Art & Design blog: Theatre and performance

XETH talk to singer & musician Anil Sebastian

Artist / designer:   Anil Sebastian

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Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Mon, 10 Oct 2016

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Photographer: Alma Haser. Overpainted & rephotographed by Anil Sebastian

London – based singer & musician Anil Sebastian is founder & director of London Contemporary Voices choir.  Anil has collaborated with over 50 artists including Sam Smith, Amber Run, Laura Mvula and a long standing relationship with Grammy Award winner Imogen Heap. Always keen to push the voice in new directions, Anil is about to release his first album titled Mesonoxian with a launch party at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. XETH talked to the artist about his most recent project, what’s in store for the future and what inspires him to keep producing music.

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

Before I can really remember music is very much part of my family. I was in my first band at two. It was called ‘Anil Scream’. My two oldest brothers Kumar and Nimar would play thrashy punk. One would shout “Anil Scream” and I’d scream until they shouted “Anil Stop”. Later at around 10, my dad got hold of a really simple software midi sequencer called Voyetra and I started programming songs on our Amstrad PC. My sister and mum taught me guitar. I sang constantly.

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

I’m releasing my first album Mesonoxian on 28th October. Mesonoxian means ‘pertaining to Midnight’. I made the record with my brother Ingmar Kamalagharan and Cherif Hashizume. It’s taken me a few years to finish the record. I’m doing my album launch show at the ICA on 27th October and pretty excited about it!

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Many of the songs on the record started in my teens and are about my Dad’s death. I abandoned them for a long time and rediscovered them recently during a bit of a personal breakdown. I was a terrible insomniac sleep-walker kid and still am. My brother Ingmar heard the songs back when they were first written and when I told him I was working on them again I swore him to secrecy. He got me through it and co-produced the record with me. Some days he actually physically carried me to the studio. Later, we started to work with Cherif Hashizume at Cafe Music Studios. He’s incredible and has a special stash of honey vodka under the sink.

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Photographer: Alma Haser

What are your top three favourite songs?

Bjork – Unravel

Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek

Portishead – Roads

What is your favourite London music venue and why?

Union Chapel in Islington. I think the best show for me was one we curated at Union Chapel last June with London Contemporary Voices (the choir I co-founded and direct). The show involved collaborations with Imogen Heap, Guy Sigsworth, Nitin Sawhney, Manu Delago and Shlomo – basically six of my musical heroes.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Guy Sigsworth. For every Madonna or Bjork song Guy has produced, there is a whole library of sublime, utterly unique and masterful piano work – all unreleased. Every conversation with Guy leads me to a life time of new ideas. It’s no lie – he’s a phenomenal human being – one like no other I’ve ever met. His solo project will be coming out under a different name. My own work is heavily influenced by him and in particular his hand in BjÖrk’s Homogenic and Vespertine albums as well as from Frou Frou his project with Imogen Heap. We’ve been writing songs about physics -time in particular. I did my degree in Physics and Philosophy – so it’s been great to think about those things again.

Manu Delago. I worked with Manu on a track called Drumheart for his album Silver Kobalt last year. Following that, we did some shows with London Contemporary Voices and London Cello Quartet. He’s probably best known for his work with Bjork and Anouska Shankar, particularly on the hang drum but his own solo work is incredible. Music just flows out of the man without any pretence.

Imogen Heap. I first worked with Imogen when I was 18. I went on tour to Japan with her as a guitarist filling in for Leo Abrahams (an incredible musician). It really blew me open creatively. She’s quite something, incredibly nice, frighteningly intelligent and works harder than any artist I think I’ve ever met. Not only can she do virtually every aspect of creating a record herself, she is also an innovator and has something about her voice that is utterly unique.

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Video still: Rino Stefan Tagliafierro

Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

I’m working with Guy Sigsworth on his new solo project and that’s been incredible. I’ve also formed a band with an Icelandic singer called Ösp Eldjárn and Cherif Hashizume called Hrím. We’ll be putting out our first EP early next year.  I’m also plotting and writing London Contemporary Voices’ first record. Outside of that, I’m actually writing my second album already – usually late in the night!

If you weren’t an artist what other career would you have chosen?

My degree was in Physics and Philosophy and I loved it. I was, at one stage, seriously considering going into academia. I did actually write a very crap novella in my early twenties. I’ve often been tempted to try that but perhaps I’ll save that idea. I also ran an Alternative Provision for Looked After Children and children who had been excluded from school. I loved that, although it was extremely tough and really made me see the world very differently.

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Photographer: Alma Haser

What advice would you give to younger people who want to work in the creative industry?

