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Tall Ships inspire Sunderland students onto stage

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Published on 20 June 2018

Alex Armstrong, Mahri Smith, Catherine Black, Fiona Walker and David Frith
Alex Armstrong, Mahri Smith, Catherine Black, Fiona Walker and David Frith

Five Performing Arts students have created a new play for the stage which focuses on stories which have helped to shape Wearside’s rich cultural, social and industrial heritage, as part of this year’s Tall Ships celebrations.

The city has been handpicked as the start port for the 2018 Tall Ships Races, with the University’s St Peter’s Campus expected to be a key viewing point for many visitors, it’s also the location of the students’ exciting new 30-minute production.

Taking place over three days (July 11,12, 13,) the play Mackems Through Time is a celebration of the city, inspired by voices across the area throughout history, from the folklore surrounding the Lambton Worm, the heydays of shipbuilding on the Wear to working on the production line at Nissan.

The students, who graduate this summer, have spent several months researching content for the performance outside of their own academic studies, which will be used to enhance their own CVs.

Adelle Hulsmeier, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Performing Arts, explained: “As part of our drama club, and aligning ourselves to the Tall Ships, the students came up with the idea that they would be inspired by voices from around the area throughout history, looking at lots of different stories in terms of what is the best about the city, and where the regeneration is coming from, what has put us on the map.

“It’s not chronological, however, as the play focuses on the discovery of a book of Sunderland, and we have a narrator at each point while the students physically project and react to what the story is around them. We are trying to appeal to a diverse audience of children as well as adults. Some of the stories, have significance for the older generation, whereas others are just entertaining within themselves.”

She added: “The students have all done this on a voluntary basis and put so much effort into their rehearsals, we hope the audience will enjoy it as part of the Tall Ships celebrations.”

Each performance will last 30 minutes, at 2pm in the afternoon on July 11, 12 and 13.

Four of the students are in the final year of their degree, while the fifth is a part-time Year 2 student.

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director Sunderland Culture, said: “It is fantastic that students from the University of Sunderland will be performing as part of Tall Ships. The Tall Ships is a brilliant platform to showcase the huge amount of creative talent in the city. Mackems Through Time will tell Sunderland's story to visitors from across the North East and beyond.”

 About the performers

David Frith, 22, from Washington, hopes to find work within the theatre once he graduates. “I've loved the Tall Ships since I was a child,” he said. “Visiting it with my family it always seemed like an amazing experience and I'm glad to be able to be a part of that experience with this performance,”

Alex Armstrong, 23, from Sunderland plans to complete a Masters degree in Applied Theatre and work within the community on social issues by facilitating in drama workshops. She said: “I am really honoured to be part of the Tall Ships with growing up in Sunderland. The research has helped me learn more about the place I was born and made me proud of the heritage and history of Sunderland.”

Fiona Walker has worked in music for a number of years and is currently a part-time Year 2 student, expanding her knowledge of the other performing arts disciplines. She hopes this will lead to her having a greater diversification in the industry after graduation. She said: “The Tall Ships project has allowed me to delve into the archives of Sunderland's rich history and reflect its important heritage with a dramatic flare.”

Mahri Smith, 23, from Fife, Scotland, is hoping to continue her studies with a Postgraduate degree in teaching, in order to bring her love of drama to future generations and inspire them to continue making high quality theatre, something the North East is well known for. She said: “I have loved working on Tall Ships as it has given me the opportunity to learn more about Sunderland and create a piece which reflects the rich history of the city.”

Catherine Black, 21, from Northern Ireland, says: “I have found working on this project both rewarding and interesting.” Catherine has now finished her degree in Drama and is furthering her education next year with a Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) in English and Drama. Her future ambitions include being her own boss and continuing work with the Fireborn Theatre Company and teaching all aspects of performing arts.