INTERVIEW: Gosforth Civic Theatre | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If you want to see people embodying the change they want to see in the world, go to Gosforth Civic Theatre. Disability arts organisation Liberdade first took over the then-named Gosforth Civic Centre in 2016, with a view to giving their members the space and opportunity to run the show – literally.

The word ‘civic’, for me, is about people,” explains CEO Rob Huggins as we sit in the GCT’s future cafe/deli, the distant noises of renovation persisting in the background. “First and foremost, Liberdade and Gosford Civic Theatre is a disability arts organisation. It was founded 20 years ago to give a group of young people with learning disabilities the opportunity to learn to run – and then run – their own theatre company. When I sat down with them and said ‘This is your organisation. What do you want to do?’ they said, ‘We’d really like a building of our own, to have jobs within that building, to invite members of the community into that building, and give other young people like us the opportunities that we’d had.’”

Since GCT first opened its doors, it has done the most to live up to its raison d’etre – but there’s always room for improvement. That’s why last December, Liberdade closed the doors (temporarily) to make way for a much-needed facelift. I was given a sneak peek of the refurbishments, and the opportunity to learn more about the future of GCT. The goal: an accessible, safe space and community hub for creators and audiences alike.

Our programme will diversify now because we want to reach more audiences, and we’re also able to deliver a lot more because of the facilities that we’ve got

With any project, nothing’s perfect. No building is 100% accessible, because something which would be appropriate and accessible for somebody makes it inaccessible for somebody else, but I can promise that has been at the forefront of our thoughts when designing and implementing the project.”

Take one step inside, and these efforts cannot go unnoticed. Accessibility is built into the theatre, not tacked on as an afterthought, yet GCT never feels clinical or isolating – not even in the custom accessible shower room that allows any performer the same facilities as any other able-bodied performer in any other venue. With an auditorium fitted with state of the art tech, a building run largely on clean solar energy, and new community and workshop spaces in development, the future looks particularly bright for Liberdade’s next steps.

I’m really excited about our programme of free activities for young people both in and out of schools, and we’re also working with organisations to bring other opportunities for young people here. What makes that possible is the extra space that we’re getting because we were really running short on capacity. More space provides opportunities to bring more people into the building… We will also have a broad range of music, theatre and dance that we’re continually programming. Our programme will diversify now because we want to reach more audiences, and we’re also able to deliver a lot more because of the facilities that we’ve got.”

Thanks to the efforts of Liberdade and all who work within it to make GCT a truly accessible place, it is the epitome of what a space for the community should be.

We want to make this an attractive space for people to come to get to know each other, to understand the world a little bit better so they can observe us as a disability arts organisation, doing what we do. It’s about getting people here so we can hopefully create some positive social impact.”

Gosforth Civic Theatre reopens on Friday 25th August with a performance from stand-up poet Kate Fox, who presents her new show Bigger On The Inside, about her unexpected adult diagnosis of autism.

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