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Oxford’s Alchymy Festival: Interview with Ellie Keel

Oxford’s Alchymy Festival: Interview with Ellie Keel

1 April 2017 | Belphoebe New

This April, the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford will be presenting their first festival dedicated to new writing, as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations. Honing the talents of emerging writers, actors, directors and producers, this festival will showcase works at all stages of production, from the first read through to the finished product. Whether it’s the exploration of living between cultures in ‘Phroot Sahlad’ or the difficulties of growing up in foster care in ‘Roost’, Alcyhmy will be filled with diverse and exciting new works that represent the best of Oxford’s writing talent. We spoke to producer Ellie Keel about what we can expect from the festival.

Culture Calling: How would you sum up the purpose of the Alchymy Festival?
 
Ellie Keel: It’s a project for emerging writers and directors that we’ve produced in the past. For the North Wall’s ten-year anniversary, we thought it would be a perfect culmination of some of these projects to put on a festival that would celebrate their work, and would hone it. We’ve also brought in some people from outside Oxford as well, and gradually what the festival has become is very industry focused. We have some leading theatre makers of all kinds coming in to give workshops, and to speak individually to writers and directors to give advice, and basically to take in the work.
 
CC: How did you come up with the name Alchymy for the festival?
 
EK: We’ve spelt it a bit strangely, but we wanted to have this chemistry theme and the concept of ideas fermenting, potions and that magical element of bringing about new work - that magical ingredient that you need to write a new play!

Phroot Sahlad
Phroot Sahlad
 
CC: Who would you say the festival is aimed at, budding writers or theatergoers who want something a bit different?
 
EK: The festival is designed to bring about conversation, so it’s for everybody. The work is best when the dialogue around it is very open and very free, when there’s collaboration between all different types of theatre-makers, and when the audience have a chance of shaping the work, whether through feedback or in a more formal way.
 
CC: Was it important for you to showcase a diverse selection of writing?
 
EK: By and large the work is quite different. I suppose that, as you might expect, a lot of the work focuses on young people and their concerns, because our writers are writing what they know. Other than that it’s amazingly diverse. The sheer imagination of some of these scripts is extraordinary and there are stories about mothers and daughters, kids in foster care and the way that the police works. Some of it is quite socially minded whilst some of it is quite introspective.
 
CC: Are there any particular events/performances you’re particularly looking forward to?
 
EK: I’m very much looking forward to the panel discussions, because I’m really keen to hear the discussions that come out of those. I can’t pick one production over another because I think they’re all going to be amazing. I’m just looking forward to seeing how they fit alongside each other really.

Ella Hickson
Ella Hickson delivers a conversation workshop on scriptwriting at Alchymy.
 
CC: Alongside showcasing finished pieces the festival also features work at all stages of development – what was the reasoning behind this?
 
EK: I think we wanted the festival to be useful for the people taking part, so we didn’t want to be too prescriptive and say ‘you have to give us the finished product.’ Many of the writers wanted to try out new work or give an airing to something that had evolved a bit. We wanted to celebrate work in its full range of forms, and I’ve been to rehearsal readings that have been as enlightening as full productions.
 
CC: It feels like explorations of theatre and new writing are often focused in London or Edinburgh. Is it exciting to be staging a writing festival in Oxford?
 
EK: That is, for me, the most exciting part of this. The North Wall is a fantastic set of spaces, with a huge 200-seat theatre and a dance studio. This brings people to Oxford, and they’re all in the building exchanging ideas, so it’s a really nice, buzzing creative atmosphere here.
 
The Alchymy Festival runs 7-9 April at the North Wall, Oxford. Find out more and buy passes here.

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