like to paint with oil what looks like a word, but is actually a piece of abstract art.

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 57 57cm x 84cm – part of triptych 3 of 3 2022

Why do you create art?

I don’t think there is a ‘why’, I just have to. It’s a visceral demand even though pieces sit in my mind for weeks at a time before I fight with the canvas. It’s not a delicate approach, it’s a heavy storm, a jagged rhythm, an apoplectic cadence. I feel like it’s a chaotic symphony in action. I paint because I have to. There is a compulsion. Something internal.

I can’t speak for other artists, but I imagine they may feel something similar. I can’t tell when it’s going to happen, but when it hits, I’m gone.

Chaos in the Machine

Chaos in the Machine 01 370cm x 180cm 2018

There is a lot of energy and what looks like ‘organised chaos’ in your paintings. What are you trying to say in them?

I think that is a good description for the work. If you look on the website the titles for the different periods reflect distinctive mental states. “Anhedonia and Anger”, “Contained Chaos”, “Chaos in the Machine” and “Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue”. I would say I am quite an angry person. Not irrationally, but with the state of the political and social landscape, I think this anger partly, coupled with an expressive internal energy is released in the paintings.

Contained Chaos

Contained Chaos 01 150cm x 148cm 2017

You recently got representation from new virtual gallery Sputo Art. How important is it for artists to be linked with a gallery and how will this partnership help you create and showcase your art?

The world of art is behemothic, it’s extensive and challenging, coupled with having to play the social media game on a hourly basis, gallery representation is incredibly welcomed. Being with a gallery, an agent also means people will take you seriously. I like the idea of the relationship/partnership because essentially, I just want to paint and I’m good at it and Sputo are excellent agents and good at being exactly that. Sputo is great at listening, understanding the work and the process and struggle to produce it, they get it! They help me to clearly interpret and promote the art to a wider audience, whether it be my peers, potential buyers or organisations. That’s not what I do, or what I want to do and leaves me more time to paint. It’s important to know and understand your limits, it will only help one to advance.

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 21 148cm x 148cm 2020

Before partnering with Sputo how did you make a living from your art or was painting more of a hobby?

Painting has never been a hobby. From the minute I picked up the brush I was serious, it wasn’t something I ever dabbled in, it was a determined, sincere need to create. I’ve sold plenty of paintings from exhibitions and private commissions.

How will Sputo be supporting you moving forwards and how hard is it to be taken seriously without a gallery representing you?

Sputo will be handling all art business affairs from exhibitions to contacts to commissions. You need gallery representation, you need someone in your corner, someone that believes in you, has good contacts and that you can trust. That relationship is key.

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue

Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 01 90cm x 90cm 2020

What advice would you give to a young artist or art student trying to pursue a career as an artist?

Paint like your whole world depended on it. Just paint, don’t stop. Read, imbibe, become obsessed and fixated with what you are doing and try to believe in yourself. Suck everything in through osmosis. Try to experience everything, you never know what will unlock that true you, that true potential. If the work is authentic it will shine through but be prepared to wait and always remember Van Gogh only sold one painting when he was alive! Don’t listen to anyone who advises you to be safe, to endure a route of security. Be undeniable.

The setting up of the canvas is as important as the painting itself. It’s important to acknowledge each step, to be fully immersed and be in the moment. I find this produces the best results. I have to be mindful not to fall into the trap of trying to repeat a process because of an outcome/success of a previous painting for you can never capture the same moment and it only ever leads to disappointment and a feeling of failure. Plus, you don’t want to turn into a factory.

When I am in full abandon, without a net, when fear is absent then the painting generally tends to produce, in my opinion, the best results, the ones I can live with.

Street Style Abstract Painter Kai Motta

Chaos in the Machine 03 370cm x 180cm 2019

Kai Motta’s original paintings and limited edition prints are available to buy at www.sputoart.com He’s also open to doing commissions.

Interview by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.

Interview with Jermyn Street Artistic Director of Footprints Festival Tom Littler

For a second year, Jermyn Street Theatre is hosting the Footprints Festival. From 6 July to 30 July, the mini-season of the festival will feature short runs of an expertly curated array of cutting-edge work from the best of up-and-coming British talent. We chatted with Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler to talk about his past theatre experiences, the productions, and what it takes to put on such a festival.

1.What was your first theatre job?

Sweeping floors and fetching coffees.

