21 Artists for the 21st Century

A Centenary Cultural Mentor Programme

A diverse range of Northern Ireland’s young creative talent have been selected for the ‘21 Artists for the 21st Century’ cultural initiative as part of the UK Government’s Centenary programme.

Following recent auditions at the Nerve Centre, the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Bellaghy, and Queen’s University Belfast, 21 acts have been selected to be part of the prestigious creative arts initiative. With 34 participants in total, this includes 18 inspiring individuals, one ensemble of eight actors and one collective of five singer-songwriters. Three promising playwrights are in the running for the 21st place.

Over the summer, the artists will work with a distinguished range of mentors from Northern Ireland including dramatists Rosemary Jenkinson and Owen McCafferty, composer Neil Martin, music producer Declan Legge, photographer Paola Bernadelli, film-maker Ross White, choreographer Eileen McClory and poets Micheál McCann and Nandi Jola.

Participants in the programme come from a diverse range of schools, colleges and universities including Belfast Royal Academy and Aquinas Grammar who have the distinction of having three artists each, and universities including Queen’s University, Ulster University, Oxford, Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.

The programme will run throughout summer 2021, beginning with a street dance workshop with Robby Graham, the Omagh-born artistic director of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Southpaw Dance Company. It will also include a residential workshop in Armagh for the poets, as well as separate development weeks for the songwriters, the contemporary dancers, the dramatists and actors.

The programme will culminate in the artists and mentors coming together to share their work at the Lyric Theatre and Ulster Hall in early September.

21 Artists for the 21st Century is supported by leading Northern Ireland actor and filmmaker Sir Kenneth Branagh, who sent us this message:

“For younger artists, the advice and support of more experienced colleagues can be an invaluable resource. I know from experience how much I gained from working alongside such inspirational figures as Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi (to name but two) at the beginning of my own career.

“So I greatly welcome this imaginative programme, which will connect twenty-one young Northern Ireland artists across a range of creative disciplines with experienced mentors. It is especially timely, given the more limited opportunities available to the young people emerging from schools and universities in the last two years because of the global pandemic.

“This has been a difficult time for everyone working in the creative industries, but it has also been marked by a great collective determination to ensure that all working in the arts receive the support they need to sustain their livelihoods. I feel sure that this initiative will provide great encouragement to a new generation of emerging young artists in Northern Ireland and am pleased to offer it my support.”

Kenneth Branagh

The Mentors

Music

David Brophy was born in Dublin and is a graduate of the Technological University Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. Following further studies in Ireland, England and Holland, he was appointed Apprentice Conductor with Chamber Choir Ireland and subsequently became the first appointee to take the position of Assistant Conductor with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. A former Principal Conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, David now enjoys a close relationship with both RTÉ orchestras in addition to regular appearances as guest conductor with the Ulster Orchestra. Aside from his work as a musician, David is a regular broadcaster, including the award-winning RTÉ1 TV series Instrumental (Adare Productions and RTÉ) and the IFTA award-winning High Hopes Choir (Tyrone Productions and RTÉ) and David Brophy’s Choir of Ages (Tyrone Productions and RTÉ).

Naomi Hamilton has recorded and toured across the UK, Ireland and USA as Jealous of the Birds since 2015, earning worldwide critical applause for her intimate lyricism and dynamic musical approach. Hailed by NPR for her ‘remarkable gift for converting spare and common ingredients [...] into a sound that’s dense, gently hypnotic and utterly her own,’ She released her debut record Parma Violets produced by Declan Legge in 2016, and subsequently signed to Canvasback / Atlantic Records. Her sophomore album Peninsula, produced by Marta Salogni and David Wrench, was released in 2020. Outside of music, she is an avid poet, painter, photographer and custodian to two cats and a dog.

Declan Legge is a music producer and artist manager, working out of his own studio in Newry, Northern Ireland. He manages Naomi Hamilton, aka Jealous of the Birds who he signed to Atlantic Records in 2018. He also produced her debut album, Parma Violets (Atlantic Records) and is currently working on her third studio album. As manager, Declan has helped to develop Naomi into an international touring artist, signed to a major label and supporting such acts as Snow Patrol, The Divine Comedy, Elbow, Belle and Sebastien and many others. He has also recently expanded is roster to help develop three brand new Northern Irish Acts; Laytha, Lauren Ann & Sarah Toner. As a producer he has worked with countless Northern Irish and International artists including Ciaran Lavery, SOAK, Rachel Austin, Reevah and Conchúr White and has helped develop countless younger, emerging songwriters and bands across Ireland. He is also a consultant for the music charity, Help Musicians, fulfilling the role of Music Liaison in N.I. and is regularly asked to speak at music conferences or take part in industry panels such as Sound of Belfast or Output.

Neil Martin is a Belfast-born composer and musician with an international reputation who enjoys a varied and rewarding career encompassing dance, opera, theatre, film, television, radio, concert hall and studio. Recent major works include a violin concerto, d’allombra, the RTS-winning score for the film, Lost Lives (2020) and Sweeney (2018), a song cycle for singer, narrator and orchestra. A cellist and an uilleann piper, Neil has collaborated with many leading artists, from Liam O'Flynn, Bryn Terfel, Sam Shepard, Christy Moore, Stephen Rea, Josh Groban, Jean Butler and Barry Douglas to the LSO, RPO and all the principal orchestras in Ireland. He has scored music for plays on Broadway, in the West End and in Europe, and has contributed to more than a hundred albums. His ground-breaking work with the West Ocean String Quartet has been lauded globally, and beyond – their recordings have been played aboard the International Space Station.

