Stafford & District Operatic Society take on Meaty Challenge with Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd

Stafford and District Operatic Society is tackling gothic musical Sweeney Todd for its latest production, which opens at the Gatehouse Theatre on Tuesday October 13th.

A dark tale of love, intrigue and bloody murder, Sweeney Todd tells the tale of a skilled barber, falsely sentenced to hard labour, who returns from exile to London to exact revenge on the man who destroyed his family and ruined his life.

But the bodies begin to mount up, so Sweeney Todd teams up with pie shop owner Mrs Lovett to cook up a delicious scheme to dispose of his victims.

Calum Robarts who is playing Sweeney Todd, said: “Since learning Stafford Operatic were going to do a production of Sweeney Todd, I have been incredibly excited. The works of Stephen Sondheim have always been a passion of mine and Sweeney is, in my personal opinion, one of the best.

The complexity of the music is incredible, as well as being very tricky, and it is a very brave choice for any group, professional or otherwise. However, under the musical direction of Bill Moss, the society is sounding fantastic and are proving more than a match for even the trickiest moments!

“The part of Sweeney is one I’ve always wanted to play, so landing the role was a dream come true. He is a very complex character, with many different levels, not just the razor swinging maniac everyone thinks of. It’s been many months of hard work, but with the great direction of Rachel Millar, everything is now coming together and it promises to be an excellent show.”

The show runs from October 13th to 17th and tickets are available now by calling 07817 215420 or emailing tickets@staffordoperatic.org.uk. or order direct by visiting www.ticketsource.co.uk/staffordops

 

Chair’s Report, AGM 2015

Rowan Draper

As this is my first Chairman’s Report I want to start by thanking all of the members of the committee who’ve regularly attended our meetings and in particular Ray Braziel, who has acted as secretary for many years, Andrew Baker our vice chair and Rod Grealish our treasurer who have led the organisation in my time with the Arts Council. Their work is often very complicated and time consuming and enables chairing our meetings, an easy task.

We continue to give grants to support traditional local societies, which are of a very high standard and often have activities which reach large audiences, we have been particularly interested in events which reach new audiences, children and people who would not usually be affected by arts events.

SDAC awarded grants totalling £11,032 during the financial year 2014/5 to nearly 20 groups within the Borough: Adbaston Community Concert Society, Andrew Baker, Castle Players, Chanteuse Chamber Choir, Dress up Box, Eccleshall Festival, Sustainability Matters, Friends of St. Mary’s, Konnectiv Drama, Musical Youth Theatre, Stafford Folk Players, Stafford Lancers, Stafford Music Festival, Stafford Operatics, Stafford Orchestra, Stafford Photographic Society, Stafford Players, Stone Choral Society, and Unity Fest.

I feel this year demonstrates more than ever that the grants awarded by SDAC are an essential part of the Arts in Stafford. The funding can clearly be seen to be affecting the lives of an ever increasing number of local people. The support for the Arts has a direct effect on the well-being of the community and I hope SDAC can look to the future and continue to develop its role in supporting and encouraging the Arts in new ways and to new audiences.

By demonstrating the impact of the grants which Stafford Borough Council allocates through an independent SDAC we hope we will be able to argue for the importance of our work and to continue for the next few years. Our Service Level Agreement was extended for an additional year, due to the elections in May, and we will be approaching a review with the Council for a new SLA within the year.

We have attempted to drive down costs as much as possible taking on VAST as our independent auditors and reducing expenditure on our website.

Over the last year we have reviewed our policies on our reserves, our constitution which will be up for discussion later in the meeting, and how we deal with Grant Aid.

We are always, as any organisation is, on the look out for new committee members, especially when the AGM comes along. Anyone who sees the Arts as an important aspect of life has a chance to be on the team. Stafford is a very creative place. There are many talented people with new outlooks and interests in new audiences.

Please consider putting yourself forward later on in the meeting and please do spread the word to your members about how they can get involved.

Funding Boost for county’s arts organisations

Community groups and arts organisations from across Staffordshire are being invited to apply for funding to deliver arts activities in their local area.

The funding is available for projects or events which benefit local communities, and organisations can apply for up to £1,000.

