A theatre can be many things to different people. First and foremost it’s a place we go to be entertained, but it’s also where we can learn and share knowledge. It can not only bring the community together, but can be a place where the community learn about different cultures and the places we come from.
Our theatres, and the arts generally, have suffered through the pandemic and now, as we make our way back into these grand buildings, it’s a good opportunity to look at how we use these incredible spaces, and what more they can do for our local area. And that’s exactly what’s happening in Swansea.
GRAND AMBITION is a new and exciting creative collective based at The Grand Theatre focusing on a fresh perspective to capture the arts through the Swansea lens. It’s a collaboration with Swansea City Council and Swansea based professional artists – RICHARD MYLAN, STEVE BALSAMO, MICHELLE MCTERNAN and CHRISTIAN PATTERSON.
But why did they want to create this company now, on the back of a difficult two years for the industry?
The team told us……..
‘We asked ourselves the question: Why isn’t the premier theatre in our city a world class producing house? Swansea has such a wealth of talent, an incredibly rich cultural heritage, so why then do so many artists and creatives go elsewhere for work? The last two years have been difficult for everyone especially within our industry.
The pandemic has hit venues and fellow freelancers very hard, so now more than ever there is a greater need to encourage, support and connect the arts to our home city. Swansea is changing and its cultural landscape is changing with it. We want to be a part of that change. It’s a very exciting time…time to regenerate and reimagine.‘
Everything that Grand Ambition produces will be through the Swansea lens. We will focus on its cultural and diverse communities and champion the unheard voices of its people as well as nurture and support established and emerging artists. We want to work with local freelancers and organisations that are passionate about celebrating our city’s history as well as carving out an exciting and ambitious future.
It seems they also have incredible support for the project both in, and away from the city.
Rachel O’Riordan is at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, she said…….
“I am delighted to be able to contribute to this endeavour, and look forward to bringing exciting work to life on these amazing stages . Wales is very close to my heart and I look forward so much to being part of the Grand Ambition we have for Swansea.”
Gary Owen a writer who’s most recent plays include a radical reworking of The Cherry Orchard for the Sherman Theatre…..
“Grand Ambition want to break the mould of Welsh theatre – creating brilliant shows that connect with a wider audience.The appetite for theatre in Wales is vast, as packed houses at the cavernous WMC show. But so far Welsh theatre companies have failed to connect with our audiences. Grand Ambition are out to change that, and I’ll be helping in any way I can”.
Tracey McNulty is Head of Cultural Services at Swansea City Council……
“Grand Ambition will contribute to our cultural strategy for the City and region, helping us and all our partners, engage with new audiences and help deliver a vibrant cultural offer now and for our future generations. We’re so pleased to have been able to work together to create this partnership. It’s an exciting time to get involved in the arts in Swansea and we hope many will take the opportunities to participate in the work, as they develop”.
Peter Doran from the Torch Theatre said simply…..
“It’s exactly what the city needs!”
What about the team behind the project?
Richard Mylan is a Swansea born Theatre, Film & Television actor, whose work ranges from drama to comedy in television shows such as Waterloo Road & Coupling (BBC), to leading roles in Theatre productions in the West End & Olivier winning plays.
None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the crucial support from Swansea Council, which enabled Richard to train at the Urdang Academy in London. Richard told us……
“At the time, I was 12 years old, living in Blaen-Yr-Maes, zero income, single parent family with two siblings. There’s no way I’d have been able to afford the train fare, let alone go to London & train full time… Swansea Council literally made my dreams a reality”.
Michelle McTernan is a Professional Actress who has worked extensively in Theatre, TV, Film and Radio. Most recognised for Stella (Sky 1) The Crown (Netflix), The Revlon Girl (Olivier Award Nominated). She is also a Drama/Arts Practitioner, Writer, Tutor and Community Artist.
In 2009 she launched her own business Jamba Drama which provides fun, dynamic drama classes/workshops for young people. Jamba Drama is about developing key skills for young children, building confidence in a fun and safe environment.
Michelle told us…….
“I’m so excited to be part of Grand Ambition. Together we can build new beginnings, spark new energy and create a space for the arts that feels like home”
Steve Balsamo was born in Swansea and raised a stone’s throw away from The Grand Theatre in the Sandfields, passing it every day on his way to school.
Learning the ropes in local rock bands, Steve shot to fame in the mid 1990’s as Jesus in the West End revival of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, where he won The Variety Club’s ‘Best Newcomer Award’.
Steve is currently performing with ‘Balsamo Collins Riley’ and their debut EP is coming soon, he told us……
“I’m very excited to be part of Grand Ambition. I am passionate about passing on my knowledge of the industry and can’t wait to develop, mentor, facilitate and inspire the next generation of musicians, songwriters, composers and performers within my home town of Swansea. If we don’t act now, we will lose them”.
