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Augmented Reality immersive experience ‘StoryTrails’ to reveal hidden Swansea history

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Two local creative talents, Owen Richards and Jay Bedwani, have been recruited to work on StoryTrails – a unique immersive storytelling experience coming to Swansea.

It’s part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, a ground-breaking nationwide celebration of creativity in 2022.

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StoryTrails allows local people to experience their town in a completely new way through the magic of augmented and virtual reality. People will be able to use this new technology to travel back in time, experiencing untold local histories from Swansea.

These stories will be brought to life in the places where they happened, reanimating public spaces and creating a free, entertaining and playful family-friendly experience.

StoryTrails will visit just 15 locations across the UK, including Swansea on 10-11 August. Led by the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling: StoryFutures Academy, the StoryTrails project has recruited the best and brightest creative talent from the local area to showcase the stories of this community as part of the UK’s largest ever immersive storytelling project.

Owen Richards

Owen Richards will be making an interactive immersive map of Swansea, having spent much of his youth staying with friends in the city and performing in its many venues with his band. Owen has spent ten years as a digital storyteller in the social care sector, and he has been chosen for Channel 4’s Screenwriting scheme, as well has having his short film OVERS broadcast on BBC 2 Wales.

He explained his love of the city by saying “Swansea is a port city, and like the tides, it never stays still. It’s a city of constant motion, growing and changing, drawing people in from across the world. With a rich history and a deep sense of community, Swansea has so much to share.”

He feels StoryTrails can help democratise storytelling, explaining that “Using immersive technology means that people can interact with and contribute to the project, giving them ownership of it.”

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Jay Bedwani

Joining Owen will be Jay Bedwani, whose family gives him a strong sense of connection to Swansea. Jay has been recruited to make an augmented reality story trail around the city.

He is a filmmaker who completed his first feature documentary, Donna, last year, and currently teaches documentary film at Media Academy Cymru.

He said “I love Swansea’s cultural history – the poetry, music and writing that is still infused in the city today.”

He is particularly excited about the chance to use augmented reality to bring the past to life, stating “Utilising new technology to highlight the vibrant and surprising history of Swansea is a dream come true!”

Owen and Jay are part of a team of 50 emerging creative media practitioners who will participate in the StoryTrails project, telling the stories of 15 communities through state-of-the-art immersive technologies in new and surprising ways.

These include 17 practitioners creating augmented reality (AR) story trails across city centres and 15 building immersive installations which will map the emotional geography of a location. In addition, nine creatives will develop the virtual reality (VR) experiences and nine will take on a professional placement in one of the StoryTrails partner organisations.

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The practitioners will be working with unprecedented access to archive material from the BFI, national and regional film archives across the UK as well as the BBC, with the goal of reimagining the UK’s screen heritage for the future. Full training in immersive technologies, such as augmented reality and 3Dscanning, has been provided. They will be supported throughout their journey by experienced producers.

On 10-11 August, audiences will be guided through an immersive tour of Swansea as they explore stories across virtual and augmented reality and via a series of installations created by Owen and Jay.

Outside Swansea’s Central Library, participants will enter the virtual story portal to begin the StoryTrails experience, guided by a free mobile AR app and local performers.

Using stunning AR experiences that remix the BFI and BBC archive, local people will experience history where it actually happened, revitalising the streets upon which they stand with new voices and untold stories of the past.

Inside the library, participants will be immersed in a virtual map of their town that will be made up of 3D models and audio stories captured on location. They will also have the opportunity to explore further stories via bespoke virtual reality experiences.

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Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and StoryTrails, said: StoryTrails is a massively ambitious project as we travel across the UK to discover unknown, surprising and intriguing stories from local communities.

“We’re excited to work with local creative talent like Jay and Owen to uncover and bring these hidden histories to life, creating a new sense of belonging and immersing audiences in an amazing new way to see themselves, their communities, their towns and country.”

StoryTrails is led by StoryFutures Academy, the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling.

The centre is at the forefront of training and up-skilling creative media professionals in the use of the next generation of storytelling tools. It is run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

StoryFutures Academy say they want to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of these game-changing technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the full diversity of UK talent.

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TV presenter and historian Professor David Olusoga, Executive Producer for StoryTrails, said: “I am thrilled to be working with StoryFutures to help bring about change in the diversity of our creative industries.

“By enabling 50 diverse creative voices to create compelling stories that combine past, present and future through the magic of immersive technologies, we’ll be mapping a new path for creativity in this country.

StoryTrails will set the public’s imagination alight with experiences that use the poetry of history to inspire a new vision of our future.”

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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.

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Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”

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So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend

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From Swansea Bliz survivor to fairground strongman – an author discovers his grandfather’s fascinating story as The Welsh Hercules.

In the early half of the 20th Century, Jack Lemm was a household name in Wales. As the Strongman star of fairgrounds and Music Hall, he was famed for his feats of strength, wrestling and his dangerous headlining act, The Whirl of Death.

