Mykey J Young is a multi-disciplinary artist, producer and director based in Blackpool. He creates and produces exciting and engaging concepts and programmes with heart and soul for the cultural and commercial sectors, both on home soil, throughout the UK and across the globe.
Clancy Mason catches up with Mykey to talk about his project plans for the Winter Gardens Film Festival, his love of musicals and his creative journey so far.
CM: Can you tell us a little bit about your work/practice?
MJY: I like to make works at all scales from intimate cabarets to large-scale spectacle, outdoor arts and festivals. I love to blend skill, fuse styles and dream big.
CM: What is your involvement in the Winter Gardens Film Festival 2020?
MJY: I am REALLY excited to have been commissioned by the WGFF for 2020 and will be creating a (hopefully) hilarious and interesting series of performances to accompany the ‘Sing-a-long’ screening of ‘Calamity Jane’. I am going to create the pre-screening event in two sections.
For the first I’ll be working with a group of local young actors, prospective graduates and volunteers to create a veritable smorgasbord of eye-catching and charismatic Western themed characters and interactive activities to keep our audiences amused and entertained before the film starts.
For the second I’ll be throwing Drag and Music Hall Culture, Musical Theatre, Cabaret and themes of ‘Calamity Jane’ in to a blender to create ‘Miss Molly Mackenzie’s Showtime Saloon Sing-a-long’ – a bite size spectacular that gets the audience warmed up and ready to sing along with the screening of the film. You can expect stockings, suspenders, song and dance and maybe even a comedy prop, or two! (whip crack away, which crack away, whip crack away!)
CM: If you could share any pearls of wisdom with anyone trying to get a career in the arts off the ground, what would it be?
MJY: Working in the arts can sometimes feel unachievable, like it’s beyond your grasp. When I first started out I was from a very different background. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in, that I wouldn’t ever be good enough, that I wouldn’t be taken seriously and that I wouldn’t ever be able to get a foot in the door. I just didn’t know where to start, so for a long time, I didn’t.
I found my way when I stopped letting those little vampires (the voices inside my head) stop me from giving it a shot. I sought out support from Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme (CPP). I attended a surgery with LeftCoast (the Blackpool CPP) where I was encouraged to be honest with myself and explain what I wanted to achieve. When I finished rambling (for probably a good hour or so), the team helped me to structure a plan for how to bring my ideas to life and supported me along the way with advice, training and mentoring.
It was one of the first times I felt seen or even understood. I was heard and my ambitions and dreams given serious credit for what felt like the first time in my career. That is the beauty of working in arts and culture. You can do you, with no need for an apology.
There is so much support out there for anyone who wants to start a career in the arts in every role, not just as the artist. CPP still runs across the country to this day and no matter where you are from, even if you don’t have a CPP, there is arts support in almost every region of the country. You just need to seek it out.
Since then, I have been persistent in working hard, developing my practice and building a professional and personal support network and I haven’t looked back. It’s tough at times, but it’s the same in every industry. That’s just life!
My best advice would be that if you want to achieve something, you just have to switch your mindset to a place where you believe that you can do it. If you can visualize it, you can make it happen. Once you make that tiny change, the only thing that can limit you is your imagination. You just have to take a shot and go out and grab it with both hands.
Go for it, be brave, be bold and be brilliant!
CM: Are there any career highlights you are particularly proud of?
MJY: I really do count my lucky stars to have worked on a whole host of gorgeous projects but I am particularly proud to have created the first LightPool Festival, which won the Best Tourist Event award at the 2017 Lancashire Tourism Awards and featured work and performances from over 60 international artists and directors.
Another favourite project was working as an Associate Director on ‘We’re Here because We’re Here’ – a living artwork, masterminded by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller. The artwork unfolded simultaneously in villages, towns and cities across the entirety of the UK to mark the 100th anniversary of The Battle of The Somme. The project was under the strictest of embargos and was a kept a complete secret until the day it took place when thousands of volunteers took to the streets, representing every single soldier who had lost their lives fighting for their country. It will forever be one of the most emotionally moving projects I have ever worked on and I am so proud to have been a part of it.
CM: What is your connection to Blackpool? What are the challenges and highlights of living and working here?
MYJ: “When people ask me why I ‘do what I do’ I always tell the same story. “I was inspired by the place that I grew up in and had a bizarre childhood, with experiences that just wouldn’t have happened anywhere else except in that place and at that time.”
The quote above is taken from a work in progress that focuses on my own self-reflection, as I analyse exactly what part Blackpool really had to play in shaping me to become who I am today, but most importantly, why.
I am a huge fan of Blackpool. I am passionate about it. I care about it. I see it as a Wonderland, where anything can happen and it inspires me and my work, daily. Where else do you have two Ballrooms, a Frank Matcham Theatre, an Opera House, a Circus and a Theme Park on your doorstep? It takes me 5 minutes to walk to a seafront that on a summers day can make you feel like you are in an exotic country and 5 minutes in the opposite direction to walk to a Victorian park, steeped in history with its own Art Deco café and boating lake. I am spoiled for choice in my hometown and I often take it for granted.