Last year the fund supported over 40 projects with 10,000 people taking part in dance, singing, arts, music, and drama workshops. Over 42,000 people also attended events such as festivals, exhibitions, concerts and performances. Projects ranged from graduate craft development programmes to film shows in rural areas and artist residencies in care homes.

Cllr Ben Adams, Cabinet Member for Learning and Skills at Staffordshire County Council said: “Staffordshire is a talented and creative county and there are lots of arts groups and organisations across the county doing some great work.  The arts have many benefits for both individuals in terms of increasing confidence, social interaction and learning new skills as well as helping to build relationships in local communities.

“Arts based activities can also reach out to older people helping them to meet new friends and help reduce isolation and loneliness and improve mental health and wellbeing.  We want to support our local arts groups in Staffordshire and our Community Arts Fund is helping us do this.”

To find out more about the Community Arts Fund or to make an application visit www.staffordshire.gov.uk/communityartsfund or contact Tracie Meredith, Community Arts Officer on 01785 278571.

Stafford District Arts Council’s latest round of Grants awarded

In the latest round of bids four local amateur arts organisations have won funding to produce arts opportunities for Stafford Borough residents. Adbaston Community Concert Society, Stafford Players, the Friends of St. Mary’s and Andrew Baker were the beneficiaries of over £2,000 awarded by the Arts Council at their meeting in October.

Adbaston Community Concert Society held their Autumn Concert on September 7th and welcomed over 50 people to listen to Clare Hawkes’ Basset Horn and original instruments.

A series of five performances will comprise the Music at the Mansion at Shugborough Hall in the Saloon on Sundays throughout May to September 2015, supported by local composer Andrew Baker.

Stafford Players’ production of The Accrington Pals, which opens this week, will be in the Gatehouse’s Malcolm Edwards Theatre and plays between Tuesday 4th November and Saturday 8th November. Please visit the Gatehouse website, or their Box Office, for tickets.

The Friends of St. Mary’s will host Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy on Saturday 21st March 2015 at St. Mary’s Church with a traditional Jazz band. For more details please contact friendsofstmary@gmail.com

Amateur arts organisations can join Stafford District Arts Council and benefit from applying for grants throughout the year to support their artistic exhibitions, performances and productions. For more information please see our website: www.stafforddistrictarts.org.uk

Chair’s Report, AGM 2014

Andrew Baker.

SDAC is an independent and voluntary organisation whose main purpose is to allocate grants, from an annual grant to SDAC from Stafford Borough Council, to support the arts in Stafford Borough. The members of the committee, which meets every month to consider grant applications, include some who are from local societies and some who are simply interested in the artistic life of Stafford. Some of the committee members may happen to be councillors but they are members of the committee in a completely independent capacity as supporters of the arts.

We are always, as any organisation is, on the look out for new committee members, especially when the AGM comes along. Anyone who sees the Arts as an important aspect of life has a chance to be on the team. Stafford is a very creative place. There are many talented people with new outlooks and interests in new audiences. Please spread the word.

This arrangement is probably quite unusual and it means that SDAC can make a difference to the life of the town. We have a Service Level Agreement which defines our role.

1.1 The SDAC shall utilise the financial grant awarded by SBC in accordance with this agreement in providing a service within the geographical boundaries of Stafford Borough, and in accordance with the SDAC operational plan, with specific regard to the following:

a. To promote the arts in Stafford Borough

b. The provision of guidance and support to member societies and individuals

c. The provision of grant aid to arts related societies and individuals

d. To facilitate interaction between individual artists and societies and SBC

The following requirement in our SLA has become increasingly important over the last few years:

3.2 The SDAC shall at all times consider the manner in which its service can be developed so as to become accessible to the maximum number of Stafford Borough residents as possible.

Though we continue to give grants to support traditional local societies, which are of a very high standard and often have activities which reach large audiences, we have been particularly interested in events which reach new audiences, children and people who would not usually be affected by arts events.

SDAC awarded grants totalling £15,660 during the financial year 2013/4.

Societies supported by SDAC grants include Stone Choral Society, Stafford Photographic Society, Stafford Operatic Society, Stafford Players, Chanteuse and Stafford Jazz Society.