2. Tell us about the Footprints Festival.

It’s a celebration of new work by early-career artists. It showcases the work of our Creative Associates – ten early-career theatremakers we believe have a massive future. The festival is headlined by the winner and finalists of the Woven Voices Prize for migrant playwrights. We’ve done various projects to promote the voices of migrants in theatre over recent years and this prize, co-produced with Woven Voices, is a big step in that journey. Migrants are hugely important to the make-up of our vibrant capital city. The winner, The Anarchist, is a gripping drama by Karina Wiedman set during an election in Belarus.

3. What was the selection criteria when choosing which plays would be featured in the festival?

We read a lot of great work which we’d love to stage, but isn’t commercially robust enough for a full five-week run. Footprints is an opportunity to stage a range of great plays which broaden our artistic voice, for short runs and at cheap ticket prices. The Anarchist and the other Woven Voices finalists came through a rigorous judging process. Then our Creative Associates brought three more brilliant plays – Duck, about racism in cricket; Shake the City, about strike action; The Poison Belt, a radical shake-up of an Arthur Conan Doyle novel.

4. What makes a good theatre line-up?

To see plays in conversation with each other – variety, of course, but it’s not just chucking paint at a wall. You want to see links between the plays, places where they spark off each other.

5. What is the target demographic for the festival?

We hope our core audience – who are quite a traditional theatregoing audience, culture-vultures – seize the chance to try out these new plays. But it’s also a chance for us to welcome new audiences who might be younger and more diverse. We’re on a long-term journey to grow, broaden and diversify our audience, and it is changing. JST is on a very posh street in the West End so there’s a particular vibe to the local area, but once you come downstairs into the theatre, it’s all about the work you’re watching.

6. How has the footprints festival evolved over the years?

This is year two! Last year was all about reopening after the pandemic – we staged forty pieces over three months – plays, one-person shows, cabaret, readings. It was all about giving artists a chance to have their work on in a financially sustainable way after they’d had so few opportunities for ages. This year is more tightly focused on our Creative Associates, giving them a great platform. I’m excited to see what my successors do with Footprints in the future – it has huge potential.

7. Do you think the covid-19 pandemic has had lasting effects on live theatre?

It’s not a question in the past tense. We’re still living and working through a pandemic; shows are still routinely shutting down, and we’re in summer. We cannot be complacent about this.

8. Who or what is your biggest influence?

I assisted the late, great Peter Hall for several years when I was young. He was a brilliant director but also a fearless, instinctive and entrepreneurial producer, unafraid of risk. He grew up and worked in a different age, of course, but those were good lessons.

9. What is the role of an artistic director in a theatre festival? What is your favourite aspect of it?

For me at JST, it’s an opportunity to devolve authority. For the rest of the year, it’s ultimately my decision what work we stage and who makes it. At Footprints, our Deputy Director Ebenezer Bamgboye has curated the festival, as his predecessor Cat Robey did last year. I hover about, popping into rehearsal rooms and bringing biscuits. I’m around if I’m needed, and help in various ways, but I get to watch the next generation being amazing.

10. Are there any newcomers (performers or otherwise) taking part this year? What advice do you have for people looking to break into the London theatre scene?

Loads! It’s Karina Wiedman’s first play. Our Creative Associates are all from underrepresented backgrounds and many of them, and the people working on their plays, are very new to the industry. They’re learning by doing. It’s the best way.

Interview by Dina Khashoggi who is a student at City University of London – she is doing a Micro Placement with us in Marketing and Business.

For full listings and tickets go to: www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk

Interview with Director of ‘The Lesson’ Max Lewendel

Icarus’s award-winning staging of Eugene Ionesco’s timeless dark comedy ‘The Lesson’ will open at Southwark Playhouse for a four-week limited run this summer, followed by a national tour in the Autumn. This production has had international stagings, including a sold-out run at Teatrul de Comedie in Bucharest.

Ahead of the opening night in London, we had the opportunity to speak with Director Max Lewendel about the play and get advice for any aspiring theatre directors.

What initially drew you to ‘The Lesson’?

The gradual change from comedy to horror was fascinating to me.  It was the first time I’d seen it done.  The original French and our translation has such a beautiful, roller-coaster flow to it that I was hooked.

The reflections on fascism and abuse of power came to me later and cemented the play in my heart.

