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We talk to Kia Wilson about The Party, and what the experience has meant to her...

Published 1 October 2023

 

What has the experience of touring The Party been like for you?  

Being invited to take part in The Party has been an exhilarating experience, packed with first-time moments for me. This is my first ever tour and my first time performing at schools and at community venues. Having direct engagement with these audiences is enlightening. Listening to people respond to the very relatable themes in The Party is not only helpful, but a real privilege because the opportunity to interact directly with an audience doesn’t happen very often.  And yet it’s so important that we talk, especially about the relevant personal challenges that make us all human and how we manage them, learn from them and become resilient.

Tell us about the character you play.

Annika Steyn, the character I portray, has carefully honed her public image to appear in control and self-assured at all times – not surprising for someone who has dedicated her life to telling stories on film – but deep down, beneath the confident exterior, she is uneasy about communicating openly, preferring to bury the past and leaving it undiscussed and unresolved. She is a complex character and playing her has taught me much about myself and how essential it is to observe and to listen in order to adapt to those around you and your circumstances. To pause once in a while for a rethink, to revise your perception of the world, and to embrace, rather than resist, change. Everyone involved in The Party has been instrumental in this process for me and for that in particular, I am very grateful.

How would you describe the other characters and themes of the play?

 

The marked contrasts between the personalities of the characters in The Party is quite striking, however as their storylines unfold, it’s clear that these three women from different generations, backgrounds and cultures, have much in common. All of them have a need to share their experiences and to explore their truths. As in real life, The Party reflects how we behave in public and in private situations, and how we need to reveal our own personal stories in order to connect and find acceptance and guidance. Personally, the biggest take-away for me from being involved in this absorbing project is that being human and alive is often a bumpy journey, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely experience when you immerse yourself fully in it and share it with everyone else that has come along for the ride.

 

 

Kia Wilson is curently appearing as Annika Steyn in THE PARTY, which continues its regional touring this October. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/the-party-2430069 

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As we reach the halfway point in our tour of THE PARTY, we talk to April Singley about her father and how he inspired her to become an international actor and storyteller...

Published 29 September 2023

 

April, tell us what inspired you to become an actor and storyteller?  

I think the honest answer is my father. My father is a very blue-collar man who is in no shape or form involved in the arts; but he is a storyteller. Perhaps somewhere in the man's Boston-Irish lineage was a seanchaí!

How did he share stories with you, as you were growing up?

He read to us every single night until we fell asleep and whenever we had a question about a problem with friends or school, he would answer it with a 20-minute story that seemingly had nothing to do with the issues at hand. But then I'd realise, the kernel of the story was a moral that gave me all I needed to know. I think because of him I continue to learn about the world through allegory and that's why I became an actor.

Does that link, at all, with your work with People and Stories?

People and Stories in respect of the name is just that: people and stories. It's a simple concept, but what makes the company unique is that the stories they produce are responses to the questions that communities are asking today. They listen to people to understand their needs, and how we can deepen our understanding of the world and the people in it with true and heartfelt storytelling.

 

April Singley is curently appearing as Ashley Martin in THE PARTY, which continues its regional touring this October. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/the-party-2430069 

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As People and Stories heads out on its latest tour, Dominic Wright talks to writer and director Scott Ramsay about The Party...

Published 10 September 2023

 

What inspired The Party?

We established People and Stories in 2020, with three priorities: to create original projects that resonate with our communities; to tour projects across all the conurbations that enwrap Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours; and to create professionally paid work for practitioners in the region. Part of our job is to listen to the themes that come up in our community conversations, to make sense of them, and respond with new projects. It’s also about celebrating place, heritage, and pushing the boundaries of what people might think of ‘performance arts’. ‘The Party’ is a response to all those in our communities who have expressed a desire to see work which talks about mental health and resilience, but in a creative way. This desire is particularly strong in schools, and those who care for young people. Over the next couple of months we’ll deliver 10 performances to secondary schools, and 10 performances to public performance.

 

What factors do you think are important in securing support for projects like this?

