Online events and creative activities
In the light of government advice about social distancing and self-isolation because of Covid-19 and the subsequent closure of venues, pretty much all of Reading's arts events, workshops and classes cancelled or postponed.
BUT DO NOT FEAR! The good news is that local culture and arts organisations are already looking at creative ways to continue to share their work and encourage everyone to keep creative. Here’s a list of some things we know about. We’re sure there is more going on out there so hit us with your good news stories on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll add them to the list.
Also, check out Reading Culture Live. It's our sister site and serves as a "virtual venue" for Reading's cultural community. Many of the events listed on this page may also stream on the new site, staying on there for re-watching time and again. It launched at the end of May with over 100 events, and that number is only going to grow!
And don't forget the What's On Reading Podcast where we talk all about how the arts are coping with these changing times.
Online events and performances
Devised during Lockdown 1, and performed at South Street either side of Lockdown 2, Behind Closed Doors was devised to make sense of the unique times we are living through. It was made for small audiences of 20 per show who watched in individual Covid-secure booths. A filmed version is now available to stream here on What's On Reading until 12 March. And if you saw the show, either in person or digitally, Sotuh Street are hosting an Online Theatre Club where you can discuss the show with the people who created it. It takes place on Thursday 4 March at 7pm - you can book to be part of the Zoom conversation or simply watch it unfold on Facebook.
A new series of local history online talks from the Centre for Heritage and Family History arrives in 2021. As usual, pre-booking is required because places are limited. Bookings close one day before each event.
The arrival of the railways in Reading - 6 Mar, 2pm
Caversham Court's Kitchen Garden - 8 Apr, 2pm
The Mansion House - 22 Apr, 2pm
Jane Austen’s School Days in Reading - 8 May, 3pm
Reading Abbey & the Castle in the middle ages - 20 May, 2pm
A stroll through Berkshire’s graveyards - 3 Jun, 2pm
The Mad Monkey Improv team are back on Friday 26 February at 8pm with their second show of 2021. Join the gang for another evening of improvisational fun with all your favourite local (and not-so-local) improvisers and games. Streaming on Facebook Live.
The Berkshire Record Office have announced some new online talks delving into local history and how to look after your own family heritage:
Readifolk present their next virtual guest night on Sunday 7 March at 8pm. This month's guest is Reg Meuross, who brings to the stage a collection of extremely beautiful songs, performed with humour and depth, and sung with the voice of an angel. You need to be on the Readifolk mailing list to join the Zoom event.
Local singer Ma Bessie will be streaming live on Friday 12 March at 7:30pm. Mixing her rich, warm vocal sound with a dynamic group of musicians, a Ma Bessie show combines classic blues and jazz tunes from the inter-war years – such as ‘Careless Love’ and ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ – with a selection of original songs and hand-picked covers from the last 50 years of popular music. Watch it on Facebook Live.
Poets' Café returns on Friday 12 March at 8pm - once again online until South Street can welcome the night back. This month's guests is Robert Seatter, a multiple award-winning, much published poet whose work has appeared in many publications, magazines, on TV and radio, and even the London buses. Your hosts this month are Reading's own dynamic duo of Zannah Kearns and Vic Pickup. See our event page for details on how to attend the Zoom event.
Progress Theatre debut their next digital production on 24-26 March at 7:45pm. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, by Sam Steiner is a non-chronological, two-hander that explores how (and how well) we communicate, along with ideas about censorship, oppression, and free speech. The average person will speak 123,205,750 words in a lifetime. But what if there were a limit? Oliver and Bernadette, an already struggling couple, are about to ﬁnd out...
The Earth Living Festival was founded in 2019 to celebrate local wellbeing, art and nature. For 2021, they're bringing the festival online on 27 & 28 March with two days of virtual activities from over 30 practitioners - yoga, music, dance and more. Tickets are sold on a sliding scale with funds going to local charities.
Progress Theatre are back on 24 April at 7:45pm with another online Scratch Reading event. New, original writing, rehearsed in the afternoon and performed live in the evening, script-in-hand! A fantastic opportunity for local writers to see their work performed live with an audience, and receive constructive feedback.
Club F.O.D. was initially formed to provide a regular and accessible dedicated safe space for the LGBTQ+ community and used to put on regular monthly nights at The Bla Bla. Now a charity in their own right, they've ramped up their online offering and are currently running a number of regular virtual events for the LGBTQ+ community and all its allies during lockdown, including:
- Mondays 8pm - FOD Bods Quiz Night
- Wednesdays 8pm - The Weekly Woof (exploring the world of kink and fetish)
- Fridays 8pm: Wake's Week, discussing Local and National News, Views and Issues and anything else you want to discuss!