Did you draw inspiration from any other works when directing ‘The Lesson’?

Oh yes.  I hope I am standing on the shoulders of giants here.  Every show I’ve ever seen informs this one.  Peter Hall’s The Bacchae taught me about the beauty of chaos.  Rose Rage taught me about the abuse of power.  Every surreal moment in every play I’ve ever seen showed me how to bring an audience on an exciting journey, even when the meaning won’t become clear until after the show is over.

You have expressed a preference for dark comedies (https://creatorsprogram.youngvic.org/member/3746), what is it about dark comedy that interests you as opposed to more traditional comedy?

I find that dark comedy leaves a stronger impact.  Whether there’s a deeper message or simply the juxtaposition of emotions, something about them will stay with you forever.  You can even look back on dark moments with pure joy and excitement.

Which of your past experiences have helped you in the directing of this play?

A very difficult question!  Working in theatre requires using all your life experience.  I’d say some of the most significant moments are growing up Jewish, facing antisemitism and so developing a good sense of humour about even the darkest of moments in life.  Also, my directing classes taught me the difference between the art of theatre and the craft… as well as how to serve the text rather than my own ego.

Do you have any advice for aspiring theatre directors?

Three things:

1. Theatre is collaborative. Your job is to help your team be their best, not come up with all the ideas yourself. Everything brilliant idea that your actors and designers – and even the intern in the corner – comes up with is yours too (and vice-versa); you chose them or chose the person that chose them.  So don’t be afraid to embrace their creativity and don’t impose your ideas: help them find their own path to tell the story you hired them to tell.

2. Anything you allow on stage has to have a reason tied to a singular, underlying message, whether that’s about fascism or simply about sprites playing with silly humans in the forest. The audience isn’t stupid nor sacrosanct: they don’t need to understand the reason for every spec of paint on the furniture.  But to take them on a ride, to entertain, you must know why you make every choice.  That doesn’t mean it has to be logical.  It just has to be explainable and emotionally harmonious with all your other choices.

3. Most importantly, if it can be cut, it should be cut. Text, pauses, or business.  This is the biggest problem in theatre today: If your audience gets bored (or over-stimulated), you will lose them and all other great work your team does becomes less valuable.  Know what are you trying to say with the play, the scene, or even that dramatic pause.

That being said, never be afraid to take your time for your audience to stay with the play. Whether in comedy or drama, the trick is to stretch tension as much as possible, right up to that invisible fine line before the audience or the cast loses focus.

The Lesson opens at Southwark Playhouse on Wednesday 29 June and runs to Saturday 23 July – https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo credit: Bernadett Ostorhazi

Interview by Dina Khashoggi who is a student at City University of London – she is doing a Micro Placement with us in Marketing and Business.

FEATURE: The Cartoon Museum Late: Laughter Lab – “Explaining the science behind humour”

They say that the one fundamental aspect that distinguishes humans from animals is laughter. As the only known living species that can apprehend humour, we have had quite a long history of appreciating comedy that was already present all the way back in Ancient Greece, where the very first theatrical comedies took place. The Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury plays with the concept of universality of comedy by displaying a wide collection of cartoons that vary from French caricatures in the 1700s, to WW2 comic strips, to today’s political caricatures. Situated next to Oxford Street, the Cartoon museum has many surprises to offer, the latest being the Late event “Laughter Lab” that occurred on May 26. Abundant Art got a sneak peek of this evening event rich in museum tours, interesting talks, stand-up comedy and most importantly, a good amount of laughter.

The Cartoon Museum

Annie McGrath talking to the audience – Image credit: The Cartoon Museum

The night revolved around the social and psychological experiment that had been run at the museum during the last months. Oxford professor Robin Dunbar was there to announce the awaited results of “the world’s first mass experiment exploring the psychology behind cartoon humour”. The test consisted in asking people to go through pairs of cartoons and determine which ones they found funnier, which resulted in an interesting study of the different types of humour that appeal to various demographics. It divided the audience between young and old, men and women, etc. to understand who preferred visual humour, political jokes, grotesque comedy… All of the results were presented in a very clear lecture-like way, which was still regularly punctuated by laughs from the audience.

stand-up comedy that animated the evening

The stand-up comedy that animated the evening – Image credit: The Cartoon Museum

Overall, the event was very rich and light-hearted at the same time. Even the insightful museum tour and the academic speech were all executed in a highly cheerful manner that kept the guests in a good mood for the whole night. The friendliness of the staff was remarkable, as was the choice of speakers and of the comedians that animated the night. Rob Auton, Lucy Pearman and Annie McGrath were particularly hilarious, and their stand-up comedy was of serious competition to the written comedy on the walls.

