Cultural Playing Field


Meeting Tony Heaton at Shape by Robin Simpson
April 13, 2012, 12:41 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon Daniel and I were in Kentish Town, North London, to meet Tony Heaton, the Chief Executive of Shape. Shape is the major arts and disability charity, based in London, which works to support disabled people as artists and audience members. Shape is involved in running ‘Unlimited’ – the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad disability arts programme. We talked with Tony about showcasing some of the achievements of ‘Unlimited’ (particularly the five Unlimited International projects) within the annual conference of Amateo: the European Network for Active Participation in Cultural Activities, which Voluntary Arts is hosting in London in June. Tony also agreed to take part in a session within the Amateo Conference which will look at the involvement of disabled people in amateur arts groups across Europe.

For more information about the Amateo Conference 2012, and to book your place, go to: http://www.voluntaryarts.org/2012/02/28/everyones-a-winner-amateo-conference-and-annual-meeting/

Robin Simpson.



World Shakespeare Festival partners’ day by Robin Simpson
March 16, 2012, 1:35 pm
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I was at the National Theatre in London on Tuesday to take part in the World Shakespeare Festival partners’ meeting. This event, chaired by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Communications, Liz Thompson, brought together marketing and communications officers from organisations including the National Theatre, Barbican, Sage Gateshead, Royal Opera House, British Museum, National Theatre Wales, Birmingham Rep, Northern Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe and Brighton Festival. Our Open Stages project and the way amateur theatre groups are getting involved in the World Shakespeare Festival got prominent attention (it was the first item we discussed!). Ian Wainwright from the RSC outlined the progress of Open Stages and representatives of three of the Open Stages partner theatres (Contact in Manchester, Questors in London and the National Theatre of Scotland) described the plans for their forthcoming Open Stages showcase events. It was also fascinating to hear about the multitude of other World Shakespeare Festival productions in preparation across the UK – from Simon Russell-Beale in ‘Timon of Athens’ at the National Theatre to ‘Forests’, a new work based around the forest and heath scenes from a variety of Shakespeare plays which is being directed by Calixto Bieito at Birmingham Rep, to a new Welsh language translation of ‘The Tempest’ by Gwyneth Lewis which will be performed at the National Eistedfodd. There is so much going on within the World Shakespeare Festival it is very difficult to grasp all the details. But that is nothing compared to the mass of events under the wider Festival 2012 banner: we had a presentation from Claire Hutchinson from LOCOG, Head of Marketing for Festival 2012, which was mind boggling in terms of the scale and variety of activity due to take place around the country over the coming months. The World Shakespeare Festival starts on 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday), full details at: http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk/

Robin Simpson.



Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton by Robin Simpson
February 10, 2012, 11:08 am
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Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton

Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton

Last Friday evening I was in Northampton to attend the Quilts 4 London presentation event. Quilts 4 London is working to create an A3-sized pennant as a gift for each of the 14,000 athletes taking part in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton

Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton

 

The project has volunteer organisers across the country: when Shirley Wiblin-Hales took on the role for Northamptonshire she promised to ensure that at least 25 pennants were made. On Friday, in the beautiful setting of the Guildhall, Northampton, Shirley and her team of volunteer helpers formally handed over to the national organisers of Quilts 4 London an incredible total of 1,561 pennants made by children and adults from Northamptonshire as gifts to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Every one of these pennants has been photographed for the official Northampton Council archive and the display in the Guildhall was spectacular.

The Northamptonshire contribution brings the project’s national total to approximately 13,400 pennants – very close now to what seemed like an impossible target, thanks to the determination, enthusiasm and dynamism of Shirley and volunteers like her across the country. See: http://www.quilts4london.org.uk

Robin Simpson.

Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton

Quilts 4 London presentation at The Guildhall, Northampton



Points of Contact – phase two by Robin Simpson
January 20, 2012, 9:51 am
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I was back in London for a meeting at Queen Mary, University of London about the Points of Contact programme, organised by People’s Palace Projects. It feels a long time since we visited Brazil in March 2010 and a great deal has happened in the interim. There is a new Government in Brazil and a new Culture Minister – and there have been big changes to arts funding in England. So it was good to hear that People’s Palace Projects has now secured funding (from Arts Council England and the British Council) and agreement from the Brazilian Government to continue the Points of Contact exchange programme. The programme will now reflect five themes: youth arts, disability, digital, sustainability and the Cultural Olympiad (providing a link between the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games). In the first year of this second phase, Points of Contact will focus on youth arts, starting with the visit of a Brazilian delegation to the UK in March 2012. We talked about how those UK arts organisations involved in the first phase of Points of Contact have been influenced and changed by the programme and how we might be able to work with People’s Palace Projects in the next phase.

Robin Simpson.



Quilts 4 London at the House of Commons by Robin Simpson
November 25, 2011, 9:31 am
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Irene Heathcote and Mike Penning MP

Irene Heathcote and Mike Penning MP

On Wednesday Helen Thomas and I were at the House of Commons for the launch of the Quilts 4 London exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. A selection of the pennants that have been made by people all over the world as gifts for the athletes taking part in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are being displayed in this prominent position close to the House of Commons committee rooms in an exhibition sponsored by Mike Penning MP. We were joined by some of the people who have made the pennants as well as representatives of the Quilters’ Guild and the London 2012 Inspire Team at LOCOG. Quilts 4 London organiser Irene Heathcote told us that they have now received more than 10,000 pennants and are well on the way to their target of 14,700.

Quilts 4 London pennant created by Felicity Gladstone

Quilts 4 London pennant created by Felicity Gladstone

As well as the sheer scale of the project, I was struck by some of the individual stories behind the pennants. The House of Commons display includes a pennant created by Felicity Gladstone which depicts her uncle, Albert Gladstone, who won a rowing gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics and was the grandson of the Prime Minister, William Gladstone. If you haven’t yet made a pennant yourself there is still time to do so, see: http://www.quilts4london.org.uk.



A Gift of Quilts and Quilts 4 London by Robin Simpson
November 18, 2011, 10:33 am
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On Thursday Helen Thomas and I were in London for a meeting with Marilyn Lovett (in her capacity as President of the Quilters Guild of the British Isles), and the organisers of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad quilting projects, ‘A Gift of Quilts’ and ‘Quilts 4 London’.

A Gift of Quilts

Jenny Rundle and Sharon Garrick with one of the quilts made for A Gift of Quilts

Jenny Rundle and Sharon Garrick from ‘A Gift of Quilts’ (www.agiftofquilts.co.uk) told us that they have now passed the deadline for the submission of quilts to be presented as gifts to each team competing in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The project has reached its target of more than 400 quilts and has involved more than 10,000 people. All the quilts have been photographed and the book of photographs went to the publisher this week and will be published to coincide with an exhibition of all 400 quilts at Olympia in London from 15 – 18 March 2012. Sharon mentioned some of the messages that had accompanied the quilts including one that said “I am an old woman and I won’t be able to get to London for the Olympic Games but if my quilt goes to London then I’m taking part in the Olympics.” Irene Heathcote and Angela Sullivan from ‘Quilts 4 London’ (www.quilts4london.org.uk) said that in August they had passed the halfway mark towards their target of creating 14,000 pennants as gifts for each athlete competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games and they have now amassed more than 8,000 pennants. Many of the pennants will be on display at exhibitions in Macclesfield, York, Newbury, Luton and Bath early next year, as well as at the Olympia exhibition in London in March. Thousands of people across the country (and some from further afield) have taken part in the project, encompassing an age range from 2 years old to 97 years old.

A Gift of Quilts

Another of the quilts made for A Gift of Quilts

Both projects are truly amazing and have succeeded in involving masses of people across the UK in the Cultural Olympiad. At Thursday’s meeting we discussed the handover of the quilts and pennants to the visiting Olympic and Paralympic teams and athletes next summer. We are keen to ensure both that the gifts reach their intended recipients and that the handover achieves the best possible publicity for the projects.