- Saturdays 8pm: SaturGAY Live, an online equivalent of the Club Nights
You can check out all their offerings on the Club FOD Facebook page
On every other Monday at 10pm, you can tune into Reading's finest purveyors of "UNPOPULAR MUSIC" as doubledotdash present the doubledotdash radio show on Cutters Choice Radio. Keeping the sounds and spirit of their live events with an eclectic mix of post-rock, punk-rock, porch-music, drone, beatz and anything else that suits their fancy.
The long-running open mic Bohemian Night has gone virtual, with sessions on Zoom on Wednesdays at 8:30pm. Like the normal Boho sessions, uou can do anything you like: your own stuff, somebody else's stuff, as long as it doesn't involve getting naked or setting anything on fire, and preferably not at the same time... Head over to their Facebook page for details on how to join.
Every Second Thursday of the Month, Purple Turtle regulars The Reggae Reggae Show take their DJ set to the virtual airwaves to shine a little reggae sunshine on your cold, dark evenings. Get all the details via Facebook.
Local singer Nicole Allan will be taking to Facebook Live every Thursday and Friday at 9pm playing whatever tunes take her fancy - covers, originals, requests and a bit of banter, too.
The Jazz Café may not be open, but every Friday from 9pm DJ Knight will be going live on their Facebook page for an hour of feel-good dance tunes. With many years of experience, DJ Knight knows just the hits to get you in the weekend mood and dancing round your living room. Don't forget to tell your friends and family too!
DJ Dubious has brought back his weekly Suspect Sound System Lockdown Sessions - an eclectic Friday night set of music from around the world streaming live on Facebook, Zoom and Mixcloud.
Art & Exhibitions
Local sculptor and artist McAlistair Hood has created a series of 10 minute talks on YouTube about the behind the scenes life of a stone sculptor, inspired by his stage show James and the Perfect Peach. Check out the Perfect Peach series on YouTube (may be inappropriate for some viewers).
South Street favourites Theatre of Widdershins ran a series of "Crazy Tales For Crazy Times" on Facebook throughout the spring. All 40 are now available on their YouTube channel. So grab your tea and some biscuits and snuggle down with the kids to watch Andy tell one of his Treasure Chest Tales.
Local children’s author Holly Webb has a growing collection of video readings of her animal stories – complete with some very entertaining props! Check her out on YouTube.
Local poet A. F. Harrold has released a kids' poetry podcast. He describes it as "the A.F. Harrold Limited Edition Kids Poetry Podcast (or AFHLEKPoPod for short)" and each episode is about three or four minutes long, consisting of a fake sponsorship message for the intro, a single poem, and a suggestion of what to do if you didn’t enjoy it by way of outro. Series 1 and 2 - 21 episodes each - are all available to listen to in full via his website.
Reading Phoenix Choir have started to create and curate a Virtual Choir on their website. It includes a virtual version of their display at Reading Museum, a virtual concert made up of performances by the Phoenix Choir and Jewel Tones (in lieu of the concert they were supposed to do together in June) and a growing collection of "QuaranTunes" performed by members of the choir in lockdown.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (who make their home at The Hexagon) have a podcast, which offers insights into the people behind the music, information about upcoming concerts, and excerpts from the RPO's extensive back catalogue of recordings. And during this period of self-isolation they've been posting videos of their players at home, using the tag #RPOatHome. Check out Principle Flute Emer McDonough perform Danny Boy, trombonist Matthew Gee do his take on Bolero, and flautist Jo Marsh play the March from Malcolm Arnold’s score to the film The Bridge Over the River Kwai - with the help of her family!
Meanwhile, frequent visitors the European Union Chamber Orchestra have put together "The most socially distanced Mozart in the world" - you can watch it on YouTube
Reading Film Theatre has teamed up with Peccadillo Pictures and Eureka Entertainment to bring you virtual releases of some great independent and international films for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home. Check out the full list
History & Heritage
You may not be able to see the India & Me exhibition at Basildon Park right now, but they've uploaded several of the oral histories from the exhibition online so you can listen to moving stories from the local community. Discover more about our installation and find the recordings on their website.