Perhaps the SDAC supported project which reached the largest audience is the Shakespeare learning and Participation Outreach Programme. For the summer 2013 festival a £1000 grant supported workshops at Doxey Primary School, Quest Day Centre for Adults and Milford House residential unit at South Staffordshire & Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust.

These workshops, involving children, and people with mental health issues supported by Quest and the NHS, produced colourful banners inspired by the Stafford Shakespeare production. The project involved engagement with the play as well as the creative work itself and the participants were also given tickets to see a performance which they all thoroughly enjoyed.

The work created at the workshops was transposed onto vinyl banners and showcased at Stafford Castle for the duration of Stafford Festival where they were seen by the many hundreds of people who went to the production.

All the groups who receive grants are required to send evaluation reports to SDAC so we have evidence of the success of the events and the audiences reached. The success of the Shakespeare outreach activities has meant that a similar project was run in this year’s festival.

The largest single grant of the last financial year was £2500 to the Stafford Music Festival which itself is expanding its audiences with a wider range of music.

A grant of £1000 supported the very successful “There is no Planet B” event in St Chad’s church which drew in audiences to art displays and musical performances. Another £1000 grant went to the Stafford Jazz Society to enable them to develop what has long been a very high quality and successful series of performances.

SDAC also continued to support Adbaston Community Concert Society which puts on very high quality concerts in a rural area at the far edge of the Borough and also gave a grant towards part of the Church Easton Festival. Perhaps more should be done to promote SDAC’s work to organisations in the rural parts of the Borough.

I feel this year demonstrates more than ever that the grants awarded by SDAC are an essential part of the Arts in Stafford. The funding can clearly be seen to be affecting the lives of an ever increasing number of local people. The support for the Arts has a direct effect on the well­being of the community and I hope SDAC can look to the future and continue to develop its role in supporting and encouraging the Arts in new ways and to new audiences.

By demonstrating the impact of the grants which Stafford Borough Council allocates through an independent SDAC we hope we will be able to argue for the importance of our work and to continue for the next few years.

In this new financial year, 2014­15, SDAC has launched into a new and exciting direction. We have long been responsible for a costume collection. The collection includes many costumes of the highest quality, particularly those donated by local costume artist Jane Dew who has worked for the world’s best opera houses. In the last few months a team of enthusiasts have begun sorting and cataloguing the costumes and rediscovering what treasures there are there.

As this is my last Chairman’s Report I wish to thank the members of the committee who come out every month to our meetings and in particular Ray Braziel, who has acted as secretary for many years, and Jade Zhu our treasurer. The work may be voluntary but it is often very complicated and time consuming. Being Chair is an easy task, The Secretary and Treasurer are the essential backbone of the organisation.

8th October 2014

Chair’s Report, AGM 2012

Andrew Baker. 

To begin with I think it’s worth explaining exactly what Stafford District Arts Council is. We now have a revised Service Level Agreement with Stafford Borough Council which explains what we are and what we do:

  • SDAC exists to support the Arts in Stafford through funds provided by Stafford Borough Council, We are an independent group and the membership of the committee, which allocates funding, is open to any member who wishes to stand and be voted for at an AGM.
  • Stafford Borough Council has agreed to three years of funding for SDAC. We are very pleased to have this promise at a time when funds to the arts are often under threat. It’s a very generous provision and it’s up to SDAC to make sure the grants are used to the maximum effect.
  • The Service Level Agreement (SLA) defines what we do and establishes the independence of the SDAC – while making sure that the funds are used to support the policies of the council. This is seen as a partnership while affirming that SDAC is fully independent.

1.1 To maintain and develop a full and effective partnership between SBC and SDAC in support of the Council’s policy objectives and the activities of the SDAC.

Who do we serve? Always an important question. We serve everyone within the Borough area – and we need to remember this inclusiveness:

1.2 It is also acknowledged that the SDAC reflects the geographic, demographic and social characteristics of Stafford Borough. This agreement takes note of that diversity.

The SLAs reminds us that the SDAC shall at all times consider the manner in which its service can be developed so as to become accessible to the maximum number of Stafford Borough residents as possible.