Drama

Emily Foran is a theatre director based in Belfast and trained at The Lir Academy. She was a Hatch & Scratch Artist at the MAC Belfast and is a recipient of this year's Marie Mullen Bursary with Druid Theatre. Her recent work includes directing a filmed version of Revved by Patrick Quinn for An Grianan Theatre; And Other Hellish Things by Shane Burke for Druid Debuts; Bloodlines by Vittoria Caffola for the Listen at the Lyric series at Lyric Theatre Belfast; short film Partition by Nandi Jola with Brassneck Theatre; No Touching Theatre Festival as Associate Director and Programmer, The Mouth of the Birch by Shane Mac an Bhaird for Druid Debuts, Anniversary Lockdown by Lata Sharma with The Lyric Theatre and BBC Northern Ireland and associate director on New Speak: Reimagined with The Lyric Theatre. She is currently in pre-production for her new short film BAD VIBES, which was developed with Northern Ireland Screen and will be filmed this July. She will also be working with Big Telly later this year.

Christopher Grant is an Irish Times Theatre Nominated Actor, 1st winner of “Young Creative of the Year, NI” and a graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast. He is currently working with Big Telly on the development of their application based show Incognito, and reprising his role in their show Right Up Your Street later this month. He will then be returning to his role of Michael in A Queer Ceili… with Kabosh in Manchester at the end of August. Throughout the pandemic Christopher was involved in a variety of online shows including Big Telly’s Operation Elsewhere. He also co-wrote and performed in The Waiting Room a 4 part mini series for Tinderbox Theatre Company. He has appeared on screen in the BAFTA-nominated The Party, BFI’s Sparrow, Superman prequal Krypton and BBC’s My Mother and Other Strangers. Christopher is also part of a comedy trio Scampi, Chips and Tartar Sauce.

Nicky Harley is an actor and theatre maker from Northern Ireland. A regular on stages across the UK and Ireland, she has more recently adapted to screen and radio. In 2020, Nicky received the ‘Best Individual Performance’ award at The Red Curtain International Festival for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth in Big Telly’s online production of Macbeth . She also starred as The White Rabbit in Alice, A Virtual Theme Park (Creation Theatre/Big Telly Theatre) which received an OFFIE for ‘Best Platform Based production’. Nicky is a First class honours graduate from University of Ulster and has further trained under practitioners including Philippe Gaullier, Mooky Cornish, John Wright and Fiona Shaw.

Rosemary Jenkinson is a playwright and short story writer from Belfast. Plays include The Bonefire (Stewart Parker BBC Radio Award), Planet Belfast, White Star of the North, Here Comes the Night, Michelle and Arlene, May the Road Rise Up and Lives in Translation. She was 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre and in 2018 received a Major Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her short story collections are Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54, Aphrodite’s Kiss and Catholic Boy which was shortlisted for the EU Prize for Literature, and Lifestyle Choice 10mgs.

Enda Kenny works as a Costume Designer, Prop Costume Maker, Textile Artist and Milliner for Theatre, TV and film. He has created work for many UK based theatres including ENO, NI Opera, ROH Covent Garden, National Theatre London and the Lyceum Theatre London to name a few. Previous costume design theatre credits include One Good Turn (Abbey 2021), Father the Father ( Prime cut 2021), A Streetcar Named Desire( Lyric 2019), Lovers (Lyric 2018), Red (Prime Cut/Lyric 2017), Educating Rita (Lyric 2016) and Scorch (Prime Cut 2015). Film/TV credits include Dungeons and Dragons, The Northman and Game of Thrones.

Owen McCafferty is a playwright and screenwriter from Belfast. His first feature film, Ordinary Love, starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville and directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn was released in December 2019. Owen is currently working on a second feature, Breathing for producer Brian Falconer. His play Fire Below premiered at the Lyric Belfast and The Abbey Theatre, Dublin in November 2017. Quietly received its US premiere in New York in July 2016. It was first produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin where it was nominated for Best New Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. Previous work includes Scenes from the Big Picture at the National Theatre which won the John Whiting Award, the Meyer Whitworth Award and the Evening Standard Charles Wintour Award for New Playwriting. Closing Time and Mojo Mickybo for Kabosh Theatre Company, a play which has been revived many times at home and abroad. His plays for radio include The Elasticity of Supply and Demand and The Law of Diminishing Returns. A film based on Mojo Mickybo was produced by Working Title, directed by Terry Loane.

Dance

Eileen McClory is a Belfast-based dancer and choreographer. She has received commissions from Maiden Voyage Dance Company: BRINK 2020 and Epilogue: A Dancer Dies Twice 2021; Quotidian: Word on the Street, Margins 2021; The Playhouse Derry: TURF 2018, Tinderbox Theatre Company: CUCK 2017. As Artistic Director of Off the Rails Dance #OTR, Eileen choreographed and produced The Dutiful Wife 2016 and S(3)nsored 2011 and received an Artist Career Enhancement Award from Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2018. Her residencies include: Belfast International Arts Festival: Artist in Residence 2020/21, 2016 Dansmakers, Amsterdam: The Game Show supported by ACNI. She was a HATCH Artist at The MAC Belfast, 2013/14. In 2020 Eileen completed MA Contemporary Performance Practice, from Ulster University with Distinction.

Robby Graham was born in Omagh and is the Artistic Director of Southpaw Dance Company in Newcastle-upon Tyne. He specialises in creating large scale, mass movement productions with community casts of hundreds, recently creating RISE, the opening event for Brent: London Borough of Culture 2020, with 230 local performers in front of the iconic Wembley Stadium. Robby was Choreographer and Movement Director for Marianne Elliott’s acclaimed production of Angels in America at the National Theatre. He also choreographed Pericles, the National Theatre’s first Public Acts performance incorporating over 200 community cast members from all over London, as well as choreographing the large-scale adaptation here of Johnathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing for Greenwich Docklands Festival. More recently Robby directed and choreographed Leave to Remain at the Lyric Hammersmith with music by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke.

Creative Writing

Nandi Jola is a South African born poet and Writer. She is also a creative writing facilitator. Her debut poetry collection with Doire Press is due in the Spring/Summer of 2022. Her work includes The Journey a one-woman verse performance that opened the International Literature Festival Dublin in October 2020. She is representing Northern Ireland at the Transpoesie Poetry Festival in Brussels with her poem Enthomology. She was commissioned by Herstory for a poem to be performed in Jerusalem. She is also commissioned by Poetry Jukebox and will tour Paris as part of the Centre Culturel Irlandais programme 2022.

