The Dulwich Festival is pleased to welcome the charity Clowns Without Borders to share for the first time, the performance they have been touring to refugee camps in Europe. We spoke to the founder of the UK chapter, Samantha Holdsworth about the important work the charity is doing and what the audiences can expect from the interactive and highly silly performance on Saturday 13th May.

Can you tell us a bit about the work that Clowns Without Borders does and why it is so important?
Clown Without Borders shares joyful performances with children living in some of the most hostile circumstance in the world including conflict zones, refugee camps and areas of natural disaster. This is because we believe every child has the right to a childhood full of laughter and play, regardless of their circumstances. Through our clown-based activities we create unique opportunities for children to engage in imaginative play, self-expression and most importantly, laughter.

We use laughter as a tool for recovery and as a way to provide emotional release and respite from the challenges of daily life. Experts in Development Aid describe this work as “psychosocial first-aid” we call it “Laughter Aid”!

What is your role and how did you get involved in the charity?
I set up Clowns Without Borders UK in 2014 and have been running the organisation alongside my day job as a theatre practitioner. I have been on five Clowns Without Borders tour as a clown since then. I trained in clowning with Philippe Gaulier for a year when he was in London in the early 2000’s. The focus of his teaching is ‘le jeu’ and brining pleasure to whatever role you play.  I’ve tried to take that approach to life in general, ever since.

Why are clowns so powerful?
There’s a glorious defiance and playfulness to our work, and to clowning in general that does not accept crisis or conflict is more powerful than children having the chance to laugh and to experience what it is to be a child free from concern. Our professional clowns are interested in human connection and interaction. This requires sensitivity and awareness. We need to be able to ‘read’ and gain the trust of the children we work for, letting them know it’s safe to laugh; to imagine. Through our clowning we are saying to the children we are here for and we care about you. It’s only through this approach, which really comes from the heart, that the children can trust us and therefore let go. When that happens, anything is possible, like pretending we are all chickens and laughing together.

One of the most powerful aspects of our work is the sense of community it creates. Children stand side-by-side parents and aid-workers, connected through laughter. It’s an incredibly humbling and moving experience to arrive at a camp and notice the children are dispersed, not really doing anything and to leave with them playing and sharing recreated scenes from our show with anyone who will watch. The ‘slow-motion’ race is a definite favourite, followed closely by the ‘Dancing Banana’.

What do you hope children coming to your event at the Dulwich Festival will experience from your performance?
Children are children wherever they are in the world so I hope our show creates many opportunities for laughter and a chance to engage in some down-right silliness!

The LWD Vision Exhibition
Volcano Coffee Works, April 2017

Together with our colleagues Love West Dulwich, the Dulwich Festival have announced an exhibition to celebrate the winners of the Lamp-post Banner Competition. Twenty eye-catching designs celebrating the spirit of West Dulwich have been selected to adorn new lamp-post banners in the area. Funded by a grant from the London Borough of Southwark’s High Street Challenge and with contributions from local businesses, the completed banners will be installed on 60 lamp-posts in the area and will be officially unveiled at the Love West Dulwich Spring Fair on Saturday 20 May.

The special exhibition, ‘LWD Vision Exhibition’, showing all winning and commended entries will be held from 1 April to 29 April at Volcano Coffee House (Ground Floor, Parkhall Business Centre, 40 Martell Road, West Dulwich, SE21 8EN).

The competition attracted entries from artists and designers of all ages and experiences, with a connection to West Dulwich – they might live, study or work there, have family or friends in the area or simply love the place for another reason. Entrants were asked to think creatively about what West Dulwich meant to them.

Judges praised the high quality of all the entrants and had a hard time selecting only 20.

Judges were Bianca Vallido Leach (local resident), Sue Badman (The Dulwich Society), Dan Rigby (local business owner), Ingrid Beazley (Dulwich Outdoor Gallery), Liz Gardiner (Southwark Local Economy Team), Rachel Gluyas (Dulwich Festival), Helen Hillyard (Dulwich Picture Gallery), Cllr Andy Simmons (Dulwich Ward Councillor) and Helen Hayes MP (MP for Dulwich and West Norwood).