Our key factors for success have always been ‘relevance’, ‘quality’, and ‘reach’. It’s important to acknowledge the unique business model that we have, which focuses on the 530,000 people that live around Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours, in Portsmouth (on and off island) Gosport, Fareham, Waterlooville, Havant, and Hayling. That means that the cost of making a new show becomes workable in a way that it wouldn’t if it were just for one venue or town. We reach higher numbers across our communities, but we’re still working in a region that makes sense, in terms of thematic identity and practicality. Local match funding has historically been a challenge, but there’s an awareness of that and things are gradually getting better. It’s more important than ever to find funding to take work into schools and communities. Over 50% of our communities don’t feel connected to culture, and don’t feel provided for. That’s a massive issue for those of us who want the arts to be accessible to everyone in society.

 

What are the themes of the show?

We’ve been careful to involve a lot of voices in the making of this new show, and one of the big things we learned was that people wanted to explore what it meant to be ‘resilient’, and to encourage openness when it comes to mental health. Our shows often explore challenging and serious subjects, however we’ve learned how to frame these within accessible and fun storylines. The Party does just that- it deals with quite challenging subject matter, based on the themes identified across our communities, but it presents them in a way that no one would expect, and revels in the human enjoyment of good storytelling.

 

Many of your projects give opportunities for local practitioners. Will this do the same?

We have a big emphasis on creating professional opportunities for practitioners in this part of the country. All our practitioners are paid for their work, and we’re not trying to emulate or compete with existing community groups or venues. For every established and experienced professional that we employ, we’ll do the same for someone who is in the early stages of their career, or who has decided to revisit it after a career break. It’s important to recognize that not everyone is able to drop sticks and head off on national or west-end tours, or to hop off filming somewhere else in the UK, particularly those with care-giving responsibilities. It’s also vital for the long-term development of our creative economy that practitioners feel it’s possible to practice here.

 

How have rehearsals gone?

Brilliantly. While our office is in Southsea, our studio is up at Fort Widley on Portsdown Hill. We love being up there, looking out across our beautiful harbours and communities. Tomorrow sees us run our last dress rehearsal, prior to opening night, so we’re all very excited!

As we enter 2023, Amy Claydon talks to Scott Ramsay,

founder and director of People and Stories

Published 7 January 2023

As we leave 2022 and enter 2023, I interview Scott Ramsay, founder of People and Stories, to reflect on the previous year, for which the company had one goal in particular: relevance. With all of the projects delivered this year being original, Scott has been able to create work that is not only relevant to communities today, but also to the artists involved.

 

I ask about the journey the company has been through this year, which began with a couple of digital projects that were delivered remotely as Covid kept hold of its firm grip on the industry. Fortunately, come June/July time, the company was able to start staging live events again, and, although admittedly this came with the “caveat of possible cancellations or rescheduling”, it was clear that the appetite for live experiences had been “heightened” ‘post-pandemic’. As a result, during the Autumn, People and Stories was able to reach a large number of people through partner venues; one project, UNDERTOW:1982, gave audiences an insight into “what’s possible if you approach something differently”. Scott described how it celebrated trying something new, rather than knowing exactly what you are signing up for. There is then the magic moment when the audience goes “ah, I get it, and I want more”. It was a very special tour.

 

Sadly, Covid has also seen a huge loss of talent in the industry since people from less well-off backgrounds simply could not afford to stay during the pandemic, which has created a crisis that Scott says “we all need to work on”. As well as this, it is important that the independent sector is given the opportunity to create both “quality art” and “quality reach”, as Scott says that “commission opportunities are crucial on a local basis for independent practitioners to apply for”. This helps bring large amounts of match funding into the city, providing access to more flexible and relevant work.

 

Looking forward, I ask Scott what 2023 has in store for People and Stories. He says that “we want to focus again more on live work” as this currently has a greater impact on the audience than digital delivery, as well as “finetuning how we tour and how we work with partners”. Scott also wants to finetune the time dedicated to the writing and creation of work, striving towards an optimum balance that maximises the resources put into a project. Pre-production work for The Secret Garden – a collaboration with the University of Chichester and the Weald and Downland Museum – will now commence, as well as beginning the writing period for The Party, which will tour later in 2023, and researching for other future projects. Scott also said over the next two years he would like to start thinking about how local work could be taken to other parts of the UK, a progression which has been delayed by Covid up till now.

 

Finally, in keeping with the company’s environmental ethics, People and Stories will continue its ShoreClean initiative, working with Jetsam, City of Sanctuary and GoodGym, in addition to working with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, replanting seagrass in the Solent.