Be nice and not just to people you’re trying to impress. Be nice to everyone including crew, interns, receptionists, cleaners etc. Music doesn’t have to be a war of all against all. Make friends with other artists, build communities rather than seeing other musicians as competition. Embrace your uniqueness and don’t preoccupy yourself with trying to be cool. Work very very hard. Know, learn and get on with the business side of things including admin. Be decisive, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you will need to do it yourself – no one else will do it for you. Work with the best (and nicest) musicians and producers you can – people who terrify and inspire you with all the things that they can that you can’t. Don’t be afraid to collaborate and co-write – you don’t have to do everything yourself.

 

Anil Sebastian’s single Closer is out on 14th October. Mesonoxian is released on 28th October and tickets are available for the album launch show at the ICA on 27th October.

XETH talk with Louis Hartshorn, Executive Director at Arts Theatre

Artist / designer:   Louis Hartshorn

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Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Tue, 31 May 2016

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Photographer: Piers Foley

Louis Hartshorn has been working as a theatre and live music producer since 2006.  Alongside Brian Hook he manages Hartshorn-Hook Productions producing West End musicals and over 60 other live productions, specialising in transferring international productions to the UK. XETH is delighted to have caught up with him during a break from rehearsals to hear about his latest projects.

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

I was interested in performing from a young age, but turned my attention towards producing when I was about 16 years old when I co-produced an adaptation of The Birdcage written by a friend of mine at school. The production was an unexpected success and the feeling of having created it from scratch was electric.

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Photographer: Unknown

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

Closing the road for the American Idiot red carpet reception was pretty special, as was opening the Blues Brothers at the Arts in 2010. I think I’d go for the Best Musical nomination we got for Woody Sez in the Evening Standard awards in 2011. We lost out to Matilda.

None of that compares to the feeling I got when I scored against a Liverpool under 21s goalkeeper at the Kop end of Anfield, of course…

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

I have to constantly balance art and business. People take a very dim view of art being constrained by finance – but sensible business decisions create an environment in which the art can survive and flourish for the long term.

What are your top three favourite songs?

California Soul (Marlena Shaw) is my number one, then possibly Change is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke) & Come Back to Me (Sammy Davis Jr) – although it feels wrong to leave out Waiting All Night (Rudimental)

What is your favourite London venue and why?

Great question. My favourite place that I’ve played was the Brixton Academy – it was crazy. As an audience member probably Royal Albert Hall – I was lucky enough to be taken into a box as a guest and to be able to eat and drink in private while also having that view and that quality of performance was an absolute winner.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

I think Michael Frayn is a certifiable genius. It’s pretty amazing to consider the breadth of his writing – from Noises Off to Copenhagen. Eric Whitacre has done some amazing things to fuse classical and modern music such as in his Paradise Lost. I think Michael Grandage has managed to combine quality theatre, popular appeal and social conscience.

I’m incredibly inspired by the memory of Sammy Davis Jr. He asks if he can perform for the audience, as if they are doing him a favour. It’s all because he wants to sing for them so much – it is so honest.

The Cast of Woody Sez, The Words, Music and Spirit of Woody Guthrie, featuring David M. Lutken, Andy Teirstein, Darcie Deaville, Helen J Russell. Photographed by Tom Oldham 18/1/11

The Cast of Woody Sez, The Words, Music and Spirit of Woody Guthrie. Photographer: Tom Oldham

Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?

Absolutely. Richard the Second at the Palace of Westminster on Shakespeare’s birthday, which is just mind-blowing to be working on. I’m also working with Gregory Batsleer on a new collaboration between a composer and DJ for a piece at Latitude festival – we can’t announce the details just yet, but watch this space. There’s loads more going on – we have hundreds of shows at my theatre, Arts Theatre West End, and updates on my producing projects can be found on the Hartshorn-Hook Productions website.

If you weren’t a theatre and live music producer what other career would you have chosen?

I guess I’d be running a football club. Who knows – there’s still time!

Hartshorn - Hook Productions: Managing Director Ð Louis Hartshorn Creative Director Ð Brian Hook Photographed by Tom Oldham 18/1/11

Photographer: Tom Oldham

What advice would you give to people working in the creative industry?

People say ‘believe in yourself’, but you can’t make it with self-belief alone. You have to really commit to honing your skills and constantly looking to improve. I was confident about producing before I was any good at it – and those were hard years. Thankfully I put in the hours and eventually my skill level caught up with my self-belief – only then did things start falling into place.

