Why are you involved with the Northern Spirit project? What’s different about it?
Kate Jessop: ‘It’s a chance to engage with inspiring and successful practitioners within different fields and to exchange ideas. To gain insight into other people’s creative processes. Being involved with this project will expand my artistic practice further into new platforms. I am interested in how my art-form and my process can be incorporated into and interact with live performance.’
Caroline Churchill: ‘It’s the first time I’ve been invited to work with a director and team of artists when the script/project is not already pre-determined – this is an opportunity for multi-disciplinary artists to be part of a production from concept to delivery. It is exciting for me to be part of a more contemporary and beautifully complex representation of the North of England that is purposefully avoiding cliches.’
Sam Meech: ‘It’s great to feel validated for my work outside of theatre, and this being expressed by Chris as a key reason why I can contribute to the development of this show. I think theatre production exists in a bit of a bubble, so it is great to be brought in as ‘an outsider’. What’s exciting about this project? The diversity of the team, the director taking a risk inviting non-traditional artists and designers to help creatively develop the production. A show developed in the real world, not the theatre world.
I like the fact this production is trying to link the cities both through process and on-stage narrative, and will acknowledge the similarities, differences and connections. It’s very interesting thinking about the importance of Open Source culture in arts, technology and community, and the parallels with rail networks, the co-operative movement in the North. I see evidence of this now in cities through events and organizations such as Madlab, Does Liverpool, ReDock, Ignite, Jelly etc. I think the North is at the forefront of these new networks and ways of working, and we need to share that, to break free of the same old ‘grim up north cliches’.’
Andrew Wilson: ‘I’m used to being part of a collaborative process, and one in which the outcome is quite open and develops in stages, but I’ve come to this way of working by practice rather than training, and always on self-initiated projects where it’s very hard to find the distance to step back and reflect on how the process is being orchestrated. I’ve never had chance to watch someone else set an open ended process in motion and then have to make choices about how to guide that and give it a form (or choose not to) and I’ll find this very enlightening, and a very helpful way to reflect on my own working methods.
“The real problem is that Britain is the most centralised country in the western world. London is the nation’s economic, political and cultural centre of gravity. This concentration of power has become more and more pronounced. Break that stranglehold and there is a chance that real local democracy could deliver innovative solutions.” Larry Elliot, The Observer, April 2012
“Few deny that our country’s extreme dominance by London has distorted much of our national life, cultural and especially economic.” Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, April 2012
‘I’m very committed to the idea that places in the north of England need to start curating their own situated conversations that recognise that their experience, over the last 30 years in particular, isn’t the same as that privileged by the centralised English state. I think that the major civic arts institutions have to step up and accept their responsibility to be forums for that conversation. That doesn’t mean being parochial, but it does mean explicitly initiating and engaging with a conversation that is “ours”. That needs to extend from artistic direction to programming and staffing. The experience of devolution in Scotland and Wales can inform this process. Northern Spirit is the foundation of this conversation in civic theatres.
I’ve always been very wary of political art but Northern Spirit has been part of a process of starting to think about myself as a “political” artist, but through a socially engaged practice that is about making spaces for listening and conversation in our own voices.’
In addition, each of these artists will engage in a unique and innovative collaborative process, utilising digital technologies, alongside four respected dramatic writers who possess an imaginative and emotional relationship with each of the four city regions. The creative process that they engage in together, inspired by the archive that we will generate on this website, will offer a new and progressive approach to writer-artist creative collaboration within a theatre-making context.
Although each artist’s work is highly respected within their artistic fields, most are new to theatre-making processes. Each artist will also benefit from Northern Spirit’s relationship with its range of mentor theatre organisations – Northern Stage, Newcastle; New Writing North; The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Sheffield Theatres and The Unity Theatre, Liverpool – receiving best practice advice from the staff/practitioners/technicians of five of the North of England’s most highly respected theatre organisations. They will be able to forge a wide range of relationships within the North of England theatre sector.
From June through to November 2011 all the artists engaged in an R and D process. This was mostly on-line, although occasionally they met within physical workshops. Together they created the project’s artistic model. To engage multi-disciplinary artists in this way is an unusual approach within theatre-making practice.
What was your experience of Northern Spirit’s R and D process and what did you gain from it?
Kate Jessop: ‘My experience as an artist of the research and development sessions were that they were very artistically nourishing and thought provoking. It was a chance to meet with inspiring and successful practitioners within different fields and exchange ideas. I gained insight into other peoples creative processes and a greater understanding of the project of a whole and the notions and concepts intrinsic to it.’