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Amy Claydon talks to Olena Ivanchuck, one of our featured artists on

Christmas Comes but Twice a Year

Published 20 December 2022

As our Christmas Comes but Twice a Year project nears its end, we talk to one of our featured artists, Olena Ivanchuck. The Company of over 40 artists has really enjoyed bringing the journey of fictional character Sofia to life this winter, and hearing brilliant feedback from audiences and participants. Central to this magical production is Ukrainian musician and artist Olena, who features with her choir Two Colours, composed of Ukrainian women who have found sanctuary in Hampshire. She opened up about her story – one which many may be able to relate to in one way or another.  

Olena began performing from a very young age and pursued an extremely successful career in the music and theatre industry in Ukraine. Having become director of the Shpitkiv Music School (near Kyiv), a run-down and desperate institution which she converted into a thriving and successful music school, Olena was then given the opportunity in 2020 to create and run the youth cultural education department for the Dmitrivska community in the Buchansky district. This meant managing and developing multiple schools, nurseries, cultural centres and libraries, with thousands of students under Olena’s supervision.

 

However, all of that changed in February of this year when, forced to leave the village she had lived in her whole life, Olena came to the UK with her son and her daughter, Valeriia.  Valeriia has also helped make Christmas Comes But Twice a Year possible by acting as translator and ensuring accurate translation of the Ukrainian subtitles, as well as singing with the choir. I asked Olena what life before the war looked like for their family. She said “we had a beautiful home, a small dog and a large garden where we could pick all kinds of fruit and grew vegetables. Life was good and we could enjoy our holidays at the beach and in the mountains”. Despite now being separated from her husband, Olena says that she is able to find comfort in knowing that her children are safe and healthy with her here, and that there will be a time when their “happy family can be together again”.

In the meantime, she says that helping Ukrainians to create a life for themselves here in the UK is vital, and that integrating them into British community helps demonstrate that “the nation of Ukraine is alive and well”. Olena and her family’s positivity and courage in the face of adversity is, not only an inspiration, but also a reminder of the hope for a brighter future that we must all hold on to.

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Amy Claydon looks at People and Stories latest production - Christmas Comes but Twice a Year

Published 30 November 2022

Christmas Comes but Twice a Year is no ordinary festive production. This new, theatrical concert celebrates the best of both Ukrainian and UK culture, with a “poignant message about the essence of Christmas finding you wherever you find yourself” says writer and director Scott Ramsay, who has been inspired by the South Coast’s immensely welcoming response to the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched earlier this year.
 
The show, produced in partnership with the University of Chichester Conservatoire, Sanctuary in Chichester, and with support from Arts Council England, sees a “magical coming together” of Ukrainians and their host families, as well as the communities of the South Coast, which Vice-Chancellor Jane Longmore says the University is “proud to play a part in”. The audience will be delighted with a “very Christmassy tale with lots of fabulous music” - and, yes, snow - which is brought to life by a talented cast of both UK and Ukrainian performers and the University’s twenty-piece Sleepy Lagoon Orchestra.
 
Ukrainian captioning has also been developed to improve the accessibility of the performance, so that everybody will be able to join the extraordinary journey of young Ukrainian refugee Sofia as she travels from a traditional English Christmas market to a “wondrous place called the ‘In-between’”. It is here that Eastern Orthodox Christmas meets that of Western tradition; hope replaces loss as Sofia reflects on her father back home; and surprising friendships form in a world where Christmas seems to go on forever.  
 
Scott has also said that an online version of the production will be available to share digitally “for those who are separated from each other this Christmas”, since many loved ones remain in Ukraine defending their homes. People and Stories is pleased that the performances of Christmas Comes but Twice a Year, which were free to book, sold out almost immediately upon release, even after scheduling an additional performance.

 

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Amy Claydon looks at the background to UNDERTOW:1982

Published 3 November 2022

People and Stories is very much a ‘does what it says on the tin’ type company – celebrating people and telling their stories. So, what story does the current show UNDERTOW:1982 tell?

 

Well, it just so happens that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War; it broke out in April 1982, lasting until mid-June. The show is, of course, a tribute to those who fought, and to the huge veteran community that has protected this region throughout countless conflicts over time. But the show is also perhaps different in the way that it pays tribute to a “particular group of teenagers, in a way that hasn’t happened before” explained writer and director, Scott Ramsay. There is a specific focus on the tragic involvement of boys as young as 17, many of whom lost their lives. Sophia Weygang, associate director, says “it makes you nostalgic but also reflective. It’s a moment in our history that many of us have almost forgotten. But we shouldn’t.” It communicates a moving and tear-jerking message whilst delivering a generally uplifting experience.

