So what is ‘The North’ anyway?
Well…it’s a big, complex thing, isn’t it? It embodies a healthy wealth of rich contradictions.
For a kick off ‘The North’ isn’t a specific place, unlike Barnsley and Blackpool, Darlington or Doncaster, Scarborough and Salford, or the hundreds of other towns and cities that share this vaguely defined geographical area. Yet, undeniably, there are points of connection between these places and the people who live within them – cultural similarities and a strong, positive, shared historical legacy. The Northern Spirit project is about creatively exploring these points of connection.
In fact, ‘The North’ doesn’t mean anything specifically. Yet it undoubtedly means something for a great many people. Say the phrase ‘The North’ and your mind will be filled with many different impressions that are particular to you, some positive, some negative. Rather than seeing The North as a specific place, the Northern Spirit project has resolved to see it as an imaginative space, with enormous possibilities.
We believe that a stronger and more positive sense of identity contributes to the conditions for an economic renaissance. We believe that conversation – the ebb and flow of ideas between people and places – is key for innovation and positive change. We’re interested in exploring how the arts – and how we as artists - can make a contribution.
So why are new kinds of stories from within the North important?
Many of the impressions of The North within your imagination will have been inspired by the books, music, films, telly, plays - stories, in short – that depict experiences in this part of the world. What these stories are, and the way in which they’re told, have an impact upon people. They matter. Sometimes these stories can limit how you see yourself, how you see your surroundings, and how others see you. Sometimes they can diminish how you see places that you’ve never visited, or encourage you to underestimate people that you’ve never met. But sometimes a story can enable you to see yourself and where you live afresh, opening up a new world of possibilities to you. Or perhaps allow you to see a place that you thought you already knew in a fresh, surprising way. The Northern Spirit project is very much about inspiring those kinds of stories, about challenging habits of imagination and cultural clichés, about being bold with the kind of experiences that can be depicted and the ways in which they can be expressed. After all, as Jarvis Cocker puts it:
“It’s a bit crap if you’re so parochial that you’re only allowed to write about humbugs and chippies.”
Stories are important – they help us to understand who we are. Many towns and cities that come under the geographical umbrella of The North have experienced considerable aesthetic, social and economic change in what, for many, feels like a bewilderingly short space of time. It’s probably a good time for some new stories that reflect and try to make sense of this change. Again, the Northern Spirit project is very much about inspiring those kinds of stories.
“I’m an extraordinary person…we’re bloody marvellous!”
So what will this lead to?
The Northern Spirit project will eventually lead to a brand new theatrical short-story sequence: a collection of original, live, short-stories for the theatre, set in four great North of England cities, written by great contemporary writers. Each story will possess a strong and specific sense of place and environment, but will also feel inclusive. Whilst acknowledging the influence and legacies of the past, each story will be placed confidently in the present, and provoke stimulating questions about the future. Each story will be a great story in its own right, but more powerful when experienced together. The Northern Spirit story sequence will possess lyricism, wit, passion, heart and invention playing to audiences within theatres throughout the North of England in late Autumn 2012. We won’t be trying to define the North of England in a 90 minute theatre production. That would be impossible, limiting and uninteresting. But we are interested in exploring how ‘The North’, as an idea, can be used in a positive sense and in a way that can inspire the future. The story sequence will enable people living within four different cities over a wide geographical spread to see, talk to, listen to, and connect with each other. Northern Spirit sees this as a very healthy thing.
How we are doing this and why we are doing it in this way:
The project is about a group of artists coming together to take imaginative ownership of a part of the world that they feel passionate about, and re-imagining how that part of the world can be expressed. Theatre’s a great meeting point for other art forms. Collective endeavours are an important part of the North of England story: the co-operative movement, trade unions, collectivism, the amateur music movements, even the medieval guilds coming together for the mystery and miracle plays – all unique networks of communities who felt that they were able to achieve more together than they could do seperately. The Northern Spirit project is driven by a collective of artists from across the North of England collaborating digitally across geographical distance, and occasionally coming together physically. You can read about each of us within the ‘All About Us’ section. Although engaged individually with different art forms – music and sound art, design, digital and media technology, theatre, animation and film - we share an artistic kinship and artistic points of connection. Some of us were born and grew up in a town or city within the North of England. Some of us moved to the North of England from elsewhere years ago, fell in love with a particular place and decided to live and work there. Most of us have spent time living and working within more than one North of England city or region. And while none of us see ourselves as ‘northern’ artists, where we’re from, or where we’ve chosen to live, is in the grain of who we are and is tangible in the work that we make. “I do think I have a northern sensibility, but I don’t know exactly what that is.” Simon Armitage.
We hope that Northern Spirit can become a model that will enable many other artists to imagine many other stories inspired by many other places in the future. We hope that this initial endeavour is the first chapter in the Northern Spirit story. To help ensure that this happens, this blog will document, and open up, our process. It will embody and be an extension of the work, rather than merely a form of publicity or something that offers an explanation of the work after it has been created. We hope that the blog becomes a valuable resource in its own right and makes a contribution to how the arts can engage with places and cities at a point of change.