Reading UK have published a video on Historic Reading presented by local Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Graham Horn. It's a whistle-stop tour of Reading's history and the town's "5Bs and an A" - Bricks, Biscuits, Bulbs, Beer and Bayeux Tapestry + Reading Abbey Ruins. Watch it on YouTube.
Many of the virtual tours and events from this year's Heritage Open Days events are still available to view on Reading Culture Live. Explore everything from industrial revolution-era history to modern wind turbines, local nature spots to an iconic cemetery being reclaimed by nature, and get stuck into some of the town's hidden archives.
You can dive into the archive of The Rising Sun Arts Centre's YouTube channel - there's full video recordings of their (in)famous Tribute Nights, live studio sessions and so much more - even last year's panto in full!
Reading's Secret Song-ta is like a Secret Santa, but with singers from Reading's music scene coming together to perform covers of each other's songs, selected at random and kept secret until the song is unleashed. You can enjoy the output via their Facebook and Twitter channels.
Progress Theatre have launched "Progress TV", a new video archive of past productions. This includes many of their Open Air Shakespeare productions filmed on-site at the Abbey Ruins and Caversham Court Gardens, plays from Writefest events and even their first production made in lockdown (with the original stage cast). Get stuck in via their Vimeo channel.
Theatretrain Reading have a wide range of videos on their YouTube channel, from dance challenges and tutorials to Shakespeare performed in odd places during lockdown.
Reading Pride's MyUmbrella LGBT+ are ran their Under The Brolly podcast LIVE via Facebook, fortnightly on Sunday evenings at 7pm throughout 2020. Their hard-working volunteers live streamed via Facebook to discuss LGBT+ identities and issues, share their experiences and interact with you lovely, lovely people. If you missed any, you can listen back on Facebook.
Online workshops and activities
Kadampa Meditation Centre are running a number of online meditation courses to aid your spiritual wellbeing during this difficult time. Each four-week course has a series of weekly videos - you can book the full course for £20 or choose individual weeks at £7 each.
New Directions College is running an ever-growing number of fun online art and craft classes. These include watercolours, ceramics, metalwork, papercraft and more. They all run for about an hour and are free to attend - but you'll need to get your own supplies. Booking in advance is required to ensure you have what you need ahead of the class. Check out the full list.
The Centre for Heritage and Family History have announced a series of new online workshops for the new year for those with an interest in genealogy and digging into local history:
Beginners' Family History - Tue 16 Mar, 14:00
Education c.1860-1914 - Sat 8 May, 11:00
Getting more out of Ancestry and Findmypast - Sat 17 Apr, 14:00
An Introduction to the Industrial Revolution in Britain - Fri 18 Jun, 14:00
House Histories - Sat 19 Jun, 11:00
The Museum of English Rural Life invite you to play along with their first online Fledglings at Home pilot session, designed for under-5s and their grown-ups. Whether you are a previous Friday Fledglings regular or have never visited the museum before, let the MERL welcome you to our community virtually on Thursday 25 February at 10am.
On Friday 19 March at 7:30pm, StrikeUp Theatre present Poetry In Motion, a performance poetry masterclass. Wake up your body, unleash your voice and let the team guide you through the creation of your own performance poem, through one high octane evening of movement, word play and creative JOY. Places are limited but you can register via our event page.
Classes/workshops on particular days
RABBLE Theatre hold their adult acting class Get Up On Stage on Monday nights 7pm-9:30pm. The course offers in-depth theatre training for adults aged 18-80 who love acting. RABBLE's acting classes are open to all and welcomes students who have never acted in their lives before alongside others who are looking to go into the career.
Reading's own The Literary Gift Company has taken their love of all things "book" in a new direction and set up a Facebook group: The Literary Isolationists Club. They are “meeting” on Tuesdays at 8pm, with a different theme each week inviting people to discuss relevant books they have on their shelves.
The Department of Classics at Reading is bringing a series of online seminars to accompany the forthcoming exhibition Troy: Beauty and Heroism, a British Museum spotlight loan at the Ure Museum. While the launch of the exhibition has been postponed, these seminars will begin to explore the themes of heroism and beauty and their interconnectedness throughout antiquity, particularly in relation to the epic tradition and its reception. Anyone interested is welcome to join online via Teams on Wednesdays from 27 January to 25 March at 4pm
What's The Game?! Improv are taking their weekly comedy improvisation classes online. as well as uploading videos of other things to do at home. Head over to their Facebook page for the latest games, challenges and updates.
