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July arts and culture newsflash

From three virtual festivals in the West Midlands streaming this month to Judi Dench 'Talking Shakespeare' at the RSC.

3 virtual festivals in the West Midlands

Many of the region’s major cultural events and outdoor festivals have been cancelled or postponed this year including Birmingham Pride, Download Festival and Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell Jazz Festival.

But while Covid-19’s hit the sector hard, artists and organisers have been busy finding innovative new ways of bringing the festival experience to you to watch at home with live online performances and artist interviews, digital workshops and even beer deliveries…

Almost Jazz Funk & Soul 2020, July 10 – 12  

Unable to host the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul festival in Birmingham’s Moseley Park this Summer, the team has created Almost Jazz Funk & Soulan online festival that’s taking place this weekend. Expect live performances, DJ sets, artist interviews, 2021 announcements, interactive zooms, big giveaway competitions, craft beer delivery and street food for locals. The line-up is still to be announced but with previous headliners including Sister Sledge, Burt Bacharach and Chaka Khan you know it’s going to be a good one!

Sofasonic Festival, July 17 – 19

The team behind Supersonic Festival, hailed the ‘UK’s best small festival’ by The Guardian in 2019, are bringing you a weekend of online events. The line-up includes a new Kids Gig (Live Stream) with one-man-band extravaganza ICHI, an immersive mediation and yoga from Do.omyoga (Kamellia Sara) and bingo hosted by hosted by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. These events are Pay As You Feel, with 25% of all proceeds being donated to The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

Simmer Lock-down Festival, July 18 – 19

Simmer Down Festival this year comes to your living rooms, as a free live stream via YouTube Live and Facebook Live. Usually held in the beautiful surroundings of Handsworth Park, Simmer Down is a family music and arts festival, which celebrates Birmingham’s rich cultural diversity by paying tribute to the centrality of reggae and other musical genres that have contributed to Birmingham as an international city of culture. This year’s line-up has artists, DJs and poets from across the globe as well as the best local talent, including sets from Make It Happen Dance Company, Freetown Collective and Rhythms Del Torro.

For more home entertainment, virtual gallery tours, learning resources to keep the kids entertained and weekly what’s on picks go here.

Following the government’s announcement of a £1.57bn emergency arts rescue package, here’s a round-up of the latest local theatre news…

Light it in Red

Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre joined venues across the country by lighting up in red in solidarity with artists, audiences, theatre staff and everyone who is currently missing live theatre.

The Light it in Red campaign encouraged theatres, concert halls and other arts venues to light up together to raise awareness of the crisis the live performance sector is currently facing. The theatre industry has been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic, with artists, freelancers, venue staff, associated companies and community groups all affected by venue closures. 

Many UK theatres have already found themselves on the brink of financial collapse, with Nuffield Southampton Theatres announcing its permanent closure last week and several others forced to consider mass redundancies.

The government’s commitment to a £1.57bn arts bailout has come as a huge relief and was warmly received by the Belgrade, Warwick Arts Centre and the RSC all due to play a central role in Coventry’s City of Culture year from 2021-22.

The Belgrade’s leadership team L-R: Executive Director Joanna Reid, Corey Campbell, Balisha Karra, Justine Themen and Hamish Glen.

Theatre isn’t all about glitzy, West End shows, the Belgrade undertakes a wide range of outreach work with communities in Coventry to make sure the arts are accessible to everyone – as a Theatre of Sanctuary, it works with new migrant communities who have made the UK their home, Roma people in the city and South Asian women take part in regular workshops.

Another newly launched online platform is Radical Body designed to connect and support disabled and chronically ill artists and audiences set up by local performance poet Katie Walters.

Top acting talent including Judi Dench ‘Talking Shakespeare’ live at the RSC

Judi-Dench as Countess Rossillion in All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC, 2003. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Acting alumni including Judi Dench, Paterson Joseph, Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter will be Talking Shakespeare with RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran in a series of exclusive weekly online chats.

Launching this week, every Monday between 5 and 6pm, this live event conversations will also feature contributions from Ray Fearon, Alexandra Gilbreath, David Tennant, Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale with further guests to be announced in the coming weeks.

