Sunday, 11 September 2016


My relationship with Faith Drama is a fairly new one, having been swept off my feet by their production of The Den in 2015. 

I was introduced to Faith by Dancehall artist Cindy Claes, whom I had interviewed for Jendubbz some time ago during her run at Breakin' Convention. Cindy got me straight down to the set of The Den last September (for which she was the movement director) to see how Swan Wharf in Hackney had been transformed ready for the immersive, heart swelling performances that were to take place that week. 

I also had the pleasure of meeting Gbemi Ikumelo and saw her in action, directing a scene with such intention and presence. I felt blessed to have been invited, and one year later, I can see many others have been blessed by Gbemi too (to see the interview and post about The Den, please click the links at the bottom of this post.)

A full house of returning actors, performers, directors and writers turned up to Stratford Circus Arts Centre last night to celebrate 10 years of Faith Drama. Theatre Madness 2016 is in fact the third festival of its kind held by Faith and this year saw four hand picked writer-directors who were given the challenge of writing a ten-minute play, for a cast of five actors in a very short space of time. 

Each writer-director met with their cast at Stratford Circus on August 5th this year and were given a secret word as their stimulus which was revealed last night. The prize at stake being a commission of £2000 and support to create a full-length production for Faith Drama's 2017/18 season. 

The cast and writer-directors

In 2012 the prompt was for local people to create a short piece inspired by the Olympic values” says Artistic Director, Gbemisola Ikumelo.
But the festival’s identity changes each time we do it because the challenge changes. Our last challenge was for new Theatre companies to create a play for a space we gave them. People created plays in a kitchen, a church tower and even a toilet cubicle! This year we want to see challengers write and direct something never seen before. We also want to see how they respond to working with restrictions, hence our secret word but they will also be given a cast to write for, which will immediately inform the stories they tell”

In-between upbeat hosting, were short films shown to illustrate the unique relationships and special history that many people had shared in Faith Drama before revealing the secret word for each short play. In order of appearance:

Megan Fellows: Holnap House (secret word: Tomorrow)
Daniel Draper: The Lost and Found (secret word: Party)
Kerri McLean: Reality Check (secret word: Black)
Isaac Tomiczek: Baptazia (secret word: Faith)

Each play was performed by the same cast (Luke Wilson, William Frazer, Charlotte Chinn, Veronica Lewis and Mark Ota) which made the event even more intriguing. The same tools, paints and canvas for every artist to display their work. Each performer gave truthful, quality performances, and Frazer must be commended for his ability to extrovert in every play to the sound of full- bellied laughter from the audience. 

Holnap House had a voice screaming for London and was not apologising for it. Moreover it centred on the issues right in the heart of East London where we were sitting. A housing crisis. An identity crisis. People wondering what the future may hold for them with government decisions about what must be bought and built and where council residents should move to. 

The Lost and Found centred around the clearing up of a party; the dialogue of contrasting characters reminiscing and bantering around a controlling and pregnant senior who had different ideas about what 'societal' rules were needed in life.

McLean's Reality Check gave the audience just that. By far the most hard-hitting play of the four, the #blacklivesmatter campaign was spotlighted, and McLean cleverly used the characters to accent the many different facets of the issue and actions surrounding it. I felt the structure of this play was a step ahead, and loved the marking of the moment with moving image, lighting and song. Powerful and moving. 

Finally, humour and big characters were the two champions of the final piece Baptizia where we were forced to reconcile with the idea of true voice through our forgotten musical heroes and musical culture of today. 

Reality Check took the winning spot of the evening through audience votes and judging, however a special mention went to Megan Fellowes who had been on a huge journey to produce her piece. We all know that personal journeys can be a reward in itself, and Faith Drama is an arena which celebrates that (watch out Denzel Washington, I've got some more lines where that came from!)

More than anything, the evening to me, and many others was a celebration for Gbemi herself. She opened with a spoken word piece that she had written called 'The Hustle'. Every single person in that room felt what she was saying; the struggles of living as a performer, touring, scraping by, living from month to month with your dream to keep you going.  But Gbemi is Faith Drama, and although she wanted to spread her love and commendations to the people that have come under her wing over the past ten years, it is clear that she is a very powerful catalyst for truth, change, inspiration and is a real provider. 

She has provided love, encouragement, learning and support to so many over the years, and seeks to tell the best, most authentic stories in the most compelling way. I will always remember this night, and Gbemisola Ikumelo goes onto my heroes list.

The Den post

Interview with Gbemi 

Gbemi is currently working with Urbain Hayo and Tom Wainwright to raise money for a full-length production of a play, Custody. To see why this is such a worthy cause, check the video, and you can donate via the link below. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016


The sun was shining on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. 

My friend and I walked up to the Old Town Hall in Hampstead, iced drink in hand, looking inquisitively at the girls gearing themselves up by the wall.

Gearing up for flight

Already, a wall that would normally be dismissed had come into our periphery; it was part of the set.

I knew this performance would explore the idea of immigration and belonging, but certainly at this stage, I was trying to imagine how this could be ascertained through the aerial art form.