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Three Generations of Women, by Broken Leg Theatre

Artist / designer:   Broken Leg Theatre

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Article author:   Charlotte Bradford & Ricky Thakrar
Published:   Tue, 15 Mar 2016

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Illustration: Hannah Jacobs

When scriptwriters Anna Jefferson and Alice Trueman – better known as award-winning theatre company Broken Leg Theatre – set out to write a play exploring the nature of female experience in the UK over the past 100 years, little did they know that their project would eventually distill a thousand women’s voices and experiences into one powerful narrative.

Working in collaboration with a host of women’s organisations across the country – including midwives circles, children’s centres, older people’s groups and university societies – and later via an interactive website, Anna and Alice ‘crowdsourced’ the raw material for their play, Three Generations of Women.

“There’s an unavoidable sense of duty attached to listening to so many personal and profound experiences, and this is a creative conundrum, because no single story with its own shape and drive could ever truly do them all justice,” shares Alice, a graduate of Goldsmiths and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter in her own right.  “But the mind is a natural editor – it will retain the most memorable and meaningful from your research.”

XETH: What is the main plot line of Three Generations of Women?

Alice Trueman: Three Generations of Women is a story of the horrors of moving back in with your mum in your 30s, of finally appreciating the best piece of advice your grandmother ever gave you and of extraordinary family secrets held across the generations.

Our story follows one family, albeit a fractured one, in which three generations of women, each shaped by the eras they live in, are uncovering the secrets that have held them together – and kept them apart – for the first time.

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Photographer: Amy Griffin

XETH: What made you want to focus the project on women?

AT: The idea for Three Generations of Women grew from the different challenges women have faced over the last century. With support from the Arts Council, Anna and I met with groups of women up and down the country to talk to them about their experiences of growing up in the UK.  We spoke to a huge variety of women in person, from a group of midwives in London, to mums at a playgroup in Brighton, and a group of elderly women (the oldest of whom was 102) in Leeds. We started with the same series of questions, asking about the challenges they’d faced in their lives, and the best advice their mothers had ever given them. There is something hugely powerful about just getting a group of women together to talk. Something supportive and nurturing that empowers women to open up and talk honestly without any judgement.

The directions the discussions took us in were profoundly different.  We then went on to launch an interactive website which has proved a popular space for women to share confessional, funny, and deeply inspiring experiences – it has received thousands of stories so far and continues to grow!

XETH: Why did you choose to base the play in Leeds?

AT: For Anna, she has family who live in Leeds and previously lived and worked there herself for several years before moving to Brighton. For me, I was a student at Leeds University, so our links and love of the city are very much alive!

Leeds City Council were kind enough to partner with us on the project, which enabled us to use The Crypt to invite groups of women to meet and share their stories.

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Photographer: Amy Griffin

XETH: What has changed and remained constant throughout this project?

AT: Myself and Anna have remained a constant since it’s inception, as has the support of Greenwich Theatre and the Arts Council England. It was wonderful to get the attention of our producer, Beccy Smith, who has worked tirelessly since the read-throughs to bring our vision to full production and on a national tour.

Interestingly, Broken Leg Theatre is now working with a brilliant all-female creative team to realise the production. This wasn’t an intentional decision; it just so happened that these are the artists we felt were best placed to help us tell the story.  But that, like the forums, has been an eye-opening experience. Women are still embarrassingly underrepresented in theatre. So to be working with an exceptional female director, Ria Parry, and an experienced creative team of women feels befitting for a project that explores the challenge women have faced over the last three generations to find their voice and shape their world.

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Photographer: Amy Griffin

 

Three Generations of Women will tour the following UK theatres:

XETH interviews Neo-burlesque star Miss Polly Rae

Artist / designer:   Miss Polly Rae

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Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Tue, 2 Feb 2016

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Photographer: William Baker

Miss Polly Rae is a British singer & dancer who is one of the leading figures on the Neo-burlesque scene. Polly’s burlesque career kicked off in 2006 after she took a course run by Jo King at the London Academy of Burlesque. She decided to form the troupe Hurly Burly performing at notorious venues including London’s Hippodrome Casino, the Garrick Theatre in the West End & Queen Elizabeth Hall.

XETH caught up with Miss Polly Rae shortly after her huge success with the burlesque revue show ‘Between The Sheets’ performed at the Southbank Centre’s London Wonderground 2015.

What’s your proudest achievement?

My dream from the start of my Burlesque career was to have “the biggest Burlesque Show the U.K had ever seen”. I achieved this with the Hurly Burly Show, we had 3 runs in the West End, my ass (see pic above) was in the London Underground!!

