Bite-sized Q & A with…Maurice Crichton on his Love Bites piece at York Theatre Royal

Maurice Crichton, as Dorn, with Elizabeth Elsworth, as Polina, in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio in February-March 2020. Picture: John Saunders

THE Love Season will soon set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and May 18.

The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster. Each “bite” will take hold for five minutes.

In the first in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, York actor Maurice Crichton has five minutes to discuss his work, Where Are You Now, You And I?

How did you hear about Love Bites, Maurice?

“I reckon I saw it come up on Facebook and of course via charleshutchpress.”

What is your connection with York?

“I came south from the Glasgow area to university here in the early 1980s and have been here ever since. My three children grew up here. Then in 2009 I got involved in the York amateur theatre scene and theatrical pursuits are now a big part of my life.”

Helen Wilson: Directing Maurice Crichton in Where Are We Now, You And I?. Here she is pictured performing in York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets in the Holy Trinity Church open air in Goodramgate, York

What will feature in your Love Bite, Where Are We Now, You and I?, and why? 

“I can tell you it is a solo piece which I have written and that my partner Helen Wilson is going to bring to bear her considerable directing expertise to try to make sure I don’t make a complete fool of myself. 

“The brief was simple and clear for a very special occasion. A love letter to light up the YTR stage after such a long period of darkness. I had an immediate and personal response to the brief, which I hope will do justice to the opportunity. 

“I was in Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion in 2011 in the main house when it was reconfigured in the round. I did a slightly daunting read-through as Pilate for the 2012 Mystery Plays from the main stage to a big audience the following year. But nothing else in that space. So, for lots of reasons, even though it is only five minutes, for me personally it’s going to be a big five minutes.”

So, where are we now, you and I and the rest of us?

“I hope just about OK. I have been very lucky. With any unexpected trauma, it doesn’t really hit home until the danger is past. What has it cost us all? It’s too early to say.”

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre? 

“Being able to take for granted that it’s alive and well in our city and has a future.”

“What has it cost us all? It’s too early to say,” says Maurice Crichton of living through these pandemic times

What’s coming next for you?

“I’ve done some filming work on a piece called The Whispering House with Damian Cruden (director) and Bridget Foreman (writer), about the Census in Tang Hall and Heworth, in which I play a Swedish immigrant completing the 1911 census.

“His name is Enoch Stanhope, a real person. He lived at Yew Villa, Heworth Village, and had a jewellery shop on Coney Street. I hope the fruits of that work will be released soon.”

“I’m producing another Sonnets production – the sixth – this summer for York Shakespeare Project. Emilie Knight is going to direct and we hope to able to announce dates for this year in an exciting new outdoor venue very soon. 

“I’m also working on a little project for York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to take a guided walk along the route of the medieval Mystery Plays. (YMPST, along with York Festival Trust are staging A Resurrection For York on wagons in the Residence Garden, Dean’s Park, beside the Minster Library on July 3 and 4, directed by Philip Parr.)

What would be the best way to spend five minutes if you had a choice?

“Right now, it would be to ring my Mum’s doorbell in Fife and give her a hug or to make a surprise second visit to my new granddaughter (aged four weeks) in Bath and to bounce little Emma on my knee.”

Tickets for Love Bites cost Pay What You Feel at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

Jessa and Mick Liversidge team up with Helmsley Arts Centre for Fields & Lanes song and poetry livestream tomorrow

Field work: Actor Mick Liversidge and singer Jessa Liversidge take the country air

EASINGWOLD singer Jessa Liversidge and husband actor Mick Liversidge will present the Fields & Lanes Livestream show from Helmsley Arts Centre tomorrow night (13/3/2021).

“Mick and I have been working on a collaborative project with the arts centre all about engaging communities creatively,” says community singing leader and music tutor Jessa. “Now, we’ve recruited some more field singers and outdoor performers to join us virtually for our performance at 7.30pm.”

Since the first Coronavirus pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Jessa and Mick have taken to performing outside to lift spirits and cheer those stuck inside. While Jessa sings in fields, Mick recites poetry down country lanes, and together they have devised Fields & Lanes, a celebration of poetry and song as well a celebration of the great outdoors.

Mick and Jessa perform with no accompaniment, their sincere and heartfelt delivery letting the poems and songs speak for themselves.

Last Saturday, Jessa notched her 50th “field sing”: a Saturday morning routine for the past 50 weeks wherein she “gets up and performs a song outdoors”.

