Wicked Young Writers Meet Emerald City Stars at the Library of Birmingham

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To coincide with the Wicked UK run at the theatre this summer, the Birmingham Hippodrome in association with The Library of Birmingham offered an exciting opportunity for young writers across the city to show off their storytelling talents and cast a spell over competition judges, with extra special prizes awarded to the most magical tale-tellers.

Throughout June and July, budding writers aged up to 18 submitted their stories, and today, the winners of the Wicked Young Writers competition – Lauren Bull and William Bezzant – arrived at The Library of Birmingham to claim the first part of their prize – an exclusive meeting with cast members from the Wicked UK tour! Huge congrats to both Lauren and William, who will also be treated to a night out at the theatre this evening with complimentary tickets to see the show!

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While there, the cast members also chanced to meet one of the library’s avian protectors – a hawk who helps keep pesky seagulls and pigeons away from the towering building.

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A Wicked Opportunity for Young Writers!

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Have you got a great story to tell? Fancy spending a day with members of the cast from Wicked? In association with The Library of Birmingham and the smash hit, West End musical itself, the Birmingham Hippodrome is currently looking for the best of the Birmingham’s young writing talent to send them stories full of magic, mischief and mystery for the chance to win a truly unique prize!

Young writers aged 18 and under are being invited to send in an original tale with a theme or topic of their choice that is as clear and captivating as possible. Entries will be split into two age groups, with those aged 7-11 asked to write 250-500 words, while older children aged 12-18 can submit up to 1000 words. One lucky winner from each group will be invited to take part in “a sparklingly emerald day” that will include the chance to meet the cast at The Library of Birmingham, before taking their seats at the Birmingham Hippodrome to enjoy the show!

Said Sara Rowell, Partnerships & Marketing Senior Manager from The Library of Birmingham:

IMG_8971‘We’re delighted to partner with Birmingham Hippodrome for the Wicked Young Writers Award, which aims to encourage young creative writing talent in the city and region. Children and young people have the very best imaginations and we hope this competition – and the Wicked prize – will inspire them to let their natural story-telling abilities flow and get writing this summer.’

In order to enter the competition, visit the website for the Birmingham Hippodrome or the The Library of Birmingham and download and fill out an entry form. Completed forms should be returned to wickedwriter@birminghamhippodrome.com, posted into one of The Library of Birmingham’s entry boxes, or sent to the theatre at Wicked Young Writers Competition, Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst street, Southside, B5 4TB. Entries close at midnight on Wednesday 9 July. Winners must be available on Wednesday 30th July.

Birmingham Literature Festival: 8-12 October 2013

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carol-ann-duffy-portrait-300x199Celebrations in honour of the new Library of Birmingham will continue over the next few days with the return of the similarly re-designed Birmingham Literature Festival (formerly Birmingham Book Festival). To coincide with National Poetry Day, the festival kicks off tomorrow with the announcement of the city’s new poet laureate, alongside readings from previous bearers of the title. Following this, acclaimed poets Carol Ann Duffy and Imtiaz Dharker will be performing their work in the library’s studio.Imtiaz

The festival lasts until 12th October, featuring a whole host of exciting guests including Germaine Greer, Benjamin Zephaniah, Will Self, Shami Chakrabarti, Lionel Shriver, Jonathan Coe and Stuart Maconie, as well an interesting mix of local writers and their work. There will also be a series of writing workshops, covering a whole host of subjects from children’s Germaine-Greer-252x300animation, to poetry in translation, and from sci-fi and horror genre writing to maximising your productivity as a writer. On Sunday 6th October, BBC Radio 4 will be attending, bringing Poetry Please and With Great Pleasure to live Birmingham audiences, with appearances from poets Roger McGough and Paul Farley.

Benjamin-Zephaniah1-for-website-300x225On Wednesday 9th, a group of writers shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize will be reading from their work and answering audience questions in the studio theatre, and on Friday 11th, you can catch a rehearsed reading of Alan Bennett‘s lost television play, Denmark Hill, a black comedy set in South East London. The performance is organised by the Birmingham REP, and will finish with a Q&A session with director Tristram Powell.

Roger-McGough-Poetry-PleaseIf you’re strapped for cash, there are plenty of free events taking place throughout the festival, including the aforementioned Radio 4 recordings. On Sunday 6th, you can join West Midlands storytellers for Tell Me On a Sunday at the Ikon Gallery, and on Tueday 8th, Wednesday 9th and Saturday 12th, you can attend launch events for brand new anthologies of poetry, fiction and art.

will-self-credit-polly-boland-237x300It’s great to see the West Midlands continuing to celebrate arts and culture on both national and local levels. Let’s hope the festival gets as good a turn-out as the Four Squares Weekender!

NB: Look out for me in a bright pink t-shirt if you’re around on Tuesday 8th, Thursday 10th or Friday 11th!

4 Squares Weekender – Free Theatre to Launch the New Library of Birmingham

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If you’ve been following the news this week, you may well have spotted that the new Library of Birmingham was opened on Tuesday by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived being shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education.

Speaking on the day, Malala described books as weapons for beating terrorism, claiming that “the only way to global peace is reading, knowledge and education”. With characteristic eloquence, she went on to explain that,

“Books are precious. Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe. […] It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard.”

Malala also spoke about the importance of Birmingham as a city, describing it as “the beating heart of England“.

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Following on from this official launch, a weekend of free live performance across Birmingham City Centre will celebrate the library’s opening, beginning at 9.30pm tomorrow with As the World Tipped, a spectacular, aerial outdoor show by Wired Aerial Theatre, set on a huge 12 metre screen against the night sky. Watch this space for updates: I’ll be attending and reporting back on both the show and the media launch beforehand. If you can’t make it tomorrow, the performance will be repeated at 9pm on Saturday.

