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Arts & Culture

Northern Stage will continue telling stories ‘no matter what’, vows new artistic director Natalie Ibu

A theatre company will continue bringing audiences stories “no matter what” during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its new artistic director has vowed.

Natalie Ibu says Newcastle-based Northern Stage will roll out a vast season during 2021, with collaborations, commissions and curated work that celebrates the collective, connection and community.

Its season includes ‘This Is Us’, which is a response to the COVID-19 world and has been designed with three strands to allow for adaptions to the latest restrictions.

Last month, ‘Can We Come In?’ began taking audiences on a journey from their homes, which will move into the city for ‘Out on the Toon’ from March, and then back into the theatre when it re-opens for ‘Housewarming’ from April.

“It’s fair to say that none of us thought I’d be announcing my very first season so soon into the role,” says Natalie, who joined Northern Stage as artistic director and joint chief executive in November last year.

“But – while a surprise twist – it’s provided a brilliant opportunity to hit the ground running, collaborating with artists, with place, with the personal and the political to meet audiences wherever they are and then lead them back to our building when it’s safe to do so.

“’This is Us’ is an experiment – demanded by the moment. We’re still here and we’re going to get through this together.

“You can rely on us to bring you stories, no matter what.”

‘Can We Come In?’ launched with Scroll, offering audiences an antidote to ‘doom scrolling’ in a series of digital story interventions commissioned by Northern Stage from artists including Adam Lenson, Bridget Minamore and Chris Sonnex to replace the moments of mindless scrolling with tiny stories.

Furthermore, a partnership with Actors Touring Company (ATC), for Dear Tomorrow – Hope From Home, has seen six writers commissioned to write letters of hope, as a way of finding optimism in uncertain times.

These pieces will be performed to camera by actors from across the UK and available to stream for free from February 22.

Shandyland: Pint Size will offer audiences a chance to meet some of the characters, feel the spirit of the pub where the play is set and get a taste of the humour and energy of the performance.

Grief Gatherings is an open invitation to take part in small conversations on February 9 and 23, as part of Fevered Sleep’s project This Grief Thing, which addresses the silence around grief and grieving.

Underlining the company’s ongoing commitment to talent development, on February 25 Natalie is calling a Devoted & Disgruntled for North East artists, companies, venues, funders and agents to ask: ‘What has been talent development in the North East? What do artists need to ensure their careers recover from COVID-19? And – while not all talent development is about the new artist – if we want to really build back and better, it will mean new and different voices.

Improbable’s Devoted & Disgruntled is being presented with Northern Stage, Alphaber, ARC Stockton, Live Theatre and Newcastle Theatre Royal.

And in So Good To Zoom You, Natalie will Zoom a different artist every day in March to try and make up for the ways 2020 kept people apart.

‘Out on the Toon’ will see the city become a canvas, creating cultural experiences for audiences to connect with as they wander through their local streets.

Part performance, part installation, Milk Presents’ High Vis is landing on the streets of Newcastle. High queer, high camp and high volume, members of the LGBTQIA+ community will be invited to anonymously record celebratory declarations of queerness in one part of Newcastle and have these broadcast via Milk’s loud and proud hailer on the other side of the city.

Created by composer John McIlduff and writer and director Brian Irvine, Street Art Opera blends opera, street art and animation in a double bill of outdoor video projection by creative producers Dumbworld.

Northern Stage’s Young Company will shift towards a hyper-local approach for ‘Out on the Toon’, meeting young people where they are for a series of Young Company Walk and Talks, taking the creative team to spaces and places that have taken on new meaning to them during 2020 as they gear up to starting to make brand new work together.

And, after 60 pop-up performances on the Byker Estate, in Newcastle, in summer and December 2020, Doorstep Music returns to the streets of Byker this spring.

‘Housewarming’ will welcome audiences and artists back into the theatre once it’s safe to re-open, starting with a new adaptation of HG Wells’ sci-fi classic The Invisible Man, adapted by Phil Correia and directed by Anna Girvan.

Throughout 2021, Northern Stage will also work with English Touring Theatre to explore the untold stories and colonial past embedded in our city’s architecture.

Natalie said: “We’re serious about our commitment to being anti-racist and we want to hold space for the city and this region to think and talk about its colonial past, so we will be working with English Touring Theatre and North East artists to explore what that means.”

Northern Stage is also working with Vici Wreford-Sinnott, from disabled-led theatre company Little Cog, to make the new programme as accessible as possible.

This will include captions, audio description, BSL at live events, content warnings and relaxed approaches to the programme and time frames for workshops.