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Interview with Gemma Aldcroft and Karen Podesta 2011

Gemma Aldcroft and Karen Podesta

From Little Atoms do giant ambitions grow. Gemma Aldcroft and Karen Podesta of Club Geek Chic and Little explain to Chris High how excited they are that Peter Serofinowicz will be appearing at St George’s Hall in April as a part of their In Conversation series and what the future holds.

The founders of Liverpool’s Club Geek Chic and Little Atom Productions, Gemma Aldcroft and Karen Podesta, can feel that, on some level, that they were fated to meet. Now, thanks to their In Conversation nights with some of Liverpool’s finest talent finding a regular home at St. George’s Hall, the pair are ready to push their own boundaries and expand what has proven to be a hugely successful concept. 

‘In 2007, I was talking to a friend about how hard it was to find a nice night out in Liverpool where you were entertained in a way that you wouldn’t normally associate with the city,’ Gemma explained. ‘The cabaret element was what was lacking and I was getting a bit fed up with the fact that everywhere was really loud and that people were really drunk wherever we went, so you couldn’t really socialise. With Club Geek Chic, I set about encompassing these aspects so that people could get up and dance, have a few beers and chat with each other.  My background is theatre, so I looked into things such as Music Hall nights and Burlesque evenings, alongside themed nights. By the time I’d met Karen I’d organised my Japanese inspired ‘Night of the Cherry Blossoms’ and ’Geek Chic does Bond’. It’s events like this that have gone down really well in Liverpool because people do relax more when they’re not having to shout to make themselves heard.’

One of the major difficulties Gemma had to overcome initially was finding venues. ‘I started off in cafes and bars. The Bond night was held in FACT: following a special screening of Quantum of Solace guests were entertained with Bond-themed cabaret acts, a live band and a DJ to round the evening off. Then, following an interview with me run by Liverpool.com magazine, Karen got in touch.’

Karen had been living and working in London on the London Film Festival, but had returned to her home city only recently when she came across the article. ‘I’d had a successful events career in London, but I felt that I needed a change.  When I went travelling to Australia and saw the 2008 celebrations on TV in Sydney, I realised I missed Liverpool and the time was right to come home.  Having read the piece in the magazine I thought that the events Gemma was organising were the type of thing I’d love to attend and that I was used to being involved with. We met up over coffee and Gemma went over an idea she’d had for staging a Tea Dance with contemporary twist.  From there we just sort of clicked.’

The timing couldn’t have been better as far as Gemma was concerned. Although the events were popular, they weren’t making any money and had grown to such an extent that it was proving increasingly difficult for her to organise single-handedly. ‘A series of events like this is quite difficult to control once it builds momentum,’ Gemma continued. ‘With two of you, that element becomes easier and so makes the events more effective. One of the main problems we have is that, if anything, we have extremely high expectations and boundless enthusiasm and therefore jump in feet first. We started without a marketing budget or a mailing list, so it meant we had to be pretty full on to get our message out there. Also, a lot of people didn’t really understand what we were trying to do and those who did we couldn’t reach effectively enough. Although the events were being well received by those who were coming, there weren’t enough of them. This meant that we had to streamline what we were doing in order to survive and that’s when we came up with the In Conversation events.’

In Conversation is a night inspired by Roy Plomley’s Desert Island Discs, in which a famous son or daughter of Liverpool recounts their life and career and selects five pieces of music they hold most dear. The twist is that, rather than simply throwing on a CD, the tracks are played live by local bands and artists. ‘Our first In Conversation took place in September 2009 at The Hope Street Hotel in front of around 70 people and featured journalist Paul Du Noyer,’ Karen said. ‘That was a great night and went down really well. So well in fact we were then approached by the Anglican Cathedral who were looking to utilise their own space with such events as ours. Janice Long and Mike McCartney followed, but in terms of a one-on-one interview, logistically and acoustically, the cathedral can be a a tricky space to work in. That’s when we contacted St. George’s Hall about using the Small Concert Room, which is magnificent and more intimate – which creates an immediate bond between the audience and the interviewee. Ian St. John was our first guest in the Concert Room and last November we welcomed actor David Morrissey, who spoke before an audience of over 300 about his childhood in the city and, also, his new charity CAST which helps underprivileged kids in Lebanon and Sri Lanka integrate through drama. Both Ian and David were just blown away. Not only by the room, but also by the format and particularly with how the variations of their choices of music leant themselves to the evening. Ian St. John was delighted when he saw the Merseyssippi Jazz Band on stage live on stage, as he regularly attended their gigs in the 1960s.  The look on our guest’s faces when they hear those special songs makes everything worthwhile.’

The next In Conversation event takes place at St. George’s Hall on April 1st and features Peter Serafinowicz.  Sometimes contacting potential guests can be a laborious task. Not so with Peter. ‘By coincidence, Peter and I attended the same primary school so it was great to have such an ice-breaker when we got in touch.’ Karen laughed.  ‘I told him that I fondly remembered his family as the only other in the school whose surname nobody could pronounce!  Peter was incredibly keen to take part from the start’

‘We are very excited,’ Gemma agreed. ‘He’s just gone massive in America and we couldn’t believe it when he said he’d love to come and be interviewed. All of the guests have one things in common and that’s that they all have a long standing link with Liverpool. Having that connection is really important to us and makes it easier to convince those we’ve approached because they love the city so much. We’ve been amazed how responsive both audiences and potential interviewees have been. There’s also the fact that, in Peter’s case, as someone who doesn’t get the chance to come back very often, he sees this as a really good opportunity to catch up with what’s going on in his home town,’

As always, both Gemma and Karen are looking to the future. ‘Because we’ve had people with the character and status of David, Mike, Ian, Paul, Janice and now Peter, we think this is a concept that can be taken just about anywhere, ’Gemma said. ‘It’s like a night at the theatre but with the added extra of interacting with the incredible personalities on stage and enjoying some phenomenal live music performances. It all makes for a lovely evening, so why not look to take it to other cities? New York would be fantastic!’

Both are also keen to point out that none of the In Conversations would take place without a whole team of friends and volunteers who dedicate their time and skills to putting the shows on. ‘Everything from the lights and the sound to front of house, is currently done by volunteers and we really can’t thank them all enough,’ Karen said.
So what’s next? ‘We’re talking with Sue Johnston and Vasily Petrenko who are both very interested but date-wise it’s a question of availability and scheduling,’ Gemma said. ‘We’re also planning to approach both Alison Steadman and Jason Isaacs, so it really is a case of watching this space.’

Pweter Serofinowicz appears at St George’s Hall on Friday April 1st. For further information: Email: littleatomproductions@yahoo.co.uk or Telephone: 07792 197 573.



If you would like to comment on this interview with Gemma Aldcroft and Karen Podesta, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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