In addition to participating in the evening, Abundant Art had the occasion to chat with Emma Stirling-Middleton, the curator of the museum, and Joe Sullivan, the Director, to get an insight into the process that led to organise this event.

Who’s idea was it to do this mass public experiment exploring the psychology behind cartoon humour?

Emma: It has been such a challenging couple of years for us all, I wanted to make a light and joyful exhibition that brings people together to laugh and be merry! So often when we think about cartoons we focus on the creator, the artwork, the writing. But we rarely think about what is happening inside the mind of the viewer. When we look at a cartoon there is a moment between seeing the cartoon and our reaction to it – whether that’s a smirk, an audible laugh, or a decision that it isn’t funny. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to make a whole exhibition all about that magical moment inside our minds?’

How did you choose what cartoons to include in this experiment and how did people cast their votes?

Emma: I started researching what work has been done on the psychology of laughter and cartoons, and soon came across the work of Robin Dunbar. Over the past 50 years, he has researched all kinds of fascinating things – relationships, friendships, love, language, religion, brain evolution, social media and the internet and much (much) more. I found he had undertaken a psychology experiment around stand-up comedy and jokes and made some really interesting discoveries. I wondered whether it might be possible to apply the same experiment to cartoons. We had a phone call and chatted through the idea and from there we were laughing along together, devising our mad mass public experiment!

Joe: We worked with Robin to identify cartoons that responded to different psychological mind states, and paired cartoons so we could look at the difference between the states of mind they put people in. Visitors then responded via a survey, simply ticking A or B for which they thought was the funniest cartoon. So, it was a simple entry point for the audience but actually gave insight into quite complex psychology. The data – consisting of thousands of submissions – was inputted by a wonderful team of museum volunteers, and Robin analysed it and drew out his conclusions. The results are going to be published in a scientific paper, and I hope that our visitors feel empowered by how much we value their opinions.

What do you think makes a cartoon funny and what doesn’t? Is there a unique set of elements that make a cartoon funny?

Emma: I think that’s the wonderful thing about gag cartoons – nobody knows! Is it good writing? Good drawing? A perfect symbiosis between the two? Is it timing, with what’s happening in the world? Or is it utterly personal and subjective? Our experiment will reveal more information from one psychological perspective, but of course, the reality is that it’s something us mere mortals will never truly know – and isn’t that magical!

How important is laughter in our everyday lives and is it usually spontaneous and deeply personal?

Joe: Laughter brings people together. It’s been a fundamental building block of hominid interaction for 10 million years and transcends human society – all sorts of apes laugh together! It can be spontaneous but doesn’t have to be – I’m sure everyone knows someone with a fake laugh!

Emma: Having watched visitors go round and do the experiment, it has been wonderful to see how it brings people together and sparks conversation. People are comparing results, getting competitive, taking interest in their similarities and differences. I also love how our visitor’s personal insights into our collection are going to reveal new information and enrich our understanding of cartoon art.

How important are culture and society to the Cartoon Museum?

Joe: The museum champions a uniquely British art form – satirical cartooning, which is the result of 317 years of a free press in this country. That means for a long time we’ve been able to laugh at all the idiotic things that politicians, the Royals, and celebrities have done, without anyone being able to do anything about it! Alongside that history, we have an incredible tradition in comics, including of course the Beano and 2000 AD among many, many others. Cartooning is interesting because it goes hand-in-hand with society – it holds up a mirror and reflects the world at the time the art was made, which gives us a really interesting window into exactly what cartoonists think of the world around them, how they process it, and what about the world makes them laugh.

How can children and adults attend your cartooning, comics and animation workshops at the museum? How important is it to get creative?

Joe: It is incredibly important to get creative! We want everyone who visits the museum – or sees us online, attends an event, visits our stall at a community fair – to leave wanting to pick up a pencil and draw something. Being creative helps you relax, helps you express yourself, and helps you make sense of the world.

