Interview with artist, Louise Regan

While soaking up the Fairport Festival atmosphere for my Cropredy writing commission, I visited a pop-up art gallery above the Mulberry Cafe. I was immediately drawn to an ‘illumination’ by Louise Regan and am now the proud owner of a print which I love! My ‘record shot’ photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

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Incidentally, last Saturday at the Merry Hill Floating Market, I was chatting to another artist, Jan Vallance, The Art Boat. She told me how difficult it is to photograph her art to advertise it online; finding the right lighting conditions is tricky for a boat dweller! I love Jan’s work too, all based on her journeys on the canal network.

I hadn’t realised that Louise also lives on a boat until I contacted her on Instagram (@louiseumbra) to ask if she would like to be interviewed for my Cropredy-related blog. This was a bonus, because I want to include people’s thoughts about the canal in my poetry writing. I should say that I haven’t yet met Louise, so the interview is by way of an email exchange.

Louise Regan

Louise Regan

Cropredy’s sense of community
Having grown up in a village, I wanted the same for my daughter. I like the friendliness and sense of community. Cropredy’s sense of community is very strong, which I think has a lot to do with the Fairport Festival. It gives the village a real identity and the revenue it brings in means we have 2 pubs, a shop, a school and various little businesses; which in turn ensures its not a second-home village (like a lot of surrounding villages are). Whilst house prices are high, a good amount of villagers are working class. It’s got bags of local history and from an artist’s point of view, plenty of lovely bits!

Boat life
If you think village life is about strong community, boat life is double that! Got a problem? Need a hand? Someone will be there to help! We live in a self sufficient little world, responsible for everything we need (which involves being organised!) – water, electricity, heating, loo etc. You can also make a boat very much your own – I’m an avid DIYer! Last year I built a kitchen. It might not be like something out of a showroom, but it’s just how I want it and it hasn’t fallen apart yet!

Tranquillity and nature
I will never take the tranquillity for granted or being so close to nature. In mid April and mid October, when the sun is just setting, from our side doors I can see all the spider webs across our field and it’s magical. The curlews arrived mid February this year, which was so exciting! And when the swallows get here there’s a feeding frenzy over the canal after their long journey.

Louise Regan - Medieval Town Illumination

Louise Regan – Medieval Town Illumination

Being an artist
I’ve been arty for as long as I can remember. I’ve been selling painted canal ware for years in various outlets and, over the last two years, taking in online commissions for medieval illuminated lettering and baby name paintings. It wasn’t until February 2019 that I joined Church Lane Gallery, Banbury and actually started exhibiting. It involved a great deal of encouragement from my husband! I was creating my crazy complicated illumination/architectural/nature mash ups as a form of relaxation and he kept telling me I ought to join a gallery – he even went into CLG, had a chat and got me an application form. So over the last 6 months I have discovered people actually understand, connect with, like my work and want to own it!

The future of Cropredy
I shouldn’t imagine Cropredy will change much. I hope the younger generation can afford to stay in the village. The houses certainly won’t change that much, and I hope that we have enough ridge and furrow (providing the protection order isn’t lifted!) around to protect us from being eaten by Banbury.

Louise Regan - Banbury Illumination A3

Louise Regan – Banbury Illumination A3

I’m grateful to Louise for sparing the time to send me her thoughts and allowing me to edit them (only a little!) into this blog. I will certainly choose a few phrases to feed into the poems I am writing. Thanks also to Church Lane Gallery for organising the pop-up exhibition. It was great meeting Amy and Dave there, and fascinating to find out more about their work.

See also Interview with masseur, Ross White

Changing a space for ever 

A performance can change a space for ever. When ‘engagement and creative arts warrior’ Rachel Sharpe said words to this effect, I was struck by the truth of it. Having toured Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways to venues unused to hosting performances, I knew what she was getting at.

A good example is the Wildside Activity Centre in Wolverhampton, alongside the Staffs & Worcs Canal. The room was laid out for us to perform against the short wall of their rectangular space, the ‘top’ of the room – a wall cluttered with displays and other bits and pieces – but we chose the long wall which had several windows. We asked for the chairs to be arranged in a wide arc so that people could see us more easily, and we drew the curtains which created a simple dark backdrop without distractions. The organisers had never hosted a theatrical show before and were very accommodating. At the end of the evening, the Centre’s Project Leader, Steve, looked up at the strip lights and commented that for future events of this nature, it would be good to improve the lighting to make it more atmospheric. So a space previously seen only as an ‘activity room’ now has an added dimension as a theatre, and the success of our show has encouraged them to put on more events of this nature.

Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton


There are other venues where we didn’t feel as if our hosts had noticed that they could easily have done more to give us a quiet space where we wouldn’t have to compete with, for example, the ring of a till or loud conversation. A pub which hasn’t hosted theatre before won’t necessarily have realised that it’s not appropriate to book people in to have a meal during the show. It may not occur to them that clattering cutlery and the necessity to communicate over dinner orders is not ideal for audience and artists alike! Some hosts will have taken things like this on board for the future and others not.

Not only does a performance change the space, but the audience changes the performance. A large responsive audience in a compact space gives a virtual sounding board which lifts us. Concentration was harder when we had: a sprawling audience with people chatting at the back, a bloke in the second row holding up a device to take photos or a video, wandering and/or barking dogs, a drunken woman (who was really enjoying the show), a man in a loud shirt whose phone had a very loud ringtone …. Every performance feels different and has its own quirks, not least because of the venue and the audience, and taking theatre to non-arts spaces means working round all sorts of inconveniences whilst hoping to develop use of that space and raise awareness of how arts events can work well in community venues.

Some people have come to see our show at least twice and have said it’s even better the second time, which is good to know! Tomorrow night we’re at Theatre in the Dock in Banbury when there will be a special announcement about our exciting plans for 2017. Next year there will be opportunities for our show to have an impact on new spaces, as we take audiences into another world where much of their surroundings are imagined: the back of a boat, a pub, a lock, the towpath, top planks, tarpaulin, sirens, doodlebugs … and lots of women!

For details of our forthcoming London shows and for more information, go to the Alarum Theatre website.