Theatre in Wales

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Valleys Girl     

Valleys Girl How do you put together a bilingual community performance that works across four counties and involves hundreds of people who have never have done anything like this before?

This was the challenge facing Head for Arts, the new community arts organisation operating in the Eastern part of the Heads of the Valleys.

For Creative Project Manager, Kate Strudwick and Production Manager Bethan Watkins, the answer was both simple and complex:

“It’s a bit like a having a giant Lego set or a jigsaw, with lots of tiny pieces being rehearsed across the four counties that get locked together at the last moment to create four entirely different local performances that are all part of the same Valleys Girl story”.

Since September, a core team of artists have worked on all the different elements of the Valleys Girl project running outreach workshops to ensure that as many people as possible could participate in the show either as performers or through contributing material for the script via song writing and digital storytelling workshops. Hundreds have played a part in bringing it all together, including youth clubs, mother and toddler groups, pensioners, sewing circles and people with multiple disabilities who have helped created the soundtrack.

Chris Durnall, the Artistic Director said; “It been central to this project to be inclusive throughout, so the focus isn’t on what people may not be able to achieve but looking for ways to enable them to achieve as much as possible.”

Chris has had the mammoth task of sifting through the wealth of material developed in the workshops and rearranging it to create a coherent story, whilst still retaining the original voices of people who contributed to the project. One of the ways he has tackled this is to theme each show as a season in the cycle of life:

“Creating the entire body of work from the mouths and the minds of the communities has made the project unique.” Chris now faces a further challenge of making it all work in four very different venues.

Songwriting consultant Cheryl Beer has worked with more than 25 groups to create dozens of songs which tell stories of people living in the area, using their own words;

“It has been an amazingly satisfying way of working. It’s really moving to see how the emotion generated from a creative writing workshop has translated into the physical drama – you can trace every bit back to the original workshops.”

Highlights for Cheryl include meeting a person on the mobile library van in Merthyr who described herself as “not very interesting” but then revealed that she had been part of the team that had cracked the Enigma Code during the war. Also following a community drop-in session in Trevethin, 40 people returned later on for an informal concert of the work they had just written and have now formed themselves into a community choir performing at the Blaenavon version of the show.

The core team includes Dance Co-ordinator Gina Morgan, who has choreographed amateur dancers from under 7 to over 70 in this multi-media production and Welsh language consultant Einir Siôn who has devised innovative ways of including Welsh voices.

One of the most interesting features of the show is a song performed by four local choirs that was specially commissioned from Cardiff composer Helen Woods. Not only does it use words from the mouths of local people, it also contains a hidden secret which will be revealed when the choirs come together.

You can see Valleys Girl at Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall on 8th March, Kidz Us in Tredegar on 18th March, The White Rose Centre in New Tredegar on 22nd March and Soar Chapel in Merthyr Tydfil on 29th March. For further information contact Head for Arts on 01495 357815/6 (info@head4arts.org.uk).
 
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