“Over 50 songs now as some weeks I have done two,” she says, and you can watch that performance as she lists all the songs at https://www.facebook.com/JessaLiversidgeSinger/videos/207646327454590/ or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/a8bzyhocd-U.

“I might delay the field sing a bit if it’s snowing or raining, or I’ll shelter under a tree, but I find doing these songs really beneficial for me; doing it every week, having that fixed in my diary, knowing I need to do it on a Saturday morning,” Jessa says.

Mick, a professional actor on stage and screen for six years, and Jessa also performed a socially distanced Fields & Lanes Under The Willow Tree at Easingwold Community Library on a September Sunday afternoon and for Joseph Rowntree Theatre volunteers when testing the York theatre’s Covid-safety regime last October.

Mick LIversidge recording one of his Fields & Lanes poems in lockdown

Buoyed by the response to their outdoor pursuits, Jessa and Mick teamed up with Helmsley Arts Centre (HAC) to offer the Ryedale and wider community the chance to join the Fields & Lanes family in remote workshops.

“You will have the chance to develop singing or recitation skills and work towards your own pre-recorded performance, which will be featured in the livestream Fields & Lanes show on March 13,” read the invitation to recruits on the HAC website.

Places were strictly limited, enabling Jessa and Mick to work with both small groups and individuals on February 27 and March 6. Participants also received support, feedback and guidance from Jessa or Mick in between sessions and they are entitled to a gratis ticket for tomorrow’s livestream.

“We’ve found that singing and performing poetry outside has been both therapeutic and uplifting during these challenging times,” says Jessa. “We’ve enjoyed everything that comes with performing in the open air: the bird song, the fields, the winds, and we wanted to help others take part and feel the benefits.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Helmsley Arts Centre, who have provided the funding for a project to demonstrate how music and poetry can connect the community through creativity, and we’re delighted with the wide range of performers who have joined us, from seasoned professional performers to hobby singers and poets.

“In the workshops and individual sessions over the two weekends, we’ve worked on field singing and outdoor recitation techniques and created some collaborative performances. As a result, members of these groups will be appearing with us in the livestream via pre-recorded video.”

Tomorrow’s livestream viewers can expect a wide-ranging show featuring poetry from William Wordsworth to Spike Milligan, Lord Byron to D H Lawrence, and songs from folk standards to pop favourites and gospel classics, The Beatles to Bill Withers, Cilla Black to Carole King.

Poetry collaborators in tomorrow’s livestream are Bill Laverick, Helen Wilson and Maurice Crichton, from York Shakespeare Project and York Settlement Community Players, and Ted Naisbitt, from Sowerby, near Thirsk, performing one of his own poems, My Lakes, inspired by Wordsworth.

Helen Wilson, performing at last summer’s Sitdown Sonnets, presented by York Shakespeare Project at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. Tomorrow she is taking part in the Fields & Lanes livestream

Mick worked with Bill, Helen, Maurice and Ted, each taking a verse from Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Sir John Betjeman’s Business Girls, reciting both on Zoom and in the open air.

New field singers taking part are Sinead Livingston, Mary Bourne, Madeleine Cordes, Gary Cordes, Cat Ellis, Caitlin Ellis, Sarah Boyle and Bill Laverick.

“They’re spread across the country from Essex to the North East,” says Jessa. “One of the positives of these times has been being able to work with people from all over the place!

“Sinead, Mary and Madeleine are all singing leaders, who I’ve been liaising with over the past year, all liking the idea of singing outside, and it’s been really great to have such high-quality people to work with.

“Mary runs choirs in Kingston and writes songs, and she’s been a friend for a couple of years. We’ve recorded a duet called My Call, where I recorded my part outside and as she’s ‘Choir Leader In A Kayak’, she’s done her part from a kayak.”

Introducing more of tomorrow’s remote singers, Jessa says: “Cat and Caitlin are a mother and daughter from Easingwold; Cat is in one of my choirs and I teach Caitlin. Sarah Boyle is a ‘hobby singer’ from York who’s joined one of my choirs, and Madeleine and Gary Cordes run a talent agency in Essex.

“In the first workshop, we did Stand By Me and The Water Is Wide, with me editing the virtual performances together and then last Saturday we worked on individual song choices.”

For tomorrow’s livestream, “bubble couple” Mick and Jessa will be performing live and alone in Helmsley Arts Centre, where the pre-recorded songs and poems will be projected on a screen.