Mícheál McCann is from Derry. His poems have recently appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, Ambit, The Manchester Review, Banshee Lit, and bath magg. A pamphlet of poems (Safe Home) was published in 2020 by Green Bottle Press, and he was a co-editor of Hold Open the Door published by UCD Press that same year. He was grateful to be selected by Kei Miller for the National Centre for Writing's International Literature Showcase 2021 and he is currently working with Kerri ní Dochartaigh on a collaborative text for Skein Press’ Solstice Series forthcoming in 2022. He lives in Belfast.

Michael Patrick is an award winning Belfast writer and actor. Writing credits include The Alternative (Nominee: Best New Play, Irish Times Theatre Award and ZeBBie Award); My Left Nut (Nominee: Bewley’s Little Gem Award, Winner: Summerhall Lustrum Award) which he adapted into a BBC Three Series (Winner: Best Drama, RTS NI Awards), The 100 Year Old Backstop (BBC Radio 4), This One Time on the Border (BBC Radio Ulster). He is the current recipient of the Abbey Theatre Commemoration Bursary and is on commission with Prime Cut Productions. Acting credits include seasons with The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Abbey Theatre, The Lyric Theatre, Opera NI and Tinderbox. He has performed in numerous radio plays and series with BBC Radio Ulster & BBC Radio Four including roles in Game of Thrones, Krypton, Bernard Dunne’s Mythical Heroes, Soft Border Patrol and The Keeper.

Visual Arts & Film

Paola Bernardelli is an Italian artist based in Derry, Northern Ireland. She also took part in a two-month artist residency at the Lewyc Institute of Contemporary Art (LICA) in Winnipeg. Working with lens-based media, her area of research is where photography, video and digital art meet and overlap. Her work often references European pictorial tradition and social history. She graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Ulster, Belfast, after studying Photography at the University of the Arts in London. Her work has been exhibited in the UK, Ireland, Italy and Canada.

Joe Campbell is a Derry-based artist and graphic novelist whose work includes the graphic novels Burning Issues for Towards Healing and Understanding, a peace and reconciliation project, and Peacemakers of the Northern Ireland Troubles for the Playhouse Peace Academy which features the stories of seven peacemakers from the Northern Irish Troubles.

Éanna Mac Cana is an Irish artist and filmmaker from Belfast who specialises in short film & documentary work using a variety of techniques and formats including still images, archival, thermal, experimental sound design, chemical, video, digital, macro lens recordings, screen recordings and rotoscoping. In 2019, his moving image and installation work was included in PLATFORM 2019, an emerging artist group show at the Draiocht Art Gallery, Dublin, following one-man exhibitions in Belfast with PS2 Project Space (Dec 2017), Crescent Art Gallery, (Mar 2018) and Artcetera (Apr 2019). That year he also received a Travel Award from the ACNI to take part in the TongLau A.I.R programme, Hong Kong, (Oct 2019). Whilst there, he presented his first one-man international exhibition, “Revisit” at Floating Projects.

Fiona McDonnell is an Irish illustrator from Belfast with a distinct and colourful style of work, often accompanied by commentary and self-reflection on social issues, music, film... or whatever else she may be interested in at the time! Fiona studied illustration at Norwich University of the Arts before returning to her home town of Belfast, where she is an active illustrator and member of the city's creative community. Selected clients inc; Facebook, Dazed, LUSH, The Dead Rabbit Whiskey, The Goethe Institute, and Northern Ireland Screen.

Daniel Nelis is a multi-award winning Irish visual artist and educator, living and working in Co. Donegal. His paintings are animated by the everyday, finding inspiration in the worked and empty landscapes surrounding his childhood home. For Nelis, these are contemplative spaces that offer a heightened awareness of the present, making visible the incursions of time on both figure and land. Since graduating from Ulster University in 2014, Nelis has been awarded with many significant prizes including the RUA Portrait Prize 2015, the RHA Hennessy Craig Scholarship 2017 and the RUA Perpetual Silver Medal 2018. His works have been exhibited at the RUA, RHA, and RSA annual exhibitions, and recently at the BP Portrait Award 2019. Significant public commissions include creating the first ever collaborative portrait of the then Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2019.

Ross White & Tom Berkeley, a Writer/Director duo, began collaborating in 2014 after meeting at University in London. Originally writing for the stage, the pair have had work presented at venues such as Lyric Hammersmith and VAULT London, with their respective debut plays longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize, Papatango Prize, and the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing. Their debut short film Roy starring BAFTA winner David Bradley world premiered at the Oscar-qualifying Santa Barbara International Film Festival in April 2021. The duo, who run Belfast-based production company Floodlight Pictures, are currently in post-production for their black comedy An Irish Goodbye starring local talent Seamus O'Hara, James Martin, Paddy Jenkins and Michelle Fairley.

The Artists

Composing

Samuel Kane is a violinist currently studying with Cecily Ward at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, having been a pupil at Portadown College. He led the Ulster Youth Orchestra and has also performed with the Ulster Orchestra as part of their PES scheme. He won the NI Young Musician of the Year award, which led to performances broadcasted on BBC Radio Ulster's Classical Connections programme. He has a strong passion for composition, having performed one of his own pieces for violin and piano at the Charles Wood Music Festival in his hometown, Armagh. In addition to this, a composition of his was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster. This academic year he has been taking composition classes with David Horne and has also been taking viola lessons with Heather Wallington. He has a special interest in chamber music.