Local portrait artists have set up a private group on Facebook as a virtual place for the Reading Portraits Group to meet, draw together and share pictures. There is a live session on Thursday evenings or participants can work from photos of the model sent out by email. Apply to join on Facebook.
From 27 Feb - 20 Mar, Berkshire Maestros are running a series of Music Masterclasses with world class musicians. These sessions will feature some of the most influential and accomplished musicians in the world and are open to everyone (you don't even have to play the instrument!). See the full list of musicians, instruments and dates on our event page.
Regular and daily activities
The Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts is running free Zoom classes for enrolled pupils while they're closed over lockdown. And they've also put a whole range of free workshops on their YouTube channel for anyone to enjoy, with West End stars, TV personalities and professionals teaching everything from prop making and stop motion animation (The Royal Opera House -Morph and Aardman Animation), to dancing and singing with stars from Six to Motown to Aladdin, to Presenting and acting skills with CBBC Presenters and Children’s TV stars and so much more.
Berkshire Maestros is now offering live online lessons to anyone (both adults and children) who wants to learn to play an instrument. Taster sessions are available - and they can deliver hire instruments! Find out more on the online learning page of their website. They've also been adding all sorts of videos to their YouTube channel, notably their "Wake Up And Sing" series - a new morning workout for your voice every day, and suitable for the whole family.
New Directions College may be closed, but they're keen to keep your brains duly exercised with a programme of online challenges and activities with a different theme each day. Head over to their Facebook page to join the fun, and head over to Reading Culture Live to see their virtual art gallery videos: tutor Zillah Puri kept creativity flowing through the lockdown by encouraging her learners to make one drawing per day. This virtual exhibition brings together a selection of the work being produced, from over 1200 artworks that have been created to date.
Unable to deliver their usual one-to-one reading support in schools until further notice, ABC To Read have set up live storytelling every day on their website, as well as finding and sharing the best resources to help children keep reading via newsletters and social media.
As well as their selection of performances, The Hexagon's resident classicists the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have added the RPO Philharmonic Workout to their YouTube channel. Feel the burn with a twenty-minute fitness routine you can do from the comfort of your own home, set to heart-pumping music recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Jelly have been taking their workshops online, too with interactive videos and how-to guides on their Instagram page and fully interactive sessions on Zoom. Keep an eye on their social media channels for the latest event info and meeting invites. They also have a number of videos on Reading Culture Live with further virtual art club sessions and chances to "meet" their resident artists.
Deadlocked Escape Rooms have developed two 'print at home'/interactive online hunt games. The first is called 'The Insiders', which spans across multiple days, and 3 ‘episodes’ of approximately 90 minutes each. Story-heavy, immersive, with oodles of challenging content to keep you playing for hours at a time! The second is ‘The Cyphstress‘, was made in ‘collabeeration’ with their favourite brewery, Siren Craft Brew, and set around the mythological Sirens. Details on how to purchase your copies are on their website.
Local artist Charles Burns has started cutting his amazing silhouettes via Zoom. He talks about his journey to online working on his website.
Create and share from home
Urban Sketchers Reading are a group who meet up to sketch around the Reading area whose drawings "tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel". Their website is filled with sketches from artists all over town and they are open to welcoming new members.
Normally Janina Maher runs very successful book-making workshops around the Reading area. She has three different kits for sale through her website.
Farewell to the Gas Tower is an online exhibition organised by local artists to celebrate East Reading's last remaining gas tower, due for demolition early in 2021. Before the Covid19 pandemic they had planned a community art exhibition as part of a series of events and exhibitions to celebrate the gas tower and its place in our community. In the meantime, the online exhibition will have to suffice. They plan to post new contributions every day, and welcome photos, sketches, drawings and more from artists of all levels to create a record of part of Reading's skyline that will soon be gone forever.
The Reading Guild of Artists have launched a new online exhibition: Celebrating Our Town - Discover Reading will feature artwork inspired by the town the RGA has called home for 90 years, and promises regular new instalments over the coming months.
The University of Reading’s Museums and Collections website is a new "one-stop shop" for all the University's affiliated museums and their collections. There are online exhibitions and catalogues from the likes of The Museum of English Rural Life, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the Cole Museum of Zoology, as well as the University's Art Collections, Special Collections and so much more, and it covers everything from ancient pottery and medieval literature, to the work of Samuel Beckett and the history of rural England. It's the perfect digital rabbit hole to fall into - and a chance to see just how many wonderful historical items are looked after by the University.