“We’ve found that singing and performing poetry outside has been both therapeutic and uplifting during these challenging times,” says Jessa

The 7.30pm show marks a return to Helmsley Arts Centre for Jessa, after performing three of her one-woman shows there: ’Til The Boys Come Home, Some Enchanted Sondheim and Songbirds.

She has been a freelance singer and singing leader for the past 12 years, completing high-level training on performance, singing teaching and musical direction with Vocal Process and qualifying as a Vocal Health First Aider.

“From youth choirs and dementia-friendly groups to community choirs and private lessons, my sessions all have an encouraging atmosphere and a positive, inclusive ethos,” she says.

“I’m continuing to run my singing groups online – Singing For All and Community Singers Online, as well as the live YMHSing sessions for the York Music Hub – and I’m always looking for more singers of all abilities to join in.

“One new singer recently said, ‘you fill the screen with fun and enjoyment’ and I’d love to reach a few more of these people.” 

As testament to her teaching skills, Jessa has been nominated for two 2021 Music and Drama Education awards on March 24 for her inspiring work with singers of all ages in the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Quite an honour and a big surprise!” she says. “I’ve no expectations of winning but will glam up and tune into the ceremony on the 24th anyway!”

Jessa is shortlisted for the #goldstars Award, for any teacher who has shown particular flair, creativity or compassion during this past year, and the Francesca Honley Inspiration Award, which honours an individual who has had a hugely inspirational impact on students of any age in their music-making. 

Outdoor pursuits: Mick Liversidge and Jessa Liversidge head out for a song and a poem in the Yorkshire air

“The person who nominated me mentioned the wide range of ways I have adapted and created different ways of inspiring people of all ages through singing, including the live sings and Zoom choirs for York Music Hub, song and music videos, live singing for all and field sings,” says Jessa, as she looks forward to listening to the 6pm online ceremony at https://www.musicdramaedawards.com/.

Looking ahead, Jessa says: “I’m definitely going to continue with the choirs online. I even have participants from Milton Keynes, Rochdale, Bedfordshire, and I’ve been able to engage in various ways, along with continuing my ‘real’ groups.

“I feel loyal to them all, so when lockdown eases under the Government ‘roadmap’, I’ll do hybrid ‘Room and Zoom’ sessions. I did one in October, which I enjoyed, though it is quite exhausting trying to do two things at once!”

Reflecting on 12 months under the pandemic cloud, Jessa says: “I’m really happy with the way I’ve managed to grow and create this past year despite everything, or actually out of necessity due to everything.

“I’ve developed a lot of skills, like a lot of people like me have. I’ve really enjoyed it, picking up technical skills, such as learning how to synch up people singing separately for streaming. It’s quite time consuming but I think it’s worth it, recording people standing alone in a field but then seeing themselves in a group online.”

Jessa is proof positive that singing is good for the soul, for physical health, for mental wellbeing. “Singing just lifts you and takes you somewhere else,” she says in her break from her online “three hat day” for this interview.

“Singing keeps me going. Today [8/3/2021] I’m running a Singing For All session; teaching a couple of pupils and doing a York Music Hub session at four o’clock, so I’ll be buoyant all day!”

Tickets for tomorrow’s 7.30pm livestream cost £8 per household. To book, go to: https://www.helmsleyarts.co.uk/whats-on/fields-and-lanes-livestream-from-hac.

All the Fields & Lanes poems and songs performed by Mick and Jessa outdoors can be found at the Fields & Lanes Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/fieldsandlanes/.

Wanted: Director for York Shakespeare Project’s open-air sonnets production

Talking tartan: Helen Wilson performing at York Shakespeare Project’s socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets in the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, last September

YORK Shakespeare Project is issuing a call-out for a director for this year’s outdoor sonnet performances.

“We would like to hear from people interested in directing Sonnet Walks/Sit-down Sonnets 2021, our annual open-air production incorporating selections from Shakespeare’s sonnets in a devised framework,” says YSP’s Tony Froud. 

Masked up: The poster for last September’s graveyard smash, Sit-down Sonnets

“Last September, our Sit-down Sonnets, staged by director Mick Taylor at a socially distanced Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, were welcomed by performers and audiences alike. Now, in these continuing uncertain times, we would like to mount a new production of the sonnets.”

When and where that can happen remains to be seen, says Tony. “No dates have been set but we expect this to be later in the summer, and we want to appoint someone with a strong idea for this year’s production so that we can begin work on making it happen.”

The director’s role is not a professional appointment. If you are interested, please contact Tony Froud at yorkshakespeareproject@gmail.com to receive more details.

Picture this: Mick Liversidge performing at York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets in 2020