We offer all sorts of events and workshops for adults and children, from complete amateurs wanting to learn to draw simple caricatures to early-career artists making their way in the industry who want to understand the finer points of intellectual property! We also have free downloadable worksheets on our website – so the best place to start is by heading there and finding out how to draw Beyonce!

The Cartoon Museum has proven once again to be a true hidden gem in London, and adds a much-needed touch of humour and glee to everyday matters. Check out its permanent exhibition and the many more projects it has to offer at www.cartoonmuseum.org 

Reviewed by Céline Galletti – Celine is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from France and Italy, she follows her passion for writing and art by studying Comparative Literature at UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and understand the city’s vibrant arts scene, and be a part of its creative storm.

Interview with Zena Carswell, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Iris Theatre

Following a two-year break from its traditional programming, Iris Theatre is back producing outdoor, promenade Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was initially scheduled for 2020.

We caught up with Zena Carswell who plays Helena/Quince. Her theatre credits include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet (Orange Tree Theatre), The Importance of Being Earnest (Immersion Theatre), Othello (English Theatre of Hamburg) and Tallulah Brown’s There’s A Monster in the Lake (Vault Festival). We discuss her performance and how she feels performing in this fantastic adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies.

How did you feel when you found out that you got the role of Helena for this adaptation of A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Iris Theatres Outdoor Summer Festival 2022?

Absolutely over the moon! Its such a wonderful part and such a beautiful space to perform in. I also feel so lucky to be performing after such a strange few years, so to do so in such an interesting role is a real privilege. 

What do you think Shakespeare lovers will think of the Directors new approach to this classic comedy? 

I am excited for people to see the new take on it! Theres a reason Midsummer is performed so much as it is a brilliant play and I think audiences will appreciate the slight twist on the original in this one. It still has the bits people know and love but with a different perspective on some areas too!

How is the Iris Theatre committed to developing the careers of early-career artists? And what advice would you give to artists embarking on a career in theatre?

Iris gives people a chance who might not otherwise be able to get into certain rooms – they keep the audition process open and are very keen on championing new talent, which is amazing.

 My advice to those embarking on a theatre career would be to stick with it! Sometimes things will be busy and sometimes things will be quiet so just keep going, because thats normal and when its great, its really great! 

What are you looking forward to the most on the opening night on the 5th July?

Being able to share our hard work with everyone and being able to celebrate all that we have achieved in a short rehearsal period!

What is the secret, in your opinion, to making an adaptation really fantastic?

Committing to the vision of it and making sure you believe in it! As long as you feel strongly about what it is saying and the new perspective (as well as the old) then it will be full of treasures!

Box Office: https://iristheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows 29 June – 13 August

Interview by Jules Nelson who does operations and marketing for Abundant Art.

kmspico 11 kmspico 11

Interview: Producer of Wandsworth Arts Fringe – Cath Mattos

Wandsworth Arts Fringe is back with its first full-on festival since the pandemic.  With 150 events taking place, there’ll be an explosion of colour in the streets, intimate live performances in surprise locations and a huge celebration of art as Wandsworth’s pubs, theatres, galleries, studios and churches are transformed.

We caught up with the Producer of WAF Cath Mattos to pick her brains about this year’s festival.

When and how did the Wandsworth Arts Fringe festival start and how has it evolved over the years?

Wandsworth Arts Fringe grew out of Wandsworth Arts Festival which grew out of the Shimmy and was a programmed festival taking place in the borough. We realised there were a lot of local arts organisations and companies in the borough that wanted to get involved and so we created an open registration process and WAF sprung to life and so began the organic chaos that has ensued. Companies and artists took WAF into their hearts and into their year-round planning.

The lockdown happened just as we were launching our WAF 2020 programme in March, leaving 15,000 programmes boxed up and ready to go. We decided with a 6-week turnaround to ask our artists if they were interested in being part of a digital WAF and with an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ we started planning. WAF In Your Living Room 2020 was born. We have had a ‘WAF in Your Living Room’ element of WAF for a number of years, but this was on a whole other scale. The WAF artists really appreciated the platform to give them support and a purpose at that time, there was so much enthusiasm to be involved. We held weekly meetings with all our artists and although it was a difficult and stressful time a wonderful community was created.

In 2021 we ran a hugely successful hybrid WAF with the WAF Big Top and lots of outdoor spaces were used and many events streamed their live events to their audiences that were still shielding. We are keeping our WAF in Your Living Room element though it takes a smaller part of the fringe this year. We run our WAF contributor networking meeting still mainly online, so our national artists and international artists can get the same support as the local companies.

