Ballycastle born Garth McConaghie is the composer, sound designer and musical director for Cahoots NI’s latest immersive magical digital theatre experience.
The University of Wonder and Imagination is an hour-long interactive digital theatre production that allows audiences to effectively direct the performance, based on their interaction with the performers from the comfort of their own home.
In this ambitious and innovative undertaking, Garth is part of the Cahoots NI team broadcasting from an extensive, purpose-built set in Belfast, where magic and illusion have no boundaries.
Garth’s best known for his work as the musical director for hit TV show Derry Girls.
Speaking of his involvement in the production Garth said: “The University of Wonder and Imagination is innovative and adaptive to the times we find ourselves in.
“People can’t go to the theatre just now, So, we’re bringing the theatre to them.
“The fact that we are pushing technical boundaries in exploring new ways to tell stories and present theatre.
“It’s hopefully fun and exciting, with moments of wonder and lots of heart.”
The show will have it’s Northern Ireland premiere as part of this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival running from October 22nd – 25th and 29th – November 1.
And whilst he’s excited about the show Garth, 42, is no stranger to working with Cahoots.
“I first worked for Cahoots 16 years ago, way back in 2004, but I’ve been working with them very regularly since I wrote the music for their wonderful show, Egg, in 2011,” he explained.
“I like working with Cahoots because they’re a world class children’s theatre company, who make shows which are as good as, or better, than any other children’s theatre companies in the world.
“And the fact that they’re based here in N. Ireland is something we can all be very proud of.
“Their work often tours in America, Asia and elsewhere and, besides all the wonderful magic, storytelling and mesmerising imagery they create, there is an artistic honesty and genuine, huge heart at the centre of all of their work.”
Limited to pre-booked audience numbers per performance, guests will assemble with their fellow University students and, led by the mysterious Professor Bamberg, will embark on a journey where nothing is quite what it seems.
Audiences will interact with lively lecturers, experience themed rooms filled with illusion and encounter problems and puzzles in an attempt to unlock magical powers and graduate with flying colours.
Speaking about the new production, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, Creator/Director of The University of Wonder and Imagination, and Artistic Director of Cahoots NI, said: “We are thrilled to be opening the doors of the University of Wonder and Imagination for enrolment.
“Now, more than ever, we want to capture the sheer joy and wonder that theatre and live performance brings young audiences, something we so desperately miss being able to provide at this time. We have worked hard to create an experience that would act as a first step to bridge the gap between young people and live theatre that can be enjoyed at home.
“Developing this production has allowed us to explore a completely new channel through which to bring magic and illusion to children and their families via digital technology. The choices our audiences make live, during the event, will shape their unique theatre experience – and that’s hugely exciting for us.
“The technology we are using for the production is intricate, but it will be seamlessly blended with physical sets and magical illusions. Our audiences haven’t seen anything like this from Cahoots NI before, and we believe it will be a fun-filled, thrilling experience for children, for their families and for our cast and crew to be a part of.”
The University of Wonder and Imagination is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Caoileann Curry-Thompson, Arts Development Oﬃcer for Drama and Dance, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “Despite the enormous challenges presented to the Arts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cahoots NI continues to offer audiences world-class children’s theatre with their latest show, The University of Wonder and Imagination, this Autumn.
“This latest show promises to be a wonder to behold! The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is hugely proud to support this terrific production which will be enjoyed by many online, helping to bring great art to everyone.”
Cahoots NI is at the forefront of Northern Irish theatre and is the leading professional theatre company producing work for children. Since beginning operations in 2001, Cahoots NI has produced original, critically acclaimed work for children including Under the Hawthorn Tree, Secrets of Space, Shh! We have a Plan and has toured its work internationally including in China and the USA.
For more information go to cahootsni.com or follow Cahoots NI on social media #UniversityofWonder #CahootsNI
Father And Son Team Behind Massive Culture Night Installation
Monumental Ogham Grove interactive structure will dominate Writer’s Square
Father and son team Gawain Morrison and Dylan McCaughtry will bring an ancient Celtic language to life with a massive construction across Belfast’s Writer’s Square for this weekend’s Culture Night Belfast.
Having worked on music videos, short films and art projects they are now preparing for their most ambitious project to date, with fellow designer Neil Beattie.
Visitors to Writers’ Square will wander around massive tree-like structures, learn about the Druidic Ogham language, and interact via a QR code trail telling the story of this part of Celtic history that goes back to pre-Roman days.
Having worked together on projects since Dylan was 14, it was natural for both to take on the Ogham Grove installation and have a special touch for Gawain.
“It’s lovely because as we both get older, we have other lives going on,” he said.
“We’ve got things that take up our time and so the time you get to spend together and do things is very important. Getting him to do something like this is creating a memory.”
It helps that both are on the same page creatively.
“We get along and we’re quite similar in our mindset,” explained Dylan.
“It can be a bit challenging in that I’d be more in the construction side of things and he’s in creative management, so it’s marrying the two things. There were different things we were able to achieve in bringing this vision about.”