Whilst swirling the last drops of my iced latte, I was called into a white box area taped onto the pavement by two authorities in green boiler suits. After being asked for my personal details in the coldest of manners, I sensed the beginnings of what would be a journey into the experiences of those who had been treated as other, or perhaps as another number waiting for their fate to be decided by people who had never met them before. 

Audience registration complete. Flight begins. 

Three aerial performers rebounding off the surface of the outside wall of the town hall, solidly placing themselves into shapes that represented belonging, sometimes isolation, a quest for freedom and finally ending in a heist style escape as they ran inside, bags in hand. This was executed confidently, and was sign that the training these performers had experienced was already impressive. 

Flight begins

Upon entering audience members were given black or white cards. Aerial performs hung above us as we stepped inside to gain entry, only to be asked to go and find someone with the other colour card to allow us to enter. For a flash moment I felt quite vulnerable, searching for a stranger who would help me out. Perhaps this is how other people have had to remain in a country, by finding someone else to support them.

Entering the town hall

Find someone who has another card to enter

We were guided to the first performance space after giving our fingerprints. This echoed strongly to a migrant experience, going through processes without really knowing why we were doing them. We entered the room and on our chairs were headphones. 

Headphones on

This immersive feature was a surprise, a nice surprise. My first experience as a headphone-wearing spectator was at LIFT's The Roof at the Doon Street car park by the National Theatre in 2014. I loved it. It made the performance very personal to me, like it was happening in my imagination. Thus, this was the effect it had during the rest of InFlight.

Half the audience at first were led into an experience by the performers who had little areas set up. I was left to wander and observe the table top installations which had art pieces created by people from various countries and told the story of why they were here.

Table top installation

I observed my friend as she was taken off to interact with a performer. She told me afterwards that it was with a Danish girl who was telling them about her life on a farm in the Farroe Islands. They felt the sheepskin rug, and she reminisced with them whilst they drunk warm milk and honey surrounded by candles. 

Experience with a performer from the Farroe Islands

After wondering if I was going to be left out (another emotional reference noted) I was invited to also have an experience. My experience was with a girl who was sharing her Christmas with us. We had mulled wine, shared pictures and caught a couple of minutes of Eastenders before moving on.

We were lead out and around to the next venue in a purgatory style line. Signs such as 'do not deviate' were displayed, simulating a border style queue. With the headphones still playing their personal role, my empathy was in tact, and I only needed a small amount of effort to match up my imagination to be in the shoes of another. 

This was a little taste of what it must be like for those who are seeking freedom, who want to belong somewhere else, who need to escape. The processes are strangely inhuman. I'd never thought this deeply about it before. 

In my ear, I could hear a lady saying she was stuck. Stuck in the system. 

We entered the space where the aerial performers lay on the floor, ready to bloom. Now this really was the highlight, the special moment we had been waiting for. 

After some understanding of the fact that these performers had all been on their own journey to reach the point at which they could produce such displays, some on rope, some using the silk I can truly say that the display was just breathtaking. The live drumming and eerie, ethereal singing added a dreamlike quality to the silhouettes and images.

A standout moment for me was seeing a struggling cocoon-breaking moth like movement from an artist that acted as a 'snap' card to that poignant comment from the lady about being stuck in the system, struggling, and anxious at her situation. 

The lighting was appropriate for the showcase, although some variation may have increased the silhouette image at times which I thought would have been particularly stunning.

In some ways, the performances felt like three separate installations, and I wonder if this was intended or if there could have been something that connected them more to each other?

I must congratulate WAC arts firstly on producing an emotive experience for us that other organisations do on a much bigger budget. Secondly on the demonstration of what invaluable work they do to such a high standard in providing opportunities for people to learn and access high quality arts. This display really was a testament to them. 

Any performance that invokes an emotional reaction from me and demands that I put myself in someone else's shoes is a success.

To find out more about the brilliant work that WAC arts do and to support them you can visit them here:

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

WAC ARTS PRESENTS INFLIGHT-23.07.16 2pm, 5pm, 8pm-Hampstead

If there was ever an art form that could excel at boundary pushing I would put a large amount of my trust in Aerial arts. Not to be taken for granted (it pains me to say I have only seen live aerial art in a late night spot) Aerial artists are highly skilled, they require in-depth training, patience, and of course those wishing to do it need the correct facilities and a few special people to help take this dream into reality. 

Step into the Jendubbz Office...Wac Arts, a highly important organisation known for nurturing diverse talent.

Wac Arts reside in North London and have seen successful past alumni such as Courtney Pine, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ms Dynamite and Sophie Okonedo, who all originally paid £1 a lesson to be taught by industry experts. Wac Arts are renowned for supporting young people through performing arts and media. They believe The Arts should be available to all and advocate this ethos by focusing on innovation, inclusion and driving for excellence.

InFlight From Home will be performed at three separate times 
during the afternoon and evening. A promenade piece, audiences 
are guided through intimate interactions and larger, image-based, 
physical scenarios throughout the atmospheric Grade 2 listed 

InFlight is a professional development project for people already involved in physical sports or art forms who would like to expand their skill base with aerial work. Wac Arts celebrates inclusivity and
diversity, working in engaging and innovative ways to provide performing arts training for all young people. The students were recruited to the Inflight programme as they aspired to train in aerials but lacked opportunities due to their personal circumstances.