How does it feel to be back with a full lineup of LIVE events?

It feels exciting and exhilarating to be back up and running for WAF 2022. Our programme is vibrant and engaging and there is something for everyone. It is weird though to be working in relatively normal times, we are used to the added layers of difficulty now, but so relieved we are back in our venues this year. We are partnering with 70 venues across the borough and this is just such a joy! The artists are super excited to be coming together and shining a light on creativity in Wandsworth.

What made you choose to shine a light on dance at this year’s festival? How will the festival be celebrating this art form?

We are celebrating Wandsworth’s emerging dance quarter as the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) open their brand-new headquarters on York Road in Battersea, joining a cluster of local dance companies including Tavaziva, bbodance and London Children’s Ballet, which opened last year. On Friday 10 June, WAF will launch with a promenade performance along the riverside around Battersea Reach, charting a course between bbodance and RAD’s new home and discovering hidden music, spoken word and dance gems along the way.

The WAF Dance Weekender has set a two-day extravaganza of dance styles from around the world, popping up in public spaces around Battersea. Find us in York Gardens on Saturday 18 June for contemporary dance from London Butoh Dance Company and Hallomai Dance, and accessible dance workshops with disability-led dance troupe Magpie Dance. Shake your tail feathers with the most fabulous flock of senior citizens in town, PC*DC’s Royale Dancehall Flamingos, then head over to bbodance for African movement, drumming, ballet and more with Tavaziva Dance and the English National Ballet School. On Sunday, WAF takes over Battersea Reach with another all-dayer featuring pop-up performances from Flamenco Con Gusto and Orleta Polish Folk Song and Dance, African drumming and movement from Tavaziva Dance, and even a chance to learn Japanese Tenshintaido with martial artist and calligrapher Beatrice Boivineau.

Alongside our free public events, there’s a brilliant dance programme of amazing contemporary dance and ballet performances – check it out!

Do you have any young artists exhibiting and performing this year? What’s the best way for young artists to get involved?

WAF is always a fantastic platform for young people to showcase their talent. We’ve got performances from Youth Club Providence House, World Heart Beat Music Academy, London Children’s Ballet and On Da Beat Studios – all organisations working with the next generation of young creatives, performers and artists. WAF works with local schools and supports a cohort of young visual artists to exhibit professionally via the RCA Bursary Scheme. We are also bringing back the WAF Young Reviewers scheme for a second year following a successful pilot in 2021 – providing an opportunity for young people aged 14-19 to review WAF events, receive professional mentoring in critical writing, and get published!

In what ways does WAF offer development support for artists and contributors?

Each year, WAF hosts a series of networking and learning sessions for artists and contributors in the lead-up to the registration deadline and festival dates. These are a great opportunity for artists to meet the WAF team and get the most out of taking part.

So far this year we’ve offered 6 open-access online support sessions for artists covering marketing, sustainability, event registration and ticketing, venue/artist matchmaking and accessibility – as well as an in-person publicity launch event, where artists and venues get to meet in person ahead of the festival.

We also offer online toolkits and guidance, and a 1-1 clinic session for more specific advice on realising ideas and fundraising, including making an application to the WAF Grant scheme. Every year Wandsworth Council sets aside £20,000 in funding for WAF Grants. The WAF Grants help artists, makers and community groups realise their creative vision for the festival and engage with Wandsworth communities. For 2022, we distributed £32,382 among eighteen creative companies, including local community organisations and internationally acclaimed artists, for projects taking place over this year’s festival.

What’s the best thing about working in the arts and what advice would you give to a young person who’s interested in pursuing a career in the arts and working for festivals like this one?

Working in the arts comes from a passionate belief that the arts can make the world a better place, it fosters community and a shared experience. Art deals with difficult issues in a positive and engaging way. Working in the arts is hard work but it is so rewarding when you see projects like WAF come to life each year.

The advice I would give is to get yourself to festivals, theatres and meet people who work there and find out avenues to get in through the door. I love freelancing but other people prefer the stability of being a secure member of staff in an arts organization, and there is definitely a benefit to this.

Go with your passion and interest and you will head in the right direction to suit you.

For more info about WAF please visit their website here:  www.wandsworthfringe.com

Interview by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.