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From Under Milk Wood to across the pond; The memory of Dylan Thomas lives on across the Pond with a Chicago theatre company planning to stage a series of works by him - and about him. Karen Price finds out more.

Byline: Karen Price

DYLAN THOMAS has always had a close relationship with the USA.

After all, he spent much of his time in New York, the city where he died in 1953.

Now a Chicago-based theatre company is planning to revive his legacy for American audiences by staging his work.

And it's also the chance for British authors, whose pieces have been inspired by Thomas, to have their work shown to American audiences.

Caffeine Theatre has teamed up with Dylan Down The Ups, the new organisation launched in Swansea by Geoff and Anne Haden.

The couple, who run 5 Cwmdonkin Drive - the home in Uplands, Swansea, where Thomas was born and which is now a tourist attraction - have launched the group to keep Thomas' memory alive as a "man of the people" rather than just as a writer and poet.

Caffeine Theatre got in touch through the Welsh social network Americymru and they are both now coming up with ideas for special events both in Wales and America.

The first production to be staged in Chicago is Under Milk Wood.

"We want to get non-academics involved with Dylan in one way or another," says Anne. "Dylan really was a man of the people."

She says Caffeine Theatre is keen to hear of any pieces which have been written around Thomas' life or those which have been inspired by him.

"They are looking to stage things regularly - Under Milk Wood is just the start of it. I think it's great that we are celebrating Dylan this side of the Atlantic and they are celebrating him the other side.

"And we can share work too as things that happen in America could come here and Welsh work can go over there."

Chicago-based Dave Parry, who contacted the Hadens with the idea to link up with them and celebrate Thomas, says: "Caffeine Theatre are seeking short original performance pieces of all kinds including music, dance, theatre, spoken word and poetry inspired by Thomas' life, work or themes.

"Artists are encouraged to send a script, music or poem and if successful they will be performed or directed by Chicago artists."

Caffeine Theatre are also seeking original poetry for a poetry competition, which may include any size or style of poem, as long as it is inspired in some way by Dylan Thomas' life or work, or in some way speaks in conversation with that life or work.

Pieces selected by Caffeine Theatre will feature in the Dylan Thomas Coffeehouse Cabaret at the Storefront Theater Mezzanine in Chicago on September 9. The event is produced in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and in conjunction with Caffeine Theatre's production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, which runs at the theatre from August 21 to September 27.

Meanwhile, back in Swansea, Dylan Down The Ups is planning a big party in the Uplands area of the city on October 27 - what would have been the poet's 95th birthday.

The party also comes a year after 5 Cwmdonkin Drive was reopened to the public after the Hadens took over the lease and refurbished it.

"We will be putting on a party for Dylan in Uplands," says Anne.

"There will be events like Speaker's Corner, where people can air their views on things, as well as music in the street and a Dylan look-alike competition. It's all fun based. We want to introduce Dylan to people through fun."

They hope the party becomes an annual event.

"We want to build it up by a day a year for the next five years so that it becomes a five-day celebration."

Anne says they have enjoyed being in charge of Dylan's birthplace during the past 12 months, which has been visited by people all over the world. As well as tours, people can also stay overnight in the house.

"We have four young women staying there this week who go around Britain trying different houses as an experience. We also have house tours when we will sit around a table and have a cup of tea and a chat. People can also open drawers and cupboards so they can get a real feel for the place."

The couple are now delighted with the new links with Chicago.

Geoff said: "This is the start of a trans-continental partnership and all entries can be considered for inclusion in the Dylan Down The Ups programme so we will have some of the best contemporary American work over here.

"Chicago is the third largest city in the United States and there is a large and active Welsh community."

For details about the Chicago/Swansea Dylan celebrations, e-mail info@5cwmdonkindrive.com

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LEGACY: Anne and Geoff Haden forged links with Chicago to celebrate Dylan Thomas
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 15, 2009
Words:793
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