Rosie Murphy was born in Newry and is a classical harpist and composer who is currently an undergraduate student in the Royal Conservatoire of Music in The Hague studying with Ernestine Stoop and Sylvain Blassel. She began studying the harp at the age of 9 with Emer Kenny. At the age of 14, she won the under 18 harp competition in the ESB Feis Ceoil, Dublin. She also won the Cuthbert Harp Cup that year, awarded by Sheila Larchet. In 2015, she was awarded a music scholarship to Wesley College Dublin and began to travel to London for private harp lessons with Sioned Williams, the Principal harpist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In May 2018, she performed Debussy’s Clair de Lune for President Michael D. Higgins and the Irish Rugby Team in Áras an Uachtaráin in celebration of their Grand Slam win. In 2019, she performed Britten’s Sinfonia de Requiem with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in Milton Court Concert Hall, London. In 2020, she performed with Steve Davis’ Jazz ensemble in their performance of (?) ‘When the Dust Settles’ for the Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival Belfast. In 2021, she performed in The Hague Royal Conservatoire’s Chamber Festival with her harp duo. In 2021, she secured the place of Principal Harpist in the UYO and the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra.

Sam and Rosie will be mentored by Belfast composer, Neil Martin.

Singing

Amber Dixon, is a former pupil of Our Lady's Grammar School, Newry, is a classically trained soprano who in 2015 became the youngest member of Sestina, the Belfast-based Baroque singing group under the direction of Mark Chambers. In 2018 she played Maria in West Side Story in the Grand Opera House Belfast. For this role she won ‘Best Female Singer in Ireland’ at the 2018 AIMS awards. In 2018, Amber won the under 18 singing section at ESB Feis Ceoil, Dublin. In January of 2020, she travelled to Manchester as a short-listed candidate for British student of the year. In April 2019 she received an award at a civic reception hosted by Newry Mourne and Down council for her contribution to the arts. In 2019 Amber toured the UK and Ireland as the featured soloist with the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland where she performed for President Michael D. Higgins. Amber studies with Northern Ireland based Soprano Miss Fiona Flynn and has achieved her ATCL and ALCM in Classical and Musical theatre singing. Amber is currently a Choral Scholar at the UCD.

Amber will be mentored by Northern Ireland Opera.

Conducting

Conall McHugh was a pupil at Aquinas Grammar School and the City of Belfast School of Music, where he studied French horn with Derek Parkins and Jacqueline McCarthy. While at the School of Music he also played in Symphonic Brass and was the principal horn of CBYO. He also held the principal horn seat with the Ulster Youth Orchestra being co-principal horn of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland for one year. Before taking up a place to study music at Oxford University, he sang in St Peter's Cathedral Schola Cantorum under Nigel McClintock. While at Oxford, he has studied horn with Sue Dent at the Guildhall School and played in many of the University Orchestras, including one that he established himself.

Conall will be mentored by the conductor David Brophy.

Singer-Songwriting Collective

Ben Cutler has amassed an astonishing amount of experience as a songwriter and performer. Educated at Aquinas Grammar School, at the age of 12 he entered and won the under-16 category at the Banbridge Buskfest and also became one of the youngest performers at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters’ Festival. In 2016, he entered and featured in the top 10 under-12 UK Song Academy competition and performed at their winners’ showcase in Westfield, London. In 2018, he launched his first EP On Target at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. Later that year, he played the Holywood Harmony Festival, Sunflowerfest and Eastside Arts Festival. At the latter, he was involved in a project in which he was mentored by Anthony Toner. In June 2018, he won the overall prize at the Banbridge Buskfest at the age of only 14 alongside over 200 other talented buskers. In 2019 he won the Ulster University “Beyond Busk” competition.

Daisie Conway is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist with a background in Irish music. She is trained in classical singing and musical theatre. At Larne Grammar School, she played the part of Frenchie in Grease at the age of 16. Being faced with lockdown last year, she decided to spread some positivity and posted a video of herself singing the song I’ve Been Waiting for You on social media which went viral on Facebook. As a result, she sang in the Livestream International Songbirds Group in multiple online concerts with singers from around the world. She has performed on BBC Radio Ulster, Belfasts89FM, U105, Radio Larne, BanterFlix, showcased on Music Crowns and reached 140K views on Music Life. She sang on UTV Life with Andrew Begley, winner of The Voice UK, performed as part of the Classical Crossover Magazine Concert online and appeared on the American Jim Masters TV Show. Her first single, Tell me I'm not Dreaming was released in November 2020 and her first album of original songs is due in 2021. She is supporting Brian Kennedy in concert and will be performing at the NI100 Concert, both in August 2021.

Charlie Magill was a pupil at Aquinas Grammar School before transferring to SERC in Bangor. He is a singer and multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, piano, bass, and ukulele. From the age of 13 until the age of 15, he regularly busked in Belfast city centre, successfully performing a mix of original music and covers. In 2016, he was part of a song writing/performing scheme in the Oh Yeah Centre led by Katie Richardson and Paul Kane. In 2017, he and a friend won best junior busker at the Banbridge Buskfest competition. This led to a guest appearance on BBC Radio Ulster’s John Toal show, playing his original composition Stargazing from my Bed, which was very well received. In 2018, he won the Harmony Live Festival busking competition with another of his original compositions called Freefalling.

Lara O’Donnell is vocalist and guitarist. Music has been her passion from a young age. Growing up, she was involved in many musical showcases and festivals and has taught young children basic guitar and vocal skills at Summer Camps run in her locality. Being in a three-piece band gave her many opportunities and experiences. She was part of the three-part harmony girl group named Evergreen. They have supported acts such as Moya Brennan & Clannad, Daniel O’Donnell, Sean and Conor Price and Duke Special and have appeared on the same line-up as Ryan McMullan, Wild Youth, Luz and Ryan Mack as well as other smaller artists. Their biggest musical influences are The Henry Girls.