Working as an artist or creative in a northern seaside resort can come with its challenges. It’s no secret that arts and culture are severely under invested in this area. Accessing funding and space and finding support to create work can be extremely difficult to navigate. ‘High quality work’ is, more of then than not, bought in rather than supported to be created here.
That said, we do have a small, passionate and highly proactive creative community made up of amazing artists, curators, excellent thinkers, producers, makers, doers and go-getters, who, when they join forces, are unstoppable. I’m really proud of my talented friends who continue to work here and together we are all leading change, bit-by-bit!
It is EXCELLENT that The Winter Gardens Film Festival have provided so many top quality commissions to local artists for 2020 and I am proud and thankful to have the opportunity to work with them, in my hometown.
CM: Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone. How are you managing to remain creative during this time?
MJY: Being in a situation that has forced me to slow down is really, really strange. Work/Life balance isn’t usually a phrase in my vocabulary. I very much live my work, but that’s just how I have always been and it really does make me happy. But now, things have changed and I find myself with much more time with my own thoughts than normal.
I wouldn’t normally dedicate so much time to going on walks, taking time to stop and breathe or even taking time to just forget about working all together for a day or even two. In doing this I’ve found real clarity of thought in the moments of calm and that has unlocked a whole new level of creativity in my brain.
Some days I am excellent and some days I am not. Some days I can’t stop creating and some days I just want to stay in my pajamas and binge watch Schitts Creek (in my daily quest to master my impressions of Moira Rose).
Normally, I would just push through these feelings to keep going, but this situation has taught me that we don’t need to go at 100 miles per hour all day, every day. In fact, it’s most likely counterproductive.
My friend Tina has this saying – ‘be kind to yourself’, and I have been repeating that in my head every day since things began to change.
Forcing myself to stop for a moment is making me more creative in turn. If I have a great day, full of ideas, I go with it. And I work hard. But if I am faced with a day where I just don’t feel up to it, or I don’t feel creative, then I let it go and I don’t make myself feel guilty for it like I used to.
This is such a strange situation for us all to be in, that I really do think that all we can do is our best and try to find the positive in every situation, even if at times we feel like Dorothy Gale, trapped in that tornado!
So that’s exactly how I’m managing to keep being creative during these times, by following Tina’s advice and just being kind to myself.
You should try it…it works!
CM: Here are some quick-fire movie questions:
1) CM: What film do you wish you could see again for the first time and why?
MJY: Mrs Doubtfire. Because despite having seen the film probably more than a thousand times, I still laugh uncontrollably every single time. I would like to have the chance to watch it again for the first time but as an adult and not as a child, understanding all of the subtleties and genius of Robin Williams from scratch. It’s one of my all time favourite films.
2) CM: Have any films influenced your own work/practice? Which ones and how?
MJY: Oh gosh, this is really difficult to answer because there are too many to mention and I can already hear the eyes of film buffs across the country rolling as they read these answers. BUT…
For comedy and improvisation it would have to be the aforementioned Mrs Doubtfire along with Hocus Pocus. For pure style and opulence, Moulin Rouge. For stylisation, Cabaret, along with the Studio 54 revival of the stage show that starred Alan Cumming. (AMAZING!)
And whether or not you laugh at me, Mean Girls is an absolute favourite of mine and in turn the Broadway musical that was inspired by the film. I was furious that Tina Fey beat me to it with the adaptation! (I know we are talking about films and I keep bringing up musicals, but it all goes hand in hand with me!)
3) CM: Is there a filmmaker you would like to collaborate with and what would your collaboration look like?
MJY: OF COURSE! I absolutely adore Baz Luhrman. EVERTHING about his style and direction makes my heart soar. I just ADORE his work.
I mentioned earlier that I see Blackpool as a Wonderland and this was even more so growing up here as a kid. In my minds eye, I always see my childhood memories in filmic quality. They play out just like scenes in a movie. It would be incredible to collaborate with Luhrmann to tell a story inspired by some of those memories. Just imagine how it would look. WOW!
4) CM: Can you recommend any contemporary films / filmmakers, from the last 10 years, which you think are pushing boundaries and doing exciting things with film?
MJY: Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ always sticks out in my mind as an amazing movie in the last decade. The aesthetics were stunning and the use of colour exceptional. I love it when the cinematography takes me by surprise and with this film it really did. I might go and watch it again now…
5) CM: What three films would be on your ultimate Lockdown Movie Marathon?
- Connie and Carla
- Priscilla Queen of the Desert
- To Wong Fu, with love, Julie Newmar (I know, camp or what? I am ridiculous.)
CM: Post Covid-19, do you have any plans for the ‘new normal’?
My new normal will mainly consist of never, ever taking anything in my life for granted, ever again. And being with the people that I love as often as possible. <3 <3 <3
Over and out…MJY xxx
Photo credits: Mykey J Young