INTERVIEW: ELEVATOR FESTIVAL | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Redcoat

There’s something exceptional going on in the region, and it’s happening live at Live Theatre this March.

Live Theatre is the only theatre outside of London (and in the UK) completely dedicated to creating new plays, and beautifully we get to do that here in Newcastle.” Explains Graeme Thompson, Live’s Creative Producer. New plays and new stories are at the very heart of what Live does; the theatre’s launched 25 new plays since 2014.

This month marks the fifth year of Live’s Elevator Festival – taking place between Wednesday 11th-Saturday 21st March – where emerging theatre makers get the opportunity to present their new work to live audiences for the first time. “Being part of Elevator Festival is like being at a party but it’s everyone’s birthday and everyone’s invited, and no one goes home for three weeks!” Exclaims theatre maker Samantha Neale. “The whole building is bursting with artists and makers and you can feel the buzz of excitement and anticipation when you walk in.” Graeme Thompson agrees that audiences can expect a real buzz and energy. “It’s always exciting to have this many artists and audiences together, under the same roof in such a compressed time.”

We’re all invited to the party, to be a part of something special; the festival’s participatory events start a conversation and make connections, enabling practitioners to increase their network, meet new people and learn from each other. The audience also have an important role to play; Graeme Thompson relishes the opportunity to invite audiences into the early stages of the creative process. “Theatre is meant to be shared and most of the time you don’t really know how something works until it has been performed in front of people.” These exciting writers and performers value feedback to shape their work going forward. Lewis Jobson, creator of Redcoat puts it like this – “The Elevator Bursary is giving me the space and time to transition into making my own work and gain feedback from audiences on its future development and life. We hope you can join us for Redcoat and share your thoughts on how the show can develop after the festival.”

Theatre maker Melissa Johns describes her play, SNATCHED, as “inviting the audience into the story rather than telling it to them as outsiders looking in.” Offering a fresh perspective on disability and sexuality, Melissa praises Elevator for “creating space for unheard voices to come forward and tell extraordinary stories in a saturated industry which is often under lock and key from many marginalised groups.”

creating space for unheard voices to come forward and tell extraordinary stories

It’s a common theme as I talk to the theatre makers involved; all of them express gratitude and recognise that they’ve been offered a unique opportunity. Juliana Mensah, who’s presenting a work-in-progress reading of her work Faster Than Bolt remarks that “as an emerging writer, opportunities like this are so rare but so important for your development.” Calum Howard’s proud to be the sound designer, composer and musical director for Dawn and is grateful for the opportunity to showcase his work, observing that “the more cross-pollination between creative disciplines, the stronger the scene becomes as a whole.”

There seems to be an element of creative exploration, artistic freedom and risk-taking here that is missing from the mainstream ‘saturated industry’ of theatre-making that Melissa Johns referred to. Writer of Getting Away With It, Ed Edwards describes Northern venues featuring work by Northern writers as “almost revolutionary. And if our work can in any way shed light on real Northern issues, this helps even more.” Graeme Thompson has something important to add here too: “Live makes new stories that reflect the North East and our lived experience here. The hope is that by creating those pathways those stories and the North East’s contemporary voice can find a bigger audience.”

There’s a courage and daring that comes with the active and long-term support of a venue such as Live Theatre. For creator of Magic Bus, Sian Armstrong “to feel backed and supported by a venue whilst making new work feels like a breath of fresh air. It offers artists a platform to grow, to develop and understand how best to move forwards with their work.” As for Samantha Neale, Last Seen Bensham Road is her first full-length play and it’s her first time performing a one-woman show. A further new experience is role-sharing with another actor-mother from the region, her good friend and talented actress, Louise Dearden, and she believes role-sharing could potentially create opportunities for working mothers across the country. “It’s certainly a model I will continue to use in my future work.”

Live engages with new theatre talent in the region through open access events like the free Introduction to Playwriting course and the 10 Minutes To… short play event, and each year, offers five £2,000 bursaries to artists or companies making new plays and new stories. Live also has a huge Youth Theatre which can see real talent emerge. This investment in fresh talent works: Elevator Festival gets results. Many Elevator theatre makers have gone on to other festivals or touring and others are returning to be major parts of Live Theatre’s programme, like Shine by Kema Sikazwe which began as a 10-minute idea back in 2017 before being developed into a whole show at Live in summer 2019.

This group of theatre makers cannot wait to show us their new work. It would mean the world to them if we showed up. And for us, there’s the buzz of being there right at the start, of championing talented artists from the region and giving a chance for those extraordinary tales to be told.

Elevator Festival takes place at Live Theatre, Newcastle from Wednesday 11th-Saturday 21st March

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