Oscar Jennings is a pupil at Lumen Christi College, Derry and has been playing music and singing from an early age, learning piano and guitar since he was five. He began writing and performing his own songs and covering songs by other artists when he was 12. In 2017, at the age of 14, he began playing professional solo gigs at local venues in Derry, such as An Culturlann, Bennigans, Sandinos and The Nerve Centre. In 2018 and 2019 he played guitar for the Donegal group, The Henry Girls, at The Earagail Arts Festival, Donegal and at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, London. He has played support for other established acts such as Cryw*nk (Manchester), Waldorf & Cannon (Derry), and Titus Andronicus (USA). He featured as a performer at a number of festivals including Stendhal Festival (Limavady 2018 and 2019) and Young Bloods Future Sounds Festival (Derry 2019). In January 2019, he was one of three artists chosen by the Nerve Centre to collaborate with Armagh-born, Manchester-based BBC folk singer of the year Rioghnach Connolly (The Breath, Honeyfeet).

This eclectic collective will be mentored by Newry-based music producer Declan Legge and singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton (Jealous of the Birds).

Painting

A former pupil at Regent House Grammar School, Holly-Mae Greer is an art student at the University of Ulster. Alongside University coursework, she has completed commissions for paintings on a variety of subjects including, animals, people and landscapes but her speciality is figurative portraiture. Her life ambition is to become a freelance artist, by first completing her Bachelor and Master’s degrees. Through this programme she aims to extend her work to include more abstract art through the creation of a single large-scale piece.

Holly-Mae will be mentored by the Donegal painter Daniel Nelis.

The Graphic Novel

Born in Belfast, and presently living in Paris, Marta McIlduff is a multi-media artist working with performance, audio-pieces and street art. Her two main tools of expression which have been at the core all her projects are writing and illustration. Unable to decide between her love for writing and illustrating, she engaged in two full-time academic programmes simultaneously. She has just completed a BA in Literature and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam that fuelled her literary inspiration and informed what kind of stories she wants to share in her writing. At the same time, she completed a two-year Fine Art and Design course to develop her artistic skill set. She has largely focused her practice on graphic story-telling and her comics have been published in the Amsterdam based cultural magazine Heroïne, the Parisian art zine The Yolk and New York based Lover-boy Collective virtual magazine. Her comics explore through visual, narrative and poetry the themes of queerness, home, intimacy, female experience and magic.

Marta will be mentored by Derry artist and graphic novelist Joe Campbell and Belfast illustrator Fiona McDonnell.

Photography

Sarah Little lives in Fermanagh and recently completed a 4-year degree in Art History and Creative Writing with the Open University. She holds a Diploma in Art and Design, her final project encompassing mixed media photography and acrylics. She is currently writing a fiction novel and will be working with an editor at Penguin Books over the coming years in a program for unpublished writers. She was one of 14 invited to join the Write Now program from 3700 applicants in UK and Ireland of all ages, but photography is her daily mainstay. She has won several awards including the Perpetual Cup for best overall image at Enniskillen Photographic Society’s annual exhibition and was preselected for the RUA in 2019 for her photography. Her creative photographic images won her Young Artist of the Year at the Void Derry in 2019.

Sarah will be mentored by Derry-based photographer Paola Bernadelli.

Street Dance

Rhys Devlin, a pupil at Larne Grammar School, has been an Irish dancer for 17 years and a street dancer for 6 years. He now teaches street dance as well as performing, competing and devising choreography for competitive and performance dancers. His training and teaching is done mostly through Ajendance dance company. He has had success competitively, being an all-Ireland street champion in events run by Spectrum, Dance Supreme and 5678 Elite Dance Competition. He is also a three-time All-Ireland Duet champion alongside his dance partner Zara Janahi, with whom he has recently organised the online dance event FORGE. Their dance crew ADC are also Multi-award champions in Ireland, making it to the United Dance Organisation (UDO) WORLD championships in both 2016 and 2017, being placed 3rd in the world in the Quad category in 2017.

Rhys will be mentored by Robby Graham, Omagh-born Artistic Director of Southpaw Dance Co.

Contemporary Dance

Michael McEvoy attended Saintfield High School and Belfast Metropolitan College, going on to study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where he received a First Class Honours BA in Contemporary Dance. In his graduating year (2019/2020) he was awarded the 'Sylvia Bodmer Memorial Fund for Outstanding Achievement in Choreological Studies'. Since graduating, he has been working all over the world as a performer and, in Northern Ireland, has worked with Maiden Voyage Dance, NI Opera, Company NI and Big Telly Productions. At the beginning of lockdown, he started his own collective, POKE theatre.

Michael will be mentored by Belfast choreographer, Eileen McClory

Film

Dean Conway, who attended Lismore Comprehensive School, was selected at the age of 16 to participate in a BFI Scriptwriting Residential Programme in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Here he was mentored by industry professionals such as freelance feature film writers as well as script editors from Channel 4. His first creative credit as a writer was an award-winning advertisement for the Northern Ireland Young Enterprise Company of the Year 2017 – Never Lace Ltd. This was the winner of the ‘Disney Creativity Award’ and garnered 4.3k views on social media for the company. His second writing credit came in the form of a short fictional dramatic film, A Kingdom We Call Home, which is the story of an abandoned brother and sister. The film was selected for the Film Devour Short Film Festival 31 and Trí Rivers Film Festival 2020 among many funded and professionally produced films. In 2019, he engaged in Stuart Drennan’s thorough and lengthy screenwriting programme through which he enriched his study of scriptwriting and storytelling. Most recently, he participated as a shortlisted writer for the Northern Ireland Screen New Shorts Focus 2020 programme for six months.

Joanna McClurg is a recent graduate of the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University. She travels between Oxford and Belfast, writing and making films with Northern Ireland often a character in her work. Inspired by personal and local histories, she works across media to create collaborative and often contradictory portraits of individuals and communities. These portraits are sometimes films, sometimes paintings, sometimes poems. Her short films have been screened at Swedenborg Film Festival, Christ Church Annual Arts Week, the Ruskin School of Art, Lower Ground and Gone Fishing, and most recently, at Unit 1 Gallery, London in Final, not Over – again, a four-session exhibition of graduating students’ work from four UK art schools. In 2019, her needle felted portrait of her mother, Iris, was exhibited at the Royal Ulster Academy of Art’s 138th Annual Exhibition in the Ulster Museum. Whilst at Belfast Royal Academy she exhibited paintings as part of Belfast Culture Night and her work was featured in CCEA’s True Colours exhibition in the Ulster Museum for three consecutive years (2017-2019). She spent two university terms as the Film Section Editor for Cherwell, Oxford University’s Independent newspaper, one of the oldest student publications in the UK.