Caroline Churchill: ‘The R&D stage of this project set a precedent for me in my collaborative work. It was the first time I was invited to work with a director and team of artists when the script/project was not already pre-determined. This was very exciting as we were given the opportunity and responsibility to be part of the production from concept to delivery. This is invaluable. The intensive periods we spent together felt very productive as we quickly developed as a strong team able to communicate fairly and openly. This was a precious opportunity to be able to reflect, explore and challenge ideas about what we thought the project was and could be, instead of the more standard procedure of arriving at my “part of the process” when all the foundations and direction is already set and not open to discussion.
I think the space and time to build up rapport and familiarity between the collaborating members must also not be under-estimated as this will undoubtedly lead to a more efficient production process and a more decisive and effective output. The varying backgrounds and skill sets of the professionals brought together made for stimulating and enriching discussions and sharing. Rather than an exercise in trying to second guess what a director wants in terms of sound design, I now have a deeper insight into what the director wants to achieve with this production and how we can best pool our skills and resources to make this a carefully considered multi-disciplinary performance and public engagement project.’
Sam Meech: ‘I really enjoyed meeting the other artists and exploring ideas from different perspectives. It was great to feel validated for the work that I do outside of theatre, and this work being expressed as a key reason why I can contribute to the development of this show. The exercise made me aware of my perception of the North, and the messages it sends out about itself. I spent time revisiting films and books about the North, and comparing this to my own experience.’
Andrew Wilson: ‘I thought the digital space worked very well, and acted as a collective sketch book that brought together a lot of very interesting material from the participants very quickly. I definitely took away some insights about how to curate a combined physical and digital working space, and I would follow the Northern Spirit model quite closely if I were ever to need to do something similar.’
How does your work to date connect with the project and what are you particularly interested in exploring within the process?
Kate Jessop: ‘The animated sections will incorporate elements of found footage from times passed from cities in the north; this will form part of the mixed media collage look. I aim to use my style to create pieces that look timeless, like they could have been from any time. I also strive to give my work a ‘soulful’ feel; digital work can often be lacking in feeling in it’s tone. I like to give my work atmosphere and feeling which again I can see being translated into theatre.
I used the found footage/mixed media technique in ‘Dear Foreigner’, which was an adaptation of a real letter a woman wrote to the son she gave up at birth – currently showcased on BBC Film Network: http://www.bbc.co.uk/filmnetwork/films/p00nks13
I undertook an artist residency in Reykjavik last year, creating a piece of moving image work animating found objects from the Icelandic shoreline. It also involves the process of incorporating the real world with the digital, imagined world. I can see this technique working well with live theatre and interacting with performers. http://vimeo.com/28068654’
Caroline Churchill: ‘This is an exciting opportunity for me to develop my practice in composing and producing sound design for theatre offering a fresh and intuitive approach. I am particularly interested in using voices and found sounds to produce an immersive sound accompaniment to the audience’s emotional journey through what is essentially a collection of place-based human stories. I would like to bring the actors’ voices into the sound design alongside pre-recorded sung and spoken phrases and motifs collected from each city region. Both the authentic voices and the found sound elements will reinforce the narrative following my minimal aesthetic and dynamic 3D mixing techniques. Stereotypes from each of the city regions’ identities – e.g. accents, expressions and sounds from industrial heritage such as cutlery from Sheffield – will be played with and complicated to offer a more imaginative and authentic imagining of ‘the North’.’
Sam Meech: ‘I have worked on a range of projects both in theatre and in the public realm, generating events and artworks through engagement with communities. I am interested in projects that use real places as a source of inquiry and non-artists as collaborators. From a technical perspective, I am extremely interested in the use of video projection in telling complex stories in imaginative ways. I develop bespoke moving images and projection systems using Isadora.’
Andrew Wilson: ‘My work over the last ten years has been about using everyday digital technology, especially mobile phones, to make collaborative, participatory arts spaces. City Poems in Leeds in 2003 and the Free All Monsters! I-phone app are examples. Both those projects try to situate the digital space within physical places. As part of Northern Spirit, I’m interested in the relationship between the physical world experience of the live theatre show, and the structures for conversations and participatory learning that can be formed around it. Those structures don’t all have to be digital – an open space conference format is an example of non-digital participatory structure. Can the intensity, and professional skill, of a live production energise a process of discovery in the audience, and what resources do we need to build to support that process?’