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

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Image: As Far As Isolation Goes by Tania El Khoury & Basel Zaraa. Copywright Basel Zaraa

Novelty is the driving force behind the Gateshead International Festival of Theatre (GIFT). Established in 2011, founder and festival director Kate Craddock wanted to present the best in innovative performance work that embodied the regenerative spirit of Gateshead, and the region as a whole, while supporting the professional development of contemporary playwrights. This year, the annual three-day festival carries on in the spirit of novelty by opening up a new virtual world of theatre.

In response to the circumstances linked to Covid-19, GIFT has reimagined the entire festival as a digital experience, removing cultural barriers and bringing together artistic communities from the North East and abroad. Through the curation of an eclectic variety of performances, workshops, debates and sensory experiences, festival organisers aim to maintain the immediacy of a real-time festival and to inspire a robust dialogue about human connection and resilience through crisis.

Kicking off on Friday 1st May, this year more than ever GIFT is placing artistic experimentation and collaboration at its core. While creative development in the North East is still at the forefront of this year’s festival, it is the collaborative connection between different artistic and cultural communities throughout the coronavirus pandemic that takes centre stage.

Manifestos From Times of Crisis is one of several workshops that encourages out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to artistic creation in relation to the pandemic. Taking place throughout the festival, it creates an online space where a limited number of participants will have the chance to reflect on what is currently happening, how we are responding to it and how we want it to shape our future, gathering a collection of manifestos that will be posted over the course of the festival.

On Friday night, the avant-garde play IT DON’T WORRY ME brings together the Catalan Company Atresbandes and duo Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas to showcase how GIFT establishes a connection between disparate organisations and giving exposure to artistic expression that would otherwise not have been seen in the region. Starting with an empty space that soon spirals out of control through conversation and visuals, the play questions the tense links between art and political correctness. Festival-goers can also join the renowned theatre makers for a post-show discussion and drinks in the virtual festival bar, chatting to the background of a playlist curated by the creators themselves.

festival organisers aim to maintain the immediacy of a real-time festival and to inspire a robust dialogue about human connection and resilience through crisis

Reimagined for an online context, the live-streamed one-on-one performance of Tania El Khoury and Basel Zaraa’s As Far As Isolation Goes (Online) explores the physical and mental health experiences of refugees in the UK. Streamed daily throughout the festival it will use touch, sound and interactivity to bring audiences into contact with the issues raised.

At GIFT, artists at all stages of their career and from all backgrounds get a chance to take risks and test out new ideas. In its UK online premiere, Music For Lectures/Get Lost invites its audience to go for their daily escape from the house and, during their walk or run, to listen to Wendy Houston discussing the humorist and tragic aspect of lostness, while accompanied by a rock band. On Saturday, Crack of Dawn promises to be a unique theatrical experience as audiences can stay for as long as they want during Greg Wohead’s improvised performance, which lasts from sunrise to sunset and has the enigma of understanding one another at its heart.

Continuing in this radical vein, Newcastle-based writer-performer-artist, gobscure international presents ships-ov-fool: a performance and sound installation that taps into the mind of a teenager and their descent into madness after a breakdown (Friday 1st). The North Sea: A (radio) Play in Three Pints brings experimental conviviality to the programme. Written by Norwegian-based writer Nick Hegreberg and brought to life by a team of North Eastern creatives, it recreates the atmosphere and intrigue of a North East pub in a radio play designed to be enjoyed over three pints and performed throughout the festival.

On Saturday, Augmented is a one-woman performance from writer Sophie Woolley which details her experiences of being able to hear again after 22 years of progressive deafness; while Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir’s Elision explores themes of otherness and ideas of belonging in a funny and tender show performed from the Icelandic artist’s home in Glasgow.

Taking place from 9pm Saturday to 9pm Sunday, the festival’s live radio show, RadiOh Europa, is produced by Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse. They’ve recorded love songs since 2018 while travelling through Europe and present their collection in a deep-listening experience that broadcasts thousands of people’s vision of love and heartbreak in 46 different languages.

On Sunday, Scratch ‘n’ Scran consists of works by North East theatre makers Luca Rutherford and Greg Wohead to be enjoyed over lunch. Rutherford’s work looks into the power of stories to reshape and disrupt our world, while a return to your origins forms part of Wohead’s new material. In Praise of Forgetting: Part 2 is the sequel to a stage piece which premiered in December, and examines acts of memory and forgetting. Leeds-based artist Jamal Gerald concludes the festival with an Instagram intervention that invites audience members to centre themselves through the cleansing act of washing their hands and burning incense, while listening to extracts from Idol, the artist’s musical exploration of religion, pop culture and Black representation.

Over the course of the three days there will also be many thought-provoking talks, including The Climate Emergency, which delves into the climate crisis; Exploring Process by the creators of IT DON’T WORRY ME on collaboration and different methods of making theatre; and International Working and Sustainability, which touches on the environmental impact of setting up international festivals and ways of producing art projects sustainably.

GIFT continues to showcase a creative interpretation of Gateshead as an embodiment of cultural and commercial regeneration by bringing theatre to our homes in a way we have never experienced before, inviting self-isolating artists and audiences from all over the world to engage in the conversation on boundary-pushing theatre and by presenting stories with daring creativity that will make us realise how deeply connected we really are.

GIFT takes place from Friday 1st-Sunday 3rd May. See their website for information on how to purchase ‘pay as you feel’ tickets


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