Dean and Joanna will be mentored by Ross White and Tom Berkeley (Floodlight Pictures)

The Poets

Anesu Khanya Mtowa's poetry first featured in anthologies in 2018, appearing in the Community Arts Partnership Poetry in Motion Community collection entitled Resonance. She was also one of four poets whose work was in the Winter Issue (Issue 24) of Poetry NI’s FourXFour Poetry Journal. 2018 was also the first year she was invited to read at the Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union’s Black History Month event, organised by their African Caribbean Society. The following year, she was asked back to be a member of the panel. At this event, entitled “BlackHERstory”, she had an exhibition of her work displayed, allowing her the opportunity to talk about her poetry with members of the panel’s audience. For two consecutive years, she featured alongside Maria McManus and other poets in the Quotidian annual event Sky, you are too Big, performing in the Long Gallery of Stormont with the aim of raising awareness of Larne House, a short term detention centre. Most recently, she has been published in Her Other Language, a 2020 collection of work by Northern Irish women writers edited by Ruth Carr and Natasha Cuddington addressing domestic violence and abuse. She is a former pupil of Portadown College.

Keilan Colville, a former pupil of Saint Michael's Grammar School, Enniskillen, has had work published both in online magazines and in print and can be found in Streetcake magazine, Starry Eyed and in The Young Poets Anthology, Dark Animals by Wild Pressed Books. In 2019, he won 2nd place in the Patrick Kavanagh Student Poetry Award and in July 2020 got his debut poetry pamphlet, Storm and Silence, published also by Wild Pressed Books. In his first year at the University of Ulster, he took part in the John Hewitt Project in which he transcribed manuscripts by Hewitt and provided his own poetic response to the work. He was co-chairperson for the English and Poetry Society at UU Coleraine 2020-21, reading each week and running workshops in which members share their poetry for constructive criticism. Outside the realm of writing poetry, he has completed the Duke of Edinburgh Award at bronze level and has also had 3 months of work experience as a reporter at The Fermanagh Herald newspaper.

zara meadows

Zara Meadows is a former pupil at Belfast Royal Academy. In March of 2020, she was commended in the Tower Poetry competition, a highly prestigious award for young writers based at the University of Oxford, for her poem ‘Treehugger, Summer 2005.’ This experience led her to discover the Foyle Young Poets of the Year award, which is the largest prize for young poets in the world and through which she received an award in 2020 for her poem 'Found,’ - a piece rooted in the language of Northern Ireland and its complicated yet opinionated social landscapes. Her work has since been shared and read widely on social media and in print, resulting in her having the opportunity to give readings of her work alongside established poets such as Mary Jean Chan and Mimi Khalvati. Her poetry has also been published in two Northern Irish publications so far in 2021 – The Honest Ulsterman and Abridged. In May of this year, her poem ‘Growth’ was featured in the Fighting Words segment of the Irish Times newspaper for emerging young writers.

Anesu, Keilan and Zara will be mentored by Derry poet Micheál McCann and the South African poet based in Portadown, Nandi Jola.

Story-telling

Lois Kennedy attended Ballycastle High School. Her interest in story-telling has developed rapidly since she joined classes online organised by Liz Weir and Stephen O’Hara, learning the skills necessary to become an accomplished storyteller. She has since told stories to larger audiences online, getting feedback on tales of Irish folklore and her own original stories. She enjoys telling the story of Oisin of Tir na nOg from the princess's point of view and her original story, The Bog-Oak Man, has gone down well with audiences. Her religious beliefs as a Christian and being part of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland have influenced her writing. She takes a huge interest in her Church’s history in Scotland and she wrote a poem called For Crown and Covenant which featured in her Church magazine, The Covenanter Witness.

Lois will be mentored by Nandi Jola.

Screenwriting

Michael Murray-Draine has been a screenwriter since he was 17 years old. After his Moving Image Arts ‘A’ level course at St. Colm’s High School, he was part of the BFI Academy in 2017 for which he wrote the screenplay Trick or Treats for Cinemagic. He then wrote the film BLANK which went on to win the Carson Award granting the production high end equipment. He went on to win several local young filmmaker awards. At the Belfast Met Film and Television School, he wrote and directed the film Crème Brûlée or Chocolate Soufflé which won the RTS NI Student award for best film in Comedy and Entertainment. He has also competed in several competitions across the world, including in London and LA. He went on to study Sceenwriting for Film, Television, Radio and Video Games at UCLAN in Preston.

Michael will be mentored by Belfast actor and writer, Michael Patrick.

Playwriting

Ashley Jones is a writer for stage, screen, and games, as well as an actor and musician and recent graduate with a First in Drama & Film Studies from Queen’s University, where she gained the highest mark across all drama programmes. Also educated at Erne Integrated College and BMC, she is the main songwriter and frontperson of the band Strange New Places, who released their debut EP in 2019 and have played in venues across the UK and Ireland, ranging from Brighton to Dublin to the Ulster Hall in Belfast. In 2020 she was accepted onto Outburst Arts’ inaugural ‘Transforming Stages’ programme, which allowed her to develop the short play Good Morning Human, a satire of media mistreatment of transgender people which culminated in a broadcasted rehearsal reading at the Black Box in Belfast. In 2021, she wrote and performed her first single-person piece of theatre, High and Lowly, in which she played an elderly self-doubting version of herself imprisoned by an authoritarian regime. She also wrote the short YA fiction film re: leaving, the production of which was successfully crowdsourced in late 2019 with producer Callum Harrison and director Caleb Roberts, before being postponed due to Coronavirus.

