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‘The Lessons’ at The Canny Space New Writing Festival

You do meet some fabulous people through the ARCADE network at ARC Stockton – if you’re involved to theatremaking in the North East and you’re not already a member, then you’re seriously missing out!

I met the lovely and fabulous Corinne Kilvington (artistic director of Theatre Space NE)¬†thanks to ARCADE when she performed at one of our scratch events. This Summer Corinne put out a call for writers to be part of the New Writing Festival that she was staging in The Canny Space, an historic former church in Sunderland which is being given a new lease of life as a creative hub. I had a brief tour of the Holy Trinity church when I saw Theatre Space NE’s brilliantly funny performance of The 39 Steps, and I knew there were lots of interesting and inspirational nooks and crannies to be discovered, and to stage performances in – so I was very very keen to be involved. A gang of interested writers were given an extensive tour of all the possible performance spaces in the church in June – I got a bit carried away taking photos, as it’s such a beautiful place to explore! Here’s a selected handful…

I was particularly taken with Holy Trinity’s library, especially when I heard there was allegedly a ghost in residence. Corinne thought you could almost feel the ghost’s presence in the header photo above.

After our original tour we were invited back to spend some time writing in the church. Writing away from my iMac wasn’t something I’d tried before, but it was great to be in the actual performance space and to be able to wander around in search of ideas. As the New Writing Festival plays were going to be staged over the course of a day, I liked the idea of creating a little ‘serial’ of connected mini-plays, that the audience could keep returning to. Inspired by the ghost and the stories of the school for poor children that was founded near to the church, I wrote 3 short plays about a passionate teacher – so passionate that she returns to the library over the ages in search of new students, even after her death.

In ‘Lesson 1’ Miss takes her class to visit the Holy Trinity library, and finds new student Lizzie to be a reluctant learner. In ‘Lesson 2’ Eliza brings us on a ghosthunting trip to the library, where we meet Miss once again – and in ‘Lesson 3’ we meet Beth, a tour guide from the future who is making a bit of a mess of her first day in the job. The amazing cast of ‘The Lessons’ Kylie Ann Ford and Ella Jackson, led by director David Farr (who was performing himself in 4 plays over each day of the festival, as well as having written and directed 3), only had a few hours to rehearse the plays in the library of the Canny Space before the two days of the festival, Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th October. Here are Ella and Kylie in action in the Library:

The full day of performances was repeated on both days, and I managed to see nearly (but not quite) all of the pieces across the weekend. There was an amazing variety of work on show – from Helen Bowie’s heartbreaking Latitude and Critical to Mary Picken’s powerfully physical dissection of historic divorce, David Farr’s hilarious and touching Hero of Camperdown and Chrissie Petrie’s poetry reading. As well as this, there was tasty food on offer (especially the delicious pulled pork sandwiches) and lots of handmade crafts to be perused and purchased. Here’s a few pictures from across the weekend:

Spending a whole day touring a beautiful historic building watching play after play after play is my idea of absolute bliss – I would happily do this every day of the week. The festival went down brilliantly with the audiences, so fingers crossed Theatre Space NE and the Canny Space will be hosting more events like this in the future!