Winners are Jodie Glen-Martin, Aurelia and Linnea Savini (Elmwood Primary School), Jessica Hayman, Anna Gibbings, Mary Rodriguez, Lorenzo Tonelli (Dulwich College), Rachel Su, Rosemary Clark, Struan Brown, Amelia (Kingsdale Foundation School), Max Acton (Elmwood Primary School), John Bateson, Eva (Rosendale School), Philip Maltman, DUCKS collaborative collage, Dougal Littlewood, Gussie Coutler & Wilf Edwards (Dulwich College Junior School), Heba Kleiner, Jude Person (Dulwich College), Rose & Eithne (Kingsdale Foundation School) and Sam Bridge

Go and visit the exhibition at Volcano in April to see these beautiful designs!

Local boy James Riley has recently returned from a two-year adventure in Nashville. Working on a new album, set for release in Autumn 2017, James is bringing his folk and soul sounds to the Dulwich Festival, supporting Patch & The Giant. We caught up with him to find out more about his musical background and what we can look forward to hearing from him at the Festival.

How did you get into music and song-writing?

When I was about 3 my parents bought me a guitar… which sat unused in my room until I was about 11, at which point I decided that somehow or another I needed to meet some girls. Somewhat ill advisedly I began to learn country songs.

What are your musical influences?

I started off when I was a kid listening mainly to my parents’ record collection, which consisted largely of 60’s and 70’s songwriters… Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and so on. When I was around 8 my parents divorced and my Mum took me and my sisters on a long road trip through the Midwest, which in retrospect was probably quite a cathartic experience for her. The whole way from Minnesota to Vegas we listened to cassette tapes of 90’s country stars… Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Mavericks, Nancy Griffith and Lyle Lovett. Looking back I think that experience was hugely important for me musically.

You have been living and working in Nashville in the United States. Why did you go there and how did this help your song-writing and music career?

I think I went to Nashville mainly to help myself shed a skin artistically. I was becoming really comfortable in the UK until I left…. I had a bunch of regular gigs, a huge band and nice living situation, and I felt like it was having a detrimental effect on my writing… in the year before I left I had only written one song I was happy with. And so I decided I needed a new perspective and a challenge, both of which Nashville provided. The main thing that Nashville taught me I think is that creative work requires a work ethic. You need to show up for work every day, and treat the muse like she is your employer. Otherwise you can’t expect to get anything good made.

What makes a good song?

I think the one thing you need as a songwriter, or as any artist is a sense of perspective. You can sit there and recount a scene, or a situation, or describe something, but until you have a perspective on it you’re not really saying anything in my opinion. Certainly that’s the thing that connects me with a song, is the sense that I’m discovering something, I’m being let in on a secret. That someone has realised something and they want to share it with me.

Describe your process of song-writing.

Most days I sit at my desk in the morning and noodle around on my guitar. Sometimes a fragment of something will come along from somewhere and I’ll jot it down or record it. Sometimes I’ll sit there for hours and have nothing at the end of it to show. But it’s all part of the process. Quite often after a whole day of banging my head against a wall and not producing anything later that evening or the next day a whole song will arrive unannounced and I’ll have to get it all down or record it while it’s still fresh, while it still makes sense. I spent six months trying to write this song in Nashville, and one day whilst trying to finish it a huge thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere and shook my whole house. Inspiration hit like a bolt and I started scribbling down a brand new song, and by the time the storm had passed there it was, completed sitting on my desk in front of me. That song is on the new album, it’s called “Lightning Strikes”, whereas the one I was trying to write for six months isn’t. But I don’t think I could have gotten to that song without all the head banging that came before it.

Tell us about your new album.

