Column: Centre Stage with David Bown - Community, location and art can create great things

Harrogate Theatre worked with iMove to produce a piece called Haunt, which highlighted the plight of the vulnerable and marginalised within our community.
Harrogate Theatre worked with iMove to produce a piece called Haunt, which highlighted the plight of the vulnerable and marginalised within our community.
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I’ll start with a quick plug for Harrogate Theatre’s new season, which is now on sale and it promises to be a good one.

There is some strong drama with John Godber’s The Debt Collectors, Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington, starring Ruth Madoc and Brooke Vincent and the English Touring Theatre’s production of Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears.

English Touring Opera also return, as well as the annual Comedy Festival with some of the biggest names on the circuit and of course Dick Whittington, our much anticipated family pantomime featuring Tim Stedman.

Get your tickets soon as they are all proving very popular.

Liz Pugh, the artistic director of outdoor arts specialist Walk the Plank, referred to this excellent GK Chesterton quote in a recent newspaper article: “The people didn’t love Rome because she was great; she was great because people loved her.”

Liz goes on to say: “It’s a golden thread that echoes through the work of many outdoor and community arts organisations. And to create wonderful places, this sentiment must be seeded in people.”

I encountered the work of Walk the Plank when I lived in Newark-on- Trent. The company contributed to the annual Water Festival that was a weekend of arts activity culminating in a magnificent pyrotechnical storming of Newark Castle.

They are responsible for delivering many outdoor events across Europe and two years ago they were in charge of the Freedom Festival in Hull that witnessed 80,000 participants over two days. It was largely regarded as instrumental towards the city being awarded the 2017 City of Culture.

This time last year I went to see Slung Low’s production of Camelot played out through the streets of Sheffield. Hundreds of community performers engaged in pitched battles that reinvented the ancient myth in a contemporary setting. In both instances art, location and community came together in a completely engaging and entertaining manner.

Recently in Harrogate we have witnessed similar.

Last month saw the stunning Cie Carabosse light up Valley Gardens.

Organised by Harrogate International Festivals, co-commissioned by Yorkshire Festival and with the help of Harrogate Borough Council, it was a visually magical experience. It brought our community together to celebrate the beauty of a place that is largely regarded as the heartbeat of our town.

Completely different but no less poignant was 40s Day the weekend before, organised by The Friends of Valley Gardens. It was a beautiful celebration of a significant period in our history.

On a much smaller scale, Harrogate Theatre worked with iMove to produce a piece called Haunt, which took audiences around the streets of Harrogate, highlighting the plight of the vulnerable and marginalised within our community.

All these projects created a connection between performer, audience and place that make for an immersive experience.

They surrounded us with art, allowing us to be part of a performance and provided us with a greater appreciation of our own surroundings.

Returning to Liz Pugh of Walk the Plank; “The added value that culture can bring in terms of place-making has become even more important in recent years, as private partnerships and local authorities collectively identify clear economic outcomes to justify investment in large outdoor cultural activity.”

Harrogate Borough Council has to be praised for decisively leading on this in recent times as witnessed by the events in Valley Gardens and of course the Tour de France two years ago.

Looking ahead the council has given its backing to another huge cultural event that is – a bid for Harrogate to host the Great Exhibition of the North. An ambitious celebration right across the north of England, which will see exhibitions, installations, performances and much more taking place in 2018.

It has been led by Sharon Canavar at International Festivals and Jane Sellars at the Mercer Gallery and the entrepreneurial ex-director of Pilot Theatre, Marcus Romer, was also brought in to help draft the bid.

Harrogate Theatre is honoured to have be invited to be part of the team and we all await a shortlisting decision in a few days – so fingers crossed.

However, a huge congratulations to the council, Sharon, Marcus and Jane for the work done so far. Make sure you endorse the various social media campaigns by visiting www.thegreatexhibitionofthenorth.com.

The borough council and the festivals have demonstrated what large cultural events can do for our community.