Jazz, historical theater, films and literary workshops galore

Tabitha Smyth as Dorothy of Northern Ireland Stars, artist Barry Mulholland of Creative Exchange and Andrea Deloney, singer with Anuna at the launch of the Eastside Arts Festival.

Among the musical highlights of this year, two flagship concerts will be organized in the beautiful and unique setting of St Patrick’s Church, Ballymacarrett. Let yourself be enchanted by Anúna’s beautiful atmospheric voice or spend an evening in the company of musician and rock director Nick Lowe.

Meet award-winning East Belfast musician Kaz Hawkins inviting her band to entertain with his own take on the blues, or acclaimed saxophonist Keith Donald presenting his solo drama of a life in music at Belvoir Players Studio. For the younger ones there is the Ossia Music Rock School followed by a concert for the youngsters with the indie rock band from East Belfast, The Late Twos. The Woodstock Rhythm & Blues Festival opens this year with six days of music at venues featuring the sounds of local artists including Amanda St John, Anthony Toner, Ken Haddock and Ronnie Greer.

Other festival highlights of note include special tributes to iconic films at the Strand Arts Center such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Big Lebowski and in the spirit of Shakespeare 400 celebrations, a screening of the 20th anniversary of Romeo and Juliet from Baz Luhrmann. Literary types will enjoy a special page to stage an event with novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell and Rosemary Jenkinson, whose work has been staged multiple times at the Lyric Theater. There will also be a Literary Supper Club featuring top emerging poets with Alice McCullough headlining.

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The Creative Exchange Artists Studios will celebrate their 20th anniversary during the festival. Using venues such as the old Engine Room Gallery at the Portview Trade Center, the occasion will feature exhibitions, debates, discussions and a community art workshop.

Other visual art highlights of the festival include a poolside watercolors exhibit at Templemore Swim Baths, a sensory dining experience at Framewerk, and a series of social arts events at the St Martin church.

To mark the anniversary of the Somme, renowned local actors Sam and Joan McCready, along with a brass quintet from the Ulster Orchestra, present Letters From The Front, a play composed of a selection of poems and letters recounting this painful period. This year’s drama program also includes the one-act play The Prodger, the story of an Irish Catholic who fought in the Somme. Veteran writer and comedian Sam will also feature in a production called No Surrender by Robert Harbinson, a gifted Ulster writer born in Dee Street, Belfast.

A dose of comedy will be offered to audiences with the production of Neil Dougan’s Herectics and Head the Balls – a humorous look at 500 years of Protestant culture, while history buff Tim McGarry goes Over The Top with an all-new show by stand-up surveying 1916, the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme.

After their huge success Belfast Tempest, the intercultural theater company Terra Nova Productions will be offering a Shakespeare masterclass on the theme of Romeo and Juliet over two evenings and you can spend a morning creating yarn art with the craft workshop. by Redhead Thread. Older people can learn about the circus and younger people can play Claycrazy at the Strand Arts Center. Other free community events range from Jazz On A Summers Day at Park Avenue Hotel and activities for young and old at Victoria Park.

This year’s program will also see many of the festival artists performing introductory performances at retirement homes and retirement homes in East Belfast.

l For more information on the EastSide Arts Festival 2016, visit www.eastsidearts.net or check out Facebook / EastSideArtsBel or @EastSideArtsBel on Twitter.

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