Last week, we held our annual arts and events festival, the We Are Wac Arts (WAWA) Weekender, celebrating 40 years of Wac Arts and 140 years of the Old Town Hall we call home. Over three days we held workshops, performances and celebrations, all programmed to inspire innovative thought and practice, celebrate the catalysts for change that have gone before, and inspire the change-makers of the future.
WAWA Weekender: The Friday
Friday was a day exploring inclusive practice with a discussion around what is relevant to audiences, a chance to gain a deeper understanding of how to facilitate inclusive dance practice and the Disability and Inclusion team at Wac Arts shared their innovative and inclusive arts practice with the first relaxed participatory performance we have had at Wac Arts!
The WAWA Weekender kicked off this year with a Symposium exploring the topic ‘Is It Relevant?’ Inspired by the recent announcement of Arts Council England’s new strategy, where priority will be given to projects most relevant to their audiences, we welcomed arts practitioners from across the sector to join us in a discussion on inclusivity and diversity in the arts. The discussion was chaired by our former Head of Dance, Ingrid Mackinnon, who began by introducing Wac Arts Co-Founders, Celia Greenwood. Celia spoke about the start of Wac Arts (then called WAC), why setting up WAC was as vital 40 years ago as it is now and the imperative work she continues to do with Wac Arts College.
“Art is not a commodity that the wealthy should be able to buy and monopolise. Art is the lifeblood of all human beings.”
Celia Greenwood, Wac Arts Co-Founder
We then heard from Valerie Ebuwa of Womxn SRSLY, Steven Kavuma of the Diversity School Initiative, Steven Moffit of A New Direction and Patrick McGeough from Para Dance UK, who all presented the work they do to improve diversity and inclusion in the arts. The panel then responded to questions from the Youth Voice Panel and the audience, encouraging further discussion of what needs to be done to ensure we are not having the same conversation in 40 years time!
“It was a pleasure to be in the audience! I really enjoyed listening to their different takes on the issues of ‘relevance and inclusivity’, and also hearing their answers to our questions.”
Emmanuella, Youth Voice Panel Member
Following the Symposium, we were joined by Claire from Para Dance UK who led a fantastic workshop exploring inclusive dance for workshop facilitators. Participants were encouraged to consider how they could make a set routine accessible for all abilities, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the rich benefits of dance! There were some fascinating insights gathered from the workshop, and all participants left with a greater understanding of how to ensure everyone can be included in dancing and movement, regardless of their ability or disability.
Friday night concluded with a performance from our Disability and Inclusion programme’s Wac Arts Ignite and Urban Motivation, who cleverly wove the games they created last term with videos to tell the story of Pod’s Birthday. The Main Hall was beautifully decorated with bunting created by members of Ignite and Wonder Wac Arts, and each attendee to the party was given a hand-decorated birthday hat to wear. Pod, our Wac Arts robotic mascot, was turning three – but he was too nervous to come to his own birthday party! The students lead the audience in a game of Bare Peas and Wac-ey Escapes to convince him to come along. Once the audience and team had inspired Pod to join in, there was time for a group dance led by Urban Motivation, before everyone joined together to have a dance themselves. The performance was a brilliant demonstration not only of the creativity and talent of the groups but of the innovation the Disability Inclusion team incorporates into their work and many have named it the highlight of their weekend – Especially the moment when the tech team and former employees had Pod dancing on the balcony creating a perfect selfie moment for the audience!
WAWA Weekender: The Saturday
On Saturday, the Small Hall was transformed into an Exploration Space to celebrate the Change Makers of the Old Town Hall and of Wac Arts. The space was co-created by local artist Mark Jeffreys. Pulling together the fascinating (hi)stories that have been uncovered during our Heritage Project, Connecting Communities. Alongside traditional exhibition items such as archive photos and architects’ models, Mark created an inclusive, creative exhibition with interactive opportunities around the hall to encourage participation from the audience. While reading about the rich Suffragette history within our building, you could hear a speech from Emmeline Pankhurst, piped out of a purple, white and green megaphone. To honour the ‘Arts Balls’ of the past, a precursor to the Gay Liberation Front, you could follow a dance marked out on the floor in footsteps.