I was really lucky to find the right producer and group of people to help me make this record in Nashville after several abortive attempts. A close friend introduced my producer Matt Odmark to me, and instantly I felt a sense of artistic chemistry. I was in the process of finishing up a record with another producer who I was living with at the time, but the process was becoming strained and dragging on and on. Matt really helped me find a way through that, and as soon as I realised the album wasn’t going to happen with this guy, Matt was the first person I called. We decided to collaborate and the whole thing came together really quickly. The first single from the album’s going to be released later this year, and I’m so excited to get it out into the world. It’s going to be my first full-length record.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m really excited about being back in the UK for the moment, but having spent 2 years in Nashville, I’d really like to return and make a bunch more albums there. It’s hard to talk long-term these days as the future of music seems so uncertain. I think huge parts of the industry are completely lacking in vision at the moment, blindly following where the money goes, no matter what the quality of the art. I think the only thing an artist can hold on to these days is the belief that somehow, good art will prevail, because people fundamentally have great taste when good art is presented to them. That’s my remit at the moment, is to try and create good art and hope that somehow it will change the world.

Our final judge Nigel Blackman has been a judge of the Dulwich Festival for the last three years. He told us more about the judging process and what he will be looking for from the entrants.

How long have you been involved in judging the Children’s art competition and what do you enjoy about being a judge?
This is my fourth year helping to judge the competition and it’s something that I do enjoy. I think that the themes are always interesting and it’s obvious that the children put a lot of imagination into their artwork.

Art is so subjective and it must be very difficult to judge. What will you be looking for from the entries?
Above all I like to see where the young artists have put effort and imagination into creating something original. It’s not about being the best or the most skilful artist (though it’s always a pleasure to see good work) but about finding ways to express an idea and having fun creating something new.

As an illustrator yourself, what tips can you offer to anyone taking part?
Enjoy yourself and don’t worry about making something perfect every time – just give it a go and see what happens!

Why is it so important to encourage our children to be creative?
Creativity is hugely important. Anyone who can think creatively and use their imagination will not only be able to navigate their way through the world more effectively, I think they’ll have a happier time as they do so.
Creativity is natural to most people (of all ages) – like playing – it just takes time to nurture. It can be easily lost among all the distractions of modern life and children in particular are under such a lot of pressure to work hard.

The theme is ‘home’. What is your idea of ‘home’?
A place where you can be yourself, relax, think and rest – before diving back out into the world again and discovering more new things.

What projects are you currently involved in?
I’ve just finished writing the sixth story in Secret Dinosaur series – I was working to meet a scary deadline because the series is being released by several international publishers, so it’s a big relief to have done that. I’m really looking forward to the next few months because I’ll be devoting myself to illustration and creating pictures for new editions that will be released at the end of the year. I’m discovering plenty of new things about my own illustrations and there’s so much I want to do.

Nigel Blackman is the author-illustrator of The Secret Dinosaur children’s series, now translated into a number of languages worldwide. His Anglo-Saxon adventure Freedom for Bron has been shortlisted for the 2017 James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award.

Once the deadline has passed on the 5th May, the serious and enjoyable business of judging the Children’s Art Competition begins. We caught up with two of the judges, artist and teacher Sid Robinson, and international graphic designer and educator Gülizar Cepoglu about the competition and asked them about the process. First up we have Sid Robinson…

How long have you been involved in judging the Children’s art competition and what do you enjoy about being a judge?

Last year was my first year judging the Children’s Art Competition. It was such a joy to see the range of images and all the effort that had gone into the work. It is so refreshing to see young minds unleash their creativity. I am really chuffed to have been asked to judge again for this year’s competition; I am looking forward to seeing what talent emerges.

Art is so subjective and it must be very difficult to judge. What will you be looking for from the entries? Art is indeed very hard to judge and in fact each piece entered had its own merits and was worthy of commendation, so it was very difficult to decide which image to choose. Coming to a final decision involved taking into account what appeared to be the level of effort, creativity, ideas, composition, competency in use of media, originality and interpretation of the theme, but that is not to say that a winning piece has to have all elements. Having three judges helps, as we generally all agree when an image has that ‘je ne sais quoi’.

As an artist yourself, what tips can you offer to anyone taking part? My tip is to enjoy the process, any accolades are a bonus and should never been seen as a predictor of future talent. Many artists that we now admire did not have their genius recognised in their youth.

You are also a teacher. Why is it so important to encourage our children to be creative? I believe that it is really important that children and young people feel they can freely express themselves as this can nurture their emotional development.  Being creative encourages self-expression and problem-solving and celebrates their own personal interpretation.

