VEGETABLE ENTERTAINER GETS A BOOST THANKS TO ARTS & CULTURE FUNDING
Published 20 April 2022 at 11:46am
Here we meet one of the freelance artists/entertainers who has benefited from the recent £1m arts and culture ARG funding made available by South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
Vegetables have always been in the blood you could say for Natalie Hunt, otherwise known as Madame Zucchini, an artist and all-round entertainer, based in Sheffield.
It could have been her destiny, as her father was a fruit and vegetable merchant, Natalie spent her youth surrounded by vegetables and she was encouraged to make vegetables her playmates. She spent many a happy hour in her father’s vegetable warehouse as a youngster, where she explored tomato-based comedy in the polytunnels and played on her swing in the apple orchard.
Her mother was a wig seller, so she was inspired to combine vegetables with dressing up and her own take on comedy to come up with a unique and enterprising business idea that would bring joy and happiness to many people.
Fifteen years ago the idea for ‘Madame Zucchini was born. Natalie, who at the time was employed as a community worker, visited Cabaret Boom Boom, an event in Walkley, where she was inspired by the local and international artists there. She began putting together a cabaret-style street act, starting with a pirate themed show called ‘The Pirates of the Carrot-Bean’. The show consisted of comedy, music and a disco dance at the end with Madame Zucchini dressed as a vegetable - the show was big on audience participation. She started out doing children’s parties and community events, extending it to festivals and bigger events as word spread about her unique act. With a car loaded up with vegetables, props and costumes, she toured around the country to events such as the Sandringham Flower Show, Piece Hall, Harrow Arts Centre, Blenheim Palace…. then the lockdown hit.
Madame Zucchini explains: “I was really worried when the lockdown was announced, as all the events I was booked for were cancelled straightaway. I really didn’t know how the business would survive – and I certainly didn’t want to lose the following I had built up over the years. It was a lonely, worrying time - I would make funny vegetable characters and display them in my window at home to try and make people smile – people would photograph them and share on social media. I soon began making up names and little stories for each character and sharing them on Instagram. People even started posting small cash donations through my door… I felt so supported to have a caring local community around me who knew just how difficult it was.”
Natalie, like many artists and other businesses, realised that she had to take her business online- at least temporarily, to stay afloat. She started running mini events via Zoom and running parties online, where people of all ages got to enjoy her comedy and could interact by making their own vegetable characters. At a time of despair and uncertainty, this helped to bring a little cheer into people’s lives and a bit of money into Natalie’s pocket to help her carry on. She also started a Vegetable Craft Club which she held via Zoom on Saturday mornings, where she attracted adults keen to learn new crafting skills.
Natalie hadn’t received much arts funding before but times were difficult and without a regular income, she applied to the SYMCA £1m arts and culture fund and was successful.
Madame Zucchini explains: “I applied for the funding as I wanted to be able to expand my business and to explore more lucrative options. I needed help with social media and making videos for Instagram so I started working with a social media coach. I am also working with an industry professional who works with Event Bookers, which will hopefully open more doors for me to ‘go up a notch’ to bigger regional and national events.”
She has also started working with an outdoors arts event expert to help her to fine tune her act and provide that all important external perspective to build on what really works with audiences.
Madame Zucchini is probably best known for her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent six years ago. “It got me seen across the UK, but I found it a little daunting and it was hard to get my whole show across in just a couple of minutes. I’ve used it as a learning experience and people still talk about it, so as they say, any publicity is good publicity.”
Natalie is very optimistic about the future, as she expects more outdoor events will be held this year, and she has recently invested in a new Leek costume.
Natalie has recently been commissioned by South Yorkshire Schools Climate Change Conference to come up with themed material ‘the Vegetable Avengers’ with characters such as Greta Iceberg, creating a whole new online show to play to live audiences.
Natalie adds :“Winter is always a quiet period for me, when I’m working on honing my act and doing admin like updating my website and trying to secure bookings for the summer. I’ve also been working with Heeley City Farm on the Healthy Activities programme for those on free school meals, plus I’ve had a booking at the Lowry in Manchester.”
“Without the funding, I wouldn’t have been able to get external help to grow my business. I am really excited about where this is going to take me in the future.”
Back in September, the South Yorkshire Mayor announced that £1m would be invested in arts & culture businesses, including organisations and freelancers who had been affected by the pandemic. This was at the discretion of local authorities, who administered the process and awarded the funding to meet needs in their areas.
Sheffield was awarded £280,000 of the total, £200,000 was allocated to Barnsley, £170,000 to Rotherham and £450,000 to Doncaster.
From its allocation, Sheffield City Council awarded £120,000 to the Freelancer Fund Round 2, recognising how artists and creatives have been impacted by the pandemic - 75 creatives will be supported directly along with 5 organisations working on collaborative projects, including Madame Zucchini.
For more details of Madame Zucchini’s shows and performances visit www.madamezucchini.co.uk.
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