The Exploration Space became a hub of activity throughout the day for heritage-related workshops and performances, Susan Croft of Unfinished Histories, shared her knowledge of Margaret Wynne Nevison, the Women’s Freedom League and suffrage events at the Old Town Hall. We were then joined by London U3A member Elizabeth Hay, who led a cartooning workshop where everyone was given a chance to pick up a pen and create their own work based on the theme of outsiders. In the early evening, Baithak UK joined us to present a movement-based performance that they have created during their work with Senior Wac Arts students this term.
A highlight of the day in the Heritage Space was a performance by our newly formed LGBTQ+ Singing and Songwriting Group, who came together on a collaborative project we worked on with the London Gay Men’s Chorus and Sing Out. The group performed three songs, including a piece they had written together inspired by the ‘glitter in the dust’ of the Old Town Hall, honouring our rich LGBTQ+ history. The audience were moved by the performance, and it’s clear the young people have really developed their skills, made friends and had a lot of fun during the project.Elsewhere during the day, we ran a series of Professional Development workshops for performing artists and creatives of all levels of ability. One of our partner organisations, Womxn SRSLY, lead two workshops – the first on marketing your own work and the second as a guide to self-producing. This was a fantastic opportunity for the attendees to gain valuable insights from fellow practitioners who are out there producing their own work in the industry right now. Meanwhile, we had dance workshops from Wac Arts Alum and Tutor Patience James (Afro-Fusion) and a Bollywood class by Georgia Cornwell, Akademi for aspiring dancers looking to add to their dance skill set by trying out a new dance technique. We were lucky enough to be joined by playwright Bisola Elizabeth Alabi who ran a wonderful writing workshop and clinic for those writing their own work and wanting to explore how to develop their ideas further.
There was also plenty for families get up to throughout the day, starting with a sharing of the work produced by our Circus Summer School for their families. This year the young people had the chance to try out aerials, circus skills like juggling and gymnastics and songwriting, producing the sung tale of a boy working at the circus, which included some fantastic movement and voice work. After this, we welcomed Raver Tots, who transformed our Main Hall into a family-friendly rave for all ages. Elsewhere, families were encouraged to have a go at our award-winning video game Bare Peas, join in with a family Bollywood class or take part in our second Para Dance UK inclusive dance workshop aimed at families dancing together.
“Let us show and know that we can all dance!”To end our fantastic Saturday of events, we held our Liberation Disco; a tribute to the LGBTQ+ activism that has taken place at the Old Town Hall over the past 140 years. Our Building Partners, the London Gay Men’s Chorus opened the event with three songs from their repertoire, before handing over the reins to Ana Matronic (Radio 2 DJ and one half of the pop duo Scissor Sisters) for the first DJ set of the evening. Throughout the night, we had more DJ sets from Neil Prince and Tim Hinson both well know DJs who kept the dance floor buzzing, and cabaret performances from Dolly Trolley Drag (who did a fantastic drag performance of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’) and Velvet Jones who enthralled the audience with her cheeky burlesque. The night was hugely enjoyed by all in attendance, and a fantastic way to honour the ‘arts balls’ of the 1940s and 50s.
Patrick McGeough, CEO Para Dance UK
WAWA Weekender: The Sunday
On Sunday we celebrated the 40th Birthday of Wac Arts with superb performances from our current participants and alumni, a beautiful Birthday cake and inspiring speeches.
Sunday kicked off with a series of performances from our Weekend Wac Arts programmes. This term, the programme has looked slightly different for our students, with a series of workshops exploring our heritage and that of the surrounding area. The Digital Theatre group explored the theme of travelling through time with both music and film, creating a film that looked at what the world might be like in fifty years’ time. Our Youth Voice group then shared a performance they had created, choosing to reflect on a topic they felt was important to them – Knife Crime. Their performances were hard-hitting and heartfelt, and we cannot wait to see what topic they chose to next explore.
We were then treated to a performance by the Senior Wac Arts students, who after hearing the story of Mother Red Cap and Mother Black Cap set about creating a performance piece that looked at the history of witches in Camden. Whilst described as a ‘work in progress’, the performance was outstanding, combining music, movement and fantastic acting to tell intriguing stories. Like the earlier performance, it didn’t shy away from hard-hitting topics, including homophobia, racism and feminism, and it was fantastic to see that students had clearly been exploring these everyday issues through their drama. Tutors Anouskha Lucas, Che Walker and Steve Medlin and the audience were overjoyed with the stunning piece of work they created.
