2021 at Northern Stage: THIS IS US
Less than three months into her role as Artistic Director, Natalie Ibu announces her inaugural season at Northern Stage. THIS IS US promises to bring audiences stories, no matter what, through a bold programme of collaborations, commissions and curated work that celebrates the collective, connection and community.
Natalie joined Northern Stage as Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive in November 2020. She says, “I think it’s fair to say that none of us – me, the organisation, artists and audiences alike – thought I’d be announcing my very first season so soon into the role. But – whilst a surprise twist – it’s provided a brilliant opportunity to hit the ground running, collaborating with artists, with place, with the personal and the political to meet audiences wherever they are and then lead them back to our building when it’s safe to do so.”
|Natalie Ibu at Northern Stage - Photo: Pamela Raith
This Is Us is a response to the world we live in, making culture more accessible to more people through a programme of work that reflects diverse stories and communities. It has three strands, designed with enough flexibility built in to allow for adaptions to the latest restrictions: from January, Can We Come In? will take audiences on a journey from their homes, into the city for Out on the Toon from March, and then back into the theatre when it reopens for Housewarming from April.
Natalie explains, “This Is Us is about radical diversity of stories, characters, lives, forms, locations and times to remind us who we are but also reminding audiences about what we do best – facilitating stories that reach beyond the ordinary. It’s about the collective and connection. From tiny stories that provide alternative distractions to doom-scrolling in Scroll, or epic tales on your Smart TV to gather your support bubble around in the comfort of your own home, to using the city as a canvas in Street Art Opera before inviting you to warm our house when we reopen the theatre with a homegrown adaptation of The Invisible Man.”
Can We Come In? is designed to meet audiences in their homes; a programme of specially commissioned digital micro-stories, plus the very best digital capture of plays, streamed on demand. It launches on 27 January with Scroll, offering audiences an antidote to ‘doom scrolling' in a series of digital story interventions commissioned by Northern Stage to replace the moments of mindless scrolling with tiny stories about us to be experienced in the moments in-between, e.g. while waiting for the kettle to boil, standing in a queue, or just after turning the morning alarm off. Scroll features new work by Adam Lenson, Bridget Minamore, Chris Sonnex, Daniel Bye, Daniel York Loh, Leo Skilbeck, Tabby Lamb, Sampira and Uproot Productions.
|Five Minute Wake Up by Leo Skilbeck
A partnership with Actors Touring Company (ATC), for Dear Tomorrow - Hope From Home six writers have been commissioned to write letters of hope, as a way of finding optimism in uncertain times. These pieces will be performed to camera by actors from across the UK and available to stream for free from 22 February. Ameera Conrad's letter will be performed by Ameet Chana (BBC/Eastenders), Eve Leigh's letter will be performed by Ann Akin (BBC/I May Destroy You), Satinder Chohan's letter will be performed by Melissa Johns (BBC/LIFE), Nemo Martin's letter will be performed by Kenya Sterling (Ovalhouse/I Am), Hannah Khalil's letter will be performed by Diaana Babnicova (Netflix/Jingle Jangle) and Chiméne Suleyman's letter will be performed by Vera Chok (Headlong/Almeida/Channel 4/Chimerica). ATC Artistic Director Matthew Xia said, “Dear Tomorrow was ATC’s ‘letter writing’ contribution to last Autumn’s Signal Fires project, we wanted to find a way to deliver theatrical experiences to people in their homes across the UK. We were blown away by the response to the project, and are now delighted to join forces with Northern Stage to extend and develop the idea. Dear Tomorrow - Hope From Home aims to deliver uplifting and galvanising online experiences, at a time when hope is very much needed.”
|Dear Tomorrow - Clockwise: Eve Leigh (Photo: Anna Strickland), Kenya Stirling,
Diana Babincova, Satinder Chohan, Vera Chock, Ann Akin
After the 2020 premiere and tour of Gareth Farr’s Shandyland couldn’t go ahead due to the pandemic, Shandyland: Pint Size offers audiences a chance to meet some of the characters, feel the spirit of the pub where the play is set and get a taste of the humour and energy that makes Shandyland so special. Directed by Hannah Bannister and Zak Harney, this short film - being launched on Valentine’s weekend - is a love letter to the northern boozer.