Claire Sullivan is a screenwriter and dramatist. Educated at Grosvenor G.S., she is currently studying Scriptwriting and Performance BA (Hons) on the prestigious creative writing programme at University of East Anglia. With a background in theatrical acting, her first scripts were for the stage. She developed the script for Reset, a futuristic play inspired by the political climate which was produced by The Mac in 2018. Reset was directed by Finn Kennedy with movement direction by Leonie McDonagh. She attended several masterclasses as part of the Lyric Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme and has written a variety of short plays, screenplays, monologues and duologues. As part of a touring Theatre-in-Education company based in England, she devised and performed several shows for both primary and secondary school children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. She is deeply concerned with the issue of mental health in her work and was commissioned by the BBC as part of the New Creatives scheme to write an audio piece entitled False Alarm? focusing on anxiety. This was directed by award-winning audio producer/director Celia de Wolff and was produced by Screen South and Pier Productions. Claire has been commissioned to write for BBC Radio 4.

Ide Simpson attended Strathearn Grammar School and is an avid writer and actor with a great interest in Irish Theatre and supporting the arts community in Northern Ireland. She is an experienced actor, having completed grades 1-8 in Acting with LAMDA, and most recently completing her LAMDA diploma in acting and achieving a distinction. In 2020, she was accepted onto ‘The Right Twig’ programme in the Lyric Theatre and was one of the eight young writers in Northern Ireland who had their scripts performed in the Naughton Studio in the Lyric Theatre. Directed by Oisin Kearney, her second play, The Lands was selected as one of the 21 plays to be performed as part of the ‘No Touching Theatre Festival’ at the Accidental Theatre last September in Belfast. She is currently studying Drama and English at Trinity College Dublin, where her third play, Granny Pants debuted as part of the playwriting programme within Trinity's drama society.

Ashley, Claire and Ide will be mentored by Belfast dramatists Rosemary Jenkinson and Owen McCafferty.

Directing

Darcy Taylor attended St Pius X College, Magherafelt and is a recent drama graduate from the University of Ulster. While at university, she wrote and directed her own play Perverts for Playmakers in an extracurricular night of student led performances. In this play, she explored internalised homophobia and the experience of growing up in a rural environment as a teenager This experience allowed her to experiment with new techniques and gain confidence as a director. In her second year she directed From Flower to Furnace by Victor Sheen which explored topics such as drug abuse, identity and body image. This experience taught her how to work with sensitive material and support her actors as a director to gain the best collaborative performance possible. Most recently she has directed Purgatory by W.B Yeats. She has also acted in the Playhouse Peace Academy's testimonial theatre performance, First Response.

Darcy will be mentored by Rostrevor director, Emily Foran.

Design

Isaac O'Brien attended Laurelhill Community College, Lisburn, and has had a long-standing interest in theatre, but in recent years has found himself being increasingly drawn to the process of developing a show’s aesthetic in terms of set, costume and props. He completed his work experience in Year 12 with Kabosh Theatre Company, which solidified his future aspirations to have a career in theatre. One of his proudest achievements is the nomination for ‘Best Supporting Youth Performance’ from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association for his role in the Lisnagarvey Youth Operatic Society’s production of Little Shop of Horrors in 2018. In Year 12, when his school staged Little Shop of Horrors he was able not only to reprise his role as Orin the Dentist but to design and create, not only his own costume, but two puppets and one costume to represent the man-eating plant ‘Audrey Two’. Working independently to design and create the puppets and costumes he thoroughly enjoyed seeing his creations ‘come to life’ on stage. He holds a Musical Theatre Diploma from the London College of Music.

Isaac will be mentored by the Costume Designer, Enda Kenny.

The 21 Artists Actors’ Ensemble

Aaron Ferguson, a former pupil at Belfast Royal Academy, is a recent graduate in Drama from Queen's University Belfast. He has performed in the Bruiser Theatre Company and Queen's University co-production of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. He has been an active member of the University's drama society, Queen’s University Players, performing in eight full length plays as well as a radio play. He has trained with Bruiser Theatre Company, taking part in both their Graduate and Arts Academy actor training programs over several summers. Through Queen’s University Players, he attended the Irish Student Drama Awards Festival in both 2019 and 2021, being nominated for Best Actor this year for his role as Peter in Steven Shapiro’s The Waiting Room.

Anna Murphy attended Our Lady’s Grammar School, Newry, and is a drama student at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. As a member of the Shelley Lowry School of Speech and Drama, she has performed throughout Northern Ireland, most recently in a devised play, Eighty-Nine, depicting the tragic events of the Armagh Rail Disaster of 1889. In 2012, she played Chloe in the BBC primetime drama, At Water's Edge, directed by Terry Loane. In 2017, she played the role of Tara/The Ghost of Christmas Past in the film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri. The opportunity to work alongside such established actors as Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer and Jonathon Pryce, as well as having an insight to the life of a working actor made her want to pursue acting as a career and develop her skills further. She is represented by Jane Epstein of Independent Talent, London.

Chloe Campbell, a former pupil of Sullivan Upper School, Holywood, is a drama student at Guildford School of Acting where she has played parts as varied as Viola in Twelfth Night and Sonya in Uncle Vanya and even a 6-year-old in Blue Remembered Hills. She has studied the Meisner Technique and has found it exciting in the way it allows an actor to explore being present in the moment of performance. She also performed a self-written spoken word piece about mental health at the Vault Festival in London and was recently chosen to perform a piece about the relationship between Northern Ireland and England in the GSA Morag Morris Spoken Word event, which has been recorded for broadcast. Chloe is a member of the National Youth Theatre.

Kevin Canavan was educated at St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon, and has been involved in a wide range of amateur theatre productions including Juno and the Paycock, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, An Ideal Husband, The Proposal and A Taste of Honey. He is currently a member of the Lyric Drama Studio, playing the title role in Dracula and has enjoyed working with a range of professional facilitators including BBC Radio 4’s Zeb Soanes, Michael Corbidge (Text Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company), David Calvert (Kids in Control) and David Quinn from Amadan Theatre Ensemble. Earlier this year, he was invited to perform a reading of The Blind Poet’s Vision of Spring with the Ulster Orchestra as part of their online Spring project. For the Lyric, he has performed a reading from the James Joyce short story, The Dead and taken part in an audio recording of Arlene Hutton’s play, Last Train to Nibroc.