“Thank you so much for your 40 years of service to the community!On Sunday evening, we welcomed back generations of Wac Arts Students, Staff and Supporters for a celebration that included Birthday drinks and cake. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces in the room, including some of the original students from 1978! We were delighted to hear from Celia Greenwood and Chair of the Board Liz Cleaver, before Wac Arts Alum and Young Ambassador John Gaine gave a rousing speech about why Wac Arts matters to him and cut the cake.
We are so grateful that Wac Arts has been positively impacting the lives of young people in our constituency for so long”
Tulip Siddiq MP
“It’s been a second home really. A home away from home. That’s what Wac Arts should be I think for everyone that comes here. Somewhere they feel at home. Somewhere they feel they can make friends and improve.”
John Gaine, Wac Arts Alum, Volunteer and Young Ambassador
The Weekender ended with a fantastic special rendition of Revolution – a regular fundraising event curated by, Che Walker. To commemorate our 40th Birthday, Che pulled together a fantastic line-up of alumni and supporters from across the years. To kick off the performance, Celia Greenwood took to the stage with members of the Fusion Company – our original performing company founded in 1980. We were then treated to performances from Alumni from across the years of Wac Arts such as Issac Ngugi and Steve Medlin, performing a piece of physical theatre they originally devised for their company Unclassified Arts over ten years ago. Patrons Martina Laird and Simon Callow both performed monologues with instrumental provided by Wac Arts Alum Rio Kai, whilst Danny Sapani performed ‘Shallow’ from ‘A Star is Born’ with his daughter and fellow Alum Emerald Sapani. Other performances included recent graduate from our Diploma in Professional Musical Course, Jessica Porteous and graduate from Wac Arts College Angel Lema, both making their Revolution debuts. The evening ended with a performance from Revolution regular, Olivier Award Winner and Wac Arts Alum Sheila Atim, who bought the house down as always with her amazing voice.Our Jazz music roots were celebrated throughout the night, with Alum Courtney Pine, joining fellow Alum Julian Joseph and Omar in a surprise appearance to perform ‘Nature Boy’. There were further surprises later in the evening when jazz pianist and Wac Arts Alum Zoe Rahman took to the stage. In the same week that we received a donation of instruments from Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation to continue and expand our musical provision, it was fantastic to see the musicians that have been through our classes before, and we hope the performances were inspirational to the students in attendance.
We ended our 40th Birthday celebration year with a bang! We opened up the building to our community and shared our ethos and mission throughout the three- day packed schedule. The WAWA Weekender 2019 was a collaboration with many of our partners, staff, young people and supporters and we could not have pulled it off without them.
To see the gallery from the WAWA Weekender 2019 please go to our Facebook page @wacarts.
WAWA Weekender: With Thanks
An event this size would simply not be possible without the support of those around us. Huge thanks to the following individuals, organisations and businesses for making the WAWA Weekender possible:
- National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England for funding projects that contributed to the WAWA Weekender
- Gipsy Hill Brewery
- Thorntons’ Budgens
- Franco Manca
- Belsize Beer Gardens
- Akademi South Asian Dance
- Para Dance UK
- Jo Rapkin, The Atrium Café in The Old Town Hall for the beautiful Birthday Cake
- Our Symposium Speakers – Ingrid Mckinnon, Celia Greenwood, Steven Kavuma, Valerie Ebuwa, Steven Moffit and Patrick McGeough
- Our Workshop Facilitators – Claire Tracey, Susan Croft, Patience James, Sangeeta Datta, Elizabeth Hay, Bisola Elizabeth Alabi and Georgia Cornwell.
- Our Resident Artists, Womxn SRSLY, and their workshop facilitators – Grace Nicol, Alice White and Jess Greer.
- Those who performed at the Liberation Disco; the London Gay Men’s Chorus, Ana Matronic, Dolly Trolley, Neil Prince, Velvet Jones and Tim Hinson.
- Che Walker and the Revolution cast and crew for their fantastic performances and raising over £1300 for Wac Arts
- Our Volunteers, including Mark Jeffreys, Anna Wilson, Lily Bell Penny, Carly Edwards, Keziah Porter, Christina McCulloch, Faye Collins, Emily Dean, Evie Salter, Brian Levy, Janet Potter, Barbara Prynn, Stephen Barry, Judith Ufland and Jo Walters, who have worked tirelessly to uncover our heritage and put together our heritage materials for the Weekender.
- Our students for all the fantastic performances they shared, and the hard work they put into creating it
- Our Staff Team who worked above and beyond to make the Weekender happen
- And finally, all of those who came along to attend the events and participate in our workshops