The theme is ‘home’. What is your idea of ‘home’?

Home to me is warm and safe, family and love, a reflection of me and my loved ones, relaxation and joy, welcoming to others.

Sid Robinson trained in Sculpture and Fine Art at St Martin’s School of Art and is an artist and teacher, specialising in Special Educational Needs, working at Sydenham School.

How long have you been involved in judging the Children’s art competition and what do you enjoy about being a judge?

I have been involved in judging Children’s art since 2014 when the Trustee of Dulwich Festival, the lovely and inspiring Mrs Louise Wood, kindly asked me to join the jury panel and I happily accepted.

I enjoy looking at Children’s Art because it frees me from the conventional “ways of seeing”. The refreshing visual expressions of very young people make me happy with their familiar “childhood joy and playfulness”.

They also allow us to see through the children’s eyes again which is not an easy task when you are a fully grown up person. John Ruskin called it the “innocence of the eye”, and I completely agree with Picasso when he said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

In addition, I enjoy being in a panel of three judges from different backgrounds of art and design. This opens up a discussion that enables us to evaluate the work together from different facets. It is a refreshing process for us.

Art is so subjective and it must be very difficult to judge. What will you be looking for from the entries?

I am not sure if children’s art is so subjective, especially at the younger ages when certain movement and coordination skills create a similar visual vocabulary. What is important for us is the sincerity and the freshness of the child. “The innocent eye” and its expression: that they express their own world in a state of newness that is not yet tarnished by grown-ups or society.

Sincerity, spontaneity and uniqueness in mark-making within a framework, is what I look for. The theme “home” is a great one to capture all of the above qualities, emotionally and physically.

As a graphic designer yourself, what tips can you offer to anyone taking part?

Relax and enjoy expressing yourself freely and spontaneously, on paper, on canvas, etc. focusing on the theme “home”. Play with the meaning of the word – explore and reflect on it. What does “home” mean to you?

It is not about winning the competition; it is about you telling us about your experience of “home”, sincerely, in your own unique way.

You have also worked in education. Why is it so important to encourage our children to be creative?

Creativity is the opposite of being boring. Having interesting ideas and then going on to express them in one form or another, is the way to explore creativity. It involves looking at the world, right now at this moment, with no regard to the past or future, always being individual and doing fresh things.

Everyone is creative, but to remain creative in the world in which we live, requires encouragement. That is our role as parents, educators and as a society: to encourage the freshness, freedom, uniqueness in our children which then leads to the creative acts, works and events that continuously enrich and evolve society.

The theme is ‘home’. What is your idea of ‘home’?

“Home” for me is wherever I can be at ease, joyful, playful and endlessly productive! Home is not a fixed form; it can change its nature and location. Home is wherever I feel most myself; with no fear, no remorse. And that feeling leads to freedom and creativity. Home is wherever I can create new ideas and then go out to execute them. Home is Hope!

What projects are you currently involved in?

I am currently involved in a design activism project: “We are all practicing being democratic“, which is planned to be delivered before the referendum in Turkey this spring. Its aim is to encourage people to question themselves about who they vote for and why. For whose benefit? For example, what someone wants for themselves or their ‘group’ might not be good for everyone or for the country.

The project will involve a series of posters and emojis. It follows from a workshop I ran in Turkey, two years ago: “Life is a protest”, which involved international as well as Turkish students.

Gülizar Cepoglu is an international graphic designer and educator with BA and MA degrees in typo/graphic design from London College of Communication, where she was a lecturer for 15 years until recently. Her design work includes a wide range from corporate identity to editorial/information design with a particular emphasis on book design. She has won numerous design awards, and is currently working on several book projects between London and Istanbul.

What does HOME mean to you?
The Dulwich Festival would like to encourage children of all ages to enter this year’s Children’s Art Competition.

Please submit entries to R.Woodfall Opticians, 46 Lordship Lane, by 4pm on Friday 5 May.

There are four age group categories – Under 5s, 5 to 7, 8 to 11 and 12 to 18. The artwork should be two dimensional, a maximum size of A3. The entrants’ name, age, school or club and parents’ name, telephone number and email address on the back so winners can be notified.