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Times and entertainment trends change, however, and now the once-famous showman is almost forgotten.

For one man, however, the story of the strongman had special meaning. Glaswegian Steven Blockley had always thought that his Great Grandfather deserved to be better known.

“I never actually met Jack,” he says. “I grew up listening to my uncles and aunts telling fascinating stories about all his incredible achievements around the Swansea area and I always knew I wanted to write a book to bring them to a wider audience. As I dug further into his past, however, even I was surprised by what I found.”

Looking into the background of Jack, Steven and co-author David J Thacker uncovered a rich life story and the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

Steven continues, “Jack lived through some harsh years – he was on HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland in World War 1 and was a survivor of the Swansea Blitz in the Second World War – but his focus was always to put family first and to provide for everyone at home, even if doing so took him away from them.”

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David takes up the story. “Jack came from a Greek family and his given surname was actually Lamnea, but his exploits on stage and at fairs all over the UK, including at Neath, were not always popular, especially with his authoritarian father.

“A lot of the tension in our book comes from that relationship, of a son trying to live up to the ideals of his father.”

The resulting book, The Welsh Hercules, took over a year to research and write but in doing it Steven found a kind of resolution.

“While we were writing the book, I turned 60. At that age, Jack was still doing 40 shows a day at the fairgrounds and even after he retired, he was helping roadworkers outside his house to fix the roads!

“Age really was just a number for him and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

The Welsh Hercules tells the story of Jack, from his humble beginnings on Swansea Docks through to becoming a renowned boxing coach and fairground star. It takes him through two World Wars, as a survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the Swansea Blitz, and introduces a whole new world of showmen, acrobats and colourful characters.

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But at its heart, Jack’s story is one of family – of the challenges met, the hearts won and the enduring romance of a Showman and his wife.

The Welsh Hercules is available in paperback on Amazon priced at £11.99

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Swansea

New Welsh musical ‘Milky Peaks’ heads to Swansea next week

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North Wales’ Theatr Clwyd are touring the world premiere production of Seiriol Davies’ brand new Welsh musical Milky Peaks, which heads to Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre on 21st May 2022.

Set in a fictional village in Snowdonia that is nominated for the ‘Britain’s Best Town’ award, this hilarious comedy follows three lost souls and a shabby drag queen as they try to save their community’s heart all while the dark side of the award threatens to blow the community apart.

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The show welcomes back many original cast members including: Seiriol Davies (How To Win Against History (UK Tour) and Mission Control (National Theatre Wales)), Dylan Townley (How To Win Against History (UK Tour), Austentatious (Piccadilly Theatre)), Matthew Blake (How To Win Against History (UK Tour), The Third Day: Autumn (HBO/Sky Studios in partnership with Punchdrunk)), Sophie Winter (Jude Starbeam and the Shadow Planet (The Albany), Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka (UK Tour)), and Lisa Jên Brown (Praxis Makes Perfect (National Theatre Wales), Sleeping Beauties (Sherman Theatre)).

New to the company for 2022 is Tanya Bridgeman (Shoes To Fill (Fair Play & Iris Theatre)) and Miriam O’Brien who performed in Curtain Up! at Theatr Clwyd. 

Milky Peaks is a production by Theatr Clwyd, Áine Flanagan Productions and Seiriol Davies. The show reunites collaborators Matthew Blake, Alex Swift and Dylan Townley who alongside Seiriol Davies and Áine Flanagan Productions co-created the acclaimed, award-winning musical How to Win Against History. Milky Peaks has been recognised by The Stage as one of the best musicals to watch in 2022. 

For some, the title Milky Peaks may sound familiar. Back in 2020 the show was in its final rehearsals when the pandemic hit, and the venue was forced to close. It’s a day that Tamara Harvey, Theatr Clwyd’s Artistic Director, remembers well: 

“I walked into the Theatre with a sinking heart. Our Milky Peaks company were just finishing their sound check – we had to tell them that the Prime Minister had advised everyone in the UK not to go to theatres and so we were sending our team home.

“They asked to perform the first and last numbers from the show. I sat in the darkened auditorium, laughing and weeping in equal measure at this brilliant show that was suddenly in limbo.

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“It means more than we can say to be bringing it back to life now – the wildly funny and bitingly satirical world that Seiriol Davies and the company created all those months ago feels more vital than ever to share with our audiences here and across Wales.”

When asked about returning to the project, writer and performer Seiriol said: “It is surreal and brilliant to be coming back to Theatr Clwyd and to finally be opening Milky Peaks.

“It feels gorgeous and right to be telling this dark, sparkly, stupid-ferocious fable about our crazy world, which has not in any way de-crazied in the last two years.

“The creative team is on fire (not literally), the cast is also on fire (literally: it’s a rehearsal technique): EVERYTHING is in place. Come on, Milky Peaks!”

This brand new musical has been supported by Theatr Clwyd, the National Theatre New Work Department, Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru, Battersea Arts Centre and Ovalhouse.

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(All images: Ffotonata)

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