Our role is defined as:

a. To promote the arts in Stafford Borough

b. The provision of guidance and support to member societies and individuals

c. The provision of grant aid to arts related societies and individuals

d. To facilitate interaction between individual artists and societies and SBC

To achieve this SDAC has to function within all the usual rules of a constituted organisation. We have to explain ourselves and provide a full account of ourselves and the Borough’ support can be questioned if we do not fulfil our obligations.

This all has to be carefully defined as we are very fortunate in having the promise of a grant of £10,000 each year for three years from 2012/13 to 2014/15.

SDAC has members who can be individuals or organisations and these members can apply for funding to support their activities.

We can also support the arts in other ways and in the last few years we have made grants from our own initiative to local arts activities. This is very important as we have a responsibility to everyone in the Borough and, as the SLA makes clear, to the full diversity of people.

For example, we have supported prizes in the Staffordshire Open Art, particularly on several occasions for children, but also this year a £500 second prize. Open Art is a very important event that encourages artists, amateur and professional, to enter an open competition where only quality matters. This year we have also supported the Stafford Arts Festival which brings a spectacular range of arts to a very wide audience.

Overall the audiences that can be seen to benefit from SDAC grants are very wide and becoming wider. Some of the groups we sponsor may have small audiences, others can have audiences in the hundreds and thousands. We can report figures back to Stafford Borough Council to show the impact of funding and this is why it is very important that we have post event evaluations from people and groups we have funded.

The new SLA gives us a chance to make something of a new start and to think carefully about our role. The funding we can provide is generous and it can be used to develop the arts in new places, to new audiences and for new art forms. It is very good to see the ongoing success of activities beyond the town, such as the Adbaston Concert Society and to cultural groups like the Kerala Association – but we need to widen our range. Surely, for example, there are young people who need support, and more opportunities to bring events to other parts of the District.

We do want to encourage a wider range of people to be members, we would like more people to bring different viewpoints to the committee so we can make wise decisions in allocating grants. We also welcome ideas for initiatives – and new areas where SDAC can make an impact.

We are very lucky indeed to have SDAC as an independent group funded by our local council. It’s a privilege and something of a luxury. Let’s see the next three years as a chance to help make the arts a vital part of everyone’s lives in Stafford.

28th September 2012

Review: Romeo and Juliet (2012)

romeoandjulietposter“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Stafford Gatehouse’s Stafford Festival Shakespeare production this year was Romeo and Juliet, the third time it has been produced for Stafford’s Open Air theatre, and Shakespeare’s 13th play. After the Comedy of Errors last year I was looking forward to what fresh inspiration the company and it’s technical team would bring to the play.

The play has a certain fondness for me, although I have never been in a production of the show, and formed a number of foundations for my undergraduate study during the first year of my degree. After the show I initially tweeted:

Back from @Staff_Gatehouse‘s #RomeoandJulietStaffordCastle. I really enjoyed the performances of Nurse, Mercutio, Benvolio. More later!

Set in “somewhere like Havana, Cuba, in 1956” Shakespeare’s most famous love story brought together the Festival Shakespeare, known for bringing in headline names to tread the boards like:  Matthew Kelly, Eric Potts, Rene Zagger, Toyah Willcox, Rula Lenska, Scarlett Johnson, Russell Boulton but it is the supporting cast for me that always makes the show for me.

This year was no exception as Nicola Blackman’s portrayal of the (what seemed to me to be Jamaican) Nurse brought the house down with her physicality, rhythmic accent and raucous take on what many would have expected to be a solemn but supportive counsel in other productions.

Key to Romeo and Juliet’s success as a performance, for me, is down to is the pair of Mercutio and Benvolio, played ably by Christopher Fry and Peter Manchester, whose understated performances didn’t dominate the piece but allowed ample support throughout and enabled the connection with the audience for Mercutio’s fight with Tybalt for (arguably) the play’s most famous lines: “A plague on both your houses!”

One of the roles I used to desire most to play when I studied Performing Arts was Tybalt, played by Dan de Cruz in this ensemble (so I don’t want to seem like I am back seat driving because I really did enjoy his performance on Friday), but the artistic choices left me confused after the show. Watching the show’s promotional vidcasts showed that Dan has an exuberant character, as most successful actors I’ve known do, yet his Tybalt was more quiet and demure than I was expecting. From the way he carried his body in the performance and his slicked back hair it felt as if his Tybalt was constricted rather than unleashed, and I couldn’t put my finger on what by, but all in all it was a good performance and I did enjoy watching it.