The Ogham Grove structure represents a different Culture Night experience, as the weekend has been re-structured due to Covid-19 restrictions.
For Gawain the idea of a city garden was an exciting prospect.
“The brief itself for this years’ Culture Night was very open in terms of where you could go with it, but something to do with the site’s specific structure,” he explained.
“People will be able to take it in and be part of.
“The fact that it was all themed around the city garden and the trees and some of the other things they’ve got coming down the line from planting a million trees and sustainability, all fitted with what we wanted to do and what we thought we could achieve.”
With such an ambitious project Gawain knew his son had the skills to help bring it to life.
“For the last ten years, Dylan has been working in film and TV and working on major shows like Game of Thrones and Derry Girls,” he said, adding: “He has worked across all manner of departments, from armoury, to set design, to costume, to tents and flags and everything in between.
“He has an incredible breadth of skills across the creation process using different materials and knows how to make temporary structures look and sound for people to be able to engage in, work around and be operating safely.”
With sustainability part of the brief every aspect of the construction is from reclaimed or upcycled materials that will be reused or repurposed afterwards, even the screws.
“A lot of the construction will be made out of pallets for the large alphabet section,” said Dylan.
“The reason behind that is because they are multi-use, they’re structurally sound and once we’re done with them, they can go back into the distribution system.
“The rest of the wood…the majority of it is reclaimed wood, stuff that has been used before and was just going to be thrown out, so we’re giving it that last little use of life before it goes on to its next use.”
There are no parental tensions as Gawain and Dylan have worked on ambitious tasks together before, such as the music video for the multi-instrumental hit artist BeardyMan.
“It’s totally fine working with Dylan,” said Gawain. “We don’t live together so he gets to close the door and walk away from me.”
Dylan is thankful to be working with his dad on Ogham Grove after the months of lockdown and restrictions.
“We got to spend more time together, which we haven’t been able to do in the last few years. It was great to hang out.”
And, as his dad says he also reminds him to take a break from the intensity of the project.
“He’s quite good at telling me to stop,” said Dylan.
“We don’t stop thinking about what we have to do but it’s nice that he can tell me to switch off.”
The working relationship goes back to when Dylan was still at school.
“I was about fourteen years of age and dad was producing short films,” he said.
“He would have brought me in to teach me stuff. I was an extra pair of hands. He was always encouraging and forcing me to get stuck in even when sometimes I didn’t want to.”
Gawain explained why they decided to use the Ogham alphabet as the touchstone for the mammoth installation.
“It was one of the first writing systems created by Druids to pass on knowledge,” he said. “It also harmonised with everything.
“It harmonises with trees, your environment, it makes sure that you’re living within your means, you’re living sustainably and it also then was the formation of the poetry, the music, the creative and the arts, all of this woven together is what made for a very healthy, fascinating lifestyle.”
Translating it into a 21st Century installation will involve lighting and music and for Dylan that fits into his recent work.
“My work in the film and TV industry such as recently on Netflix’s School of Good and Evil, means I’ve been able to pick up through set making, building, prop making, construction, using different materials and finding different uses for different materials for the outcome of Ogham Grove.
“Each element signifies a different tree and different types of wood with its own attributes be that through magic, or spirituality or even the aesthetical nature of them.
“These will all be laser etched, you’ll be able to scan the QR code of them, you’ll be able to be involved in this learning process of the Ogham alphabet.”
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 led Susan Picken, Director of Culture Night and Cathedral Quarter Trust to a major review of the event.
“We had the last big physical event back in 2019, with CN and Culture Day, which was really successful with huge crowds,” Susan explained.
“It got really big and almost overwhelming, but people loved it.
“Then obviously COVID happened and that really made us think a lot about the events and what we were going to be able to do and think about how the event had evolved over time and was it still doing what we wanted it to do for culture in the area.”
Having seen the concept from the initial proposal, through to Neil Beattie’s 3-D models she is confident that Gawain, Dylan and Neil will deliver something to live long in memories
“It’s a mammoth installation with light and sound,” she added.
“It’s going to be amazing, spectacular. Nothing like what people of Belfast have seen before or what people expect from Culture Night. It’s the one big idea that we’re really excited about.”
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.
Cathedral Quarter Trail To Lead Culture Night Visitors To The Ogham Grove
Over the coming weekend, Cathedral Quarter’s Writers’ Square will be the location for The Ogham Grove, a spectacular installation created by this year’s ambitious creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.
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.
He explained: “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. 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. In order 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 Ogham Grove installation will be replacing the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events. And although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken says 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 2021 edition of Culture Night will have a completely new format and a new approach designed for a COVID-safe, post-pandemic environment. A major difference this year is the decision to move away from the previous approach to programming.
“One of the biggest changes this year will be that we haven’t run an open programme for submissions as in previous years” said Susan.
We won’t be asking for proposals for performances or events, instead we are working directly with our Creative Lead team to transform Writer’s Square with our exciting installation, The Ogham Grove, which will be running from Friday September 17 to Sunday September 19. This extended running time will allow more time and space to visit and experience over the 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.