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By Norman Warwick

Oldham Coliseum

Oldham Coliseum Theatre and commissioning partner HOME Manchester have commissioned Associate Artist Hafsah Aneela Bashir to create a project as part of the Homemakers initiative.

Hafsah Aneela Bashir is a poet and spoken word artist who completed an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Culture at the University of Leeds. The work she has undertaken, providing emergency supplies and medical aid to conflict zones, informs her creativity producing a form of lyrical activism. Her poetry has been published by Crocus Books in the anthology, ‘When Saira Met Sara’ bringing together Muslim and Jewish writers. She writes to raise awareness about social injustice and has a keen interest in writing as a form of resistance and liberty. She has worked with Women Asylum Seekers Together to use creative agency as a means to highlight demands for basic human rights. Also part of a writing collective called Manchester Muslim Writers, she conducts poetry workshops within the community working with young people to develop understanding of identity and empowerment. She has performed for Oxfam, RAPAR, Freedom From Torture and interfaith events and can often be found at open-mics in and around Manchester in her spare time.

Her latest project involved scriptwriting a short play with Women In The Spotlight and Three Minute Theatre. She was recently invited to create and perform her poetry at Manchester Cathedral to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

The new initiative is a series of commissions inviting artists to create new works at home, for an audience who are also at home. These fully funded commissions are an offer to ground-breaking artists to challenge the definition of ‘live performance’ – whether through live streaming, recordings, games, interactive stories, personal encounters, or something completely different.

Hafsah Aneela Bashir

For Homemakers, Hafsah is creating the Poetry Health Service [PHS] as a tool for healing. Using both her own poetry and gifted poems she will provide a poetry panacea by the people for the people. Emphasising the importance of art to our mental and emotional health, the PHS will be accessible both online and via a dedicated phoneline where people will be able to respond to the service. The idea for the PHS was inspired by Hafsah’s daily Instagram Live readings, which she has been delivering since the beginning of the UK lockdown.

Hafsah commented: “I’m so excited to receive a Homemakers commission – one that will draw on my lockdown connections make with strangers on Insta Live through our simple love for poetry.”

Chris Lawson

Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s Artistic Director Chris Lawson added: “We’re delighted to be working in association with our Greater Manchester neighbours at HOME. We feel the PHS project, led by Hafsah, is a vital and necessary artistic service that we are proud to support.”

Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s popular Mini-Podcast Series, he tells us, shares original works created by the communities the theatre serves. For each episode the Coliseum has invited local writers to respond to a theme within a specified length, with pieces ranging from 100 words to a 20-minute short audio-play.

World Theatre Day 2020,  on 27th March, saw the launch of the project and only two months later the theatre has already recorded and aired new works for the series, by well-known names, professional playwrights, emerging writers and young people from the local area. All pieces in the Coliseum’s Mini-Podcast series are recorded remotely by professional actors, with an introduction from the theatre’s Artistic Director Chris Lawson and edited by the theatre’s Digital Associate Grant Archer.

Julie Hesmondhalgh

Episode 1: 100 Word Plays (about Oldham) features 17 plays of no more than 100 words based on the theme of Oldham. The plays were written by well-known writers including Julie Hesmondhalgh, best known as the beloved Hayley when in Coronation Street, and writers of previous Coliseum hits: Ian Kershaw (Bread & Roses, The Mist in the Mirror and Star-Cross’d) and Lindsey Williams (Meat Pie, Sausage Roll and Dreamers) and local emerging writers.

The 100 Word Plays submissions responded to a 2019 call-out for which the plays were displayed across the theatre in crafty and creative places.

Within only two weeks of the theatre’s closure to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the organisation had responded by employing a cast of nine Greater Manchester actors to record 17 of the 100 Word Plays for the inaugural episode of the series. The cast includes: John Askew (Netflix’s The English Game), Natalie Gavin (also Netflix’s The English Game), plus Alma Capstick of ITV’s Jericho) star of several Coliseum productions, Sam Glen, Darren Jeffries, Jack Radcliffe and Coliseum Associate and Supported Artists: Hafsah Aneela Bashir, who does such superb work as a creative arts facilitator across the region, RedBobble Arts (Kelly Munro-Fawcett, Louisa May Parker and Martha Simon), Fine Comb Theatre (Rachel McMurray and Catherine Morefield) and Sorcha McCaffrey.

Episode 2: ‘Off Out’ Monologues features three monologues written by young people and inspired by the UK lockdown. The Coliseum’s Learning and Engagement Team invited people aged 21 and under to submit monologues about a character’s once-daily trip out of the house, offering insight into their reactions around the unprecedented situation. The three monologues in the episode: Like Dad, Like Duck by Joe Walsh, A 60 Minute Adventure by Adele Barnes and A Birthday in Quarantine by Freya Williams were recorded by actors: Jake Talbot (Rob Johnstons’s Riot Act), Natasha Davidson (The Coliseum’s 2015 production of Hindle Wakes) and Sonya Nisa (This is Oldham by Lindsey Williams at The Grange).

Episode 3: Pop and Crisps is a new 20-minute audio play by Sorcha McCaffrey commissioned by the Coliseum for the series. Sorcha is an actor, writer and theatre maker and a Supported Artist of the Coliseum.

The main character in her radio-play, Saf, hasn’t seen her dad for twenty years and all she remembers about him is his love of eighties music and Doritos. Her aunt said he went to Scotland. Linda over the road said he went to the North Pole. Her mum didn’t say anything. On the brink of making a life-changing decision, Saf arranges to meet him again.

Pop and Crisps was recorded by Cora Kirk  and William Travis and directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Chris Lawson.

Episode 4 of the Mini-Podcast Series sees the Coliseum collaborate with DANC (Disabled Artist Networking Community) and TripleC to invite writers who are part of DANC to write short plays no more than five minutes in length responding to the theme of Distance. Submissions for the episode are open until Friday 5 June.

TripleC is a disabled led arts organisation that creates projects to break down the barriers for people with disabilities accessing the arts. DANC is the professional strand of TripleC that champions solution focussed events, workshops and conversations between disabled artists and key industry decision makers to increase representation, inclusivity and employment of disabled artists in the arts and media sector.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s building on Fairbottom Street in Oldham town centre is, of course, is temporarily closed and has been since Monday 16 March, following UK Government advice that people should avoid public buildings including theatres, to help slow the spread of Coronavirus. The Oldham Coliseum have however, taken these innovative steps to work remotely to create art and opportunities which can be shared online so that audiences and participants can access them from home. Coliseum staff are also making regular phone contact with the theatre’s most vulnerable older participants. Whilst the theatre’s regular social activities cannot be replaced, such calls  and a new service of distributing art and craft packs from a safe distance to young people in the local communities so that they can participate in creative activities at home, deserve great credit for their sensitivity and adventurous response to the challenges of Covid 19.

The theatre’s team is also working to reschedule events which have unavoidably been cancelled due to the Coronavirus crisis. The Coliseum thanks audiences for their patience as its small but dedicated team is working as quickly as possible.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre has only closed once before in its 135-year history. If you are able and would like to support the Coliseum at this difficult time the theatre asks that audiences consider donating all or part of their ticket costs for cancelled events, or donating online at coliseum.org.uk/your-coliseum-needs-you .

Oldham Coliseum Theatre is a Registered Charity (no. 508829)

The Coliseum’s Mini-Podcast Series is free to access. It is available online at: coliseum.org.uk/mini-podcast-series/ or on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/oldhamcoliseum/sets/oldham-coliseum-mini-podcast

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