There will be prizes for each category and winners will receive vouchers to spend at the Art Stationers in Dulwich Village and the winning artwork displayed in the windows of local shops.

After the competition artwork can be collected from R.Woodfall Opticians until Saturday 27th May.

The Bloomsbury Ensemble of London will be capturing the spirit of the 1920s when the cultural life of London was dominated by the colourful Bloomsbury Group. Their performance will be taking the audience of the Festival back to the summer of 1923, when the first performance of Façade, William Walton’s setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem sequence, took place, causing a succès de scandale.

We spoke to Mark Lacey, one of the musicians playing as part of the Ensemble at the Festival, about their performance of ‘Façade’, taking place in the lovely setting of the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

You are performing ‘Façade’, William Walton’s setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem sequence at the Festival, which was first performed in 1923 and at the time caused a scandal. Can you explain why it was so controversial?

The first public performance in June 1923 caused a scandal in that its unconventional form and absurdist, unclassifiable structure angered many of the audience and some critics. Noel Coward apparently walked out of the premiere. Façade challenged existing preconceptions of how a piece of music theatre should be created and performed, with ‘narrators’ rather than singers and the use of parody of existing musical forms.

What can the audience of the Dulwich Festival expect from this performance?

We are performing the work in its ‘classic’ form with two narrators and the original band of six players. So I think authenticity is what we hope to provide. The narrators will be amplified, whereas in the original performance a megaphone was used.

How does the music work with the narration?

The narration is spoken in rhythm and is integral to the music. Many of the words in Sitwell’s poems are used for their sounds rather than their sense and complement the wide range of musical styles which Walton employs. The narrators are important instruments in the unique sound world that is Façade.

Patch & The Giant are bringing their fresh indie-folk sound to this year’s Dulwich Festival on Thursday 18th May at Belair House. They will be playing tracks from their recently released their debut album, ‘All That We Had, We Stole’, which shows off their eclectic take on folk music fused with indie, rock and the blues.

We spoke to lead singer Luke Owen and singer and musician Angie Rance about the band and asked them to give us a flavour of what audiences can expect from their upcoming performance.

How did Patch & the Giant get together and how long have you been performing?
ANGIE: All in all we’ve been performing for 5 years or so. The origins of the band lie in an earlier project Luke started and which I joined. This project never really took off but it was the foundation of what then became PATG… we spent 3 years running our own night (day – in fact) at The Boogaloo and met so many of our musical friends and collaborators here. During these 3 years we also really cemented the line up of the band, often stealing people as we met them!

How would you describe your music and what are your biggest musical influences?
ANGIE: Our influences span so far and wide. We’ve all got different musical and geographical backgrounds and not entirely what you’d expect from a London-based folk band (Gabe used to be a drummer in a punk band in Scotland, me in brass bands in Wales – for instance!) so we each bring something quite different and we all really love being exposed to new musical influences. We play a game in the tour van often where we’ll take it turns to introduce each other to new music and it’s wonderful, we’re always opening each other’s ears to new ideas and these eventually come out in the music. Our tastes grow and develop and with this so does our inspiration. There are many common influences though and these are probably where most of the comparisons people draw come from (The Decemberists, The Levellers amongst others).

Where do you get the inspiration for your songs from?
LUKE: It can come from all sorts really. Stories, music, words, phrases, people. Often a melody will come first and then the theme and lyrics will come after. But in some ways it’s more interesting when it happens the other way round. I guess that’s because it doesn’t happen very often. For me Melody comes more natural than words.

Tell us about your songwriting process.
LUKE: There’s no strict process that we adhere to. Often I will write something on the guitar and then take it to the band. They’ll then flesh it out and give it life. All the songs are written for the band so even in the early stages when I’m working it out on the guitar I’m still imaging violins and trumpets in my head. Sometimes I’ll have an idea of what I want them to do and other times I’ll turn up to band rehearsal without a clue. It’s great both ways.

