University of Winchester artist in residence shortlisted for prestigious award

2 Aug 2022
blue apple actors take a bow

Blue Apple Theatre, artist in residence at the University of Winchester, is a finalist in the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards in the Local Business of the Year Award category.

Founded in 2005, Blue Apple is an ambitious and inclusive theatre company for people with learning disabilities where every member is equally valued. Blue Apple currently provides acting, dance, singing and film opportunities to people with learning disabilities in Winchester, Andover and Southampton, and also offers online and hybrid access to classes.

Professor Sarah Greer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester, said: "Many congratulations to Blue Apple Theatre on being shortlisted for this prestigious award. It is a beacon of excellence and well deserves this national recognition. We are very proud that Blue Apple Theatre is our Artist in Residence at the University, based on campus and at the heart of our community. We gain so much from our partnership with them.

"Blue Apple has a way of developing and nurturing people that is dear to our hearts at the University. They work with performers as we do with our students, to empower them and bring out their confidence to flourish and succeed."

Sam Dace, a Blue Apple performer who played the leading role in Blue Apple's recent production of Macbeth, said: "Blue Apple is a theatre company that allows people like me to prove to other people out there that we can be something more than just people who are having to deal with their disability. It helps me to realise that I am not alone. We work together and we can do anything."

Blue Apple's shortlisting recognises their innovative response to the huge challenges faced during the COVID pandemic. Blue Apple transformed, embracing digital delivery to ensure that isolated participants could still engage in regular performing arts sessions and maintain social contact. As things returned to normal, it became clear that digital participation widens access to those who are vulnerable and nervous about leaving home, live outside Hampshire or simply enjoy this way of working, so Blue Apple has now moved some sessions online and also offers hybrid digital access to in-person sessions. This also allows those who are COVID positive to still take part and taking account of the current economic and meteorological climate, it helps mitigates the impact and cost of travel.

Delivering live theatre performance was another enormous challenge, but Blue Apple worked with digital experts to overcome these in the December 2020 production of Pinocchia, using green screen technology to project multiple individual performances into a digital stage set and livestreaming it to audiences watching from home online.

Artistic Director Richard Conlon said: "When the pandemic hit it took a while for performing arts companies to take stock, have a breather, think about what they did and how they did it, and companies like ourselves which dealt in face to face in person sessions and performances that happened in theatres had the rug pulled from under us and we just needed to stop for a moment and think "What are we at heart? We are storytellers. Can that story get to an audience in any other way? Yes, it can."

As regulations eased in the summer of 2021, Blue Apple adjusted the performance model again, this time for Frankenstein, combining a small live theatre cast of socially distanced performers with pre-recorded scenes of a wider cast from an outdoor location, all brought together in theatre and via digital livestream offering audiences the choice of where they accessed the performance.

Blue Apple is now on a pathway of managed growth and continues to extend its partnerships with theatre companies, locally and regionally in the UK and also overseas, most recently with similar organisations in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards for businesses of all shapes and sizes involves a year-long schedule of networking events, round tables and exemplary judging processes, all of which then culminate in a spectacular awards ceremony on Tuesday 8th November 2022 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Hundreds of companies entered the prestigious national awards, hoping to be recognised for their hard work, innovation and success.

Sarah Austin, Founder and Director of the British Business Excellence Awards, commented on the announcement:

"Everyone involved with the British Business Excellence Awards is delighted by the sheer calibre of competition amongst the finalists this year. Each and every finalist should feel proud and accomplished at what is already a fantastic and commendable accomplishment.

"The British Business Excellence Awards prides itself on being the UK's premier celebration of business, recognising resilience, innovation and all-round brilliance. The setting for the ceremony is truly show stopping, taking place at the fabulous Grosvenor Hotel in London. The entire team are brimming with anticipation and excitement for what will be the business event of the year."

The complete list of finalists is available on the British Business Excellence Awards website.

Photos above and op the landing page: Blue Apple Theatre 2021 performance of Frankenstein by Harvey Mills Photography 

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