I also liked Ako Mitchell’s performance of Prince Escalus, Thomas Judd’s Paris, Anthony Hunt’s Friar Laurence and James Haggie’s Balthasar so they should also receive a mention.

Dwane Walcott and Poppy Drayton’s Romeo and  Juliet under the stars of Stafford Castle was so confident and competent that would not have suspected that it was their first professional performances of their careers.

Overall I liked it and would definitely recommend going to see it, and if I can afford it (with enough seats to accommodate) I may go back before the show closes on the 14th July.

You can also read the Staffordshire Newsletter’s Review here.

Click read more for an interview with Romeo and Juliet director Peter Rowe:

Chair’s Report, AGM 2011

Rod Grealish.

I come to the end of my third and final year as Chair of Stafford District Arts Council. I have found it a very interesting and rewarding experience and I thank you for electing me on three occasions.

As the previous year it has been a very difficult year for the committee primarily because of a tax demand from HMRC. As I reported at the last AGM we received a letter from them in August 2009 stating that the administrators which we have used from time to time are our employees and as such we were responsible for collecting income tax and national insurance.

HMRC claimed back tax, interest and penalties from us going back over the previous 6 years. The committee had estimated that this could amount to nearly £10,000. The committee felt strongly that the administrators were self-employed and we had several rounds of correspondence with HMRC on the matter.

In January 2011 the committee took a commercial view on the advice of our solicitors that it was no longer justifiable to spend further time and money on pursuing the case. Following some negotiation the amount was reduced to £3300. This has now been paid in full settlement of the demand.

The committee meets monthly where it considers grant applications. The Treasurer will give a financial report which will show how we spent our funds, and where the money came from. We received a grant of £10,000 for 2010/11 from Stafford Borough Council. We have received our grant of £10,000 for 2011/12. I want to thank the Borough Council for their grant to us. It is particularly beneficial to small groups and groups in rural areas. The committee believes the Arts make a significant contribution to people’s lives. The health and well-being benefits of the Arts are well documented.

This is the last payment under the current Service Level Agreement. We hope that the Borough Council will continue to be generous in its grant to us. It does help many groups who would not otherwise be able to do so to put on artistic activities to the benefit of themselves and the residents of Stafford and beyond.

The committee is always interested in receiving grant applications for proposals of an innovative nature. It could be a new work, a new performance location or attracting new audiences.

The Wardrobe is held in the Chetwynd Centre. I would like to extend my thanks to the Chetwynd Centre for allowing us the use of their premises. We have approximately 2,000 costumes plus accessories (hats, bags, shoes, gloves, aprons, etc). This year we have sold further unwanted items on eBay. I should like to thank Viv Watkins and her team for maintaining the Wardrobe as an important resource for the Arts in Stafford and beyond.

I should like to thank all the committee members for their hard work throughout the year. We meet every month so their commitment is high. I would particularly like to thank Ray Braziel our secretary for the large amount of work he does in organising our committee meetings and the general meetings and also Bruce Jewell our Treasurer who both keeps the accounts and handles the grant application process. He has the task of writing to applicants with good and bad news about their application.

There are four committee members retiring today.

David Beckwith has been our President for a great number of years. He has worked on our behalf behind the scenes. As an example he introduced us to Council Officials so we could explain the ongoing problems with HMRC to them.

Bruce Jewell has been Treasurer for three years. He has had to bear the financial brunt of the dealings with HMRC including a £400 fine for supposedly late payment of tax, which was then withdrawn because we were never required to pay the money for which the fine was issued. He has a lot to dine out about.

Nick Balmforth has been a committee member for a long time. His knowledge of the Arts in Stafford, especially the Jazz scene, has been of great help to the committee in its deliberations. He continues with his long-standing association with the Arts through the Stafford Jazz Society.

John Hopkinson has been a committee member for two years. His wisdom and knowledge about the Arts in Stafford has been of great value to the committee. John knows a lot of people in Stafford.

So I thank all four of them on your behalf for their many years of work on the Executive Committee of Stafford District Arts Council.

28th September 2011