Ellen McCormick is an acting student at the Guildford School of Acting where she has played ‘Lady Macbeth’ in Macbeth, and ‘She’ in Poison by Lot Vekemans. She is training in the techniques of Meisner, Lecoq, Laban and has been creating devised theatre, most recently exploring an aspect of the Northern Irish conflict. She was awarded the Sir Michael Redgrave Trust Scholarship within GSA this year. She has been a regular participant in youth theatre across Northern Ireland and is a Company Member, Ambassador and Course Assisting Director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT).

Lee McAuley, a former pupil at Drumglass High School, especially enjoys comedic roles having played supporting roles in Jack and the Beanstalk and Beauty and the Beast. He was also in a production of Robin Hood where he played the main antagonist - the Sheriff of Nottingham. He has been a part of a Brechtian production of Burning Bird and played Butch Honeywell in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. He has recently completed his BTEC Level 5 HND Diploma in Performing Arts at SERC Bangor in which he achieved a Distinction.

Sophie McGibbon was educated at Dominican College, Fortwilliam and began acting at secondary school. She then moved to Italy for a few months to gain independence and experience culture and had the opportunity of attending various acting workshops before applying successfully to the Lyric Drama Studio. She has been cast as Mina Westerman, the female lead in Dracula which will take place on the main stage at the Lyric Theatre. Her passion and devotion to the craft continues to grow as well as her eagerness to train. She is working with the Lyric on a mini documentary series about the environment.

Tommy Bell is a student at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and a former pupil of Bangor Grammar School. Throughout his teenage years he performed with numerous amateur dramatic societies and their various performances ranging from drama to musical theatre, most notably, as Fagin in Oliver! with the GOH Summer Youth Project. He was also cast in the CBBC show, The Sparticle Mystery as Wild Thing, aged 13. During his last years of school and gap year he was employed as an assistant movement coach for DU Dance NI, assisting with their group "Belfast Boys", and assisted Mags Byrne, its Artistic Director with the "Young Carers" project, in the creation of a movement-based short film alongside Barnardo's NI, the children's charity.

The Actors’ Ensemble will be mentored by Emily Foran, Derry actor, Nicky Harley and Annaclone actor, Christopher Grant.

Associate Members

The programme is also inviting the following artists to join the programme as Associate Members to work with the core artists on their projects or engage in specific developmental opportunities.

Clodagh Bawn (Street Dance) St Ronan’s College, Lurgan.
Daniel Bresland (Writer) from Strabane, a recent graduate of Queen’s University
Katie Dempsey-Jenkins (Contemporary Dance) Hazelwood Integrated College, St. Louise’s Comprehensive College and Sunderland University
Rebecca Doherty (Composer) from Derry, studying at Cambridge University
Zara Janahi (Street Dance) Ashfield Girls High School, Belfast
Robert Kelly (Tenor) St. Colm’s College, Derry and Oxford University
Ciara McCreanor (Street Dance) Dominican College, Fortwilliam
Rachel McKenna (Contemporary Dance) St. Joseph’s G.S., Donaghmore and Bird College, London
Isaac Quinn (Librettist) from Strabane and studying at North West Regional College
Paige Richardson (Contemporary Dance) Bangor SERC and LIPA
Lauren Sleith (Composer) Victoria College and Queen’s University, Belfast
Benji Wallis (Rapper) Methodist College, Belfast
Caitlin Young (Editor) from Dublin and studying at Queen’s University, Belfast
Patrick Zdzislaw Knipe (Composer) BMC and Queen’s University, Belfast




List of Advisory Panel Members

Colin DavidsonPainter
Nandipha JolaPoet
Declan LeggeMusic Producer
Simon MagillCreative Director, MAC
Dr Tom MaguireUniversity of Ulster
Neil MartinComposer and Musician
Noirin McKinneyArts Council of Northern Ireland
Paul McVeigh Writer
Christine Morrow Screen NI
Lynne ParkerRough Magic Theatre Company, Dublin
John PetoThe Nerve Centre, Derry
Louise Wilson NIO Board Member


Schools, Universities and Colleges Attended by Programme Participants:

Programme participants come from all across Northern Ireland and include students at:

  • Belfast Metropolitan College
  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
  • Cambridge University
  • The Guildford School of Acting
  • North West Regional College
  • LIPA
  • The Open University
  • Oxford University
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • The Royal Conservatoire of The Hague
  • The Royal Northern College of Music
  • South Eastern Regional College
  • Sunderland University
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University College Dublin
  • The University of Amsterdam
  • The University of Central Lancaster
  • The University of East Anglia
  • Ulster University

Schools involved in the programme include:

  • Aquinas Grammar School (3 participants)
  • Ashfield Girls High School
  • Ballycastle High School
  • Bangor Grammar School
  • Belfast Royal Academy (3 participants)
  • Dominican College Fortwilliam
  • Drumglass High School
  • Erne Integrated College Enniskillen
  • Grosvenor Grammar School
  • Hazelwood Integrated College
  • Larne Grammar School
  • Laurelhill Community College Lisburn
  • Lismore Comprehensive School Craigavon
  • Lumen Christi Grammar School Derry
  • Methodist College Belfast
  • Our Lady’s G.S. Newry
  • Portadown College
  • Regent House Newtownards
  • Saint Michael’s G.S. Enniskillen
  • Saintfield High School
  • St Colm’s College Derry
  • St Joseph’s G.S. Donaghmore
  • St Louise’s Comprehensive College
  • St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon
  • St Ronan’s College, Lurgan
  • St. Colm’s High School Belfast
  • St. Pius X College Magherafelt
  • Strathearn Grammar School
  • Sullivan Upper Holywood
  • Victoria College Belfast
  • Wesley College, Dublin