However, the show is also a celebration of the people of Portsmouth, the locals who were left behind to pick up the pieces, the workers that kept the dockyard running despite the redundancies that loomed ever closer. It is a story of bravery and loss, friendship despite differences, and “the importance of family, even if it is not blood related”, says Julia Grela, who plays Polish refugee Susan. It is often easy to brush over how historic events and conflicts may have indirectly impacted the lives of ordinary people, and Scott reckons audiences will be “surprised by the story and the angle we take of being in Portsmouth in 1982”. Sophia hopes that the future of performing will produce “more inclusive pieces of theatre that challenges beliefs and histories that we assumed we know. Educating and reimagining moments in time that really get audiences questioning change.”

 

To see the show at one of the remaining performances and play a part of this special tribute, you can book free tickets on the Eventbrite booking page https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/undertow1982-1124949. Donations are welcome on exit to support each venue and the Royal Naval Association.

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Amy Claydon talks to the Director and Associate Director of UNDERTOW:1982

Published 28 October 2022

Last week I delved into the world of directing to gain an insight into what goes on behind the scenes of a show like UNDERTOW:1982, which is being incredibly well received by audiences across the Portsmouth Harbour region. I spoke to the director, Scott Ramsay, and the associate director, Sophia Weygang, to find out out more.

 

Scott, who is also the writer of the show, explained the significance of touring community spaces rather than performing in traditional theatres. “We’re very much focused on attracting people who don’t normally go to theatre, who want a cheap night out, and are interested in celebrating where they live”, he says, all of which has been made possible thanks to the funding provided by Arts Council England.

Engaging new audiences is at the core of what People and Stories does and bringing UNDERTOW:1982 directly into the hearts of the communities is helping to achieve this. With so many different venues lined up throughout the tour, it's a very accessible show and people are generally very thankfull for professional work coming to their doorstep.

Sophia Weygang, who is flourishing as associate director, describes UNDERTOW:1982 as “a journey of highs and lows”. But what is interesting about this show is its hybrid format – ‘gig-theatre’, as it is often refered to. Sophia says that being in the audience is much like being “at a gig in a pub with your mates rather than a formal sit-down performance”. It pulls the audience into 1982 which helps them feel even closer to the themes and troubles explored. Delivering such powerful and important theatre also inevitably contributes to the growth and mindset of the people involved, personally and professionally. “Seeing how young minds and future performers take on the tools they’ve been given to improve” is Sophia’s favourite part of the job. It is safe to say that, at every performance, people leave with more than they came in with.

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Amy Claydon talks to the Cast of UNDERTOW:1982

Published 24 October 2022

With the tour of UNDERTOW:1982 underway, it is interesting to hear the perspectives of those that bring the show to life – the cast. For Julia Grela, who plays Susan, interacting with the audience is a new experience, but one which she is thoroughly enjoying. She says that bringing “immersive and relatable theatre” to the audience is an important part of the arts industry; and UNDERTOW:1982 is no exception.

 

Although set four decades ago, there are many parallels that can be drawn with problems we face today. Themes around growing up, relationships with others, as well as the creation of our now digital world are tastefully explored through a mix of comedy, trauma and community spirit. “It is about sticking together through tough times and finding support in the community” says Julia. Her character represents the internal conflict many refugees suffer between trying to fit in whilst also longing for home. Susan provides the beacon of hope in the show, offering fresh outlooks and catalysing change within the other characters.

 

The glue between these characters is social club owner Stella, played by Nathalie Gunn. As the “head of the family”, Stella takes Lesley and Susan under her wing as well as welcoming the community through the doors of the Paradise Club - “even through the incredibly painful loss of her son” explains Nathalie, who has over 10 years’ experience in the Creative Arts industry. She engages in important youth and outreach work, describing the Creative Arts as “a power for good”.

 

The Spoils, which Nathalie is lead singer of, is the band performing the live music in the show. The balance between singing and acting provides an immersive experience for the audience, as well as creating a performance that moves seamlessly from scene to scene. As Julia points out, “nothing can compare with the magic of theatre”.

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