My Inspiration: Steve Byron | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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From Tuesday 18th – Saturday 22nd February Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle presents Rocket Girl, a fantastical, family-friendly show, which will be followed by daily workshops where the audience can create things from recycled materials. The writer of Rocket Girl, Steve Byron, tells us about the inspiration behind past work and his latest production.

I have to say, I feel very fortunate to be working as a writer here in the North East. Writing for theatre is something which I have dreamed of and worked towards for many years now. With the support of both Live Theatre and Greyscale, I have managed to develop my skills, make progress and step into the professional arena. But mainly I have to thank Ali Pritchard and Alphabetti Theatre who have put their trust in me, and have allowed me to produce work there under the cloak of “The Worriers”, formed with Gary Kitching in 2017.

My writing style would probably be described as real, honest, very dark with a lot of humour. I personally would describe my work as “stories from the toilet walls”. I enjoy taking real life and giving it a twist, turning it on its head. I have always been inspired by the weird and the wonderful, the dark and the dangerous. Brought up on a diet of 70s TV, Monty Python and Horror movies. My first trips to the theatre were to see Curse of The Werewolf and Mummy’s Tomb at Newcastle Playhouse. Later massive theatrical inspiration came on my discovery of Live Theatre as a teenager. I had never seen anything so raw, so real and so passionate. It was this inspiration that took me into the world of acting, and years later to strive to be a writer.

I have also been inspired by the real people and participants I met as a Theatre Arts Worker and drama practitioner within communities across the North East, using drama and theatre to promote inclusion and self-worth within individuals and groups who might not normally be given the chance to engage in the arts. 

For years I wrote but could never manage to finish anything, but with support, I managed to hurdle those barriers and begin to produce work.

In 2016 I was invited by actor/writer Gary Kitching to be part of a 24-hour writing challenge he had been given by Alphabetti Theatre. This piece was to be the chrysalis of what became the critically-acclaimed Bacon Knees and Sausage Fingers. I followed this up by writing two dark short tales: Wrong Place, Wrong Time and Bricks and Mortar.

In 2017, The Worriers were offered a commission on a project with Alphabetti working alongside The Discovery Museum in Newcastle: to produce two plays, one for adults and one for young people and families. Gary took the adult show, writing the devastatingly brilliant Wilfred; I took the family show and began work on what would become Walter, the story of a pigeon who journeys to the battlefields of WW1 France, and the experiences of war through the eyes of the animals used to fight. When writing this I wanted to be truthful, and as honest as I could with my storytelling, and not patronise the audience because of their age. I looked back to what I would like if I was watching. As a child I always loved history, especially the dark and scary kind of history. I also loved humour and to be terrified watching Hammer Horror movies at an early age. I almost disappeared into research to set the right tone and detail, and to give it a very real feeling, even though the story I was telling was about a pigeon. Walter had two incarnations over the next two years and went on to be named Best Children’s show 2017 by the British Theatre Guide, which I am very proud of. 

In 2018, Ali Pritchard asked what was next for me. I asked him, “Well, what’s going on at the Discovery Museum?” Ali replied, “Stephenson’s Rocket is in”. So, I had a walk over to have a look at this iconic piece of history. On return I said, I will write about this. But, as it’s me, it had to come with a twist and a turn on its head. I came up with the concept that George Stephenson invented “The Rocket” when he was much younger, and not to go on tracks between Stockton and Darlington but to the moon, because that’s where his nan had told him Cinder Toffee is from. I wrote Rocket Man (not Elton John) as a fantastical adventure – again aimed at families and young people – but promoting science and engineering. This was performed once and had a great response. Two years later, after being back in adult territory with Christmas Carol and Floorboards, Rocket Man – or should I say, now, Rocket Girl – is back, but with another new twist. George is not George, but now Georgina, a fictional older sister to George Stephenson. It is a much bigger, bolder story this time around, with twice as much adventure and excitement (including the addition of a dragon). With Rocket Girl I wanted to mix fact and fantasy with enough science and engineering that the audience may hopefully be inspired by Georgie’s journey as a young woman living in the eighteenth century. I really enjoy writing for children and young people and hope the work I produce is exciting and engaging to them. I am looking forward to hearing their responses, knowing one thing: it will be honest.

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