FEATURE: Reacting & Adapting | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Dovetail Joints Virtual Gallery

Words: Caitlin Disken / Claire Dupree / Dawn Storey

Something that’s becoming increasingly obvious as we come to terms with our current situation is the need to effectively adapt our behaviour in order to survive, whether that’s as cultural institutions or as consumers.

Our region’s creatives have already embraced new ways of working. Whether it’s indie cinema Star & Shadow branching out into radio programming; comedy club The Stand hosting regular weekly streaming shows; life-drawing artist Bernadette Koranteng and burlesque performer Kristi Lennon, aka Trixie Blue, taking their lessons online; or theatre maker Serena Ramsey creating her brand new show, Bobby Dazla, in her dad’s back garden, and discovering a newfound love for her Newcastle roots in the process.

We spoke to four North Eastern cultural practitioners about their work, and discovered they’re reacting and adapting with typical inventiveness.

 

ART

DOVETAIL JOINTS VIRTUAL GALLERY

Words: Claire Dupree

Having begun life as a joint collaboration between Pineapple Black’s Bobby Benjamin and Connor Clements back in 2016, Dovetail Joints has since found new life as a virtual gallery project. After studying for a BA(hons) in Architecture, Connor put his skills to work. “A great deal of the Virtual Gallery project is just repurposing skills I had picked up through architectural education, which allowed me to really begin to consider designing and modelling space, with the contemporary art and curation side of things still in the back of my mind while I learned the essential drawing, modelling and software skills.” Having recently taken part in The Auxiliary’s artist-in-own-residence project, ABODE, he picked up essential 3D animation techniques which helped to bring Dovetail Joints’ virtual space into reality.

It’s a lot like a cross between one of the old point and click games like Myst, crossed with Google street view, crossed with the MOMA exhibition archives,” he explains. “The whole idea is to capitalise on the lack of restrictions which physical spaces hold. Spaces can be designed fully to suit the needs and concepts of the art displayed in them, and can be constantly expanded meaning artists’ works don’t need to be removed to make way for new exhibitions.”

On entering, visitors are greeted with a main entrance and a series of spaces where they can explore artwork on display. Currently exhibited is the first in a series of Conversation exhibitions where submitting artists are paired up and placed into a space which highlights their conceptual/narrative/aesthetic common ground. “Right now we’re able to exhibit near enough everything a real life gallery can show.”

Connor has every intention to continue the gallery in its current form after lockdown has ended. “I’d say the main positive to come out of developing the project in response to Covid-19 is how it acted as a catalyst to create something for the organisation to stay mobile, and also inject some of my own experience into it to bring something new to the table within the Middlesbrough arts scene.” 

To get involved in the project, email Connor on dovetailjoints51@gmail.com

 

THEATRE

MORTAL FOOLS

Words: Claire Dupree

Multi-award-winning theatre, drama and creative learning charity Mortal Fools were poised to launch a raft of new initiatives when lockdown hit. Not least a touring creative intervention package for schools, entitled MELVA, supporting children’s mental health and a production called Relentless, co-created by their Ensemble Youth Theatre, which was due to begin a Northern tour the day after they shut all their activities down.

Kiz Crosbie, Mortal Fools’ artistic director and CEO, was determined to move from the inevitable ‘survival mode’ into ‘reinvention mode’ as quickly as possible and her team’s ideas came thick and fast. “We’re a creative organisation, after all, so it was important to steady the ship and give everyone what they needed to be able to get their creative brains back in gear and focus on what we could control, rather than what we can’t.”

The most fruitful idea has been working with young people as new Digital Ambassadors. “They are leading us in reaching out to young people with Eddie’s Weekly Address To The Nation, publishing their reviews of online shows and activities, sharing their Spotify playlists and participating in Young People’s Panel Discussions, exploring how this situation is affecting them.”

They’re also facilitating young people taking part in the Coronavirus Time Capsule Project, which has gone global. “You can’t just stick cultural experiences online and expect that people will come. And that is especially true for young people.” Kiz emphasises. “Those people with relationships with young people – personal and professional – have a responsibility to maintain and build those relationships and support them to access culture that is relevant to their lives. For us, that means working closely with our new Digital Ambassadors, signposting young people to activities, setting up watch parties so that young people can enjoy culture in community with others and, for us, continuing to find ways to co-create wherever we can.”

Image: Metroland

FILM

SUNDERLAND SHORTS

Words: Caitlin Disken

Way back in 2016, Sunderland became the first and only non-capital city to sign a Friendship Agreement with Washington DC. Fast-forward to 2020, and the agreement is still succeeding in culturally enhancing the city: Sunderland Shorts, an annual four-day film festival was borne out of the partnership, and celebrates local, national and international filmmaking talent. “The festival is all about bringing international talent to the region, whilst also shining a spotlight on the creatives in the North East,” says Chris Allan, the festival’s organiser.

Taking place at the Empire Cinema in Sunderland, the festival has a range of screenings spread over four days, alongside events such as Q&As with actors and directors. “We work entirely on a submissions basis,” says Chris, who has been involved with the festival for three years. “We opened for submissions at the end of February, and we’re open to anyone who has a film that’s under 20 minutes long, across any genre.”

The festival is due to take place from Wednesday 7thSaturday 10th October. “We’re cautiously leaving the date there for the time being, and we’ll be accepting submissions until the end of July.” Chris says. However, Sunderland Shorts has already been forced to adapt its project Filmhouse Sunderland, which began in January and was set to offer film screenings every Thursday night. “We wanted to promote independent cinema all year round by offering Filmhouse Sunderland,” says Chris. The project is being complemented by an initiative entitled Best of the Fest, which is run online. “We’re using our online platforms such as Facebook to offer screenings showcasing the festival’s alumni. It’s been taken up well, so we’ll continue doing this with filmmaker support.” If you’re a filmmaker interested in submitting your work, head to the website to find out more.

 

COMEDY

PETE FIRMAN

Words: Dawn Storey

When lockdown began, Middlesbrough-born comedy magician Pete Firman was about to start touring his new show. Pete Firman & The Amazing TBC was due to visit Stockton’s ARC and Durham Gala Theatre this month. “I managed to do one gig and then all the UK venues shut down. I’m not taking it personally though… Luckily we’ve managed to move them all to later in the year.”

Instead of touring, Pete was one of the first entertainers to stream a live gig online in March. “I fancied doing something to fill the gap. It was a bit of fun really and an attempt to find a different way to reach an audience. It was lovely that people really responded when I floated the idea on Facebook. I was just at home doing it in my joggers! It is strange knowing you are being seen by hundreds of people yet you can’t hear any response. I’m hoping to do more.”

Pete’s rescheduled dates begin in September, with new dates for Stockton’s ARC on Saturday 5th, The Forum in Northallerton on Sunday 6th and Durham’s Gala Theatre on Monday 7th. “Every performance I’m joined by a surprise special guest, who becomes my double act partner for the evening. They don’t know what to expect and genuinely get thrown in at the deep end. It’s so much fun to do as it’s different every night.”

Pete particularly looks forward to returning to the North East. “The audiences are fantastic. I feel like I know them and I hope they feel like they know me. I’m from Middlesbrough, so it’s home turf and it’s always nice to go home to visit Mum and Dad.”

As for how he’s coping with the lockdown, he says: “I go between really productive days, to days of just bumming around. Then again I’m used to not having a typical working week structure, so that’s pretty much what I’d be doing anyway!”

 

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