Robin Simpson.



RSC Open Stages update meeting by Robin Simpson
September 30, 2011, 11:17 am
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I was in Stratford-upon-Avon on Thursday to meet Geraldine Collinge and Ian Wainwright at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Our RSC Open Stages project is progressing well: the first of the 263 amateur productions within the project took place in February 2011 on the Isle of Skye and there will be Open Stages productions across the UK through to the end of 2012.

RSC Open Stages map

RSC Open Stages map

We have now completed the programme of skills sharing sessions across the country. The RSC Open Stages Skills Exchange team has travelled 5,047 miles this year, running sessions from Glasgow to Southampton, working with 2,320 amateurs. The learning from these sessions has been immense and, as well as the ways in which amateur theatre groups have benefited from the knowledge and experience of the professionals, it was fascinating to hear how much the RSC has learned about the nature and state of amateur theatre in the UK. On Thursday we discussed how we might use this learning to help to plan further work together after the Open Stages project finishes at the end of 2012. We also discussed details of the regional (and national) Open Stages showcase events being organised by our 10 partner theatres in Spring 2012 and the World Shakespeare Festival/Open Stages performances in July 2012. On 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012 at least 10 amateur productions, selected from the Open Stages programme across the UK, will perform in Stratford-upon-Avon as guests of the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival (which is part of London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad). It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for the chosen groups and a great chance for us to demonstrate the excellent standards achieved by UK amateur theatre groups.

Robin Simpson.



Meeting the Scotland Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs by Robin Simpson
September 16, 2011, 11:00 am
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I was in Edinburgh on Wednesday where Fiona, David and I met the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, at the Scottish Parliament. It was a very encouraging first meeting with the Cabinet Secretary. We talked about the nature of the voluntary arts sector in Scotland and the work of Voluntary Arts Scotland. We focussed on our People Making Waves: Make a Splash! Project (which is part of The Scottish Project to create a cultural legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Scotland) and discussed the possibility of extending this work through to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We also talked about the Year of Creative Scotland 2012, the Olympic Torch Relay in Scotland and Fiona Hyslop’s interest in supporting traditional skills, including heritage crafts.

Robin Simpson.



Launch of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival by Robin Simpson
September 6, 2011, 11:18 am
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On Tuesday morning I was at the British Museum in London for the official launch of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival. The World Shakespeare Festival is a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations. There are over 50 formal partners in the World Shakespeare Festival, including Voluntary Arts. The festival runs from 23 April to November 2012 and forms part of London 2012 Festival, which is the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, bringing leading artists from all over the world together in a UK-wide festival in the summer of 2012.

Speaking at the launch, Ruth McKenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival said “the World Shakespeare Festival will be one of the most remarkable celebrations of Shakespeare the world has ever seen”. Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director, Michael Boyd, called it “this most outrageously collaborative and ambitious festival”. Deborah Shaw, World Shakespeare Festival Director, said “we are trying to redefine what’s possible in creating a festival for a globalised age”.

Michael Boyd stressed the importance of the involvement of amateur groups in the World Shakespeare Festival. He talked of “Britain’s wonderful amateur theatrical tradition” and said he wanted to “redefine the relationship between professional theatre and the amateur theatre movement in the UK”. More than 260 amateur groups involving 7200 people (aged from 6 to 90) are taking part in the RSC Open Stages project, sharing skills and working with the RSC and 9 partner theatres to perform their own interpretations of Shakespeare everywhere from castles, parks and village halls to pubs, churches and a coffin works. Michael specifically mentioned the Royal Navy theatre group’s amateur staging of Much Ado About Nothing – an outdoor production in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth which will take place in July 2012 and will involve officers recently returned from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deborah Shaw singled out the pro-am production of West Side Story at the Sage, Gateshead, as one of the highlights of the Open Stages project. This will be a huge production, taking place from 4 – 7 July 2012, directed by Will Tuckett and featuring Northern Sinfonia and a cast including young performers, amateurs and semi-professionals. The amateur productions showcased by Open Stages include 19 Macbeths, 18 A Midsummer Night’s Dreams, 13 Tempests, 12 Romeo and Juliets as well as 30 new plays, 6 new musicals and 26 devised plays. Some of the most exciting amateur companies will perform at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home as part of the World Shakespeare Festival on 13, 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012.

