International community unites to mash up Romeo & Juliet at Sherman Cymru


Young people create the set for the production Romeo and Juliet Mash-Up at Sherman Cymru

Many Thanks to Dave Owens and the Echo for the article on a project I coordinate at Sherman Cymru called Sherman 5, its been a pleasure.

Guy O’Donnell likes a challenge.

Which is a good job given that he’s currently deeply embedded in rehearsals for a unique production to be staged at Sherman Cymru this weekend – a mash up version of Romeo & Juliet.

The show comes courtesy of the new Sherman 5 project, a five-year scheme funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which helps the Cardiff-based venue to engage with young audiences from disadvantaged communities and develop their interest in the arts locally.

“We are thrilled to be working with such a great organisation and we value the support and work they do in the community,” says O’Donnell, who is the Paul Hamlyn co-ordinator for Sherman Cymru.

“We felt that the themes of Romeo & Juliet were so relevant in today’s society that we were keen to work with the local young community and hear their own interpretations of the piece through music, art and dance as they become their own modern day Shakespeares.”

Sherman Cymru, in conjunction with Adamsdown Arts Association, has been working with local groups such as Oasis Cardiff, an organisation that aims to help refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into their local community, to create the mash up of Shakespeare’s famous play.

“During the last few weeks members of the public interested in drama, theatre, song writing and music, as well as film, have created a mash up performance based on the themes of Romeo & Juliet,” explains O’Donnell.

“Adamsdown Arts Association (A3) is a voluntary arts group which has provided participatory arts activities to local residents for over 10 years. A3 has been awarded funding for this project which will support its relationship with Oasis Cardiff and third sector groups that work with young people not in education, employment or training.

“Cardiff council, through its cultural projects funding, has awarded A3 £4,500 towards the Romeo & Juliet Mash Up as a way of nurturing skills in the local community by addressing some of the themes from the play still relevant in today’s society, such as feuds, family and communities.

The groups have been spending this week at the Sherman immersing themselves fully in all facets of the theatrical experience.

“They’ve been involved in graffiti workshops to help create sets, mask-making workshops and costume design,” explains O’Donnell.

“The group has also been working with film-maker Paul Whitaker towards making their own version of a film trailer, and also with Community Music Wales who will be running music workshops and creating a new track with the group.

“The groups will be working to produce a final Romeo & Juliet Mash Up performance, which will be performed at Sherman Cymru on Saturday.

“The group will continue to work on their piece throughout September and October before returning to the Sherman with a special opportunity to perform their mash up version on stage, just before the final performance of the Sherman Cymru production of Romeo & Juliet on Saturday, October 18.”

It’s no mean feat to pull all these disparate parts together and as theatrical endeavours are concerned, staging a show with myriad nationalities in a defined time frame could test the logistical mettle of even the most diligently organised, but O’Donnell says he is relishing the challenge of what has become an educational experience for all concerned.

“I’m learning about the world through their stories. We’ve got a guy from Eritrea, which is quite close to Somalia I’ve learnt. We’ve also got a guy who has recently become a refugee from Syria. When they tell you about how their lives relate to the themes of Romeo & Juliet it’s a bit like watching the news – it’s heartbreaking stories about their own personal experience.

“What we’ve done is do some video work with the group where they’ve been given some responses to the themes of Romeo & Juliet and we’ve been linking that to their own personal stories.

“Because it’s a new project for the Sherman, obviously we’re having to be extra sensitive. Sometimes some of the individuals will volunteer up that information and be quite happy to talk about it and sometimes they’re revealing their stories in different ways through poetry and song, rather than in the first person.

“Obviously as they become more comfortable with their surroundings and the people they’re working with more of these personal stories will emerge.”

It sounds like an incredible challenge for O’Donnell, the founder of The Young Critics’ Scheme, which develop and showcases the critical voices of young people aged 12-25.

“We’ve got 16 members of the Oasis group which means we have about six or seven different languages in the room at any one time. A lot of them don’t have a lot of English as a first language, so much of the communication has to be done through repetition or movement, dance or song, so we’ve found ways of involving them through other forms rather than the English language.”

It’s a big project and O’ Donnell has high hopes for its future success.

“We’ll continue to work with the group and they’ll perform on the main stage before the last performance of Romeo & Juliet in October and all of the members who participate this week will becomes members of Sherman 5.

“What we hope to do then is to continue to develop them as artists and participants in our venues but my end goal is to support all of the participants to be independent audience members for the work that we programme here at Sherman Cymru.”

Romeo & Juliet Mash Up will be performed at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff tomorrow at 3pm. Entry is free. Follow the updates via twitter @shermancymru, @A3_Arts, and using the hashtag #rnjmashup.

Further information about Sherman Cymru’s Romeo & Juliet and Sherman 5 can be found at www.shermancymru.co.uk

FREE TICKETS FOR FAMILIES

Families in Cardiff are being invited to be part of a year-long project where they will get to see theatre shows for free.

Sherman Cymru's new initiative, Sherman 5, will encourage Cardiff audiences who have not been to the venue before to see shows at the theatre.

And as part of the launch of Sherman 5, Sherman Cymru is looking for four families to take part in a project which will see the South Wales Echo follow their experiences of going to the Sherman for the first time and they will get complimentary tickets for specific shows.

Guy O'Donnell, Sherman 5 co-ordinator, said: "We want to see as many diverse families from the Communities First areas of Cardiff (Butetown, Riverside, Grangetown, Splott, Tremorfa, Adamsdown, Plasnewydd, Ely, Caerau, Fairwater, Llanedeyrn, Rumney, Llanrumney, Pentwyn, St Mellons and Trowbridge) engage with the Sherman Theatre.

"We would like to hear from parents, grandparents, single parents, adoptive families or any make-up of family from all different backgrounds."

For more details, contact Guy by September 8 on 029 2064 6976 or email guy.odonnell@shermancymru.co.uk

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