By Steve Cooke
What a year 2020 turned out to be! Dominated by a global pandemic that devastated the creative community as artists found their usual activities to be severely curtailed by the closure of performance and exhibition venues and the limits imposed on social interaction.
This column, at this time of year, is traditionally an annual celebration of creativity.
I am proud and delighted to be able to celebrate, even in these trying times, that our local creative community found innovative and inspiring ways to continue providing us with much needed engagement, stimulation, and support.
The local writing community found that Zoom meetings enabled them to continue working together to produce some wonderful poems, short stories, live performances, and workshops.
Eileen Earnshaw and Robin Parker hosted monthly Those Bard at the Baum Folk'n Poetry Nights virtually in our homes with open-mic poetry, writers’ own work and that of favourite poets, some read, and others sung.
Our wonderful M6 Theatre Company have had to do things a little differently. Instead of a theatre production, When We Started Singing is a brand new BSL-interpreted film which was made available to thousands of KS2 pupils across the whole country. Classes taking part in Rochdale Schools Linking also had the bonus of a special online workshop with Participatory Director Caroline Kennedy.
They also streamed Love in the Time of Corona Monologue Series, ten brand new monologues, written for young audiences, ages 8+, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. From almost 500 entries, these new works were produced following an online competition, open to writers of any experience. The challenge was to create a short piece of drama, up to 10 minutes long, telling stories of love and life in lockdown.
Collaborate was a project led by our friends at Cartwheel Arts to support artists to keep creative during these difficult times, whilst raising awareness about the climate emergency. Collaborate was inspired by the new ways in which the creative community are connecting online. Not only did they want to support artists to keep creative - they also facilitated creative sharing and learning that sparked joy and new ideas. Cartwheel Arts paired up the artists to work together to share their skills and passions using video calls and distanced workshops and walks.
Skylight Circus Arts celebrated 30 years of professionally delivering circus skills activities with an uplifting, stimulating live video event, Skylight’s Birthday Bash. We were given a chance to custard pie Jim, to watch a live performance from their Spotlight troupe, and under the direction of Martine share lots of memories and giggles.
Ebor Studio’s Gallery Frank started a programme of online exhibitions, the first of which was a collection of prints, ceramics and painting by Rahela Khan. All the exhibitions were shared on instagram @eborstudio and then archived on the website.
Sculptor Angela Tait started a daily clay diary as a response to the current unprecedented situation. It was Angela’s way of ‘giving routine to this strange and disconcerting way of living that will also provide a personal and social account of the events as they unfold’.
Cartwheel Arts launched a new website full of fun activities to join in with at home, promoting creative exploration and wellbeing whilst in lockdown or isolation. With young families and adults in mind the programme broke down into three strands: Draw the Day, a range of visual arts activities for families and adults with 30 dedicated videos; Explore the Day, a booklet full of walking activities making every day an adventure for children and families at home; Feel the Day, a weekly creative activity focused on wellbeing, techniques for anxiety or guided relaxation for us to wind down and restart for the week ahead.
VIBE Creative’s young people continued to be creative, initially through Zoom and then in Covid-19-secure sessions and workshops. Guitars were built, played, and taken home; a new comedy character was created; a three-piece band formed; a photography lightbox built and used to produce some exciting images and great progress made on a novel.
VIBE supporter and trustee, our very own Sue Devaney, made a hugely successful return to the cobbles, after first appearing in Coronation Street as a cafe worker in 1984, Sue returned as Kevin Webster's villainous sister, Debbie.
Another VIBE supporter and trustee, local actor/filmmaker Parvez Qadir produced ‘My week in lockdown' a powerful new short film. of artistic responses to the coronavirus crisis, exploring and documenting the impact of the pandemic, with their life for a week under quarantine.