Running part-time between April 2015 and July 2016, the project has provided students with intensive training in trapeze, cocoon, silks and rope as well as harness techniques such as abseil and bungee harness. Students are also given an opportunity to take part in the InFlight final performance at the end of the programme. The course is funded by Wac Arts and the Arts Council and delivered in partnership with professional aerial theatre companies: Scarabeus and Upswing.

I got to ask Steve Medlin, the Head of drama at Wac Arts some
questions about the process of InFlight and the Wac Arts organisation:

What has your experience been like so far as the Head of Drama at Wac Arts? 

A highly challenging but constantly rewarding role. For many of our part time courses classes are offered at multi levels which means that in some cases a student can be with us for a number of years. Being able to watch their progression, often from early first steps on stage to fully rounded performers is a wonderful thing. The full time professional diploma often throws up a vast array of individual obstacles, from English as a second language to high levels of dyslexia. However, the end goal has to remain that they graduate as highly skilled performers ready to work in the industry, so each person will often have a different set of requirements that need addressing. We have managed it so far and I genuinely believe that helping to overcome these obstacles instead of seeing them as reasons to not engage in the first place means that the end result is an artist with real character and drive.  

 How was the idea for InFlight conceived? 

Wac Arts is known for its high levels of diversity and offering pathways to training for those that traditionally struggle to access the arts. These are two areas that the professional world of Aerial is struggling with, a lack of diversity and typically an art form that you have to be financially supported through. So it seemed a natural issue to explore although it has been a lengthy journey. We have large dance studios but they required feasibility studies and a lengthy fundraising process to equip them for Aerial work. Relationships with Scarabeus and Upswing (Aerial companies) were developed and then a partnership formed to make an application to the Arts council. Our first tier of funding looked at training and then dissemination of the developing skills base, which included some teacher training and an exploration of working with disabilities, plus additional delivery across our part time courses and summer schools. Tier two that we are currently coming to the end of continued with the training and looked at placing our young  artists into a performance scenario which we are hosting here on the 23rd July. We advertised for an Artistic director and felt the pitch made by Leo Kay was the outstanding concept, it resonated with both the work we do here and the current social and political environment.

 How have the performers found the process of working on InFlight? 

For the most part its all very new to them, they are applying a recently developed and blossoming skills base to a highly collaborative process. Whilst we are working safely, we are not playing safe but pushing the boundaries of how much they can achieve both with this new skills base and the conceptual material itself. We have a big old building and we are going to be taking the audience around it in as innovate a way as we can possibly achieve, plus flying off the outside and transforming some traditionally non performance spaces into some exciting arenas. I don’t want to talk for the performers but they certainly seem excited and up for the challenge.

What has it been like working with Artistic Director Leo Kay?

Ha, its been great. Feels like we have come full circle as myself and Leo were actual Wac students ourselves back in the 1980’s. We both originally went into the world of physical theatre and eventually lost touch over the years, so it is lovely to be back working together.

How did you work with the performers to embed their experiences and stories into the piece? 

This is more a question for Leo that myself. I have a project leader role on this production and after spending the last year watching the participants develop we at Wac and the other partners felt it was important that the students have a taste of responding to the demands of an outside director. I do know though that right from the start Leo was clear that he wanted to draw on both researched work and the personal experiences of the performers. Collaboration and devising as it should be. The themes explore the difficulty’s involved in the forced movement of  large groups of people and their experiences. It seems quite specific until you explore our common understanding of fear, displacement, confusion and as a human experience to feel that you are being lessened and marginalised.

WAC arts endeavours to allow people from various ages and backgrounds to access the arts which I believe is so important. What do you think the future of performing arts looks like? 

Wow, big question. If it’s the ideal in my mind then an industry that represents the wide array of people that populate our existence, genuine diversity on stage and screen. One in which an audience are happy to suspend their disbelief just that little bit more so that we can really play with race, gender, age and physical ability to the point that the only thing that really matters is whether the actor can successfully deliver the characterisation required. Not sure if this will be a reality as it’s a discussion that seems to have been around for many decades. What certainly is true is that the demands of the industry is ever changing and currently  Aerial work, Puppetry, Motion capture and a wide variety of world dance and movement techniques are required skills in productions throughout the west end and national stages as well as the screen. These skills among many others are not seen as the cornerstones of a traditional arts training but are growing in their use and if embedded in the student can often go on to make them highly employable.

Finally, why should people come to see InFlight? 

The themes are current, the work is innovative and the performers are emerging into and  pushing their personal boundaries of an exciting art form. Certainly three ingredients that would make me want to see a piece of theatre.

Thank you to Steve Medlin and Abstrakt publicity.

If you want to come and explore one of North London's performing arts gems (I'll be there and I can't wait!) You can get your tickets at the link below. Come and support Wac Arts. Without these institutions there would be fewer people whose dreams have been allowed to soar.