Christian Patterson was also born in Swansea, trained as an Actor at the Welsh College of Music and Drama and graduated with a 1st Class Honours Degree. As well as being a TV and Xilm actor, he has worked with many of the major theatre companies in the UK including the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre, Theatr Clwyd, The Donmar Warehouse and The National Theatre of Wales to name but a few.
He was appointed Associate Artist of Theatr Clwyd by Terry Hands in 2003 and still remains an Associate Artist under Tamara Harvey.
As well as working as an actor, Christian is an award winning writer……..
“I am incredibly proud to be an integral part of Grand Ambition’s Creative Collective and I look forward to producing, creating and curating world class theatre by the people of Swansea, about the people of Swansea, for the people of Swansea”.
A few years ago I was working with the team on the World Premier of Mary Poppins, and got to spend time with some pretty big hitters in the industry, Disney and the amazing Sir Cameron Mackintosh. He told a story about how he was taken to the Bristol Hippodrome when he was 8 years old, and from that day on, all he ever wanted to do was work in theatre and produce shows – I think that worked out pretty well for him.
So, we asked the Grand Ambition team to give us their memories of the Swansea Grand Theatre, and what it means to them…….
“Before the Grand was converted into the Grand we see today, it used to have a row of terraced houses on either side of it. At one end was my Nana’s café. It was called Connie’s café and I’d go there every weekend, sit at the tables and look up at the walls and see signed photos of all the artists who performed at The Grand through the golden years.
I used to walk along to the box office and look up at the pictures of who was playing that particular week and I guess that’s where my fascination started. When I was a bit older, about six years old, the Northern Ballet Theatre Company came to Swansea with a ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream’ and they needed a small boy to play The Egyptian Prince. I got chosen to do it…and that was my first ever experience on the stage at this incredible theatre…it was an experience that completely changed my life”.
“On a cold late December morning in ’83, I found a wallet in the gutter outside my friend’s house on the way to school. It was empty but for a gold American Express card and some old photographs. I handed it into my form teacher and a few hours later was called into the headmaster’s office to be told it belonged to the actor Melvyn Hayes, who was playing in ‘Babes In The Wood’ at The Grand.The school had called the theatre and Melvyn was delighted that the wallet had been found.
A few days later he invited me and two friends to see the pantomime, bought us drinks and sweets and give me a fiver (which in 1983 was a lot of cash!) to thank me for finding his wallet – the photographs being very important to him. It was the first time I had stepped foot into ANY theatre.We had a backstage tour and I was mesmerised at all the unseen work that goes on, but when we went onto the stage and looked out into the beautiful auditorium I had what felt like an electric shock. Maybe it was a future memory”.
“My parents took me to a production of ‘Godspell’ at The Grand Theatre, I must have been about 8 years old, in the interval the audience were invited to go up onto the stage to have a glass of wine, obviously I didn’t have a glass of wine but I stood on that stage. I think it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be an actress. It was such an incredible feeling and one that I wanted to have again and again.
Years later I performed at The Grand with The Swansea Operatic Society, Gendros Amateurs and Chrysalis Theatre Company. My first professional show at The Grand was ‘Flesh and Blood’ by Helen Griffin. That show then led to me performing again in ‘The Oystercasters’ which is where I met my husband.This building holds so many reasons as to why I do what I do. It feels as though I’ve come full circle. It’s very exciting”
I suppose my first memory of actually seeing the Grand Theatre wasn’t to do with coming to see a musical or play but as a big building next to the bus depot and I think it’s fair to say that I was more interested in the buses than I was the theatre.The first time I saw a show at the Swansea Grand was to see a pantomime. I remember it like it was yesterday. I must have been about 5 years old and it was a typical showery Swansea day.
I had tight grip of my Nanna’s hand as she went to the box office and asked for “2 tickets in the Gods for the pantomime”. In those days you had to go back outside the building to get to the stone steps that led up to the top of the theatre…it was quite a climb and my Nan stopped many times before we eventually took our seats…well, I say ‘seats’…they were actually thin wooden benches.
I will never forget seeing that pantomime! It was bright and colourful and hilarious and quite literally life changing for me because I didn’t know that theatres even existed let alone what happened inside them! A few weeks later I started Ballroom and Latin dance lessons and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a performer and I couldn’t wait until I was on that Grand Theatre stage. I’ve had the pleasure, and it is a pleasure, of performing at the Grand many times and I even met my wife there.The Grand feels as much a part of me as my bones do”.
We of course wish them ever success with the venture, and have no doubt this will be an important cultural and creative project for the people of Swansea, a point reiterated by Robert Francis Davies, Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism………
“We are delighted to be supporting our home grown talent to create even more opportunities for young people and communities in Swansea to get involved in the cultural and creative industries here in Swansea. The investment in our cultural offer is taking shape with the new Arena and city centre regeneration, as promised when we sought a ‘city of culture’ status previously. Working in partnership with local and national talent will help sustain this and ensure Swansea takes its rightful place as Wales’ capital of culture”.
(Grand Ambition photos by: Kirsten McTernan)