Grief Gatherings is an open invitation to take part in small conversations on 9 and 23 February as part of Fevered Sleep’s project This Grief Thing, which addresses the silence around grief and grieving at a time when many people find death and grief almost impossible to talk about.
Underlining the company’s ongoing commitment to talent development, on 25 February Natalie is calling a Devoted & Disgruntled for North East artists, companies, venues, funders, agents to ask: what has been talent development in the North East? What do artists need to ensure their careers recover from COVID? And – whilst not all talent development is about the new artist – if we want to really build back and better, it will mean new and different voices. But is it ethical to be bringing new artists into a sector in crisis, one that is struggling to sustain those it already holds within it? Improbable’s Devoted & Disgruntled is being presented with Northern Stage, Alphabetti, ARC Stockton, Live Theatre and Newcastle Theatre Royal. And in So Good To Zoom You Natalie Ibu will Zoom a different artist every day in March to try and make up for the ways 2020 kept people apart.
Out on the Toon will see the city become a canvas, creating cultural experiences for audiences to connect with as they wander through their local streets. Part performance, part installation, Milk Presents’ High Vis is landing on the streets of Newcastle. High queer, high camp and high volume, members of the LGBTQIA+ community will be invited to anonymously record celebratory declarations of queerness in one part of Newcastle, and have these broadcast via Milk’s loud and proud hailer on the other side of the city. Milk’s Executive Producer Ruby Glaskin explains, “The pandemic has forced LGBTQIA+ spaces to close and Pride events to cancel, leaving the community isolated from each other. With many missing their queer fam High Vis is an opportunity to shout out to Newcastle's LGBTQIA+ community and also be heard by those who haven’t stopped to listen before.” Created by composer John McIlduff and writer and director Brian Irvine, Street Art Opera blends opera, street art and animation in a double bill of outdoor video projection by creative producers Dumbworld. Northern Stage’s Young Company will shift towards a hyper-local approach for Out on the Toon, meeting young people where they are for a series of Young Company Walk and Talks, taking the creative team to spaces and places that have taken on new meaning to them during 2020 as they gear up to starting to make brand new work together. And after 60 pop up performances on the Byker Estate in Newcastle in summer and December 2020, Doorstep Music returns to the streets of Byker this spring. Musicians will play live while residents are encouraged to come out onto their doorsteps, gardens or balconies to listen, make requests and sing along.
Housewarming will welcome audiences and artists back into the theatre once it’s safe to reopen, starting with a new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, The Invisible Man adapted by Phil Correia and directed by Anna Girvan. As with previous productions The War of the Worlds and The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Invisible Man is part of Northern Stage's NORTH programme, offering emerging North East theatre makers an opportunity to gain experience of staging and touring a new production. It will premiere at Northern Stage before touring to rural venues across the North East, restrictions permitting. More shows and new commissions will be announced shortly, including the first show Natalie Ibu will direct for Northern Stage in autumn 2021.Throughout 2021, Northern Stage will also work with English Touring Theatre to explore the untold stories and colonial past embedded in our city’s architecture. Natalie says, “We’re serious about our commitment to being anti-racist and we want to hold space for the city and this region to think and talk about its colonial past, so we will be working with English Touring theatre and North East artists throughout the year to explore what that means. Watch this space.”
Northern Stage is working with Vici Wreford-Sinnott from disabled-led theatre company Little Cog to make the new programme as accessible as possible. This will include captions, audio description, BSL at live events, content warnings and relaxed approaches to the programme and time frames for workshops. Vici says, “It’s vital that theatre companies and venues take creative experimentation to their hearts as we navigate unknown territories in the future of theatre, and that we think about everyone in our audiences. Northern Stage’s bold programme is an exciting, rich adventure into what is possible when we include everyone. I’m delighted to work with them, as we let them come into our homes, as accessibly as possible.”
Natalie says, “This is Us is an experiment – demanded by the moment. We’re still here and we’re going to get through this together. You can rely on us to bring you stories, no matter what.”
Ticketed shows go on general sale from 27 January and to Northern Stage members and supporters from 25 January. For more details and updated listings visit northernstage.co.uk