What can audiences to the Dulwich Festival expect from your performance?
ANGIE: We just released our debut album ‘All That We Had, We Stole’ so we’ll be playing a lot of material from this – which is a huge mix really, the whole tracklisting was put together to show every side of us so we tend offer a bit of everything – from the somber to the celebratory to the outright raucous. We’ve also been working on some new material which we’re hoping to share with you! We’ve recently started playing with a double bass too so we hope he (Bertie) might make an appearance.

The theme of the Dulwich Festival this year is ‘Home’. What does ‘home’ mean to you and have you ever written anything about this subject?
LUKE: It’s a theme that crops up in our music many times. The majority of us have moved to London from different parts of the UK so home is something that we hold dear. It’s a different place though. There’s something in the past about it. A place of comfort and safety. A place where we start our journeys and long to return to. It’s the womb I guess. There’s something so natural and maternal about it. As much fun as we’re having in this crazy city there’s always this yearning. It’s just constantly pulling at us. Like the moon.

Photograph Marcus Duran

After the success of last year’s performance at the Dulwich Festival, Tangram Theatre are back with the third and final instalment of their comedy musical scientrilogy ‘The Element in the Room: A Radioactive Musical Comedy about the Death and Life of Marie Curie’. Taking place at the Great Hall in Alleyn’s School on Saturday 13th May all the family is welcome to come and join in!

We spoke to John Hinton, one of the founders and performers of the Tangram Theatre Company about the show and what audiences can look forward to from the performance.

What can the audience expect from this performance?

They can expect to learn the fascinating real-life story of one of the greatest women in science. They can expect humour. They can expect cross-dressing (in both directions – I play Marie Curie and my wife Jo plays her husband Pierre). And they can expect some beautiful music played on accordion, including the catchiest song about radium there has ever been.

This performance focuses on the life of Marie Curie and is the third part of Tangram Theatre’s Scientriology, following on from performances about Darwin and Einstein. What is it about these three characters that inspire you?

I have been a fan of Charles Darwin and his theories ever since childhood, so he was an obvious choice for a first show. Albert Einstein is such a colourful character and a joy to play, and part of the challenge in creating that show was to get my own head round his theories sufficiently to be able to communicate them to an audience. With Marie Curie, it’s more about telling the untold story of an incredibly important but often misunderstood scientist.  Curie has a wonderful attitude to science – that it should be shared by all, and that it is not owned by the scientists who did the work in discovering it. We can take inspiration from this outlook in every walk of life.

Have you always been interested in science?

Absolutely! As babies, we are all scientists. We all conduct experiments to piece together the world around us. Some of us never lose the bug, and such people become scientists.  Some of us just look at the scientists and go, “Wow!  How did you do that?” I’m one of those people.

Describe your process of working. How do your ideas evolve into productions?

This process has developed a long way over the course of the three shows. I wrote the Darwin show largely on my own, and then reworked it with the director Daniel Goldman.  Daniel and I, together with musician Jo Eagle, developed the Einstein show together from the outset – I did the writing, Jo did the music, and Daniel shaped it the material with us at every stage. For this third show about Curie, the three of us had an even more integrated approach, and much of the material was created through improvisations with the three of us. Jo and I are now married, and Daniel is godfather to our daughter.

How do you get the balance right between science and education and putting on a good show?

It is absolutely vital to us that we get our science right. We get help from a team of scientists at the University of Sussex, who help us devise ways of communicating these complex ideas to an audience, and then fact-check the scripts when they’re done. While the productions are educational, they are not so-called ‘Theatre in Education’; even more important to us than teaching people about science is that we put on a good show that make people glad they decided to leave the house and come sit on a chair in a dark room for an hour. We hope you’ll walk away knowing a whole lot more stuff about Marie Curie and radioactivity than you ever thought possible. We also hope that you’ll have a belly-laugh or two, feel refreshed and reinvigorated, and find yourself singing ‘Ah-ah-ah-ah Radium!’ every day for the next few years.

What do you think Marie Curie would have made of your production?

Ooh, that’s a very interesting question. I think she would have been very pleased to see scientific knowledge being communicated, and she may well have laughed at the way we portray some of the characters from her life. However, this is not an exercise in hero-worship; Marie Curie had character flaws, as we all do, and we don’t shy away from them. It’s much easier to write plays about people who aren’t around any more.