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Photographer: Juliet Labdien

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Time management and having a personal life, it’s very all-consuming when you are a performer and produce shows at the same time, it’s very hard not to switch off especially at the height of a project like ‘Between The Sheets’ at the London Wonderground last Summer. It was crazy, amazing but crazy.

What are your top three favourite songs?

Vogue – Madonna

Smile – Charlie Chaplin/Nat King Cole

Gangnam Style – PSY

Photographer: Ayesha H

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Photographer: Ayesha H

What is your favourite London venue and why?

It used to be the Soho Revue Bar (formally Raymond Revue Bar) but this sadly closed down a few years ago. It has been converted into ‘The Box’ now and is very different. I love the rough and ready old school cabaret venues for their nostalgia and intimacy but to all our despair they are disappearing one by one, Madame Jojo’s closed down a while ago and apparently they are trying to attack others such as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern which is such a terrible thing.

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Photographer: Ayesha H

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

My ‘right hand’ Klare Yaya Wilkinson, she has been my business partner since the beginning and never stops inspiring me with her ideas and creative flair.

Jo King – if it wasn’t for Jo and the London Academy of Burlesque I wouldn’t have been inspired to become a part this incredible world.

William Baker – Director of the Hurly Burly Show, inspired and taught me to take my art to another level

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Have you got any exciting events coming up in the near future?

Christmas!! Haha I love Christmas, such a fun time of year with the shows on the build up and at the end of the year I get to spend time with my family. I continue to have my weekly residency at the Hippodrome into 2016 which is always fun and then I’m looking towards the Summer when I hope ‘Between The Sheets’ at the Wonderground will return.

If you weren’t a burlesque performer what other career would you have chosen?

Hard to say, it would have always been creative, I always had an interest in Hair and Make-up so very likely something in that field.

What advice would you give to people working in the creative industry?

Work hard, persist and never stop developing, educating and expanding yourself.

 

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XETH interviews Tempest Rose

Artist / designer:   Tempest Rose

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Article author:   Charlotte Bradford
Published:   Wed, 26 Aug 2015

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Photographer: Zoe Hunn

Tempest Rose is an international award winning burlesque artist, singer and compere. She has been honoured to perform at some of Burlesque’s most celebrated events and is one of the few UK artists to be invited to perform for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas.

Tempest Rose is the director and producer of House of Burlesque Ltd – one of the UK”s biggest burlesque production companies with 4 highly successful runs at The London Wonderground. She also runs the House of Burlesque Academy and has taught over 3000 ladies to love themselves.

Other selected credits include three West End runs; appearances on Channel 4, BBC 3, ITV 2, The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show, MTV and London Fashion Week. She is a firm believer in burlesque’s ability to inspire, uplift, entertain and dazzle audiences worldwide and has been making a jaw-dropping career out of doing just that!

At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?

I first got involved with Burlesque in 2007 when I auditioned for and joined The Kitten Club, but like most people who find burlesque, the roots of what drew me to the art form had been fascinations of mine since a young age. At the time I had already been a professional actress for 3 years and had started performing in theatre from a young age.

What are your top three favourite songs?

Argh, depends totally on my mood, time of day, weather etc! Three songs I’ve loved for many years are A Case of You by Joni Mitchell,  Silent all These Years by Tori Amos and Stepping to the Bad Side from Dreamgirls, but ask me in an hour – who knows.

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Photographer: Derek Bremner

What is your favourite London venue and why?

Each venue brings out a different skill and relationship with the audience so all are special and I’ve been very lucky to have worked on a longterm basis with a few, some of which have now closed sadly, who were pivotal in my own development and the history of burlesque within London – Madame Jojo’s and Volupte for example. As it’s summer I shall also mention London Wonderground which I adore, and we are in our 4th year of residency at.

Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?

Gypsy Rose Lee – always, my favourite burlesque icon, Macklemore and Alexander McQueen.

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Photographer: Terry Mendoza, Retro Photo Studio

Have you got any exciting events coming up in the near future?

We have just entered our weekly run at London Wondeground with House of Burlesque … Straight Up, a show that I have been working on since the beginning of the year, so that’s exciting. I’m also programming a new central London venue and working on our HOB Christmas revue.

If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen?

I’m fascinated by the law, although really I probably just like watching the Good Wife and Law and Order. I think if you are a creative person you bring that element into whatever you do. It’s part of your very existence so I’m not sure choosing another career path is ever really an option.

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Photographer: Derek Bremner

For further information about Tempest Rose and future performances from House of Burlesque, please visit their websites www.tempestrose.com and www.houseofburlesque.co.uk

 

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