A few weeks ago I was in Newcastle (and Gateshead) for a day of meetings for Beneath the Surface. I set off early on a beautiful clear day driving north. The sky was bright, in fact crystalline. Driving through North Yorkshire, along the A1 it was bare, remote and unspoilt. I suddenly felt a love for the barren and sparsely populated landscape compared to the ever-crowed populous south.
This was only my third trip to the region and second to the city. Whilst driving, I was aware that my feelings for the place were romantic, somewhat idealised… informed by my limited contact with the place and an exoticism, that is the power of the new. I have always found, perhaps like many others do too, new towns, cities and places highly stimulating. There is an immense freedom (for the senses) in discovering something new.
I can recall the first time I came out of Birmingham New St Station via the Pallasades ramp and was presented with tall city centre buildings; skyscrapers to my 14-year old innocence. I rushed with euphoria down my spine as I looked towards the sky, stimulated by these man-made structures.
Twenty-four years later I wasn’t quite rushing… The River Tyne was wider than I anticipated; consequently the Tyne Bridge more expansive, one foot firmly rooted in Gateshead and the other in Newcastle.
I first met with Vikas Kumar the Director of GEM Arts based at The Old Town Hall, Gateshead. Vic is working with me as the key arts partner in the area. He’s always shown great enthusiasm and energy for the project because he gets it and can see its potential.
Together we then met with Stephen Greenwood and Janet Owen of MESMAC North East who made us feel very welcome over a tasty cuppa. We got the lowdown on the LGBT health sector including some of the key challenges in the city region and neighbouring boroughs.
We met with Gez Casey, the Literary Manager of Live Theatre in the afternoon and had a quick tour of the building. Live Theatre is a new writing producing theatre. It was founded as a radical theatre company with a strong regional identity; making work about working class communities and taking the work out to pubs and clubs.
We then went to Pride Café in the so-called Pink Triangle – LGBT area of Newcastle – and met with John Harrison, the proprietor. Pride Café is a bar with community room upstairs. The bar downstairs runs as a commercial business. It has another arm, the NGS Trust which exists to offer an alternative to the commercial gay scene with an interest in community development. I’m planning on presenting my workshop performance with dramatic monologues in the community room later in the year.
At the end of the day, Vic and I then went back to the office and had a post-meetings debrief. It’s always more useful to meet folk in person and see them in their habitat where possible. By the end of this day, the romanticised notion of Newcastle was becoming more tangible, at least in relation to the project’s parameters.