Oh I’ve missed you. I hadn’t realised how much until I sat in Northern Stage’s Stage 2, surrounded by collaborators of old (Nadine Rennie, Casting Director and Paines Plough) and my new region-wide colleagues, meeting 83 actors over a biscuit-fuelled and laughter-filled three days.

After a devastating year (and a bit) that has affected us all – but in entirely different and personal ways – it was so good to get back to what we do, what we’re best at, where we feel most fully ourselves - as actors, producers and directors. Personally, in so much of my job just now, I feel utterly out of my depth so it was a much needed reminder that in the rehearsal room, working with actors, is where I feel most at home.

Having made the decision to take a sensitive, slow and steady approach to reopening, I’ve been so jealous watching colleagues across the sector getting back into rehearsal, reopening buildings and being reunited with audiences. It was so wonderful to see the front of house spaces of my new home reawakened - produced by Annie McCourt who facilitates vision with such compassion, supported by Richard Flood who kept us and the space sanitised and safe and led by my colleagues Stephanie Smith and Conor Goulding - the friendliest FOH Managers I’ve ever met.

It was really important to me that this partnership with Paines Plough, didn’t only invite actors but also those who engage actors and my goodness, Northern Stage is in fantastic company in the region. Over the three days, we were joined by Unfolding Theatre, November Club, Cap-a-Pie, Janet Plater Management, Maria Crocker (and baby Fred), Open Clasp Theatre Company, Papatango, The Letter Room and The Six Twenty and we were all giddy to be back in a theatre – admittedly, a row and three seats apart.

And you, the actors. Who – despite feeling rusty or out of practice, anxious about the world and the room, stepped in front of us with such courage, such generosity, such personality. We heard monologues about the ethics of procreation in a climate crisis and about immaculate conceptions, monologues about whales and about shark attacks. We met older people and those at the very beginning of their careers – still in drama school.

From the 173 applications, Paines Plough – who administered the process – prioritised actors of colour, actors who identify as having a disability and actors without representation. It was imagined that once we’d prioritised those performers, the rest of the slots would be filled with other actors – who might not have met the initial criteria. However, we didn’t need to do that because we had more people identifying as meeting one of the three criteria than available slots. All had to be based in or from the North East. To do all of that – fairly and efficiently – we had to rely on people being honest when they made their application. It’s true that some people ticked boxes that didn’t apply to them or – perhaps – misunderstood the criteria. But we didn’t know that until it was too late. And for every one of those, there were 10 people who were exactly those we were trying to reach, desperate to meet. Everyone was met with good will, compassion and care – no matter how they ended up in front of us.

I understand what it’s like to want something so badly and there only be limited opportunities – in one year, I was in the final round for six jobs – back to back. SIX. I understand how painful it can be to see others get things that I wanted but I’m reminded of a brilliant session Hannabiell Sanders called at our February Devoted & Disgruntled about an abundance mindset that asks we celebrate success for others as success for ourselves and confirmation that it’s possible. There will be more Open Auditions – we’re planning on them being a regular yearly event to compliment the casting we do on each show. I know – from the 80 So Good To Zoom Yous I’ve had so far that you’re passionate about theatre, you’re passionate about theatre in the North East, you’re passionate about theatre at Northern Stage. You are my greatest asset.

Transparency is a collaboration – I pledge to be honest, open and transparent and lead processes that reflect that, but I also need transparency from you. Transparency when you’re applying for opportunities and transparency with your feedback. My DMs are open, my email is widely available – please always feel welcome to reach out to me.

Natalie

@NMHIBUIsHere

nmhibushootshere

[email protected]