April-June 2019

This quarter at Open Arts!

April 2019

This quarter’s newsletter is in celebration of our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Below you’ll see a bit of our press release and a profile of one of our actors and one of our artists that have been working hard to make this one of our best collaborative projects yet!

Tickets for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are priced £10/£8 and are on sale now from The MAC box office at https://themaclive.com/ or tel. 028 90235053.

Saturday 27th performance will be audio-described with a touch tour at 6:45pm  

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (…come true!)


Our artwork for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The image is split in half with the left side featuring a beautiful mirage of reds, greens, yellows and blues. The right side is a deep blue with the title of the play in the same colours as the left side. Text reads: ‘Open Arts presents a unique adaption of Shakespeare’s A Misummer Night’s Dream 26 th and 27 th April, 7.30pm. Tickets from www.themaclive.com’

Open Arts, one of Northern Ireland’s most dynamic arts and disability organisations will be stepping into the spotlight at The MAC on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 April for a unique production of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

Audiences will be transported to a magical forest world to meet the fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania and their mischievous servant Puck, who creates unintentional havoc for two lovestruck couples with the aid of a magic potion.  Adding to the comedic chaos are the motley crew of The Mechanicals (including in this adaptation a librarian, a DJ and a rugby coach!) performing the famous ‘play within a play’ and poor Bottom, whose head gets magically transformed into that of an ass, creating all the necessary ingredients for an hilarious story of order and disorder, reality and appearance and love and marriage.

Presented by the award-winning arts and disability charity Open Arts, this very special event will showcase the drama, dance, choral, visual art, creative writing and traditional Javanese Gamelan melodic percussion skills of up to 65 group members who have a range of disabilities: physical, sensory, learning disabilities and mental health illness.

Eileen Branagh, Chief Executive of Open Arts said:

“We are delighted to be launching our unique adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at The MAC, one of Northern Ireland’s leading arts venues.  This ambitious production is the result of almost two years’ work by Open Arts participants and tutors and it promises to be an unforgettable celebration of creativity and inclusivity.”

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented:

“Open Arts is a remarkable arts organisation and is vital, not least because it provides opportunities for people with disabilities to access and participate in the arts, but also because it provides a platform for people to make friends, to learn new skills and to increase confidence and self-esteem.  The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to support this terrific organisation, through National Lottery funding,  and I look forward to seeing the energy, commitment and creativity that the cast will bring to their take on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.’

Tickets for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are priced £10/£8 and are on sale now from The MAC box office at https://themaclive.com/ or tel. 028 90235053.

Saturday 27th performance will be audio-described with a touch tour at 6:45pm  

Profile Piece-Michelle Porter

Michelle Porter – Fairy Queen ‘Titania’ in Open Arts production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Pictured: Michelle Porter as Fairy Queen Titania. She is wearing a flower garland and a purple, pink and cream dress while admiring a red flower.

Michelle is 54 and lives in Dundonald, where she was born and bred.  She is single and has two sisters, one in Wimbledon and one in Glengormley.  Her dad, Bobby Porter, is a renowned traditional Irish singer, who performs in pubs, clubs and with singing groups all over Ireland.  Michelle thinks she got the performing bug from him!

Michelle always liked performing.  She did her BTEC Diploma in Performing Arts at BIFHE, where she learned stage craft, how to light shows, how to direct and how to perform.  The dance module was hell for her, but she loved the acting!  She went on to Ulster University at Coleraine to do a degree in Theatre Studies and was hoping to teach.  At university she discovered she had the reading level of someone in P7 and was dyslexic.

After attaining her degree, Michelle went to work with young people at Glenmona Resource Centre residential children’s home in West Belfast.  She had the job for 15 years when in summer 2014, she realised she was having problems with reading and went to the optician.

There, she found that she was blind in her left eye, but the other eye was compensating for it.  The optician sent her to the Royal Hospital, where they diagnosed macular degeneration in her right eye and diabetic retinopathy in her left eye. As her eyesight had deteriorated so much, she had to take six months off work and was eventually medically retired from her job.

Before her eyesight started to fail, Michelle worked with two of Northern Ireland’s most prominent theatre companies – Prime Cut Productions and Kabosh Theatre Company.

For Kabosh, Michelle was the lighting designer for “Murder Most Probably” (see here) at the Lyric Theatre.  She jokes that she was a terrible lighting designer as she put the cast in darkness for the production!

With Prime Cut Productions, Michelle was a cast member in ‘The Baths’, which explored the history of Templemore Baths (see here) and also performed outside Marks & Spencer on Royal Avenue in ‘Kaleidoscope’ (see here), an immersive, multi-sensory, multi-genre performance experience which took place on the streets of inner-city Belfast.

Less than two years after performing with Prime Cut, Michelle’s eyes started to deteriorate, and she found herself getting laser treatment on her eyes from a handsome Egyptian doctor on her 50th birthday!

