Resource Download: Newcastles of the World – Reflections on working internationally
Two Newcastles is Newcastles of the World’s flagship cultural project supported by International Newcastle, bringing together theatre companies Curious Monkey and Newcastle Arts Development Organisation from Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa.
“One of the most fascinating things about Newcastles of the World is meeting people from other countries, hearing stories from other cultures, comparing and contrasting our lives in the many places around the world that just happen to share a common place name.” Mo Lovatt (former director of NotW)
Curious Monkey met artists from Newcastle Arts Development Organisation (NADO) at the National Arts Festival of South Africa in 2015 where we were running the Remix Laboratory in partnership with the festival and the Swallows Foundation UK. The group from KZN had not been exposed to work from the UK before; or the processes that theatre makers in the UK use. They were fascinated to learn more. This sparked some brilliant conversations around arts and cultural exchange which led to the idea for this current project; and showed how much the artists had to gain from learning about each other’s approach to making theatre and creative practices.
Since 2016, Newcastles of the World and International Newcastle have supported this new collaboration bringing to life some of those stories in a newly commissioned theatre project. With support and funding from both countries, Curious Monkey and South Africa’s Newcastle Arts Development Organisation (NADO) have collaborated on an international exchange project to develop a new piece of theatre, learn from each other about each other’s practice and culture, and to work with communities in both places to broaden the impact of the project and develop skills and experience.
Our initial ideas…
In 2016 artists from NADO visited the northeast to work with the UK cast on research and development for the new show. The group visited the Edinburgh Festival, ran a singing workshop at Sage Gateshead, met artists at the GIFT exchange, saw lots of theatre and met the great network of artists working in the northeast. In January 2018, the UK artists visited South Africa to continue the exchange, share and interrogate their creative practice and develop a new piece of theatre together.
“In many ways, Johannesburg and Newcastle KZN are like any beautiful, welcoming city. But sometimes, something will blindside you, and remind you that you are in a new place, with different customs and cultures. But, for me, one of the big joys of the Two Newcastle’s Project is actually finding the commonalities. What are those things that bind us at Curious Monkey and the group from NADO together? We’ve spoken a lot about being an artist, music, family and, of course, love.” Stan Hodgson
Behind the scenes in SA
In May 2018, the South African artists came to Newcastle, UK for an intensive rehearsal period, culminating in the creation of ‘This World Here…Nomhlaba Le’ , the show developed through three international exchanges. The show was staged at the Exchange in North Shields and Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle for over 200 audience members. Read all about the play here
Reviews for the show:
“Does it teach us anything? Yes, it shows us how diverse and yet alike people are, how we all have similar problems relating to our self-image, and that we can learn so much from others, no matter how different we may start by believing we are. Director Amy Golding deftly weaves together the different individual strands and, from this fusion of African and British experiences, creates a piece which is revelatory and ultimately joyous.” British Theatre Guide
“Once the show was up and being performed, I loved the conversations with audiences afterwards. Some had had similar experiences, some had never. Some had never left the UK, some had moved here from South Africa, but what was clear was everyone had a story to tell. I loved hearing these stories, and hopefully we’ll be able to hear stories from South African Audiences too.” Stan Hodgson
Throughout the exchanges, we have engaged with communities to share the unique experience of working with international artists and to gather people’s ideas about the project and what it means to be from Newcastle. Groups we have worked with include: Singer songwriters at the Sage Gateshead; young people at Hotspur Primary School, North Fawdon Primary School & Stocksfield Primary School; Patients in Hexham General Hospital and North Tyneside hospitals in partnership with the NHS Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust. Together have shared the stories from the show, shared traditional and new music from both Newcastles, discussed cultural exchange and the commonalities and differences between the two places.
Performer Sanele Mzimela from NADO wrote a new song for Mouthful Voices choir as part of the project which he taught on the exchange in 2018, and was performed as a curtain raiser for the show at the Exchange North Shields
Throughout each exchange, we documented the activities through photography, film and sound recording. The artists were all asked to feedback at the end of each day: “what did I see, what did I learn, what did I feel”. The UK team have created blogs about their experience. We are currently fundraising to create a documentary film sharing all of the experiences and reflections from the last two years.
“One of the challenges I had working on the project was the Verbatim script. A large part of the show was from our real-life conversation, which was then edited by Amy. It was not just the fact that I was reading back words I had said (which is a strange experience in and of itself) but also learning and performing them: all my pauses, stutters and tangents. I didn’t realise how often I didn’t even finish sentences! I suppose it’s because I genuinely was struggling to find the words sometimes, I hope the audience could see how we, as people, were actually grappling with some of the bigger topics discussed: race, unconscious bias, being the other etc.” Stan Hodgson
“Today it feels like we found the voice of the piece. We knew what the ingredients were: Testimony, allegory and music, but today it feels like we’ve begun to find the method by which we’ll mix these up together, and (thank goodness) it seems we’re cooking up a storm. Everyone in the ensemble brings something different, their skills, their history, their physicality.” Jonluke McKie
We are currently working with International Newcastle and Newcastles of the World to fundraise for the final leg of this incredible journey. We hope that the UK team will visit Newcastle KZN one more time later this year to develop the play and perform for South African community audiences and complete their personal and professional journey. We will create a documentary film bringing together all of the footage from the last two years and create a resource to be shared with others working in this area.
Newcastles of the World will share the film and resource at the NotW 20th anniversary conference in Shinshiro Japan in October 2018. For more information on this click here
We are grateful to the funders who supported the initial stages of the project – Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts, our generous audiences through Crowdfunder UK, the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation, Waka Waka Northeast and our partners NADO, Newcastles of the World and International Newcastle.