The current pandemic and resulting lockdown have had a dramatic impact on the performing arts in Wales. Spotlight… seeks to highlight the companies, organisations and creatives working and producing throughout the pandemic and explore the ways Welsh creatives have sought to retain a platform and continue to project their voices and reach their audiences. This week, we found out about Frân Wen’s lockdown life.
Who are Frân Wen?
For almost forty years, Frân Wen has been producing exciting and innovative theatre for people of all ages. With a focus on the creativity of young people, Frân Wen engages with teenagers and young adults to create meaningful work which speaks to the reality of their experiences.
Currently based in Menai Bridge, but soon moving to a new home in Bangor, Frân Wen creates productions in Welsh and English and is a company for which bilingualism and the Welsh language are a natural inclusion. Frân Wen focus on accessibility and community collaboration which expands their reach and enriches their work.
What has been Frân Wen’s Lockdown Life?
When lockdown was first announced, the staff of Frân Wen began, like many others, to work from home. This provided a myriad of constraints on their creative productions, especially for their new work with Frân Wen’s Young Company which was only a week away from starting. Speaking of this period in which old ways of working and creating were abandoned for the safety of others, Artistic Director Gethin Evans described how, during a conversation with other staff members, they realised they were being faced with two options: to stop or to adapt. With a commitment to staff and all those involved with the company, Frân Wen chose to adapt.
Working with thirty young people, Frân Wen produced their first ever digital show which was viewed by over four thousand people. Named 120960 after the number of minutes up until the show went live since the first case of COVID-19 had been identified in Wuhan, the show explored how the lives of the young people involved had changed over the three months leading up to lockdown and the months which would proceed it. Now almost three months on from the live broadcast, 126960 is available on Frân Wen’s YouTube channel and what was originally an exploration of a unique and confusing time now acts almost as an archive. As lockdown gradually eases, a time in which people were placed under strict rules and almost entirely confined to their homes feels so much longer ago.
Throughout the summer, Frân Wen have been continuing their Llwybrau Llachar community project which sees artists such as Meilir Williams, Cai Tomos, Casi Wyn, and Gwyn Eiddior, with the support of Children in Need, work with young artists with additional needs to provide support and guidance to develop their abilities in their area of interest. The young artists also meet regularly to develop a group project and will present their work in the Autumn.
Feeling a sense of responsibility towards colleagues within the industry, especially artists and freelancers who were some of the worst financially impacted by the lockdown, Frân Wen committed to their work and gave thirty-one commissions to twenty-four artists throughout the lockdown period. Also committed to continuing their work with young people, Frân Wen produced over a hundred workshops for almost two thousand young people. Despite the many restrictions of lockdown, hosting digital workshops allowed for greater access for young people who might not otherwise have been able to attend in person.
What of the New Normal?
Despite not knowing when venues will be able to reopen, or even what kind of platform their work will be produced on, Frân Wen’s future plans are ambitious. Having recently released their 20/21 programme, the company are planning their most collaborative and experimental programme yet.
The next year will see an interactive staging of Faust. Produced with young people and professional actors, Faust is a retelling of the classic German folk story of a man who sells his soul to the Devil. The production will explore themes of power and greed and will invite the socially distanced audience to take control and determine the fate of the characters before them.
In the Autumn, Frân Wen will be introducing Sgratsh, a new series of events which will provide insights into upcoming productions still in their R&D stages. The series will include readings of upcoming works which will facilitate public discussions on the concepts and ideas Fran Wen are currently working on.
In an effort to further support young creatives, Frân Wen have developed Popeth y Ddaear to commission three young writers who will also be provided with a mentorship programme with Frân Wen’s creative team. Alongside this, the company will also be providing two residencies a year for artists aged 25 and under who will be supported with maintenance, space, and resources, as well as dedicated professionals.
As the world gently emerges from lockdown, the theatre industry still faces an uncertain future. Despite this, Frân Wen has committed, since the very beginning of lockdown, to supporting and guiding artists through the closure of venues and provided plans for ambitious ideas and concepts which will be eagerly anticipated by audiences and creatives alike.
For more information about Frân Wen, you can visit their website here.
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Georgia Winstone is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.