EastSide Arts Launch Eleven-Day 2016 Festival

'Inspiring' programme features 100 events including anniversaries of Shakespeare, the Somme and Belfast's own Creative Exchange Artists’ Studios

EastSide Arts Festival, delivered by EastSide Arts, is getting ready to bring 11 days of inspiring events to east Belfast and beyond from August 10 - 21. From music, comedy, movies, theatre, talks, workshops, visual art, exhibitions, poetry, events for the young and old, community events and heritage tours, over 40 venues will host the programme of 100 events – with more than half of them free.

In two headline concerts the stunning setting of St Patrick’s Church, Ballymacarrett will be enchanted by the beautiful, atmospheric vocals of Anúna, and provide the stage for an evening in the company of musician and headmaster of rock, Nick Lowe.

Award-winning east Belfast native Kaz Hawkins will entertain with her band's unique take on the blues while renowned saxophonist Keith Donald traces his life in music with his fantastic one-man drama New Bliss at the Belvoir Players Studio.

For younger audiences there’s the Ossia Music Rock School, followed by a youth gig featuring indie rock locals The Late Twos. The Woodstock Rhythm & Blues Festival will be bigger and better than ever this year too as it opens proceedings with six days of performances from the likes of Amanda St John, Anthony Toner, Ken Haddock, Ronnie Greer and Rab McCullough.

The festival will also feature a wide range of readings, film screenings, poetry, heritage events and lectures. Highlights include special tributes to iconic films at Strand Arts Centre from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Big Lebowski and in the spirit of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations, a 20th anniversary screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.

For fans of written and spoken word, treats include a special Page to Stage event with Lucy Caldwell and Rosemary Jenkinson, in association with the Lyric Theatre, an event featuring the best emerging east Belfast poetry talent, a Literary Supper Club at The Lamppost Café and a bus tour of the east with resident poet, Alice McCullough.

This year's EastSide Arts Festival also incorporates the 20th anniversary celebrations of Creative Exchange Artists’ Studios. Using places and spaces across east Belfast such as the former Engine Room Gallery at Portview Trade Centre, this special occasion will be marked through exhibitions, debates, talks, a billboard project and a special wising tree community art workshop.

Other visual art highlights of the programme include Poolside Watercolour at Templemore Swimming Baths, a sensory dining experience at Framewerk and a series of social arts events at St. Martin’s Church.

Amongst an inspiring range of theatrical experiences this year is Letters From The Front, a production marking the centenary of the Somme and featuring internationally renowned local actors Sam and Joan McCready as well as a brass quintet from the Ulster Orchestra. A selection of poems and letters giving accounts of this harrowing time will also be shared with the audience.

In keeping with the 1916 theme The Prodger is a one act play telling the story of a Catholic Irishman who fought at the Somme. Sam McCready will also feature in No Surrender by Robert Harbinson, as he introduces the work of the gifted writer born in Dee Street.

Eastside Arts Programme Launch 2016

Those looking for comedy needn't look further than Neil Dougan’s Heretics’ and Head the Balls - a funny look back at 500 years of Protestant culture, or 1916 Tim McGarry 'Goes Over The Top', a brand new stand-up show about the history of 1916 Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, with the Blame Game and Give My Head Peace star's typically unique take on things.

This year’s festival is also jam packed with workshops and community events. Following on from their hugely successful Belfast Tempest, intercultural theatre company Terra Nova Productions will deliver a Romeo and Juliet-themed Shakespeare masterclass over two evenings.

Spend a morning creating thread art with Redhead Thread’s craft workshop; seniors can try out some circus skills and young ones can go Claycrazy at Strand Arts Centre. Free community events range from Jazz On A Summers Day at Park Avenue Hotel (free to seniors) as well as a fantastic array of activities for young and old at Victoria Park. A special touch for this year’s festival will see many of the festival performers provide intimate taster shows at folds, nursing and residential homes throughout east Belfast.

Learn more about east Belfast through heritage tours taking in Van Morrison, the First World War, the history and architecture of buildings like the famous Strand Arts Centre, and even a Gaelic Tour. Get to know the area's rising stars in The Wizard of Oz or at the EastSide Emerging community showcase, featuring some of east Belfast’s most promising emerging musical talent.

Supporting the launch of EastSide Arts Festival programme for 2016, Permanent Secretary, Leo O’Reilly, said: 'On behalf of the Department for Communities I am pleased to support the EastSide Arts Festival as it launches its exciting festival programme. The Festival continues to be a hugely successful event which grows in confidence each year. East Belfast is an area with strong cultural foundations, and this festival highlights that rich heritage. It also reflects the growing diversity and cosmopolitan nature of this part of the city which can be seen in this very inspiring programme of events and activities.'

Roisin McDonough Chief Executive, from festival principal funder the Arts Council of Northern Ireland commented; 'EastSide Arts continues to open up the arts to people of east Belfast, and beyond. In recent years, EastSide Arts has created something special. Its flagship event, the EastSide Arts Festival – together with the Woodstock R&B festival and the C.S. Lewis Festival - are giving people an unprecedented opportunity to engage in the arts, culture and the life of this community.

'We have the opportunity now to celebrate some of the greatest attributes of this place, namely, the creativity and energy of its people and the Arts Council is proud to lend its support to this important venture.'

Rachel Kennedy, EastSide Arts Manager, commented: 'It’s been an amazing few months preparing the programme for this year’s festival and I am pleased to say that we have a truly inspiring and diverse programme that not only showcases the creativity and talent within east Belfast, but also attracts artists and audiences to come and celebrate this talent with us.

'During the festival people will be inspired to have fun, try something new and importantly see the east of the city as a community that is full of creativity, colour and, above all, one that is on a journey of renewal. I want to take this opportunity to thank our key funders, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, the Department for Communities and Tourism Northern Ireland for their support as well as our key sponsors, all of whom made the festival possible.'

For further programme details and ticket booking visit www.eastsidearts.net. Stay up to date with the festival on social media - follow EastSide Arts on Facebook and Twitter and use the hashtag #ESAFest16.