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Across Saturday and Sunday, you’ll be able to see a diverse range of shows taking place across Birmingham’s Oozells, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria Squares, with something for all ages to enjoy. In the words of Peter Knott, Regional Director of Arts Council England, 4 Squares Weekender is, “a spectacular weekend to celebrate arts and culture”, offering “something to suit all tastes”.

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In Oozells Square and Brindleyplace, there’ll be a series of performances and activities organised by mac Birmingham. Inside Ikon’s galleries, there will be music by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as well as dance from Sampad and contemporary circus by Pif-Paf. Outside, you can take part in family-friendly activities, helping to build a giant city out of clay.

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A musical picnic will take place in Centenary Square, courtesy of Town Hall Symphony Hall, and featuring performances from Birmingham-based saxophonist Soweto Kinch. Meanwhile, inside four converted caravans, the Birmingham REP will be providing impromptu acting and storytelling, and inside the new library itself, there’ll be music from Ex Cathedra and the Birmingham Opera Company.

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TippaIrie2013In Victoria Square, NoFit State Circus will be providing performance and circus skills taster workshops. If you missed them at Summer in Southside, this is a great chance to catch up with their incredible acrobatics, as well as to take part and learn some skills yourself!

Finally, in Chamberlain Square, The Drum’s Simmer Down stage will be hosting a range of reggae, ska, bhangra, sufi and hip-hop music, including performances from Tippa Irie and Musical Youth. Inside the Town Hall, you’ll be able to see dance performances from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, including opportunities to take part, while the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery will be presenting a full day of film courtesy of Flatpack Festival.

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Said Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome, “”Birmingham’s arts organisations offer some of the most vibrant and exciting programmes in the country. We are delighted to come together to welcome the new Library of Birmingham at this incredibly exciting time for our city.”

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If you’re attending, don’t forget to tell us about your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #bham4sq. As with the Summer in Southside festival, I’ll be hanging around over both days, so check back here if you’re curious about anything you don’t manage to attend.

Hope to see you there!

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Summer in Southside – 24-25 August

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14Almost as soon as I headed out of New Street station towards the Hippodrome and the Southside area, I could feel rhythm pulsing through the streets. As I approached, music filled the air, laden with enough sunshine of its own to chase away the faintly autumnal chills that crept into this Saturday.

This was the second part of Summer in Southside, a double weekend of free live performance around the Birmingham Hippodrome, and the source of the sound was the African music accompanying the acrobatic displays of the Black Eagles dance group.

Immediately afterwards, the crowd shuffled into Inge Street, where a fairytale forest of leaves, poles and cling film was waiting to provide the backdrop for The Red Shoes, a magical fairy-tale performance by Upswing . Beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly entertaining, this show perfectly captured the spirit of traditional tale-telling, carefully blending humour with the threat of hidden dangers. I’ve never enjoyed a dance performance so much: I loved that the movement and skill were clearly used to serve the story and setting, rather than the other way around.

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Next up were some spectacular circus skills by NoFit State Circus, including trampolining, dancing on roller skates and a record attempt at the largest number of people hula hooping on the streets of Birmingham. The display culminated in spectacular, rope-based acrobatics from a performer who seemed almost to swim through the air as if it were water, and was accompanied throughout by a brilliant live band who promised to make a song out of whatever their audience requested.

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A sign spinning showcase followed featuring Hollywood-based performers Max Durovic and Justin Brown, star of the Daft Signz video (below). Sign spinning is a strange mix of advertising and dance, with large signs incorporated into urban dance moves. Like the NoFit State’s Open House, this performance was particularly good at involving its audience, with the performers encouraging enthusiastic children to get involved.

A little tired and thirsty by this point, I headed for the sweet shop on the corner to grab myself a drink, but before I could reach the counter, a street band dressed in Sergeant Pepper-style outfits appeared outside the door. As they struck up the opening notes of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, and began to make their way down Hurst Street, I realised I’d have to put down the Dandelion & Burdock and come back for it later. The band was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a New Orleans-style six-piece playing 90s pop classics. Walking with the band, a group of people travelled towards Arcadian, serenaded with a bizarre version of Black Box’s “Ride on Time”. After this, we were treated to unique renditions of songs by Orbital, Happy Mondays, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the finale. Without a doubt, listening to them was my favourite part of the weekend. Click here to hear some of their music on Soundcloud.

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Just a couple of shows were left to see: Graeae Theatre’s Iron Man and Captive by Motionhouse. The former was a fun, family friendly show that saw Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant brought to life to fight against the terrible Space Bat. The puppetry was incredible, and the show also taught its audience some sign language, offering positive representation through performers with a range of disabilities.

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The final show was an acrobatic dance piece in which four characters become trapped together in a cage. It explored the relationships between its characters and how these were affected by being forced together in a confined space, finally ending with the possibility of escape and freedom.

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Summer in Southside was a fantastic opportunity to experience a range of different kinds of performance. It was great to see so many people not only watching but interacting with shows, especially children and families.

If you missed Summer in Southside, or if you were there and enjoyed the weekend, you can catch more free outdoor theatre in a couple of weeks’ time at Birmingham’s Four Squares Weekender event. The Four Squares Weekender will take place across a range of Birmingham venues from Friday 6th to  Sunday 8th September to celebrate the opening of the Library of Birmingham. It will feature performances by the CBSO, NoFit State Circus and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, along with a range of street theatre, dance, live music, exhibitions and plenty of opportunities to get involved. Click here for more information.