Belfast’s iconic Strand Arts Centre is set to once again be rocked with the songs and stage show of the Queen of County as the ultimate Dolly Parton tribute is back in the shape of performer extraordinaire, Donna Stewart.
The Holywood Road arts centre will see the 47-year-old packing the aisles in a packed show of fan favourites to life in a show that will have everyone singing along to the likes of 9to5, Coat Of Many Colours, I Will Always Love You and Jolene. The show not only has lots of Dolly hits, but also some of country rock and pop favourites.
Since it was taken over as not-for-profit project the Strand has been a hub for creativity – following their sell-out show in March earlier this year Donna and the band are back with their hugely popular Dolly’s Jukebox show.
“I cannot wait to play the Strand again,” said Donna.
“It is a building that resonates the history and culture of Belfast. Not just that it’s in the area I grew up so there’s a special feeling of homecoming to this show for me. To bring Dolly’s songs and style to the Strand is a privilege and we promise to rock it to the rafters!”
She has established herself as the embodiment of the Queen of Country but it was a dream that came true by chance.
“I started performing as Dolly in 2011,” said Donna. “It was just meant to be for one night at a friend’s birthday, but this led to a stream of bookings.”
After a brief break Donna is revved up and ready to go again with a series of dates that have seen standing ovations and rave reviews from audiences.
“Eventually I realised I couldn’t be without Dolly in my life any longer so thanks to my wonderful husband Niall Toman and the rest of the Dolly show crew Anne McAteer, Chantelle McAteer, Chris Logan, Tom Savage and Kenneth McClure, we’re back and bigger than ever before. It’s very much a team effort.
“Let’s face it one of the best things I get to do is to dress up as Dolly.”
And, as always Donna and her team chose their tracks carefully.
“The show aims to emulate country icon Dolly Parton at her 80’s best right up until now, we also play songs from classic country, we aim to please everyone.
“We carefully chose the greatest hits that people love and remember and even if you’re not a die-hard Dolly fan you’ll certainly catch yourself toe tapping and singing along at some point throughout the night.
“Having spent many years in musical theatre both as a director and producer and a performer we make sure to include the pizazz and vibrancy of a West End show no matter how big or small the venue we play in,” explained Donna.
In the new fun, floor-filling show Dolly & Friends provide an energetic unforgettable night. Donna is a stickler for attention to detail and has studied dolly’s voice and performances since the 1980s – even the intonation of Dolly’s voice she uses to introduce songs.
During this show Donna plays custom made Dolly replica guitars & banjo, whilst wearing reproduction costumes made and updated in coordination with Dolly and with real hair wigs styled by the best hair stylists Northern Ireland has to offer – it literally takes thousands to be Dolly.
Donna Stewart will perform as Dolly Parton with the Dolly’s Jukebox show at The Strand, East Belfast on August 22. To book go to www.strandartscentre.com
Spectacular Ogham Grove Opens Tonight In Cathedral Quarter
Cathedral Quarters Writers’ Square will tonight (September 17) be transformed into a spectacular installation from the creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.
From 6pm tonight through until Sunday evening visitors can experience an interactive celebration of the ancient druidic language, with massive representations of trees, sounds and lighting weaving a path of learning about the language and the chance to win prizes.
Ogham Grove replaces the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events.
Although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken said visitors should not expect the same on-street celebration as years gone by.
Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID has led to a major review of the event however.
Susan said: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”
The brains behind the concept include creative lead Gawain Morrison, artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills.
Gawain Morrison said that the concept of The Ogham Grove “draws inspiration from the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet which dives deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined”.
This year, as well as experiencing The Ogham Grove itself, visitors will be able to take part in an accompanying interactive experience that will lead them through the Cathedral Quarter, and also take them on a journey of personal discovery.
According to Gawain the immersive nature inspired trail and competition will mean visitors can take something special away from the experience.
“For somebody who will be coming to this, the several points of access means it is going to be a very experiential and sensory experience,” he explained.
“I hope that as visitors walk around whether it’s in the day or night, that they will take something away from it.”
Across the Cathedral Quarter area, there will be five zones each representing one of the five families of the Ogham alphabet.
To be eligible to win a prize, participants must find and scan a QR code found on one of the trail’s bespoke wooden plaques and take note of the lines of poetry displayed.
Prizes to be won include vouchers for restaurants, gift tokens to purchase your own pieces of art and tickets to shows coming up in the Cathedral Quarter and will be announced at the end of the Culture Night weekend.
This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.
To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media
Issued by Excalibur Press on behalf of CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove
£5m Fund to Retain Skills in the Creative Sector
A £5million fund to prevent the loss of the talent and expertise of individuals and freelancers working in the creative sector has been launched by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey.
The Creative Individuals Recovery Programme, which opens at noon today, will provide a grant of up to £2,000 per individual eligible application including DJs, artists, performers, sound and lighting technicians, writers, events managers and many other professionals who have been impacted as a result of the public health restrictions on the creative sector.
There is evidence that the creative sectors rely heavily on self-employed and freelance individuals and that many have already left the sectors because of the pandemic, with those remaining facing jobs vulnerability and unaffordable costs relating to re-establishing their creative practice.
Minister Hargey said: “I have listened to the recommendations of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce, and I have also engaged with the sector. As a result I am today launching a support scheme to provide grants to individuals to encourage them to remain in the creative arts sector.
“The culture, languages, arts and heritage sectors have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 restrictions as they rely heavily on people’s ability to get together which is why the Executive has provided £13million in 2021/2022 to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
“There is a risk that self-employed and freelance individuals may be forced to leave the creative sectors as a result of the pandemic. As the sectors rely heavily on individuals, this could destabilise the sector and the benefits it delivers including social, economic and wellbeing. This new £5m funding scheme aims to prevent loss of sectoral skills for self-employed and freelance individuals and safeguard the sector for the future.
“This fund will help with costs of reactivating, maintaining and enhancing their creative trade, vocation or profession. It is designed to prevent individuals, and their talent and expertise, from leaving the creative economy; and help them re-establish their contribution to the important benefits these sectors deliver.”
Welcoming the funding, chair of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Recovery Taskforce Rotha Johnston said: “Freelancers and the self-employed are critical to the recovery and sustainability of the creative and cultural sectors as a result of the impacts of Covid-19. Many have been deprived the opportunity to use their skills, perform or practice their art in the last 18 months. The Taskforce is of the unanimous view that support for individuals is essential to protect the viability of the sectors going forward. The Taskforce’s findings and recommendations have been developed following extensive engagement with people from across the sectors and our conclusion is that this public investment in culture, arts and heritage will deliver significant benefits to individuals, society and the economy in the short, medium and long term”.
The fund, co-designed by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) with the Department for Communities, will be delivered by the Arts Council. For information on how to apply including eligibility criteria please visit http://artscouncil-ni.org/funding/for-individuals
D/deaf and disabled artists will be supported via a separate award via ACNI to the University of Atypical who regularly support this particular cohort, to ensure that artists with particular needs are appropriately supported through the application process.
The scheme is open until 12 noon, 6 October, 2021.