Doran has invited the company’s Associate and Honorary Associate Artists to share their experience of performing Shakespeare at the RSC and lots more. You can expect some colourful behind-the-scenes anecdotes, advice to young actors, favourite passages and biggest role challenges.

Who did what at the RSC & when?

Dame Judi Dench – made her professional theatrical debut at the RSC in 1957 playing Ophelia in Hamlet at the Old Vic. She has played most of Shakespeare’s leading ladies including Mistress Quickly (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2006), from Viola (Twelfth Night, 1969), via Beatrice and Lady Macbeth (1976) to Countess Rossillion (All’s Well That Ends Well, 2003). She is regarded as one of our greatest actresses, well-known household name for both her theatre work as well as her Oscar-winning role in Shakespeare in Love with best actor nominations for Philomena and Mrs Brown, plus many TV credits. 

Othello, 1999

Ray Fearon – made his RSC debut in 1993 in The Merchant of Venice. His Shakespeare roles for the RSC include Romeo (1997), Othello (1999), Pericles (2002) and Mark Antony (Julius Caesar, 2012). His Film and TV credits include Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Fleabag, Strictly Come Dancing and Coronation Street. In 1999, Fearon became the first black actor to play Othello on the RSC main stage for over 40 years (since Paul Robeson in 1959).

Much Ado About Nothing, 2002. Photo by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale

Harriet Walter – made her RSC debut in 1980 in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Among her Shakespeare roles for the RSC, she has played Helena (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1981), Viola (Twelfth Night, 1987), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, 1999), Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing, 2002) and Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra, 2006). She also played Brutus, Prospero and Henry IV in the Donmar trilogy. Her many TV credits include Downton Abbey, The Crown and Killing Eve.

Hamlet, 2008 Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Patrick Stewart  – joined the RSC in 1966. His Shakespeare roles include King John (1970), Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1977), Shylock (The Merchant of Venice, 1978 and 2011), Titus Andronicus (1981), Henry IV (1982), Antony (Antony and Cleopatra, 2006), Prospero (The Tempest 2006) and Claudius (Hamlet, 2008). His TV and film credits include the X-Men series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Talking Shakespeare is open to subscribers, members and patrons of the Royal Shakespeare Company plus the Company’s nationwide network of Associate School teachers. Events are free as a thank you for the ongoing support given to the Company during the pandemic, but with a suggested donation of £10 to support the Company’s Keep Your RSC campaign to help secure the future of the Stratford theatres. 

  • To make a gift to the RSC, visit here.

Meanwhile at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre… 

Theatre Absolute: Meanwhile at the Shop Front Theatre. Photo by Andrew Moore

During lockdown Theatre Absolute has been collaborating and supporting artists, writers and communities in Coventry and beyond – as well as producing some art work of their own for the shop front window.

The small indie theatre company in City Arcade run by Julia Negus (Producer/Artist), Chris O’Connell (Artistic Director/Writer) and Lisa Franklin (Project Co-ordinator/Performer) has been running several initiatives, supported by Arts Council England and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, including: 

  • recognising the difficulties for young people entering careers in the creative sector in lockdown, particularly college leavers and new graduates, Theatre Absolute is providing on going Zoom and mentoring sessions.  
  • an online programme of writing sessions as part of their City Voices writing development work in partnership with City of Culture Trust. The sessions explore different genres of writing with guest writers such as playwright Liz Mytton and poet Liz Berry.
  • a new partnership with playwright Ola Animashawun – who runs Euphoric Ink and also works at the National Theatre, London. Both Chris and Ola are offering one-to-one sessions for writers of all levels who may want some direct feedback on plays they have in progress.  
  • as lockdown eases, Theatre Absolute have also offered their Shop Front Theatre to artists to experiment with text and narrative in their Theatre Labs. 

Founded by Chris O’Connell and partner Julia Negus in 1992, Theatre Absolute won the Time Out Live and two Scotsman Fringe First awards for Chris O’Connell’s Street Trilogy: Car, Raw and Kid.  

The Shop Front Theatre is the only professional space of its kind in the UK inspired by a visit to Chicago, where Chris’ play Zero was produced by a company who worked in a disused shop, one of a number of ‘storefront’ spaces in the city.

You can keep in touch with Theatre Absolute and the Shop Front Theatre via twitter @theatreabsolute and theatreabsolute  

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