Dominic Drumgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, described ‘Globe to Globe’ which will take place from 23 April to early June 2012 and will involve productions of all of 37 Shakespeare plays at the Globe, each in a different language. Dominic’s flawless recitation, from memory, of all the relevant countries and languages was a tour-de-force which demonstrated both his skill as an actor and his direct involvement in developing the programme.

Peter Mather from World Shakespeare Festival sponsors BP said that “BP has always believed that arts and culture are vital to the health and wellbeing if the fabric of society”. He spoke about ‘My Shakespeare’ – a digital project supported by BP connecting people to Shakespeare’s places.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, described ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’, an exhibition on the world of Shakespeare at the British Museum from 19 July to 25 November 2012. The exhibition will bring Shakepeare’s London to life through objects from the Museum’s collection and from across Europe, marking the moment at which London became a world city.

The World Shakespeare Festival is a massive undertaking and has so many strands it is difficult to remember them all, let alone describe them coherently. But it was great to hear so much prominence given, at the launch, to Open Stages and the involvement of amateurs. The World Shakespeare Festival is going to provide a fantastic international platform to showcase the best of UK amateur theatre. More details at http://worldshakespearefestival.org.uk.



RSC Open Stages takes shape by Robin Simpson
April 27, 2011, 10:47 am
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RSC Open Stages logoOn Tuesday I went to Stratford-upon-Avon looking forward to a peak behind the scenes at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre but came back buzzing with excitement about our RSC Open Stages project. (And the theatre was quite exciting too!) Open Stages grew out of discussions between Voluntary Arts and the Royal Shakespeare Company about how best to involve amateur theatre in the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival (part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad). After a planning weekend involving 65 representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, in Stratford in November 2009, Open Stages began to take shape as stand-alone project, funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Ian Wainwright was appointed as the RSC’s Open Stages Producer in August 2010 and Ian has been working closely with Voluntary Arts and the amateur theatre umbrella bodies to develop the project. At the end of 2010 we invited applications from amateur groups and I can now reveal that 300 amateur productions across the UK have been chosen to be part of RSC Open Stages. These 300 amateur groups, who are creating productions of Shakespeare plays or Shakespeare-related performances, will be branded and marketed by the RSC and will be invited to take-part in a series of 10 regional and national skills-sharing weekends run by the RSC and 10 partner professional theatres. Within each region and nation, several amateur productions will be chosen to be showcased at the partner theatres in Spring 2012 and 10 of these will go forward to perform in Stratford in July 2012 as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival, alongside the RSC’s own productions and professional companies from across the world. The 300 amateur RSC Open Stages productions include performances in forests, castles and stately homes, performances by the John Lewis Partnership amateur dramatics group and by a RAF theatre group involving service personnel just returned from Afghanistan. The response to our call for applications was far in excess of our expectations and Open Stages looks like being a wonderful national celebration of amateur Shakespeare. Ian and I were joined on Tuesday by Tabitha Allum, the Chief Executive of Stagetext, to discuss the use of captioning for the hard of hearing by amateur theatre groups. We agreed to offer all the groups involved in Open Stages the opportunity to receive training from Stagetext in how to introduce live captioning to their performances.

More details of RSC Open Stages at http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/projects/open-stages/ and lots of discussion at http://www.facebook.com/rscopenstages.

Robin Simpson.

The RSC Open Stages map

The RSC Open Stages map