Live Theatre's Artistic Director, Joe Douglas on Elevator Festival 2019
When I first arrived at Live Theatre at the start of April last year, I had a strong sensation that I’d just missed out on the party. The occasional rhubarb and custard flyer would catch my eye in the bar, a luminescent hangover that oozed a sense of positive energy. Elevator Festival had left an imprint.
Over the next two weeks, Live Theatre will be turned over to talented artists that we loosely describe as “emerging”. Writers, performers, actors, directors, producers, choreographers, musicians, designers - all making fresh theatre. New stories and ways of telling them will be tested out for the first time.
Big themes are being tackled across the six different shows on offer - sexuality, social housing, mental health, toxic masculinity, mixed race identity, growing into adulthood, the rise of popular fascism, addiction. All pertinent social issues that will be filtered through the unique perspective of the artists involved. Every night is set to offer something thrillingly different as new ideas are tested out loud for the first time.
In 2019, in the midst of a chaotic political moment as we hurtle towards whatever Brexit becomes, there is something remarkable and reassuring about theatre that engages with the modern world outside. We come together as an audience, in the dark, and emerge an hour or so later having had our imaginations stretched. We’ve felt something, maybe even learnt something, about other humans and how they live. When the shows are all brand new and created by emerging artists - like during Elevator Festival - that sense of adventure and enquiry is heightened.
Whilst many of the artists are local, some are coming from outside the region, offering wider perspectives for the audience. The award winning Charlotte Josephine (from London) has written a lyrical, bold play between a struggling father and daughter, which is being developed with a choreographer so that aspects of their relationship will be danced. Musician and performer Ashleigh Nugent (from Liverpool) brings a coming of age story about going to explore his family roots in Jamaica and winding up in prison. Both shows will be presented as a double bill, satisfyingly paired as Pops + Locks.
A number of the local artists involved in Elevator Festival are also involved in the life of Live Theatre in other ways - as drama facilitators, youth theatre leaders or members of the customer service team. This sense of homegrown talent is one that we are very proud of, as these strong, nurturing relationships with artists will pay off in the longer term.
Some of the shows you see will go on to have further lives, here in Newcastle or elsewhere. Our new production, Shine by Kema Sikazwe (Kema Kay), will premiere at Live Theatre in May - but it was first seen at Elevator Festival last year. Kema had formerly been an Associate Artist and worked up to that early presentation of his work. This is an example of the structured way in which we develop artists - a testament to the hard work put in behind the scenes by our Creative Producer, Graeme Thompson, and the wider Creative Programme team. The Elevator Process in action.
Most of the shows are winners of our Bursary scheme, an offer of in-kind support and an award of £2,000 towards the costs of developing the projects ready for performance - ideally as part of Elevator Festival. Individuals and companies can then use this money to attract further funding - or perhaps actually pay themselves for their work! We also offer performance fees for the festival, to ensure the terms we offer are in the artists’ favour as much as possible. The producing model matters, especially when dealing with artists in the early stages of a (probably precarious) career. Applications for next year’s bursaries are now open - so check here and spread the word.
And so, at last, I’ll get a chance to see what Elevator Festival is all about, in all its rhubarb and custard glory. If the shows weren’t enough there’s a whole bunch of workshops and talks with industry professionals, all priced from £3. Nothing during the festival will cost over a tenner.
At Live Theatre, we believe these artists matter and you’ll be hearing much more about them in the years to come - Elevator Festival is just the beginning of that journey.
Artistic Director, Live Theatre