Michelle currently has no vision in her left eye, and about 25% vision in her right eye.  She says that it took her a long time to come to terms with her condition and its associated new realities.  She found herself getting depressed at times and was often reluctant or too scared to go out.

Although her family have always been very supportive, Michelle says that a lot of her friends fell away whenever she got ill, so she became quite isolated.  Always an independent spirit, Michelle wanted to keep doing things for herself, however she began to think that no-one wanted to know her any more.

Joining the Acorn Art Group, which is run on the Lower Falls Road by arts and disability charity Open Arts, was a revelation for Michelle.  When she settled in to the fun atmosphere of the visual arts group, she was asked if she wanted to join the Open Arts drama group and to put her existing theatre skills – which she hadn’t had a chance to practice in several years – to good use.

Michelle says that what she particularly enjoys about the Open Arts groups is the togetherness and the feeling that while every group member has some sort of disability, it doesn’t matter – everyone looks after everyone and everyone is encouraged to do whatever they can do.

When she was invited to play Titania in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Michelle found that she had to start right back at the beginning in terms of her acting skills as her confidence had been knocked by her illness.  However, with the support of her fellow participants and tutors, the experience has really brought her out of herself.

Pictured: Michelle and her costar Gareth as Fairy Queen Titania and Fairy King Oberon. Oberon is wearing a purple shirt with pink and purple ribbon around the collar while Titania wears a purple. pink and cream dress. Both wear a flower garland while Titania blows a kiss at Oberon.

Michelle says:

“When I first got ill, I thought my life was over, and that I would just be sitting about in the house, doing nothing.  Performing on stage with Open Arts at The MAC means that all the theatre skills and experience I had in the past haven’t gone to waste.  It’s given me a real buzz and a new sense of purpose. 

When I asked a lady at the Blind Centre what registered blind people do, she said ‘Everything that everyone else does – they just do it a bit differently!’  I think that audiences will really see that when they come and see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  They’ll see that people with disabilities are as talented and clever as anyone else – they each have something to contribute and have skills and experience which should be utilised. 

The other participants and tutors at Open Arts have been brilliant at adapting the play to accommodate everyone’s needs and any concerns that they may have.  It’ll be my first time back on stage since performing with Prime Cut.  It used to be scary when I could see lots of people in the audience, but that’s not such a problem anymore and I’ve got plenty of supporters alongside me!”

Profile Piece: Claire McGoran

Claire McGoran-Costume Designer for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Pictured: Claire is on the left of the photo and in the background Titania and Oberon are seen during their photoshoot at Botanic Gardens. Eileen can also be seen in the background.

In 1994 Claire graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA Hons Degree Fine Craft Design and Embroidery. Determined to work as a visual artist based in Belfast she soon found options to be thin on the ground. Following a period working at the Fashion Design Centre she approached Open Arts in late summer 1995 with the idea of being a trainee art facilitator and prop/ puppet maker for their drama workshops. A year later, feeling much more confident in her facilitation skills, she became a freelance visual artist working for numerous organisations including Open Arts, Arts Care, Belfast Health Trust, and RNIB.

Claire says: ‘Over the past 24 years I have enjoyed facilitating a diverse range of projects for adults and children with disabilities in community based and educational settings. I’ve taken many opportunities to expand my experience in roles such as Consultant Artist, Visual Arts Co-ordinator, and developing an Arts programme for Jigsaw NI. I developed my sewing and design experience whilst working as a costume designer with Ulster Youth Dance, Laganside, Belfast Circus school and by taking commissions from professional performers and companies.

I’m so pleased to be part of Open Arts’ latest production, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Open Arts is an organisation which has a very special place in my heart! The ethos that runs through our classes and projects promotes inclusion, empowerment and creativity alongside professionalism, friendship and acceptance. Everyone has room to grow as an individual and be part of the incredibly supportive Open Arts family.’

Pictured: Action shot of Claire's sewing machine working on Titania's costume. Photo is of a white sewing machine with pink, purple and white fabric under the needle. In front of the machine is a small pair of sewing scissors and a spool of bright pink thread.
Pictured: Action shot of Claire’s sewing machine working on Titania’s costume. Photo is of a white sewing machine with pink, purple and white fabric under the needle. In front of the machine is a small pair of sewing scissors and a spool of bright pink thread.

Claire’s artistic genius will be evident in the beautiful costumes our cast will be wearing for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. With a keen attention to detail she has worked hard with members of the cast to create costumes that are functional, beautiful and tailored to each individual. She is also the mastermind behind some of our props including Titania’s stunning cane and flower garland.

Pictured: Two of the beautiful flower garlands made by Claire that will be seen in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Garlands are mainly green leafs with purple, pink and white flowers. Background is grey.

And coming up in the next newsletter: MeetShareDance!

MeetShareDance association was created in 2012 in Madrid to support dance, creativity and art for people with and without disabilities and to create an international network for professionals and amateurs in Europe and the rest of the world.

Find out more at: https://meetsharedance.com/

Antonio Quiles participation in MeetShareDance is supported by

Compagnia di San Paolo
European Cultural Foundation